I remember it quite clearly. In the late winter of 2009, I was riding in the passenger seat of a small two-door car, which belonged to my ladyfriend of the time. She was driving. We were eastbound on 45th, approaching University Way and looking for dinner, hoping to turn right. In the left lane, at the head of the intersection, was a semi-truck with its emergency flashers on. The right lane, which we were in, was clear, but we stopped behind the truck while remaining in our lane because we weren't sure what he was planning. The right lane looked narrow with the huge truck on the left and the trees and sidewalk on the right. The light was a stale green, and we let it cycle out. Maybe the truck was going to attempt a wide right, or back up, or something.
After a full light cycle, nothing had changed. The semi was still sitting there in the left lane, at the very front, with its four-ways on, motionless. The light was now green.
We began to drive forward.
Her car was passing by the truck, which was still stopped. We were getting by, about to make to make our right turn. Soon, we would be clear.
But we would never be clear. That moment would never arrive, because now the truck was a moving shape, simultaneously fast and slow, an unstoppable living glacier, a beast awakened and angling into us, with force. I do not remember sound. There was only the inexorable quality of this massive object, a figure in your dreams coming closer, governed by laws outside your understanding, the kind you know you can't escape.
The truck's trailer now, filling our vision from the left, a mass of aluminum white cast in sodium streetlamp orange. He was also turning right onto University Way, whether or not we mattered. Allison's little car didn't stand a chance. I wanted to tell her to honk, to really lay on it, but the moment was too large. In times of extremity we are reduced to children, awestruck by the strange and terrible newness of it all.
Here is her car on the sidewalk, tires forced sideways, the trailer forcing us up and over the curb, me briefly wondering is that even possible, is this something that can happen. We are on the corner, with the moving semi-trailer on the left and a steel utility pole on the right. The car is getting smaller now, crunching together but without sound, as the truck continues pushing in from our left and the utility pole stands firm on the right. I remember Allison's hair, lit by the light of the drugstore opposite, her hands on a now-useless steering wheel, a frantic question in the darkness. My passenger side door is crumpling, and I notice my passenger seat is becoming smaller...
People are starting to stare.
The ever-moving crowd is slowing. I register still figures in my periphery. But against that stasis, one of them is running out there, a middle-aged woman. Hers is the only voice I can hear, screaming, clapping her hands at the truck driver, her arms making big waves as she races in front of his gigantic vehicle. It's a homeless woman, steadfastly standing in the truck's path and yelling at him, pointing at us. She's thinking about our lives, not hers.
Only then did the truck stop. Allison checked if I was okay, then immediately got out to ask if the truck driver was alright. Wow, I remember thinking. What a tremendous soul she is. I learn from such giants, the lovers and friends who've been kind enough to share me in their passing lives, and I hope her empathy lives on in my character and touches others as it did me.
I stepped out of the vehicle slowly. We three involved were uninjured. Allison and the truck driver and the homeless woman were talking. People were pointing. The time for rapt staring was over, and the the period of gesticulated arguments was underway. I wandered slowly, stopping often.
Sometimes someone would ask what happened, or if I was okay, but these generalities didn't mean much to me. I looked up beyond all this noise, noticing the age of the upper stories of the buildings. How long had they been here? I looked at the contrast of the indigo sky with the neon brilliance of the storefront signage. I noticed with irony that we were blocking a bus. Hands in my pockets, walking with legs that worked. I was alive.
Where was the homeless woman? I needed to thank her. My able-bodiedness was due to her decisions and nothing else. Her life had offered a half-century's worth of experiences which collectively led her to react as she did, to think this was the right and necessary thing to do. She had run out there without a second thought, and I'd be injured or worse had that not been the case.
But she was already disappearing into the crowd. I returned to that intersection often afterwards, looking at the faces lining the sidewalk, hoping to see her again and thank her. What did she even look like? The face was receding from memory already. I can still see the figure though, to this day fresh behind my closed eyes, a spirit who cares for others without thinking.
There are strangers to whom I owe my presence in this fragile life. This is an understatement. There are people and other episodes too personal to mention, and if by a twist of fate you come upon this blog, know that I am forever grateful. With reference to the above story, I've heard the homeless on the Ave described as lowlifes, hobos, garbage, sewer rats, gutter trash, wastes of space, losers, parasites, bums, bloodsuckers, scumbags, dope fiends, gritters, grifters, and indigents.
I'd like to add another name: angels.