She was listening to Lou Reed when the impact came.
It was not sudden, not like most accidents are described by those that survive them. It was, in fact, almost in slow motion but she will not remember that part. A week earlier she had been out at a coffee shop with her best friend. She told her that John Irving could save her life.
“How?” her friend said, licking the coffee off the edge of the To-Go lid. She put down her phone.
“Because, of the car accident.”
“What accident,” her friend said.
“See this couple, right, they were drunk so they had the twins drive the car. They had been out skiing and fighting or something.” The girl brushed back her hair and wiped her nose with a napkin. “So the one kid is driving the car. But he forgot to wipe off the back blinker.”
“What?” her friend said.
“The back blinker. You know the directional. The thing that flashes and says you are turning. He forgot to clean the snow off so no one can see it.”
“So this guy taught you to clean the snow off your car?” Her friend picked up her phone and fiddled with it. The sound of the espresso machine filled the room.
“No. Listen. First always clean the snow off your directional.” Her friend snorted but the girl kept talking. This was important. “But the thing is they were going to make a left, right? So they are waiting with the blinker going.” The girl could hear the sound the blinker would make in the car. The steady tick over the ruckus of the parents bickering in the back seat. She could see the whole thing. She could smell the sweat that still clung to their sweaters. “And the kid, the one driving, he turns the wheel.”
“He turns the wheel. Like this,” the girl mimics turning the wheel. “Cause he’s gonna turn as soon as the oncoming traffic is gone. Like this,” she bends her hand to show the car turning. Her fingers are slender and clammy. They seem to bend back for miles. On the palm of her hand is a blue dot, a stain, from childhood when the boy next to her stabbed her with a pen. The ink stayed, like a tattoo.
“So they are waiting for the traffic to clear and then turn. He turned the steering wheel so the wheels of the car are turned too. And they didn’t clean off the back blinker.”
“So this car comes up behind them. And it hits them. And cause the wheel was turned, they go like this,” she bends her hand again mimicking the motion of the car, “into on coming traffic and they die.”
“Yeah, I didn’t even tell you the worst part. It’s gruesome. But I love John Irving.”
“Oh.” Soon after that they left the coffee shop.
She didn’t even like Lou Reed. Her boyfriend gave her the mix cd and she played it in her headphones as she walked home. She was beginning to wonder why she was even listening to it. And then she remembered.
Linger on. Your pale blue eyes.
She did love that song. By the time she got to 86th street and 13th Avenue she had decided to break up with him. It wasn’t something she gave much though to, just a realization of sorts. It came to her the same way Lou Reed’s voice did. A little soft message. It was time. She didn’t like the way he looked at her anymore. Those big soft eyes.
The girl crossed the street on the walk. She brushed her hair out of her face and heard Lou Reed tell her that he just didn’t know. She was in the middle of the crosswalk. There was a coupe on 86th street waiting to make a left. The man driving the coupe was not a bad man. In fact, he was a perfectly normal man. He worked hard. He had a wife. No children yet. He wasn’t a drinker or prone to violent outbursts. He watched the same television programs that everyone else watched. He worked hard at his job. He thought, on occasion, about a promotion but then tried not to. He could be superstitious. He didn’t go to church but considered himself spiritual. He was not, for all intents and purposes, a bad man.
Though later, he would be seen that way. Afterwards his wife would leave the city. She would tell her family she was going to France but really she bought a condo in Florida and on her 38th birthday she hung herself in the closet.
The man driving the car, the not-a-bad man, was making a left. He had his directional on. He did not turn his wheel in anticipation, though none of John Irving’s novels were on his bookshelf. He waited patiently for the traffic to clear. It is unclear if he had seen the girl in the crosswalk initially. He had his headlights on, in the fading twilight. Many other drivers didn’t. When they asked his wife later, she stood in the doorway stuttering and confirmed to her knowledge that her husband had never been an aggressive driver before. As he depressed the gas pedal and turned the wheel, he must have seen her, dead center, her bookbag over her shoulder, her headphones on, her long brown hair falling just past her shoulders, her hanging decision to break up with her boyfriend, because he braked rather sharply and the girl stopped in the middle of the intersection.
She was unsure whether to go back or forward. She lingered for a millisecond, though again, she would not remember this. Then, in anger and frustration, she held out her arms as if to prove her very existence. She held her ground in the middle of the crosswalk, as the coupe stood there, its engine rumbling. It was a challenge, a stand off, a showdown, western style. Neither moved. Inside the car, he was waving at her, telling her he was sorry, telling her to go. But she couldn’t see him through the glare of the headlights. And she didn’t go. She stood there, her arms outstretched, attempting for the first time, to own something, this moment, this piece of asphalt, her own life. Everyone has this point in their life. A point where they will not step aside. Today, was this girls.
During the stand off, a car, a white minivan, came down 86th street was not speeding. Everything would have been different had the driver not made the last light. Or had he left a half second later from his job, instead of five minutes early, sneaking down the back staircase, hoping his boss wouldn’t page him in the final waning moments of this Friday. It is likely that on a weekly basis, these three people come together, just missing each other, the girl on the street, the man in the coupe, the man in the white minivan, continue this weekly dance, day after day. This ballet of going home. But today it changed.
The man in the minivan hit the breaks, but it was a millisecond too late. He hit the coupe, hard. Impacts are strange. There was no noise, at least not any noise that anyone who saw the accident would remember. The minivan hit the coupe and it spun out. It spun directly at the girl in the crosswalk so that the back end of the car, hit her dead on.
The man driving the minivan, who paid extra for all the amenities the salesman offered, went through the windshield, like a rocket. His airbag did not inflate. Later there would be a recall. He was found in the intersection. For a man that went through a windshield there was very little blood. He was completely still laying there. He could be sleeping, except he wasn’t.
The man driving the coupe, who always wore his seatbelt, was not ejected from the car. Though his skull was lodged in the windshield. He was alive when the paramedics arrived, but by then he was speaking in gibberish and blinking rapidly. There was a pool of blood in his lap. It took 4 hours to extract him from the car. After all the metal was bent back, peeled like fingers, they lifted his body out.
Paramedics couldn’t figure out how the trajectory worked, but the girl didn’t wind up in the neighbor’s bushes as one would imagine. Instead she wound up under the coupe. Half of her was crushed. Her shoes were gone. Her eyes were closed. Somehow the headphones stayed on. Somehow Lou Reed still sang.
I just don’t know. I just don’t know.
Before the following and television crews, she lay in the hospital bed. When she woke, she heard a voice tell her he just didn’t know. Because the cd player was lost in the mayhem of the trip to the hospital, no one would ever question her. She would say she heard God as soon as she woke.
God said he just didn’t know.
Her mouth started to move, her lips working around the breathing tube, like a fish, gasping for air. Here eyes were still closed. Her family was there, but their heads were bowed in prayer. There was crying. They didn’t know if she would make it. The doctors told them it was unlikely.
But the girl, opened her eyes, and she listened to God tell her that he didn’t know and she understood. God didn’t know. She mouthed the words.
God doesn’t know. God doesn’t know.
It was a mantra. It was a prayer. It would, eventually become a slogan, written on banners, splashed on television, screamed from the mouths of young people.
And that is how the revolution started.