I didn’t tell my father I had been hit by a car until my arm began to hurt. I wasn’t trying to be strong; I just didn’t want to hear him nag.
The car came from behind. Erica and I walked on the right side of the road, the side we always walk on, I on the outside and she inside. We were talking about something – boys, jobs, my frustration with both – familiar conversation on a familiar road, when suddenly a tremendous force struck my left arm and sent me tumbling violently to the ground. I groaned and was dazed – it didn’t occur to me that I had been hit by a car until a split second later when I turned to see the car speeding down the road. I heard Erica saying, “Oh my god, oh my god,” then when she registered what had happened, screaming, “Hey! HEY! GET BACK HERE!”
In my dazed state I remember looking up at her from the ground thinking, “I wish she would lower her voice,” as it was late and the neighborhood, being filled with elderly folk, was mostly half asleep.
Erica bent down, her voice now quieter and more hurried, more worried, “Oh my God, Betty. Betty. Are you okay? Where does it hurt? Don’t move.”
I didn’t know. I groaned because I was confused. Everything hurt and nothing hurt. Even though it was dark, I closed my eyes because it helped me concentrate – I had read something about trauma and how adrenaline or shock can trick you into feeling fine and moving what you shouldn’t be moving. One bone at a time, the article had said. I wiggled my toes. I moved my knees. I tapped the fingers of my right hand, bent my arm at the elbow, rolled my shoulder, my neck and with my right hand, felt my head. I saved my left arm for last because I was terrified that it was shattered but that I just hadn’t registered it. I didn’t look at it. It felt numb. But slowly, very slowly, the sensation came back and I could feel the tips of my fingers – though the left tips felt noticeably duller than the right. But the fact that I could move them – it meant my bones were fine. Nothing was broken.
I got up slowly, then turned my neck left and right. All good. My legs worked fine. And finally the arm. The left arm I let stay at my side – I didn’t want to shock the liquefied muscle. Erica stood by and watched silently, shocked that I was standing.
“Betty,” she said, “maybe you should sit down.”
“I’m fine,” I said.
“No. I think you hit your head.”
“I most certainly did not hit my head.”
“I think you did. You can’t always tell when you have a concussion…and then sometimes people just go to sleep and never wake up. Like Natasha Richardson.” Even in the dark, I could sense her worry, “Please sit down. I’ll get your parents.”
“Erica. I’m fine.”
We finished the walk and at the door, I assured Erica I wouldn’t die in my sleep. There were too many things I had to do. Like check my email.
An hour later, I sat at my brother’s desk, wondering how odd it was that I’d just been hit by a car. My parents had greeted me at the door and asked me how the walk went.
“Fine,” I said, “Great.”
And I went to the computer. I sat and typed something, deleted it, then as my thumb pressed the space bar a sharp pain shot up my left arm. I ignored it and continued writing, but the pain came back stronger and stronger until suddenly, I was fearful of moving any part of my left arm.
I looked at my watch. It had been exactly an hour since I’d been hit – wasn’t my response to the pain a tad too delayed? I imagined a hairline fracture splitting and splitting and the bone finally cracking in two an hour later. Is that what was happening now?
I suddenly had to know. I thought about my grandmother enduring severe constipation and stomach pains, not wanting to “bother” her children with her petty digestive issues until one day there was so much blood in her stool she was frightened. The diagnosis was a minute away from colon cancer and she ended up having a giant segment of her intestine removed.
I wasn’t going to be so stupid. A little nagging was a fair trade for having my father drive me to the hospital, as my left arm was in no condition now to turn a steering wheel.
I walked slowly into the dining room, where my mother sat typing away at her laptop. My father was in the kitchen, within view and earshot.
“Mom, dad,” I said slowly.
“I have to tell you something, but please don’t freak out.”
My father stopped chopping the scarlet watermelon. My mother looked up from the laptop. Their worry thickened the air.
“I got hit by a car when I was walking.”
My mother gasped. My father put down the butcher’s knife with more force than was necessary. He walked slowly into the dining room, as though walking in too quickly would shatter me. He looked me up and down.
“What? Where? Where does it hurt? Are you bleeding? Who? Who? Did you get the license plate?”
I told them what happened, emphasizing that only my arm hurt – and on the arm, only my tricep…but the pain was increasing and I feared I had a fracture.
“We’ll go to the hospital right away,” my father said, and in the car and in the emergency room, I had to hear it: the long, drawn out “I told you so” about walking with a flashlight or a reflector vest. It was an old warning, often heard, never heeded.
“I’d rather walk in asphalt camouflage,” I’d say.
He’d shake his head, “Once is all it takes.”
And it’s true. Once is all it takes.
On the drive to the hospital I studied my father’s headlights and the area they covered – there was no way the driver did not see me. Perhaps he was inebriated and had slow reflexes. I imagined how – or how I hoped – he felt: filled with remorse. Hitting a pedestrian and driving away. Did he think I was a garbage can? I had bounced loudly off the side of his passenger side car door – a discovery I made later in the bathroom when I discovered a chunk of skin missing from my left hip. I wonder if the thud rang in his head as he tried to sleep that night, not knowing if it was a garbage can or a human. Either way, he had left something toppled over on the side of the road.
We drove quietly with the Chinese radio playing softly in the background – my father driving jerkily, as though he couldn’t decide between speeding up or slowing down. I held my arm gingerly – trying not to think about the pain and worrying if I would have energy to go into work the next morning. My father finally spoke.
“He didn’t stop at all?”
“No.” I thought about the noise I heard, “I think he sped up.”
My father grunted. I turned to see his face glowing in the dim light of the dashboard and brightened intermittently by the pale yellow street lights we drove past. There were bags under his eyes. He seemed even more tired than I, but here he was, driving me to the ER at midnight. His expression was more disturbed than I had seen it in a while – in fact, he seemed angry.
“Look Bah,” I said, “I know I’m stupid. I should have been holding a flashlight or wearing a reflector vest. I will start walking with both.”
He snorted, “I’m going to buy you a neon reflector body suit. But you didn’t get a license plate? Nothing? Did you see him at all?”
I wondered why he was asking me – I had told him already. I didn’t see anything that could help me identify the driver – just the car from a distance as he sped down the hill and then nothing.
“No, Bah. I didn’t see anything.”
“He just drove away?”
“Yes!” exasperation crept into my voice, “He just drove away! What do you want me to do? I wasn’t exactly in a position to go and chase him down.”
My father shook his head.
“Dad, are you okay?”
“Okay?” The car swerved slightly, “Of course I’m okay! I didn’t get hit by a car! But I didn’t just raise a perfectly good daughter for 26 years so that some….some… (and here my father said something quite shocking – a Chinese expletive I have no idea how to translate)… could run her over!”
I wonder if I had gotten a license plate or even a vague description, what my father would do. I don’t know. He is not vengeful, but I had never had occasion to see my father act protective. So charmed is my life. He is nearing his mid-sixties, which nowadays is not so old, but at that moment I sensed a strange desperate helplessness. True, HE was driving me to the hospital, not the other way around, but I felt sorry, suddenly, that I had brought this unnecessary stress upon him. How could I take care of them if I didn’t even have the sense to walk at night with a flashlight? But it was the light- the sallow, dingy yellow of the streetlamp that cast more shadows on my father’s face than necessary. It was the light and the time of night and the fact that he was driving me to the ER, something he had never done, and something he hoped he would never have to do again.
I was still conscious and in one piece, still healthy, but we both knew it had been a close call. An inch closer to the left and I’d have been paralyzed, my spine the central point of impact. Now behind the wheel, he was in control. But there were times during which his daughter, under her own simple volition, would climb too high and out of his reach or step into a darkness into which he (and a others) could not see.