In the car next to ours
Posted on August 5th, 2013
“There is no way to be alive without being conscious of the potential for disaster.” –“The Trauma of Being Alive,” Mark Epstein for The New York Times
We were stopped at a light about two minutes from our house, Peaches and I, when we heard the siren.
The police car passed through the intersection in front of us, my eyes following the lights and noise as it moved through the space in front of our car, from left to right. As I turned to watch it go, I found myself looking into the car stopped immediately to our right. The driver—a young blonde woman in her late teens or early twenties, I couldn’t tell—was curled forward in her seat, huddled over the glass pipe she was furtively lighting, her eyes following the police car just as mine had been.
‘Hey!’ I found myself yelling at her through both of our windows, sealed shut, and the slim space between our cars. ‘Hey! What are you doing?’
As if I didn’t know.
She couldn’t hear me. The light changed in her lane and, just like that, she drove away from my all of my impotent indignation and back into traffic.
“It was 2:40 in the afternoon!” I raged at Scott later that evening.
“Would there have been a better time for her to be hitting the pipe in her car?” he asked.
“’Five to seven,’” I snapped back, quoting from the Charlie Fletcher book Stoneheart that The Three and I have been listening to in the car, “’always such a convivial, promising time, five to seven.’”
We step out into the world to fulfill obligations great and small every day and whether or not we want to think about it, much less dwell on it, this is an act of faith. Piling our kids into the car, loading our groceries into the back, taking a quick detour to the post office to drop off a letter and you are laughing—ha ha!—into the face of uncertainty. Misfortune.
I was angry at that young woman for allowing me to see her, for serving as a reminder of all of the things I try to forget when I climb out of my bed and urge my children to do the same because we cannot hide under the covers.
So eyes forward. Wait for the light to turn. Foot off the brake and down onto the gas and off we go, uncertainty going before and behind.
What else can we do?∗