I’ve lived and worked in cities for nearly half of my life. I describe myself as an “aggressive pedestrian.”
When I am going to cross the street, I make it more than evident. I perch impatiently on the curb. I glance around to make sure cars see me. The instant the little white man appears, I stomp into the intersection.
When I walk, I’m righteous about it. I figure they better see me. I’m crossing with the light, I’m in a crosswalk, I have the right of way, and I’m so fricken right about crossing the damn street. It’s like I am shielded from harm by a protective bubble of pedestrian sanctimoniousness.
I may have learned this from growing up on the east coast, and living in Boston. You can’t politely wait for cars to stop before you cross. You have to get your ass across the street and you do it any way you can. And you if you are smart, you don’t expect cars to slow down for you. You’ll get yelled at. With profanities.
I have mentioned before, on the whole, I have found that Portland drivers are very polite. I have never walked or driven around the streets of Portland fearing for my life. I have crossed streets blithely, sometimes with headphones on, sometimes with a hooded raincoat, and never once worried that I was going to get hit by a car.
I was working downtown. On my lunch breaks, I would sometimes get lunch out, or I’d run errands, or I’d simply go for a walk to get away from the office. I was on such a walk, on a sunny spring day. One of those first warm days where the sun begins to feel powerful, and your muscles thaw and uncoil from the long gray winter. I don’t remember where I was going, but it didn’t matter. It was just luxurious to be outside.
I was walking in a crosswalk. I was in the middle of the street, halfway across. And a shiny black Jeep roared around the corner into the intersection. Too fast. Too fast. She didn’t see me.
And as is happens in these situations, time slowed down to ticking microseconds. The grill of the Jeep was gleaming chrome. In the vehicle’s trajectory, I would land exactly between the headlights.
If I found myself in this situation a year ago, I would have had that blithe self-assuredness, she is not going to hit me. Because things like that don’t happen to me. Or rather, nothing like that had happened yet, in my life. And if I did get hit, I reasoned, how bad would it be? If I died, my husband and family would be sad, and the thought made me sad too. But in all, it’s just me. I’d either die, or I’d maybe break a few things. Or I’d maybe be disfigured.
These are the thoughts that would tumble through my mind. And I would feel remarkably calm. Because more than anything, there was a rock solid certainty that I am not going to get hit by this car.
On this spring day, as the black Jeep whipped around the corner, and I strained to make eye contact with the driver…I’m in the middle of the road! What could she possibly be looking at? Did she not see the little white man? Does she not know I have the right of way…? I had a new, different feeling.
I have babies. My boys. Their little faces. If I got killed or mangled, I would not go home that night.
I can’t get hit by a car. I can’t. I have babies.
Instead of the firm, self assured grasp I usually have on my fate, I felt panic. White hot, electric, instant. There was nothing I could do but watch the car come at me.
A foot or so in front of me, the Jeep lurched to a stop. I finally saw the driver looking at me. I caught my breath. I proceeded through the crosswalk and gave her a dirty look. Of course. Because there’s nothing else I could do.
I stepped back onto the sidewalk. The black Jeep sped off. I became aware of the rivers of adrenalin racing through my limbs and I shook uncontrollably. A deep breath. A deep breath.
Nothing happened. It didn’t happen. I didn’t get hit by a car. Like always. It didn’t happen. I should have felt relief. But as an anxiety addled person, I could not stop thinking how close it was. It came so close to happening. I heard the racing engine. I felt time stop. I saw my two little boys faces. My little boys!
So. My life has changed. I didn’t know it. Not until I almost got hit by a car and I stood shaking in the dappled spring sun. I used to feel like things would not happen to me. They just wouldn’t. And rationally, I still know the chance of something bad happening is vanishingly small.
But now instead of that calm, detached certainty, This Will Not Happen, I feel like This Can’t Happen. I’m not the only one relying on me. Not that I’ve lived my life like a jackass, but now I have to be careful. I have to be extra careful. Being responsible had always felt effortless. Now it feels weighty.
So, yeah. Being hit by a car would be bad.