On the way to our brother and sister-in-law’s place in Vancouver, we saw an accident. A kid, not more than 17, standing in the middle of three lanes in the tunnel that connects the outlying suburbs with downtown Portland. Behind him sat his pick-up, a small extended cab Toyota, the snout of it crushed from the bumper to the end of the wheel well. The truck was sitting at a t-bone in the middle of the road, forcing traffic to nose around the outermost shoulders on the right and left. In front of the kid was a cop, one foot out in front of him, a finger to his nose, miming the kid to follow along. It was 8:30 in the morning, last Sunday.
This image stuck with me. For the first time, an accident of this sort is not simply a tragedy. Now, it’s a tragedy I may have to deal with in a very real and connected manner. My wife is nine weeks pregnant, and that kid in the street could one day be my son.
When I was 16, March 31 after the November of my 16th birthday to be specific, I lost my license. It was about midnight on my dad’s birthday.
We’d just gone to dinner, me, mom and dad, and my girlfriend at the time. I’d dropped her off at her place and was driving her car back to our house, up I-25 north, through downtown Colorado Springs.
Apparently, the music was too loud or I was too into it or something. That’s why I couldn’t hear the cop’s sirens. Maybe I should say "cops’ sirens." By the time they actually pulled me over, four miles after the chase had started; the leader had called in two other cars for backup. I was a fugitive and didn’t even know it. To compound the issue, when I finally did see the lights and turn the radio down to hear the sirens, I panicked, as any good 16-year-old would, and pulled over on the left. On a bridge.
Don’t ever do that, it makes police angry.
I got out of my car after moving to the right shoulder and was quickly asked to get into the lead squad car. To his credit, when the officer saw me – that I was not a threat – he mellowed from the chase-high and turned out to be a pretty nice guy. He punched up a few buttons on his computer and pointed: 98.6. "You were driving your temp, son."
The court date was set right then and there, in the car. I had thirty days. Thirty days to find some unscrupulous mechanic to crack open my dash and roll back my speedometer. It was my only hope.
Twenty-eight days and still no mechanic later, I caved and told mom. As she was digesting this, I thought I should probably hit her with everything at once, so I told her real fast that I’d lost my virginity in our guest house. Whew, that was something that needed a good entre. It’s also another story all together.
I left it up to her to tell dad, but I had to be in the room. He was very, very cool. Asked me if I knew how bad this was. Asked me if I had any idea how expensive this could be. Called in a favor from a lawyer friend and voila: I didn’t go to jail. As a matter of fact, they gave me a "red license" to drive to and from school, Monday through Saturday, 7:30 to 5:00.
I got pulled over on the way to school about three months later. The officer, bless his heart, took the license right then and there.
Apparently, I was driving too fast that night. Apparently, I was a reckless driver. I never saw it that way, see; if I was really a reckless driver, I would be dead. No, back then, I was the coolest, calmest guy who ever got behind the wheel. I was alive.
And there’s the point. I never killed anyone. I was alive, and I never killed a soul, and it was all thanks to blind, dumb luck.
And what if this 17-year-old kid had been hit with a fist of blind, dumb luck himself? What if he was cool, and calm, and someone ended up dead? At that moment, Sunday morning, all that emotion welled up inside and Kira and I sat silent. It certainly was more than a tragedy. It was a symbol of everything we suddenly stood for and against. It’s the at we wear to focus all our decisions from this point forward.
What’s been weighing on my mind this week is how the parents got through it all. I’ve been very conscious of parenting styles and much of how I was raised I can remember and distill into simple "If/Then" causal statements: If (son/daughter) sneaks car, Then restrict weekend privileges. To prevent the young lad from running amok in the neighborhood, my father-in-law was once harnessed in a child leash and trussed to a clothesline, allowed to run back and forth the length of the yard and a few more feet side to side. See, the role-modeling abounds when it comes to the concrete behavioral stuff.
It’s the big stuff I can’t quite get my arms around. It’s drugs. It’s drinking. It’s fighting and the "in" crowd. With all the dumb stuff I did as a kid, you’d think I’d remember how I was treated. In fact, all I remember was how I felt while dealing with the repercussions.
We’ve hit the nine week mark and the sickness has worn off, as gauged by daily-saltine-intake. On a per-carton scale, we’re doing just fine. Kira spent much of the week in Tucson, Arizona at the Masters National Synchronized Swimming competition; she’s both a coach, and a performer, and she did very, very well. Though all my dad could muster on the matter was "What’s she doing flying and swimming with my grandson?"
We don’t know if it’s a grandson yet, and the way Kira’s talking, we may find out only on the day of the unveiling. I thought I’d have the ability to sway her, but it’s not looking good. Christmas is a terrible, horrible day for me as I don’t do well with wrapped presents; the pressure and anticipation are just too much. As Kira is now the ultimate wrapped present, I just know I’m going to have trouble not peeking when the time comes.
So, moving into week ten, and all is well. See you next week.