April 13, 2000



The Gory Details


I've received a lot of sympathetic "get well soon" mail since last night, and almost all of it has included a similar line: "You'd better not be kidding again." Okay, I earned that, I am a living example of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. But I'm really not kidding this time, honest and true. I really did get hit by a car last night. (Which made one reader's day, as she marveled "I never knew someone before who got hit by a car." That's me: human scavenger hunt item. Glad to be of service.)

So... "What happened?" I got hit by a car. Duuuuhhhh. Oh, you want the whole sordid tale. Okay, here goes.

It all started with a dead cat. I was driving home and was just turning onto our street off of busy Oxnard Blvd, when I saw a dead cat on the side of the road. It looked a little like our neighbor's cat, so I pulled over and parked so I could go back and take a better look. I walked back to the cat, looked both ways, made sure no cars were coming, then stepped out into the street to check it out.

Side note: Hindsight being 20/20, checking out that cat was a really stupid move. I mean, could the ultimate outcome have been more obvious, more telegraphed? Here's a cat lying in the street that has obviously been hit by a car...and I step out into the street to look at it? If busy street + speeding cars + cat = squished cat, then busy street + speeding cars + Chuck is likely to equal what? One lucky motherfucker, I'm here to tell you.

I looked to make sure no cars were coming -- the closest ones were stopped at a light two blocks up -- and stepped out into the street. The cat was about three feet out from the curb, in the space a parked car would occupy. I crouched over it and determined that, yes, a flat cat at the side of the road with half its head torn off was also a dead cat. I straightened up and decided to move it into the gutter where it wouldn't get flattened any further; I figured it was the least I could do for the cat's soon-to-be-grieving owner.

I wasn't watching for cars, though. I was sort of mentally timing them. You know how when you're going to pull out into traffic and there are cars coming, you sort of guesstimate when they'll get to you if you have to take your eyes off them? That's what I did with the cars 2 blocks up at the light -- I wasn't watching them, but I had a sense of when they'd get to me, when it would be time to get out of the road. At that moment my internal radar said I still had plenty of time.

I stood over the cat and decided to sort of scrape it over into the gutter with my right foot. I took a half-step to the right to straddle the cat's body... And then there was this loud "WHAP!!!" noise and I was in the air, spinning.

Contrary to what we've all heard, time doesn't slow down and your life doesn't pass before your eyes. What happens is that your mind speeds up. You don't think in fully realized thoughts, but rather in a sort of mental shorthand -- images, impressions, fractured thoughts. There was a moment of confusion, and then I knew I'd been hit by a car, and then in quick succession came this series of thoughts: regret that I'd been so stupid as to stand where I'd get hit and wishing I could take it back, wondering how badly I was hurt, waiting for and mentally wincing as I anticipated the next impact to be to my head or face, regret that I'd been so stupid, wondering how badly I was hurt, my head and face feeling terribly vulnerable, waiting to hit the windshield next, wishing I could take it back. And as an undercurrent through it all: fear. Then I hit the ground.

I still didn't know how badly I was hurt and I didn't quite know which end was up, but I knew I was on the ground in traffic lanes and I knew I was going to get hit again if I didn't get the hell out of there. I had a moment to think about my back and wonder if my spine was injured and if moving would make it worse, then decided that was better than getting run over again. I looked around to figure out which way was the nearest curb, then crawled over to it and up onto the sidewalk where I wouldn't get hit again.

Now that I was out of immediate danger, I tried to take inventory -- where was I hurt, how bad was it? My right thigh hurt pretty bad, right in the big muscle there. My ass hurt right at the tailbone. My right forearm had a stripe of roadrash and was swelling up quickly. The ring and little fingers on my right hand were bleeding freely and were pretty mangled at the tips. Both elbows and knees hurt faintly from minor scrapes, but they got lost in the bigger pain picture. The worst of it was probably my thigh and tailbone, and I was afraid the tailbone pain meant something bad. As I lay there, what had just happened started to sink in and the pain started growing and growing. I almost vomited, but managed to hold it back.

Then I started wondering what to do next. I was on a dark residential street corner, whoever had hit me had just kept going, nobody knew I was there, and I was afraid I was going to pass out. I was still holding my car keys -- I had held them in my left hand through the whole thing -- and I wondered if I should crawl to the car and drive home for help. I decided I probably shouldn't in case my spine was injured, so I just lay there not moving. So... I needed help and there was none to be found. What to do? Start yelling.

"Help! Somebody help me! I've been hit by a car, call 911!"

After a minute or two of that someone came out of the house across the street and someone else in a car driving by circled back. They called 911 for me, someone with a cell phone called Beth for me, before long I had firemen and paramedics and police and a small crowd gathered. Beth and Zoe showed up just as the ambulance got there and I made the paramedics wait while I had Beth bring Zoe close so I could kiss her and reassure her that Daddy was going to be okay.

After a few hours in the hospital I was released to go back home. I seem to have come out of this with just a couple stitches in my little finger and some bad bruises at right thigh and right forearm (which I think took the initial hit), and tailbone and left buttcheek (from landing after being thrown into the air, I think). That's it. Everyone -- EVERYONE -- who saw me remarked how lucky I was to be so unscathed. I can't argue; I am lucky. If I'd been a few inches further into the street I probably would have taken a direct hit rather than what was probably a sideswipe, and it would have broken a lot of stuff and maybe killed me. I'm as lucky as a guy unlucky enough to get hit by a car can be.

I learned one important lesson from this whole experience. No, it's not one of those old clichés about "live for the moment" or "savor life because it can end at any moment" or "live each day as if it were your last," although those clichés do have the ring of truth to them for me now.

No, what I learned is something a lot more down to earth and sensible. I learned to let dead cats lie. Fuck 'em, let 'em get squished.