This time last year I was sitting in the back of a squad car. One cop took notes absent-mindedly as I talked, while the other one leaned out the driver-side window and gossiped with a second patrol car. By this time I had stopped shaking. I pulled my coat closer and looked down at the floor, at the grating on the windows, at the street lights outside.
When they called Michael over, they asked if he wanted to sit in the vehicle. I was grateful that he declined. He stood by the passenger-side door and told them what happened, as whisps of pale, white breath drifted from his nostrils and mouth. After he had finished, he turned and looked in my direction. We locked eyes for a moment, and he came to the barred window. Without thinking, I raised my hand to the grate as he did the same. We briefly touched the tips of our fingers. I shook my head. He turned up the collar of his coat and walked down the street.
Asher was just four months’ old. We were driving home from my parents’ house on Christmas Day. It was cold. There was ice on the road. The Honda whirred as we took the highway, air rushing in from the dented driver-side door. Maybe we had artichoke strata for breakfast, I can’t remember. My mother swears that we did, but I just can’t remember. I don’t remember much from that day, really nothing at all.
The light was turning yellow. I pulled into the intersection and signaled. A car was approaching from the South so I waited. When it passed I looked to my left and pressed the gas. I made it three feet before the impact. A sudden thud and the car screeched for a moment, the wheels spun and we stopped. A body flung itself on the windshield. I was not there. In that moment I was a million miles away. I was thinking about this happening in a dream. So glad that it didn’t happen. And Amanda was screaming. I looked up and the moment replayed. A man holding a child. Thud.
And then he was shouting, screaming. I jumped out of the car as he scrambled to his feet. She had landed on top of him and she was crying and red-faced. His wife raced to him and snatched her up to her chest, and he bounded at me, his fists shaking. His mouth foamed. He shouted obscenities but it didn’t matter. I wanted him to hit me. I waited for it. Held back by invisible strings his arm would not spring forward. Amanda stepped in between us and shouted back as his wife tried to pull him to the sidewalk. “She’s ok,” she said to him, pleading.
I looked back in the car at our baby, wrapped up and silent. He was thankfully oblivious and unhurt. I took a deep breath, nodded to his mother in silent agreement, and headed over to the sidewalk, while she got into the drivers seat. As I reached the curb a crowd had gathered. “She’s fine, she’s fine” the mother repeated, while the crowd gazed back at me with pinprick eyes.
“I didn’t see,” was all I could say as Amanda drove the car with our son, two blocks down the street to our apartment.
Michael was now sitting, his back to a brick wall, his arms splayed out in front of him, gasping breaths escaping his lips. I came over to him.
He apologized first.
“I shouldn’t have said those things.”
“I didn’t see,” I repeated. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah. My back…but it’s ok. Really.”
It was only a matter of minutes before the police showed up. The first cop on the scene was a black-haired brick of a man. He asked question after question. He was furious that I had allowed my wife to drive home. “We need to see the car,” he repeated over and over. I kept telling him that we lived just two blocks down the street. I told him he could walk, or drive to my home and talk to my wife. “Why did you tell her to drive home?” He seemed to be accusing me of something but I wasn’t sure what.
After a lengthy interrogation he was gone. A new set of cops appeared moments later with the same questions. When I mentioned the other officer, the two cops exchanged glances. It was obvious he was not well-liked.
They drove me home in the squad car. I sat while they asked me more questions. Then he gave me a slip of paper. “You can call him if you like,” he said. “Michael.”
We sent flowers and a teddy bear. Then I called.
He had some back pain, he said, but nothing serious. His daughter was fine. As a protective father, he had instinctively wrapped her in his arms and placed his back in between her and the car.
For the next six months I saw them frequently. It turned out they too lived just a couple blocks from the site. We discussed meeting up for dinner but it never happened. He was an art critic and his wife an artist.
Tonight we drove home from my parents’ home as we did the year before. On the highway we chatted about the day, about Asher’s new toys and clothes, and worried that he would fall asleep in the car. I took the wheel as I normally do, one hand at eleven, the other instinctively on the automatic gear shift, a useless gesture that recalled high school and my father’s 1984 manual transmission Volvo. We listened to terrible music and even worse DJs and my stomach felt the warmth of being full.
But as we exited the highway a knot began to form in my stomach. I began anticipating red lights. I stopped where I normally would race through a yellow light. Amanda noticed and placed her hand on mine. We drove the rest of the way silently, my eyes attempting to take in every minor detail on the road.
My hands were glued at ten and two, my wrists locked tight in anticipation. I replayed the moment in my mind until she pressed gently on my hand. I relaxed slightly, and took the last few blocks home.