i’m just not that fond of mountains

Thursday, January 23, 2003
@ the dorm room | 11:35 PM

I nearly killed a child two days ago.

I don’t mean this in some metaphorical “He made me so mad I nearly strangled him to death” or “Don’t shake the baby” way. No, I mean, the hand of fate reached down, grabbed me by the collar, and threw a six-year old boy to the street.

Rio Grande Street, to be exact. Rio Grande and 12th in Austin. In front of Pease Free School. Just across the street from the Austin Community College – Rio Grande campus.

I’d been called into work at the Texas Freedom Network on my day off earlier so that our office could tour the Capitol and meet a couple of legislators prior to the legislative session and our lobbying getting into full-swing. Immediately after our meeting at the Capitol, I had to head back to campus for my Understanding & Appreciating Art: Fine Arts class. Unfortunately, the City of Austin, the State of Texas, and the Republican Party conspired against me to make this more difficult than it appears on the surface.

See, while St. Ed’s is mere minutes from the Capitol, Congress Avenue, the main street connecting the two, was closed for the Governor’s inaugural parade and celebration. [Note: Since Texas has a huge budget shortfall right now it was decided the state shouldn’t pay for the inaugural. Therefore, it stuck its hand out and received funding from private (read: lobbying) sources. This is discussed in this article, paragraph six.] So, in a way, I can blame what happened on the Republicans. Makes sense, right?

It was 5:30 PM. Rush hour. Every major north-south street was too packed to allow me to make it back to school in time for my class. I tried Guadalupe. I tried Congress. I tried Lamar. Just before hitting Lamar I decided to try a side street. I thought that I might possibly be able to make it down to Fourth or Third Street by taking a side street comprised of more stop signs than lights. I pulled a u-turn on 12th and grabbed a right on Rio Grande.

The blocks are short in that particular neighborhood. The northbound lane was filled with SUVs and other vehicles waiting at the light to make the turn onto 12th Street on their way to Lamar. In the middle of the block and right in front of Pease Free School, between speeding up and slowing down for the inevitable stop sign at the end, I saw a small child run out from my left between two large cars (SUVs?) waiting at the light into my lane.

In retrospect, time turns to sludge at this point. Almost as if moments can travel so fast that they break the clock and force it to stutter and slow. A message only discernable innately at the time flashed across my mind reading, “THIS IS VERY BAD!” It was, and no matter how much my inner mind rejected the notion that I was about to be involved in a horrific accident, another side of my brain took evasive action.

Shit!” I narrowly missed hitting the parked Volvo to my right when I cut my wheel in avoidance of the child. A mirror popped off (I initially thought it was from the Volvo, but it was really from my own car) and landed on my passenger-side floorboard.

In those split moments between seeing him, feeling a light impact, seeing the mirror fly off into my car, and finally screeching to a halt, I was sure I’d just been involved in some life-altering, irreversible tragedy. In reality, it was just another idiotic thing that idiotic Austinites do every day.

I jumped out of my car and looked behind me. I heard an adult scream as she scuttled across the street. No child was in the street. I was sure I’d killed the child. I was sure I’d be looking back at a limp body on the asphalt.

“Is he okay?” I yelled in a cracking, frightened, worried voice.

A woman from a car yelled asking the same thing. Of all the people stuck in traffic, of all the ACC students who saw what happened, though, not one stopped to serve as an eye-witness. These same people would sit and watch another person being stabbed to death on an NYC subway. It’s a disease called apathy.

I got back in my car and pulled it up to a small standing zone for the school, put my blinkers on, and walked to where the lady and her five kids (including the one that had run out in front of my car) sat. The lady, I gathered that she was the child’s aunt from her conversation with the 911 dispatcher, had no clue where she was and wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to tell her the intersection we were near. Giving up on trying to help her inform the dispatcher of our location, I inspected the boy. He was red in the face and seemed to have busted the right side of his lip. When asked as to where he’d been hit, he replied his arm and his cheek.

I waited. I reverted to basic military bearing. I stood at ease with my hands clasped behind my back and waited. The cops and ambulances came from both north and south, stopping their flashing vehicles in the middle of the street blocking the lane in which the accident had happened. This seemed a bit ridiculous to me as I’d moved my car and couldn’t see any reason to further disrupt the traffic patterns of the city that day. It’s highly doubtful I’d have even been on 12th and Rio Grande that afternoon had it not been for the traffic tie-ups all over town.

The officer took my statement. I was going about 20 miles an hour. (Even the woman told EMS that I was going slow.) The kid came out from between two cars into my lane and I immediately cut my wheel. Yes, he was running.

Emergency Medical Services said the kid was fine. They said they thought he hit his arm on my sideview mirror and then fell to the ground where he busted his lip. In fact, he was running around the schoolyard playing with his other friends (relatives?) before the police even left.

Standing feet from the street sign reading, “Please cross at crosswalks,” (which are located on the corners of the block; not the very middle where this accident occurred), the child’s aunt told the police officer that they were about to cross the street when the kid ran out ahead of them. “He’s a little older and thinks he can do that,” she said. Does she see that her own flaunting of basic safety rules (obeying traffic laws) might have led to her nephew’s disregard of her authority?

After my statement, I was released to go. No ticket.

Still, the haunting thought remains: I almost killed a young child.

Even if it were recognized that I was not at all at fault, it would still be awful to live with the knowledge that you took another’s life.

Brushes with death. Maybe we all have them in some way or another. It just takes time. Maybe we take care of a dying relative or lose someone very close to us or nearly accidentally kill another person. Possibly, as for me, it changes nothing fundamental but makes one frightened. To know that random, senseless (especially in regard to the activity that causes it) things can happen such as that. It doesn’t fit, and the simple fact that the child wasn’t killed isn’t something that makes me believe in a higher power any more than I would.

The random awfulness of it is sickening, really. The thought that something so stupid, so utterly avoidable and so horrific can occur at any time brings with it questions about and feelings of absolute futility, resignation, and depression. How does one who has attempted to live intelligently without harming others reconcile oneself with the inability to avert these inadvertent happenings?

One doesn’t, but blames him/herself anyway.

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