Worst Nightmare

While walking Maybellene the other morning, I heard a loud crunch as she and I approached Broadway. I recognized the sound as a car impacting something—another car possibly. However, as I trotted up a grassy slope with Maybellene, I expected the worst. A mini van was stopped mid-way into a parking lot and a cyclist was lying on her side in the bike lane, not moving. I ran across the street with Maybellene as traffic backed up on both sides. The driver of the mini van was already out of her car on the phone, dialing 911.

Two or three other people began to gather around, no-one attending to the cyclist at this point, who was shaking uncontrollably on the ground. Her eyes, rolled up into the back of her head and twitching, were mostly closed. Just slits of white showed. Bright red blood was pooling rapidly on the pavement from her nose and mouth. She looked like Adelaide.

But she wasn’t. She looked to be in her 20s and had bright bleached blond hair like Adelaide, and with similar facial features, from what I could tell. But her bike didn’t match up. I looked at her face, then at her bike, then at her face, then back at her bike. “It can’t be Adelaide because that’s not her bike,” I told myself. She also had a commuting bag that Adelaide didn’t own. I crouched down to her, asked for someone to take Maybellene’s leash, and touched the girl’s arm and told her I was there, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help.

Another person crouched down and tried to keep her calm, though from the way she was shaking violently, with eyes rolled back, I doubted if she was able to hear or understand anything. She looked like an animal whose brain had just been crushed and was in the last moments of life. Laying on her side, she still straddled the bike. It was the worst, most sickening thing I’ve seen in person.

The driver, standing right beside me and the victim, was talking to a 911 dispatcher with unbelievable apathy. I heard her nonchalantly say, “I hit a cyclist with my car. She just came out of nowhere.” It was as if she was reading from a script that all drivers are taught to repeat whenever they hit a pedestrian or a cyclist. I stood up and yelled into the woman’s face and into the phone so the dispatcher could hear, “Oh shut the fuck up she didn’t come out of nowhere she was in the bike lane!” The driver had turned left in front of the cyclist without looking, or possibly saw her and though she could “beat her” through the turn. Both of these scenarios happen all the time to me. I usually don’t chase down cars anymore when this happens, but when I used to I always got one of the same two responses: a super aggressive “Fuck off” or an “I didn’t see you,” which is obviously not a valid excuse when driving a deadly vehicle that could take someone’s life in a second when operated carelessly.

The blond girl on the pavement who looked like Adelaide had begun uttering an otherworldly moan at this point and was trying to raise her mittened-hand up to her face, though she was only moving it a few inches. I steadied her arm to keep it in place. A guy behind me yelled at me and a woman who was crouched down attending to the cyclist, “Don’t move her. Leave her exactly where she is. She could have a spine injury,” and he continued telling us not to move her, though neither of us had attempted to do so. At this point, maybe 90 seconds had passed since I first came across the scene.

The driver was still on the phone distancing herself from reality, telling the dispatcher, without any semblance of urgency, “I need an ambulance. She’s hurt.” She said this as almost a complaint. I stood up again and yelled into the phone “She’s dying, get here quick!” to let the dispatcher know that this was a real emergency, not just a broken collar bone, and that the ambulance needed to be here now. Fucking now. I immediately realized that if the victim was able to hear anything, I wished I hadn’t said that so loudly. I crouched down and continued stroking her arm and said an ambulance was coming and that she’d be OK. I asked another person standing by to call 911 too just to hammer home that this was serious and that she needed an ambulance immediately. I crouched down to touch the victim’s arm again and told her she was going to be alright, wishing that I could do something to actually help.

A minute or two later I attempted to get the driver away from the cyclist, whom the driver was currently blaming, along with another driver who supposedly waved for her to go ahead and make the turn. “You need to move back. Get the fuck back,” I yelled in her face again. “Shut up,” she said. “I’m staying right here. My kids are in the car,” as if that had any relevance to what I was demanding. Either she didn’t understand that I simply wanted her to move 15 feet away while she blamed the victim, whom she was practically standing over, or she was just being defiant in order to mask the guilt she probably was feeling.

After that last outburst of mine, another woman who had been crouched down with the victim said I wasn’t helping the situation, which I could see for myself at that point. The girl who looked like Adelaide was moving a bit more now, still moaning and trying to raise her arm to her head while feebly attempting to get her leg untangled from her bike. But she was still unconscious and unresponsive. Her body and legs were still shaking rapidly and uncontrollably, and the whites of her eyes continued fluttering. An amazing amount of blood was seeping from her face onto the ground.

An ambulance’s siren approached, and there was nothing any of us could do except keep the victim calm, which I wasn’t helping to accomplish with my attempts to relocate the driver, so I walked away.

I crossed the underpass tunnel under Broadway towards home, then walked up the slight rise back up to street level on the other side of the road to watch the paramedics get out of the ambulance that had just pulled up. The people who had been gathered around the victim now hugged the driver, which disgusted me. A minute later, I looked back towards our house, roughly 100 meters away, and saw Adelaide, who had been on a run with our friend Zana, walking towards me.

I turned away from the scene and met her down on the bike path. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked. I said yes and I began to cry as she hugged me. I told her I had somehow thought it was her, even though I knew that was completely illogical. “I’m right here,” she replied.

An hour and a half later I got on the bike for a four hour ride, not one minute of which was spent thinking or obsessing about something other than what I had just witnessed.

7 thoughts on “Worst Nightmare

  1. Hi Kennett, I’m Katie. I’m the other bystander who told you that you weren’t helping. I’ve been thinking about you and the injured cyclist since that morning, and I’m also really shaken by the whole awful thing. I’d really like to connect with you and talk through what happened, if you’re up for it. Let me know.

  2. Hi Kennett..that woman was my sister Erin. I can’t thank you enough for being there with her in those moments. I know I can speak for her and for all of our family, thank you for being there and standing up for her when she couldn’t do it herself!

  3. Kenneth, my name is Rachel…the cyclist was/is my baby sister. I can not thank you enough for how you helped her that day! I cried reading your blog, knowing how close Erin was to death. She is currently recovering from a major concussion, broken facial bones including a cracked pallet and broken jaw, broken wrist and ankle and damage to her teeth. Today she had 3 root canals. Thankfully the facial bones are lined up and will heal with time. She’s on a liquid diet and still having major headaches, body aches, etc….but she is alive! Just before the impact she felt an urge to tighten her chin strap…we believe that if she hadn’t she would have died. Personally, I thank God for impressing on her to tighten it. You stroked my sister’s arm and did your best to rid the environment of negativity from the driver…for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would love to put Erin in touch with you once she’s healed. I’m sure she’ll want to thank you as well!

  4. Hi Rachel, I sent Erin an email a day ago. Hopefully I or other bystanders can help with the legal case if necessary. I hope she’s healing as well as possible now, and will be able to get back on the bike some day. I’m sorry your family had to go through this traumatic experience.

  5. Gretchen, thank you. From what your parents said, Erin is recovering as well as can be expected from such a horrible injury. Let her know that she’s free to reach out to me any time. Another bystander may also be able to help with the legal case.

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