I remember that was what I said to my parents.
“Raymond got hit by a car!”
It was hot as I recall but it was a long time ago and that part might be wrong. For sure it was summer and a weeknight and I was playing outside. In those days, in the 70’s, kids played outside. There was nothing else to do.
I was in the front yard probably singing to myself or talking to myself or acting out some imaginary scene with imaginary people. I know I was alone and playing alone was boring.
From a distance, I heard the familiar wickita wickita wickita of a Big Wheel halfway up the block and I’m sure I probably stared as it got closer to the end of my driveway because it was noise and action and kids stare at noise and action, especially bored kids.
Then, there was Raymond riding past my house with a fierce determination as if he had somewhere to be.
He stuck his tongue out at me.
I think he would have stuck out his tongue at just about anybody who was looking. In his mind, he was flying. Uncatchable. Why not give the big kid a little smack talk as you’re blowing by at 100 mph? What’s he going to do about it, eat your dust?
I remember regarding this blankly, this little gesture of defiance. I wasn’t mad; I wasn’t amused. He could just as well have given me a thumbs-up or a wink. It didn’t make much difference to me. Still, I probably told him to knock it off; it seems like I might have. What self respecting big kid lets a little kid stick his tongue out at him without at least telling him to knock it off?
If I’m honest, I never really had much for Raymond. He was much younger than me and I couldn’t have been much older than six or seven. Numbers make a big difference at that age...he may as well have been an infant. It wasn’t that I disliked him, he was just so little he simply didn’t exist at all.
I’m sure he never saw it coming; I know I didn’t. A young girl was driving. She did everything right as far as I know, she just never saw him. Big Wheels are low to the ground, much lower than bikes. He pedaled right through the stop sign by our house and into the front of her car, sticking his tongue out at me the whole time.
I heard a last second screech of brakes followed closely by a dull thud like you might hear from inside your car if a rabbit bounced off your hood. There was no doubt the car would be fine.
But the rabbit…
Then everything was so still.
And it was surreal. Everything had happened so slowly but all at once. I can still remember it frame-by-frame yet it was over in seconds. Maybe five.
I spun and ran to the kitchen where mom and dad were both standing by the stove over a pan of spaghetti sauce. I can still see them as clearly as if it happened ten minutes ago.
I said, “Raymond got hit by a car!” but it was like someone else shouted it while I watched, an impartial observer. The words couldn’t have come from my mouth, I knew. I was feeling far more serene and detached than that person.
My dad, who usually asked so many questions, who required so much information to process and analyze and plan, caught me totally by surprise. He brushed by me and out the front door in two steps. I had never seen him move like that. I had never seen anyone move like that.
Meanwhile, the pan of spaghetti sauce had flipped upside down and splattered to the floor and it was so captivating, that image, it was such a mess! There was no way my dad would leave an upside-down pan of spaghetti sauce on the kitchen floor.
But he did.
And my mom was out the door behind him.
Then I was back in the front yard and my mom and dad were over there in the street kneeling next to Raymond by the curb. And he was just lying there on his back and not moving or talking or anything.
And I was drifting.
Then Mom gathered me up and took me to the front step away from the accident scene and I couldn’t figure out where all those people had come from. I hadn’t seen any of them arrive.
My dad shouted something about an ambulance and the loud guy from across the street, my friend Brian’s dad, said they were on their way.
And a lady was running with a towel and someone else had some ice and a glass of water. And the girl from the car was sobbing and people were hugging her and chattering at her all at once and I felt like I’d been drugged by the dentist.
Then somebody laid a blanket or a sheet over Raymond which seemed absurd to me since it was summer and anybody knows you can’t make a kid comfortable who’s lying on the gritty concrete on the side of the road.
People were driving by really slowly and gawking at Raymond while a neighbor was waving them through and everybody was whispering.
Finally, the ambulance showed up and my mom was telling me things were going to be ok and that God would be with Raymond and she was asking if I had questions about what was going on. And I had a zillion questions but I didn’t know what they were or how to ask them.
And who would have the answers anyway…?
The ambulance took Raymond and, after a few minutes, people began to disperse in groups of twos and threes, talking softly and putting their arms around each other. Some were crying and some were holding hands and everybody was walking so slowly…
My mom told me a few days later that Raymond didn’t die.
But he had hit his head too hard and was never going to be the same again. After that, he went to a different school. He rode a different bus. He had different friends.
And he never, ever played in the neighborhood again.
I’ve thought a lot about what I’d say to him if I saw him now and I guess I’ve decided I’d simply shake his hand and tell him, “Raymond, you ride a Big Wheel faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Because I think he’d like that.
And it’s the truth.
Now try this: A Difficult Decision – Short Short Story