Tonight I saw something no one should ever have to see.
The evening started off pleasantly enough. I met my boyfriend Jim at Columbia College because he was moderating a panel for the Chicago Music Commission. I felt a little silly-romantic because that’s how we’d met almost two years ago. He moderated, I introduced myself. We joked tonight that it was an anniversary, of sorts.
We left immediately after the Q&A because we were going to see The Bangles at the House of Blues. My wonderful friend Cara couldn’t go so she left the tickets in my name and suggested I bring Jim. Before going to the concert we needed something to eat, so we started walking down Hubbard.
If you know downtown Chicago, you probably know Hubbard Street between Wabash and Clark. There are at least 20 bars and restaurants in about three blocks of real estate – and the north side of one of those blocks is reserved for an historical landmark. It’s a chaotic playground for anyone who likes to eat and/or (especially or) drink.
We decided on Local 22. As we were crossing State Street we saw two women fighting, almost dancing around each other. One woman was darting back and forth in an effort, it seemed, to escape the other woman. They wrestled into and out of the intersection across from us, until the fleeing woman finally got away and ran right into the path of a truck outfitted with power-washing equipment.
The passenger side front corner of the truck clipped her. She spun and bounced against the side like a half-empty bag of flour and fell to the ground, buffeted by the truck as it continued through the intersection. The driver pulled off to the side. The other woman ran up to her, shook her violently, said “you got hit again, you just got hit last week, and now you got hit again.” Bystanders ran up and started pulling her away, telling her to leave her alone. The other woman circled like a mix between a hyena and a mother bear while the woman lay on her side and moaned in pain.
Jim called 911. I called 911. A blond woman and a valet called 911. A police officer started to drive by in an SUV and we all yelled for him to stop. He pulled over, other cops arrived, and still the other woman was circling around, yelling at the woman on the ground and trying to move her, to drag her out of the road. The police finally put her in handcuffs and secured her in the back of the SUV. Engine #13 arrived and they brought out a yellow board to move the woman from the asphalt, until the ambulance arrived and they moved her to a gurney.
A police officer, an older man with white hair and an air that he’d been on the beat for a long time, yelled at the gathering crowd “did you see anything?” Those who didn’t he told to leave. Those who did he told to stay.
So Jim and I stayed. We waited while they moved the woman into the ambulance. We waited while a man asked me if the woman was stabbed, and while his two friends joined him. We waited while we heard that one of the men was her boyfriend, and waited while the cops let the other woman out of the SUV, unlocked her handcuffs, and walked towards the ambulance as she walked away.
We waited as Engine #13 left, as the ambulance left, as the SUV left. We waited because we DID see something and we DID have something to say.
But nobody came back to us. Nobody asked us anything. The truck driver waited across the street, slouched against the tanks on the bed of the truck, holding a sucker in his mouth.
The light had been green as he started his way through the intersection. He’d done nothing wrong, and yet he’s now scarred, too.
We finally left. At this point only 15 minutes had passed since we first started to cross the street but it felt like one of those movies when the second hand on the clock is moving ten times faster than it’s supposed to and we’d actually been there for days.
After we’d called 911 and were waiting I couldn’t get close enough to Jim. I kept saying to him “closer, come closer”. He didn’t understand until I told him I’d been hit by a car when I was almost five. I pulled away from my mom’s grip, ran across a six lane highway and was clipped in the last lane by a fender; it flipped me to the road and I lay there as the back tires of the purple Camaro ran over my pelvis. I spent weeks in the hospital and that’s where I celebrated my fifth birthday.
As I grew up I wondered if I’d be able to have children. As I got older I wondered how the driver of that purple Camaro, barely old enough to vote, survived the trauma of hitting a little girl, through no fault of his own, but because she didn’t look once, and she certainly didn’t look both ways.
Anyone who witnessed my accident witnessed something horrific. What I witnessed tonight was horrific. And I wonder – how many horrific, horrible, preventable tragedies happen everyday, just because somebody didn’t look?
If the woman tonight had looked she would have seen the red light and known not to cross, or she would have seen the oncoming truck that had the right of way. If the other woman had looked she wouldn’t have pushed her friend into the path of that oncoming truck, no matter how indirect or unintentional that pushing was.
It’s so easy to run through life without noticing people and events around us. But if we don’t, we’re missing out on what makes being alive so fantastic.
Don’t miss out. Look both ways. I will. After tonight, I have to.