A man almost died outside my kitchen window this evening. I opened the blinds and looked out the second I heard the awful, familiar squeal of the tires and the thuds of vehicles hitting each other. A motorcyclist, helmet still on, lay on the ground, his bike tipped over after he had been hit at the intersection. It’s a dangerous corner. There is an accident at least once a day, most minor, but I have seen people hit walking in the cross walk. I’ve seen cars take out stop signs and cars drive into the corners of buildings. But I digress, this isn’t a story about some awful accident that happened on my street today. Well, it kind of is, I guess.
I was making dinner when the accident occurred. Immediately I saw that the motorcyclist was up and walking, and the men in the vehicles did not appear injured at all. Two passersby came to the motorcyclist and asked if he was okay, he appeared to be.
The next time I looked, the motorcyclist had taken off his helmet. He was standing and talking to one of the young men in the other cars. He was older than I expected. Midwestern, probably in his 60s, grey hair. Stealthy for his age, clearly he had injured his leg, but still he stood. Tough guy in brown dad jeans.
He busied himself taking pictures of the accident and his leg with his phone and soon, two firetrucks, an ambulance and a police car arrived. He was talking to someone on the phone as the firemen and paramedics walked over to him. From his body language I deduced that he was a little angry that he’d been hit and was worried about the extent of his leg’s injuries.
Suddenly, there was something in his demeanor that made me think of my Father. From 100 feet away, he could have been mistaken for my Dad 15 years ago. At this point, I had finished making dinner and Eric and I were eating it in the living room. Every time I would return to the kitchen to refill my water or get more pasta Bolognese, I would look out, I would stare.
He was going to be okay, I could tell. The ambulance did not even take him to the hospital. I hoped that someone would maybe take him to the ER to have that leg looked at. I kind of chuckled thinking about how my Dad wouldn’t have been caught dead on a motorcycle, at rush hour in Los Angeles no less. Not at 30, and certainly not at 65. Then again, my Dad at 30 was more of a wild one than the man who raised me, so who knows, maybe. Don’t we ride motorcycles to feel young and invincible?
After awhile, it seemed like all of the ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars had driven off to their next emergency. He was just an old man with a beat up leg and a broken bike sitting on the curb of the sidewalk. Was anyone going to come get him? Did he have a wife that was rushing to Hollywood from Northridge or South Pasadena?
That was the moment it hit me, one of the Dad moments I have from time to time now. It wasn’t my Dad proxy’s physical pain that worried me, but I could sense, or at least I thought I could sense, his sadness over his broken bike. Also, an hour had passed since the accident and no loved one had come to rescue him. No wife, no daughter or son or nephew. Alone.
There was this part of me that wanted to run down the steps of my building and join him on the curb and ask if he was okay. And to sit with him until help came.
If it had been my Dad I could have run down there and given him a hug and said, “I love you Dad, I’m so happy you’re alright.” I would have held him a million times longer than I ever did when he was alive. When he was alive, maybe it was a guy thing, maybe it was a midwestern small town thing, but I always wanted to err on the side of brevity when hugging my Dad. Hugs weren’t our favorite, probably.
And now I think things like, I will never hug my Dad again. And there is an ache that comes with that recognition. I’m not rare. Anyone who ever lost anyone that they loved has had the same thought.
Like the time I was driving back to LA from Kansas a few days after my Dad’s funeral. I stopped at a convenience store in New Mexico to use the restroom and as I was leaving, a young father and mother and ten-year old son were walking out into the cold at the same time. The boy started jumping and moaning about the temperature and the Dad teased good naturally, “See, I told you to wear your coat!” And he looked at his shivering wife and said, “Both of you. Neither one of you listen to me.” The three of them laughed and the boy, whined, “Dad!” And the young family, they made their way to their car as I followed watchful, envious.
I felt like Our Town’s Emily. I wanted to shake the young boy and the young parents too and cry, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?” But I did not do that and really, it would have been ridiculous if I had. (Not that I oppose being ridiculous.)
But the hope for every child, for every family, for every Mom and Dad, is that there are so many simple, beautiful memories that you just can’t register all of them. That they are a blur and then something happens, you hear a song, or see a road sign, or find yourself on a street you had not been on for 40 years, or see a person that looks like your loved one from a distance and a memory arrives. A memory returns. Maybe your memory is not 100% accurate, maybe the memory is even somewhat bittersweet.
But maybe, for just a minute, that solitary elderly man outside your building is your Father and for a blink, he is there and you are there. And he looks up and waves and mouths, “I’m okay.” And the two of us, we share a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.