(wrote this in 2012 after a couple of beers on a cool april night)
The voice echoed in my mind. It petrified me.
“Did I just run somebody over?”
This paralyzed me. Who the fuck was I to think I could take someone’s life so easily and not go back and see. To help them. To comfort their last moments.
Who the fuck wants to be run over by a car and left on the side of the road?
I turned my car around, Paul Westerberg still singing.
My eyes glanced all around the road. It was dark, but I figured I knew about where it happened. Where I heard the voice on the right side, just kind of mumble and yell, then a bit of a bump.
Had to be a person I hit. Not just a piece of debris on the road. Or a dog or cat. Or maybe even an opossum.
Nothing. The road was empty. As was the ditch. I pulled over to the side. Got out of the car and listened. All I could hear was Westerberg wail. I reached into my car and turned the radio off. Then the ignition.
The silence pierced my ears like a pregnant seal giving birth. I winced a bit.
“The guy or gal could be dead now. Not making any sounds,” I thought to myself.
I walked around to the front of my car. The lights were still on. I looked for damage. There was none. Not even a scratch.
Now I was started to worry about my sanity. It reminded me of the time I was driving down Interstate 12. Heading towards New Orleans. I watched the traffic coming at me, the lights coming closer and closer before flying past me at 75. Each time I imagined what it would be like to hop the median and go right at ‘em. Take on those lights and have them end the pain I was feeling. It would be quick, but I couldn’t guarantee painless. Plus, it might not even work. People survive car crashes all the time. Even head-ons at 75. That would be my luck. Damaged on the outside to go with the inside.
So I kept driving.
Now, years later, I’m standing on the side of a road in bumblefuck North Carolina wondering if I put some other fool out of his misery? No one gave me that courtesy, and I guess I’m happy about that. Except for a shitty job and a ton of debt, I like my life. Even though I dwell on a redheaded girl sometimes.
A pair of lights started to make their way towards me. Knowing this road, it was a cop. So, I got back in my car and started driving. Two seconds later, his lights came on.
“Fuck,” was all I could muster.
I pulled over and so did the cop car. Bright-ass lights shining in my rearview. I made me laugh for a moment.
He ambled to my car and tapped on my window. For some reason, I hadn’t rolled it down yet.
“What were you doing on the side of the road, sir?” the pimply looking cop asked me. I had to think about this one. I decided to go with the truth.
“I thought I hit something,” I said, almost saying someone. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a dog or something like that.”
“Oh,” the cop replied. A couple of seconds later, he continued. “Can you get out of the car, sir?”
I got out. Slowly. Like all the people tell you too. No sudden movements or gestures. You don’t want to end up dead by cop on the side of some backcountry North Carolina highway. No telling what the story would end up being.
“Journalist shot after trying to elude arrest for drugs.”
“Journalist drew first.”
“Journalist shot after killing pedestrian in hit-and-run.”
It was frightening. But also kind of cool to be sitting there thinking of headlines of my own impending demise.
“Have you been drinking?” the cop said, interrupting my train of thought.
“I wish,” I said without thinking.
“What is that supposed to mean?” the cop asked, perking up a bit too much.
“I just got off work. Driving home.”
“Where do you work so late at night?” he was now getting that accusatory tone that cops love to use.
“At the newspaper.” That answer always left cops hanging. Not as much as it used to, when papers still delivered on their promise to expose corruption and such, even though they really rarely ever did that in the first place. Myths are cool.
“Oh. Well, you should be more careful when driving on these roads. Someone could come along and run you over standing there like that.”
He looked me over. I had on plaid shorts and a shirt that read “Achiever” from Lebowskifest. He obviously didn’t golf.
“Have a good night officer,” I replied.
He said nothing and got back in his car. Turned off his lights and whisked away. Didn’t even wait for me to get back in the “safety” of my car.
I got back in the car and turned on the ignition. Westerberg finished singing and the next song started. I hit the back button.
“Merry Go Round” started up again.
A few seconds later, I heard that voice again. Apparently, it was Paul Westerberg all along. Creepy background lyrics.
I decided to get a beer. And that’s when I met her.