I was sitting at the light, in the south-bound left turn lane, one car in front of me. This is a left turn I make every day. We missed the green turn arrow, so we were waiting for the end of the green cycle, to make the turn on the Universal Los Angeles Left Turn Light - the yellow light.
The usual thing is to pull out into the intersection, straight from your left turn lane, while waiting for oncoming traffic to pass, so that when the light turns yellow you are the unambiguous Owner of the Intersection, and everyone can see you there. Then the east-west bound traffic lets you make your turn before they step on the gas.
Well, I remember feeling a little annoyed that the blue Corolla* in front of me, while pulled past the crosswalk, wasn't out there enough for me to pull past the cross-walk, too - A Universal Los Angeles Left Turn Light is usually good for two cars, if you space it properly. Three, if someone wants to be a jerk and tag onto the second car's bumper.
But the blue Corolla didn't give me room, so when the light turned yellow and it made the turn, I stayed put.
A blur, an impact louder than my radio, a hubcap rolling, a black mini-van crunching to a stop in the nose of a black Lexus waiting at the westbound curbside lane, the blue Corolla improbably now behind my car, facing north on a diagonal. I watched the mini-van door pop open and a young guy in shorts put one bare leg out onto the pavement.
And I am ashamed to tell you what I did. Nothing. I sat there. I didn't move. I don't know how many seconds passed, but it was as if it was nothing to me. I was stunned stupid. How long?
Then, of course, I got out of my car and walked to the window of the blue Corolla, where a man standing on the pavement was talking into his phone, calling 911. He saw me and said, "Someone's injured!" and stepped back as I looked inside the car.
She was tiny, dark haired, slumped against the seat and crying. "Why did he hit me?"
I held her hand. I told her my name. I asked her for her name - it was Kimberly. Where was her phone, she couldn't find her phone, she had to call her mom. She reached across for her purse on the floor, then clutched my hand again. Her nails were painted with colorful stripes. I asked her what hurt; she said her side. Fortunately the car had been hit on the passenger side, so her pain was probably from the indirect force of her own body's impact on her side of the car. I held her hand. I stroked her hair. A woman brought water. The police came. Kimberly found her phone, dialed, and then wept too deeply to talk.
A paramedic truck came. A police officer nudged me away from the window. I stepped back, ceding her to him.
My car stood in the middle of the road like a lump. "Can I move my car?" I asked a motorcycle cop directing traffic around the wrecks.
"Yes, pull it to the side, but stay, we need your statement." The whole intersection was blocked but I pulled around past the firetruck.
I stood on the sidewalk, waiting. There was the rest of the accident. The mini-van and Lexus sat, nose-to-nose, green froth forming a puddle beneath them. An older woman sat on the low retaining wall hand to temple, a paramedic bent to her, his kit open on the pavement.
As I waited I remembered those seconds, as I watched it happen and then sat, stunned and stupid, unmoving. How could I have done that? I felt ashamed.
The police officer was curt at first, asking for my driver's license to record my details, instead of listening to me recite them. Then he asked me what I'd seen, where I had seen it from, and I told him. "I know she was turning on the yellow light," I said, "because I was wondering if there was time for me to turn, too."
I looked at the Corolla, surrounded by medics. "Poor kid," I said "I hope she's OK." I paused. "Her name's Kimberly. I make this turn every morning. I bet she does, too."
As we talked, the officer seemed to thaw a little. "I think she'll be OK," he said slowly. "She's nineteen," - of course, he had seen her driver's license. Then, "She may be pregnant, there were prenatal vitamins all over the floor."
I am not sure why he shared that with me, a total stranger. He probably shouldn't have. But maybe he felt something, seeing how close she came, what could yet be, how narrowly she escaped - if she has. Maybe telling me was the only way he could bear the thought that was in his head - too much for one person to hold alone.
He shared it with me because I had held her hand. I'm grateful to him. It took away some of my own shame at having been stunned stupid.
*Names and car models have been changed for reasons of privacy.