The car didn’t hit us. It should have. We were pulling onto a two-lane in rural Oregon early last month. My husband was driving, taking a right onto a narrow, country road at a spot where the solid white line divides for a while, allowing drivers to speed up and pass.
But we didn’t know this. We were city mice bewitched by tawny fields and a wide blue sky and tree-covered hills. We heard birds and sheep from the open car windows, not traffic. The little road intersecting all this appeared benign, like something a child would draw with a crayon. We felt safe in this place. Out of harm’s way.
Still, my husband came to a full stop at the end of the long driveway that led away from our bed and breakfast. He looked to his left, then eased into his lane, something he’s done at least a million times. But this time, instead of hitting the gas and continuing on, he stopped. He still doesn’t know why.
To the right, I saw a car coming straight at us, speeding. He’s in our lane, I thought. It was all I had time to think.
There was a whoosh, then, and our car shuddered, or maybe I shuddered. Then there was silence, then just the pair of us catching our breath.
We had been directly in this car’s path and it hadn’t hit us. Why not? It couldn’t have swerved back into its lane because the car it was passing was there. It had nowhere to go but through us, but that’s impossible, right?
We continued on to dinner that night, ate, but didn’t taste. We shouldn’t be alive. Why are we? What happened? The next morning, we returned to the spot and wondered again how we hadn’t been killed.
It’s hung over us, this “near miss.”
Back home, a few weeks later, I broke my toe. The toe next to the little one on my left foot. I was barefoot and slammed it against the rung of a chair. Two weeks later I slammed it again. Now a month after the first impact, the toe isn’t any better.
About the same time my uncle’s girlfriend tripped on some bad pavement on Boylston Street. They’d had a great day. Perfect weather. A perfect movie tour of Boston. Then, in an instant, walking back to the car, she was on the ground, then in the hospital, then in rehab for weeks, her right arm broken and her left kneecap shattered. That’s how fast things happen.
Last week, my son was playing in Central Park with his 4-year-old on another perfect fall day. They were kicking a ball back and forth. And my son’s knee gave out. Now he’s scheduled for surgery Nov. 4.
We are all so vulnerable.
And we know this. But we are stunned every time something goes awry because you expect your toes to work and your knees to bend and you expect to get from here to there without falling down or being run down, because most of the time we do.
Every day we dodge so many bullets we don’t even see. The antibiotics work. The tea kettle burns, but not the house. The sun doesn’t blind you as you’re driving and a child is crossing the street. You make it home safely from your job, from the mall, from a ballgame.
And every once in a while we do see: when a friend’s biopsy comes back and it’s negative; when a tree crashes into your daughter’s house and it misses its sleeping occupants by inches; when a speeding car that should have killed you does not.
You feel a bullet’s graze and you think about all that could have happened. And you’re grateful, for a long, long time, for bones that mend and knees that can be fixed.
Beverly Beckham can be reached at email@example.com.