Friday, May 8, 2009

Stunned Stupid

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.


Jillian said...

Wow...I'm SORRY YOU HAD TO WITNESS THAT BUT GLAD YOU COULD BE THERE FOR HER. Sorry my 7 mos old just hit the caps lock.

You writing was very good on re-enacting what happened.

imbeingheldhostage said...

Oh don't beat yourself up-- most of us would've sat there stunned and I bet it wasn't as long as you feel it was either. Besides, you were more to her after you pulled it together than anyone else on the scene. I would be a very happy mother to know that one of my children was comforted like that by a stranger.
Poor girl.

mo.stoneskin said...

My word, it's just brilliant that you were there for her.

What does Jillian mean by 'mos'? Mouse?

kcinnova said...

Oh, G - being stunned is NORMAL. You did exactly what needed to be done: since 911 was already called, you brought comfort to a scared young woman. My thoughts are with her tonight.

PS: Jillian meant "months" She has a 7 month old baby. Not that I've met her or anything -- I've just got 4 kids of my own.

KBeau said...

Hey, you did good. You were there for her. Hope she's okay.

Lesley said...

I hate to admit this* but when you said sat-there-stunned-stupid I thought of George Bush reading My Pet Goat. Only he was in a classroom, not on the road caught mid-accident, so there's no comparison.

Shocking things shake us and the seconds we're in shock can seem like long minutes so don't beat yourself up for how you reacted. What's important is you rallied and arrived at her side. Some people can get over shock and not manage that much.

* A stellar piece of writing like this doesn't deserve a reader's thoughts drifting to Dubya. You executed this with the precision of a surgeon and I enjoyed reading it.

M. Bouffant said...

Wow. Each American (statistics say) will be in an accident every six yrs. Glad you didn't take the turn behind her.

But what else were you to do? Unless the cars were aflame, a few seconds before you get there won't matter. You could have been hit trying to help. (One reason for shock is to prevent further damage.) You did help, & no one (we imagine & hope) was permanently damaged. Not a great day, but far from the worst.

Don't kick yourself over a natural reaction.

P. S.: Well reported, too, as Jillian said.

commie atheist said...

Wow. What a harrowing experience that must have been. Having been in and close to a number of similar accidents, I can say I've also been "stunned stupid" for a bit before I could figure out what to do. I can't imagine you could have done any more than what you did, regardless.

P.S. you sure do write good.

Life with Kaishon said...

I am so thankful you were there to be a blessing. I am thankful you didn't pull out to turn also. I believe God protected you! I will pray for Kimberly tonight!

Briget said...

I agree - shock. How are you doing now? I hope the emotional aftereffects have been mild and temporary.

Dan Someone said...

+1 to everyone else who pointed out that "stunned" is the natural reaction. We'd all like to think of ourselves as men and women of instant decisive action in a crisis, but reality ain't like that. Once the limbic system recognizes that flight-or-fight is not required, the rest of the brain needs to process. Once you did that, you approached and helped, a/k/a you done good.

WereBear said...

You can't do anything about shock. It happens to you.

You certainly showed presence of mind just a few seconds later.

tigrismus said...

Only a deeply compassionate person such as you are would regret the most natural response in the world to an intense, unexpected occurrence: a few moments of stunned silence. Consider perhaps that those seconds let you collect yourself enough that you could comfort her as she needed, rather than be a frazzled bystander. Blessings.

cactus petunia said...

I think every person has an opportunity once in awhile to be there for someone else.

Many of us don't recognize those moments when they happen.

I'm sure glad you did. And I'm sure Kimberly was, too.

Anonymous said...

Why are you feeling ashamed? You were stunned, and I know that feeling. It is disabling. Then you went into action and did so much.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

He shared that with you because you're an angel.

Queenly Things said...

You did more than most would I'm sure. Stunned is stunned, you can't jump out of it.