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Reaction and Reflection MAG
In the driver's seat on a beautiful mid-June day with bright sunshine and a cloudless sky, I am already in a bad mood. I am still jobless. I have applied everywhere I can think of, but to no job. Everyone has a reason why they can't hire me. So I shouldn't be surprised when, after dropping off my application at yet another grocery store, I am dismissed with the familiar “We'll call you.”
So far this summer has not been going as planned. I was determined to get a job, to feel the independence and pride of making money. Instead, the unsuccessful job hunt has left me frustrated and grumpy. My older sister, Kara, in the passenger seat, is equally unhappy with her decision to come on my expedition. After trying fruitlessly to improve my mood, she rolls her eyes and takes out her cell phone to text some friends who will make better company.
The sights and sounds of the beautiful summer day only worsen my mood. Carefree children play on the sidewalks as their parents watch from the front yard. I turn up the music, a booming rap song of the type both of us hate, and I'm rewarded with a sulky look from the passenger seat.
I am approaching my old elementary school, where the sidewalks are lined with full green trees playing against the blue of the sky. I roll down the window. The baseball field is swarming with little kids running the bases, flubbing plays, and laughing with friends.
Without warning, there is a little girl on her bike in the middle of the road.
She is no more than ten feet in front me. Her head is turned toward me, but it hasn't yet registered that a car is bearing down on her.
Now she is no more than eight feet in front of me. She probably isn't even old enough for elementary school.
She is no more than six feet in front of me. She is on a pink bike with sparkly streamers flowing from the handlebars, her hair in low pigtails so that she can wear a helmet.
She is no more than four feet in front of me. When she realizes she is in danger, she freezes right in the middle of the street.
My instincts take over. I slam on the brakes. My tires make the horrible sound associated with reckless teenage drivers leaving a party at midnight.
Finally the car stops. The girl's older sister is yelling from the side of the road. Her mouth forms wordless sentences I cannot hear. I have a sudden flashback to when I was four and my sister pulled me back as I tried to cross the street without looking, telling me to be careful of the cars or I would get hurt.
For a stunned moment the little girl and I sit in our respective vehicles staring at each other, breathing heavily, before she hurries the rest of the way across the street. Her older sister and younger brother carefully cross in front of me, eyeing me with fear. The sister yells for the little girl to stay where she is.
I start trembling, then shaking uncontrollably. My hands are clammy on the wheel. My breath comes in gasps, and the tears soon follow.
I came so close to hitting her. I could have killed her. For all I know, her four-year-old life was spared by less than four feet. I put the car in park, right in the middle of the street, but I still can't take my foot off the brake.
My sister immediately takes over, complimenting me on my quick reaction.
“She's fine, she's fine,” Kara comforts. “She rode out in front of you. You did great.”
“Why didn't I see her until she was right in front of me? How could I not have seen her?”
“You did the right thing. You reacted as soon as you saw her.” She waits a second. “Do you want me to drive home?” she asks gently.
“No, I'm fine.” Even as I say the words I'm not sure they are true. I still can't control my shaking hands, but the steering wheel helps keep them steady. We are only about two minutes from home, so I put the car in drive and creep along with my hands at ten and two.
I pull into the garage and turn off the car. My sister whispers, “I won't tell them if you don't want me to.” I nod, but once I get inside and my parents see my pale face and tear-stained cheeks, my drive home becomes an open book. Their expressions change from confusion to shock, anger to relief as I tell them. They reiterate Kara's sentiments, that I did the best I could, that nobody got hurt.
But it is not until I am alone in my room, staring in the mirror, that the severity of the situation really hits me. I find the last twenty minutes of my life hard to believe. I could have seriously hurt or even killed that little girl on the pink bicycle. But I didn't. If I had turned up the radio a few seconds later, the result could have been disastrous. But that didn't happen. The little girl is fine. Right at this moment, she is probably still riding her little pink bicycle.