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"Could you tell us what you saw this morning?" the nice man with the red hair said.
What, I thought, is this man talking about?
"What?" I said, hoping he hadn't actually heard the rest of my thought.
"There was an accident..." he started to say. I interrupted, "Oh, yes! I did notice the sheriff's pickup and the cones, and... and I just didn't want to be nosy so I didn't go down there to take a closer look, and I don't even know what happened but I saw a couple neighbors out there and then things were gone when I actually felt like going over and..." I love to blurt out things when I'm nervous. It apparently makes people look at me and open their eyes wider.
"Yes," he stated, "the sheriff was there. There was a bicyclist that got hit."
My brain froze momentarily as it flashed to all the people we regularly see riding by, waving, and laughing at how we herd chickens. "It was a fatality." He said, looking a bit concerned about what my response would be.
Slump. In my chair. That's what I wanted to do. But I'm helpful, so I took a deep breath and said, "I feel really bad, but I honestly had no clue what happened until you just told me."
"So," he said, apparently directing my thoughts in one direction, "do people drive too fast out here?" Well that got me going. Of course they drive too fast. The speed limit sign says END SPEED LIMIT and people take it literally. Sometimes the leather-skinned old farmers on their antique tractors rumble past in slow motion, and then two minutes later that dangblasted motorcyclist comes by so fast that all you can see are the tracers from where his skin particles left a dust trail. Kind of like a comet. I want to throw nails on the road when I hear him coming, but then I'd go to prison and the children would be ashamed of me. To be quite honest, I've never even gotten a glimpse of the guy because he comes and goes so fast I don't have time to even get OUT there. He's fast. And obnoxiously loud. He wakes us up at night sometimes. Of course I didn't actually SAY all of that, but I thought it.
I went on to tell him that our school has been implementing a Walk & Ride program. But our kids can't participate and they live closer than a lot of kids do to the school. So, they are resigned to taking the bus, risking their lives by walking or riding alone, or begging me to drive them - but with the price of fuel, I'd rather they hitched a ride. I'm also painfully paranoid about them getting hit while riding a bike. This is log truck country and the shoulder of the particular road they have to use is pathetically small and log trucks are insanely big.
We talked for awhile about traffic, the close calls we've had out here on the road, and about my neighbors who he hadn't spoken with yet. I asked him to please not quote what I said about the neighbors, and he chuckled at me. I also politely refused to have a photo taken. I know, how uncitizenly of me! I was truly not looking even close to decent. I'm not a vain woman, but I didn't want people getting confused when reading the story and thinking I was the accident.
The reporters eventually took off on foot down the road towards their car and I flipped open my cell phone. Oh my gosh. A fatality. Was someone speeding? Seems possible, but at the corner? What did I just say to that reporter? The words kept bumping around in my brain. I wanted to talk to someone. I didn't want silence anymore. I tried to call my husband at work. But voicemail wasn't my idea of a conversation so I shut my phone and went back inside.
Google. God's gift to stay at home mothers who don't get a newspaper or watch the news on TV. Unfortunately, even Google failed me. There was nothing on the wires. Not yet. After all, the reporter was still standing down the road taking pictures of the school buses rounding the deadly corner. School bus?! Ack! The kids would be showing up right NOW and probably had all sorts of things to say about what they heard at school. I slipped my feet into some shoes and hurried outside as the bus pulled up and heaved its familiar sigh.
My pirate boy bounded off the bus and gave me a happy little high five on his way past. The bright yellow paper he flung my direction read something like this:
Sadly, just before school this morning there was an accident on the corner of such and such streets...
Now wait a gosh darned second. Before school? My ruffled feathers nearly popped out of my skin.
...involving a log truck and an adult bicyclist.
Oh my gosh. A LOG truck. Ugh. Well, it was an adult. It wasn't one of my kids' friends. *sigh of relief* Oh no! *takes back sigh of relief* It might have been someone we know... or one of the kids' Dads! But wait a minute, it says that nobody at the school knew the outcome of the accident. Oh dear, I have to tell my kids the outcome. I have to tell them the outcome and it happened BEFORE school!
"MOM!" my younger daughter exclaimed as she rushed at me with a warm greeting. Our younger son took no notice of his mother, but headed straight for the swingset. The doors to the school bus slammed closed. And it started to depart. My eyes strained to see where my oldest daughter was, because she did NOT get off the bus. Was the bus going to slam on its brakes and let her off? Was she being silly and forgetting to get off at the right stop? Nope, the bus kept going. "WHERE is your sister?" I said. "WHERE IS SHE??"
Don't ask me why I was suddenly so acutely aware of the need to be surrounded by more than just 3 quarters of my offspring. Still, nobody knew where my eldest child was. Nobody cared either, except me and I went into some sort of a strange mini-panic. In the meanwhile I tried to have some semblance of a normal-ish conversation with my younger daughter. "Honey I'm really sorry to hear about the accident today, I bet people had a rough day at school huh?"
In the flurry of rushing to grab my car keys, I heard my daughter say something that I couldn't quite grasp. I whirled around and asked her to repeat herself.
"Mom, we saw it happen."
"What?" I said, in somewhat of a fog. I knew it wasn't the pain meds clogging my brain, they were only over the counter stuff. "What did you see? What are you talking about? Where's your sister?" I felt like I was saying what an awful lot today.
"I don't know where she is Mom, she probably walked home today. But I'm trying to tell you that we saw the guy on the bike. And we saw the log truck before they hit each other."
"Yeah, Mom, we were waiting for the bus. Mom, he rode by on his bike and we watched him and we saw the log truck come around at the same time and..." I couldn't tell what else she was trying to say, and truthfully my heart was just starting to crack in three places so I just hugged her close. It muffled her words, and then she just gave me that look. The one that says a little piece of me is injured Mommy and I don't know quite how to deal with it so I'm trusting you to help me out here!
Doing some sort of mental triage, I assessed my situation. One parent and three kids at home. One other parent was who knows where, and one more kid in the same place. Just not in the same town. I told my daughter I needed to talk to her a LOT more and as soon as I found her sister we'd discuss things. I promised.
I jumped into the Suburban, and took off out of the driveway and headed towards the middle school. I barely turned the corner when I saw my child meandering down the road. She appeared really sullen and was looking down at the pavement right where the accident apparently occurred. I glanced back to make sure nobody was coming behind me and I pulled to a stop. She looked shocked to see me, and got right into the passengers seat. "What are you DOING Mom?" she said in a typical tween fashion, as we headed back to the house.
"I was coming to get you. I was worried when you didn't get off the bus and I know you guys must have had a rough day." She seemed relieved. "What were you doing walking home instead of taking the bus?"
"I wanted to see where he got hit Mom. I can't explain it, I just had to come by here."
My heart make another cracking sound. Then she gave me her account of what she saw, and the sickness creeping into my gut made me wish I could drive my kids to school the rest of their lives.
We got home, tried to act normal about things, but continued to talk while doing our routines. The girls had each given me a story that was very similar. They had spent no time to talking to each other about it yet, so I knew they weren't fabricating anything.
I flipped open my cell phone again, pressed the number 5, and my husband finally answered on the other end. I asked him if he'd heard anything about the accident. "What accident?" he said. Ah, so I wasn't the only clueless one. I gave him the quick run down. I could see his face in my mind as he winced when I told him it was a fatality. Then I heard him go into his authoritative action mode when I revealed that the girls had witnessed most of it. He gave me a quick good-bye and headed straight home.
Mr Nice Guy came into the house slowly. He had probably been driving along for the last half hour praying and thinking of all the things he might say, or how he might react if the kids were really upset, and what he would tell the people who asked questions. Our family had a small huddle, and talked about some details and passed out hugs and then my husband looked at me and I knew he felt the same way I was feeling. We had to call the Sheriff's department. They needed to know what our kids had seen. The man's family needed to know a few things too.
Mr Nice Guy picked up the phone. "Uh yeah, hello, about that bicycle fatality today...?"
To be continued... Part 3