Down the hill on the way to school, negativity trails me. It builds a dark cloud over every thought, and this depressing-as-fuck audiobook in my ears doesn’t help. And it’s like I’m invisible because he doesn’t see me.
He turns left anyway, and my brakes aren’t strong enough or my reaction isn’t fast enough or my will isn’t there enough, and I feel my wheel hitting the side of his car and then everything flies. My backpack jumps out of its basket. My Mason jar of iced coffee shatters in its side pocket, dripping its sweet caffeine on the pavement. My AirPods disappear from my ears and my thoughts. My wheel gets twisted. My U-lock is somewhere in the crosswalk. Its cable lies like an impotent snake beside it. My elbow sails down through the sky and onto the ground, as bruised and swollen as my bright blue bike.
My head hurts and someone is shouting, “Call an ambulance!”
I start to move. I stand in slow motion, lifting first my bruised elbow, then each leg, foot, toe.
Nothing really hurts. The adrenaline has kicked in, and I hear the driver asking me if I’m OK, and I hear the white man in the luxury car shouting about the ambulance again, and I take off my helmet to see if my head is broken, and I move my arm and nod my head, and the driver twists my wheel back into place, and the white man commands that we exchange phone numbers, and my hands are shaking but my phone is OK, and my U-lock is scraped up and my coffee is gone and my computer is protected in its padded pocket and the driver is wearing a painter’s uniform, the white streaks and drips covering his legs and arms, and I know I will never call him.
And the white man asks for my phone number so he can send me a picture he took of his license plate, so he can be a witness, and I stand on the sidewalk and accept the text and put my phone back in its pocket and my helmet back on my head and take a selfie to send to the girls and to Fabian. The selfie includes the bruised elbow which could just have easily been a bruised brain, and I want them to see it.
“Your life is more important than your hair. Wear a helmet.”
Even in an emergency, I am still a mom, and I still have four teenagers who want to risk everything at every moment and scoff at safety and rules and regulations.
“Why are you smiling like a crazy person?” is the girls’ response. “Yes, today I will wear one,” is his.
Oh, my girls. Oh, my boy.
I start to ride away and feel the absence of sound in my ears, the awful audiobook not plaguing me, and look down into the street where multiple cars have largely ignored our small accident, and there they are: my smashed AirPods, run over again and again while I watch, before the traffic stops and I have a moment to hold their beautiful lack of sound in my palm.
And only then do the tears reach my eyes, but only the corners of my eyes.
Because I listen to books when I walk my dog, when I paddle-board, when I put together puzzles, when I drive, when I sit at camp, when I sit in my living room, when I cook dinner, when I ride my bike.
And I realize that I hit his car so hard that both flew far from me, my source of escape, my sound, my stories, and I almost forgot, and I almost left them on the street, and now they’re gone anyway, and I still know… I still know that I won’t call him and ask him to pay for them. Because he had an accent and paint on his pants and I just can’t do it. I never will because this is a minor inconvenience for me but it could mean something worse for him.
Instead I send a pic to Bruce of my broken AirPods and remind him that he has a pair at home he can’t wear because they were hurting his ears, and I ride two more miles with a golf-ball-sized bump on my elbow and beg the school secretary for ice and watch all the kids and all the teachers do the slack line, knowing I will fail if I try until Muluta, behind his long eyelashes and his red hood and his Congolese accent, says upon responding to my question, “Did you like it?”:
“I would like it more if you did it, Miss.”
And it’s like that dark shadow of negativity that trailed me on the path and hid me from the driver and knocked me on my ass is just.
And Fabian holds my hand and I straighten my back and I walk that slack line. And this day, this life, is as bright as any other.