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Heroes and Villains

(Originally published 2021)

Today I drove behind the woman who ignored a stop sign and ran over my 6-year-old daughter as she crossed the street on her bicycle. My husband later asked, “How do you know it’s her? How do you even remember?” Because I knelt in the asphalt behind that car for what seemed like hours as my baby screamed and bled into the street. I will always remember. I can never forget.

That first night in the hospital, when my daughter finally fell asleep and when all was calm for the first time since it happened, that’s when the anger came. It flooded me and choked me and lit me on fire. But then, almost as quickly as it came, a voice inside me spoke:

“Don’t,” it said. “Don’t take this road. It only leads to pain. Your daughter is alive, and she will recover. That is the only thing you need to know.”

And that was that. The anger disappeared and from that moment on, the only thing I focused on was gratitude and hope for better days to come.

And for the past 378 days, that’s been true. My daughter’s recovery was excruciating and there were hours upon hours of pain and frustration and anguish. It was every parents’ nightmare and we struggled through every minute of it, day by day and week by week — but I wouldn’t let myself stay in the pain. I aimed higher. To anyone who asked about my daughter and the accident, I told them we had been granted a miracle, because we had. I was grateful. So deeply, thoroughly grateful.

Until today. I ended up behind this woman and her massive SUV that ran completely over my daughter, first the front tires and then the rear. And I followed her.

She drove to the corner gas station and parked in a handicapped spot. She doesn’t have a handicapped sticker on her car, but she does have one that says, “The more people I meet the more I like my dog.” Another reads, “You can’t fix stupid, but you can numb it with a 2x4.”

That’s when the anger came back.

I waited until she went inside, and I followed her. I kept my distance. I watched from afar. I pretended to look through the aisles. I twirled a rack of sunglasses around and around. I fought back tears. I waited.

She paid for her sodas and walked to the door, and so did I. She walked through, turned back, and held the door open for me. She looked me in the eye. I stared back. I said thank you. She left, and I sobbed all the way to my car.

I was told that as I tried to calm my screaming child in the road that day, gravel and grit digging into my knees, that the woman sat sobbing in her car. I was told that she wanted to buy my daughter a new bike to replace the one she crushed — the one that acted like a cage and protected my child from the full weight of the vehicle, saving her life. As I laid awake in the days that followed the accident, I imagined her also lying awake and wrestling with the terrible thing she had done. I sent her love and wished her peace. I truly hoped she found it.

She is not a villain any more than I am a tragic heroine. Those are just stories, just roles that neither of us want to play.

I left the gas station and drove home. When I got there, my daughter flung open the door to greet me. She smiled from ear to ear, waving and doing a happy dance. I went inside, wiping the dripping tears and streaks of black mascara from my face. I held my daughter tightly, kissed her on the forehead, and closed the door behind us.


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