Welcome to the second half of Musing #15: Walk Quickly, and Carry a Big Purse (or CARS, Part I).
Quoting myself, “Car-lessness is one of the main reasons I refuse to live anywhere else.”
Here’s why that is:
On the afternoon of September 3rd, 1996, I drove home from St. Petersburg High School with my sister Robyn in the passenger seat. I was six days shy of 17. It was our parents’ 18th wedding anniversary. (That’s a major number in the world of Jews.)
I was cruising at 45 – exactly the speed limit.
Suddenly, out of fucking nowhere, a middle-aged man on his way to HOOTERS walked directly into the path of my car. There was no time or distance to stop. I hit him with the left side of the front bumper, catapulting him up the hood and through the windshield.
I can still feel the impact.
I hit the brake, and the car screeched to a halt with a jolt. Idiot Pedestrian rolled off my car’s hood onto the street. Needless to say, he did not get up. There was a fleeting moment of post-traumatic confusion, and then Worst Case Scenario Stacy took over.
Oh my god. Did I just kill someone? Oh my GOD! I just KILLED someone!!! Oh my god; oh my god; oh my god; oh my god; OH MY GOD!!!
I realized I wasn’t hurt and turned to look at Robyn. She was covered in glass and blood. I burst into tears screaming her name. She responded somewhat dazed, but insistent that she wasn’t bleeding. Not knowing what else to do, I continued screaming.
Oh my god; oh my god; oh my god; oh my god; OH MY GOD!!!
My brain could process nothing but that phrase.
The cops blocked off the surrounding traffic, and EMS airlifted Idiot Pedestrian away in a neck brace. That meant he was alive, but Worst Case Scenario Stacy was dead certain he’d die anyway. They carried Robyn off to an ambulance in a neck brace as well, convinced she’d hit her head. I got out of the car and watched the mass commotion in a trembling, helpless stupor.
I’m a killer. I’ve actually taken a human life.
I was overwhelmed to the point of nausea by the utter permanence of it all. I wasn’t even 17. Suddenly, out of fucking nowhere, I was facing 60-odd years of life with blood on my hands; doomed never to experience life as a non-killer adult. This remains the single most awful feeling I have ever felt. (Feeling the South Tower fall comes in at a very close second.)
Idiot Pedestrian suffered a C-1 fracture, which is one vertebra above that which leveled Christopher Reeve.
But he survived.
Witnesses to the nightmare (patrons of HOOTERS, one and all) agreed unanimously that I was not at fault.
Window from Which Witnesses Witnessed, over Wings
The cops cleared me of any responsibility, but still had to impound the car. We found Idiot Pedestrian’s hearing aid on the front seat when we went to reclaim it. Having been a minor at the time, I was never even told his name.
Mercifully, Robyn was fine. All the blood on her was his. But I was decidedly NOT fine, nor have I ever been the same since.
I am haunted; plagued by an enduring terror of driving – especially where pedestrians are concerned.
And now, back to the license that I keep current for no particular reason!
I was never able to take Driver’s Ed in school. I was taught to drive by my dad (a lousy driver in his own right).
Over the course of fall semester, 1995, I failed the Florida driving test FOUR TIMES.
Fail it a fifth time, and you are barred from testing again for a year. I managed to eke it out on my last go. Of course, had I failed, I wouldn’t have been behind the wheel on September 3rd, 1996.
“What, pray tell, does the license have to do with the GRE?” you ask.
Periodically, I go through phases wherein my professional cowardice berates me for being an artist instead of a history professor. The most acute of those phases consumed me in the fall of 2005, following two years of non-degree, post-baccalaureate work in American and European history at Hunter College.
I was all set to pursue my PhD.
My favorite Hunter professor (a foul-mouthed, cranky old Jewish hippie) agreed to write my letter of recommendation, with the following caveat:
You can do this, so I will write it. But the life of an historian is hard, and there ARE NO jobs. I don’t believe for a second that you want to teach history in a classroom. You want to teach it with art.
So wise, that salty old hippie! His words hit me hard, but I went ahead and took the GRE anyway. Oy.
On the day of the test, I arrived early. It was monsooning that September 14th, and I was not about to let the subway make me late. (Yes, there is a corollary between rain and subway tsuris, counterintuitive though that sounds.) Upon arrival, I was asked to prove that I’m me. I handed over my now-New-York-state driver’s license.
Monitor: I’m sorry, Miss Leveen. This license expired on September 9th. Our policy clearly states that a valid ID is required in order to sit the exam. We need to ensure that people don’t send proxies.
Stacy: But it’s CLEARLY me! It only expired five days ago!
Monitor: I’m sorry, Miss Leveen. You have until 2 o’clock to start the exam before your slot is relinquished, so run over to the DMV and renew your license. It’s not far from here.
Stacy: That will take FOREVER!
Monitor: Then don’t waste time arguing with me.
Long GRE story short: I ran sobbing through the monsoon to the DMV, waited my turn in full panic mode, posed for a drenched, red-eyed photo without even putting down my bag, ran sobbing back through the monsoon and made it to the monitor with not one minute to spare.
And then I bombed the shit out of the GRE.
A true blessing in disguise. Because that was the end of my play for a PhD. Crotchety old hippie’s wisdom prevailed. Art it is. For life.
Thanks a million, expired driver’s license!
Man, am I weary of writing about how much I suck.
Tune in next Friday for something entirely other than tales of my inadequacy.
Until then, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”