How does that time-worn old bromide go? Something like, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."
As much as we try to segment and sort or lives, as resolved as we are to organize and prioritize the scripts, every once in a while, something unforeseen slaps us upside the old coconut. Here we are, gliding down life's buffet line, and we draw even with that dude, his face and chef's hat beaming in the amber glow of the heat lamp. Hovering with sharp knives over a gargantuan meat shrine, he smiles and asks which cut we prefer, then ignores our request and spanks our plate with a drippy slab of surprise.
My cell phone vibrated as I rode the bus home yesterday, blissfully reading my eBook with my surgically enhanced iBalls. My seventeen-year-old daughter's name lit up the screen, and I subconsciously perused my mental lists of reasons for her to call rather than text. Would she lobby for a certain dinner she'd been "craving all day?" Was there something she needed money for, something she'd put off asking until it reached emergency status?
It was neither.
I answered the phone. "Hi."
"Dad!" That's the only word I could decipher. She was hysterical, her voice whimpering in short, loud bursts. Now I was scared.
"Slow down," I said. "I can't understand you." The drone of the bus didn't help.
Her breathing deepened slightly and her voice lowered a notch. "I was at a stop light, and this guy rear ended me…and then he drove away…." She trailed off into sobs again.
"Okay," I said. "Just try to calm down." I needed information, and quickly. "Are you okay? I mean, physically?"
"Are you sure? Does your neck or back hurt?"
"My neck hurts a little tiny bit."
"Okay, did your head hit the steering wheel or did the air bag come out?""
"No, he wasn't really going that fast."
"Good, good." Now I was the party who needed calming. Breathe. "Are you in a safe place right now, like out of traffic?"
"Yeah. I pulled onto a side street. I thought he was going to follow me, but he just backed up a little and went around me and took off…" More crying.
"Did you get his license plate number?"
"Shit," I thought.
"But I saw what he looked like and the front of his truck was smashed in."
"Okay, listen. Call 9-1-1 right now and tell them everything you saw, okay?"
"Can't you do it?"
"No, you've got to do this."
"Do it right now, okay? Then call me back."
As I hung up, a tiny, yet searing, dot formed in the pit of my stomach, its glow rapidly expanding until my entire muscular structure was cramped into a knot of rage. If I were to classify my emotional state at that time using the old soothing rainbow of Bush-era threat colors, I'd say it would fall one step above the red "severe" level and be officially deemed the purple "fucking pissed at this random asshole's cowardice and amoral value system" classification.
"That son of a bitch!" I thought. "I'll bet he was either drunk or texting or high or all of the above. If the cops don't find him, I will." I fantasized about what I'd do if I ever caught the guy. Again, my mind flooded with enhanced interrogation techniques utilized by our prior administration. I needed Dick Cheney like never before.
Fortunately, my bus passed the same area where the accident occurred, so I met my daughter ten minutes later, just as the police arrived. The back of the van sported an impressive new dent, its hatch now unable to open. Ever since my daughter began driving it to school, however, it's been dinged so many times in the student parking lot it more closely resembles a post-apocalyptic family assault vehicle.
As I sat next to my daughter, my anger slowly ebbed, to be overtaken by intense gratitude. "She's okay," I thought,"safe and sound. "Oh, my God., it could've been so much worse. What if…"
I stopped myself.
Parenting is like that. I'm not sure when I learned it—maybe when she swallowed a dime or broke her arm or experienced anaphylaxis from her newfound peanut allergy.
When you love someone that much, you can't allow yourself veer into the darkness. It's hard sometimes.