Five kids stand on the median on Prospect Street. Some of their limbs are braced against others backs. Three lean in and out of pure air interrupted by the occasional ice blue Honda CRV. They’re kids relative to me but definitely in college at least. One of them is the tallest of the group. Another is the shortest. In whatever group I’ve been in, I’ve always been the tallest. I’ve hated it.
Months ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice of standing on the same median. But then my friend invited me to trial practice at her law school and I sat in a cushioned lecture seat for three hours listening to a case where a woman had stepped off a median and ended up under the wheels of an eighteen wheeler.
Life extinguished on an American pseudo-highway.
The traffic light is green. There is a gap, a fifteen second gap between cars when the tallest steps into the road. He takes a split stance on the asphalt and turns his head away, right hand outstretched, palm flat. He is in a movie; we’re all watching. I half-expect a jet of water to streak from the center of his palm and flatten the oncoming Toyota like a toy against a brick wall. He doesn’t look down the barrel of the car; we do it for him, eyes wide. We can’t say anything that will cushion that space. That will stop the car.
That will bring him back.
One of the other kids, someone of middle height, steps off the median and stands next to him. If another did, it would have designated the median was off the median. Median: relative to whatever other things surrounded it. It meant having an equal probability of falling above or below a middle. Equal probability of falling and not. Equal probability of dying. Of living. Converse tipping off the edge of a traffic divider.
The car is not stopping.
I wonder if he’s ever been to a palm reader. If they looked at his lifeline like they looked at mine and said seems short and he was like fuck it then. If he thought about that reader when he stepped out against the walk sign and raised that palm outstretched to stop the car like Iron Man, like Robert Downey Jr. before he got clean.
He’s laughing in the crosswalk and his friend, the one that joined him, has his arm around his shoulder. And we can all hear it, even though it’s loud in the city, what the tallest one is yelling in the car’s direction.
Hit me, come on do it. You won’t do it. I want you to hit me. Come on.
Back in 2005, I was with Lauren when she stepped into the crosswalk as a Kia rolled through it. She went from standing on the ground to sitting on the hood and the car lurched to a stop and the driver jumped out freaking and I was all omgareyouok whathappened whatanasshole and we shook away than walked away and she was like, well, if he hit me, I’d sue him and it’d be fine.
People say that all the time.We say it as if we know what it’s like to have a car crush your bones and flatten your cartilage. We say it like it’s the same as having a side mirror miss your torso by inches as a Civic runs a red when you’re on a morning run and you had a walk sign and headphones in and didn’t look. We don’t say where the money would go if we died though we know it’s most likely our partner or our secret second family.
We don’t say how much it would hurt. Or what it would be like watching it in slow motion even after it was over.
When that woman that was talked about at trial practice stepped off the median, she was not taking due care and so a truck downed her.
But the driver had a duty, the defense replied
But she wasn’t taking due care…
…he did not stop
But she stepped onto the asphalt…
Just before the car touches him, he slides out of the way. His friend slides with him like they are one person and suddenly, both the car and the tallest one are on the other sides of the moment. His friends are now split between the median and the sidewalk.
They’re all cheering now, all holyshit and youreanidiot and I don’t say a word and the tallest yells, did you see that, he wasn’t stopping?! But I’m the only one who knows that the driver wasn’t a man. That no one saw the face the woman made behind the wheel. I wondered what she saw.
The walk signs lights up, all white bulbs and purpose, leaning into space and, when I make it to the other side, I speed past the group. My eyes are dry and burnt like headlights in the night. My eyes are so wide, I know I’ve overexposed my pupils.
When I get into bed that night and listen to my husband’s ruffled breathing, I see the tallest step off the median. Over and over again. I see the car stop. I see the tallest continue walking. I see the car slow. I see the tallest move back. I see the car continue. I see the tallest stop. I see his friend freeze.
I see the two, the tallest and the car, his leg so close to the bumper that there’s not enough time to move and then, he resets back to the median, the shortest one’s arms braced against his back. Foot hovering in midair. Restart.
I hear him say it when he’s standing there in the crosswalk. Hit me. You won’t do it. Hit me. I’m going to live forever.
And, I can’t stop living in the space between his hand and the headlights.