I am late for my econ class. I have straddled my old red ten-speed and I am pedaling as quickly as I can down 18th, my hunter-green Jansport strapped to my back. I stop at the end of the street, standing high on one pedal. As I wait for the traffic on Summit to clear, I hear a sound over my shoulder: a little whistle, like a bird chirping. When I look over I see a doughy man with a thick handlebar mustache and dark, square sunglasses sitting in the driver’s seat of a green Bronco right next to me; he is leaning back against his seat, waggling his erect penis at me. It is only the second penis I have ever seen, and a ripple of fear moves through me; my limbs turn liquid with adrenaline.
For reasons I will never understand, I roll my eyes and look forward at the street, as if this is just another idiot I have encountered in traffic rather than someone playing with his genitals. I jam the rubber sole of my tennis shoe into the teeth of the bike pedal and shove off into the street. I race to class breathless, panting, filling my lungs with air, my fingers shaking as they clutch the bike handles.
Later, when I am home, I finally think to call the police. The sergeant on the phone is sympathetic but tells me he can’t do anything without a license plate number. I feel stupid, embarrassed by my own lack of agency: why did I not look back to check his license plate? For months—years—I will curse myself for being so stupid as to run away. I look for the chubby man in his boxy Bronco every time I set out, and it will be a long time before I stop expecting to hear the sound of that chirp over my shoulder again.
Later that same spring, I set off on foot toward campus with a plastic container stacked with pancakes I’ve made for my boyfriend. We’ve been together almost a year but he is losing interest, and I want to demonstrate my value by surprising him with a meal he hasn’t requested and probably won’t want. I am standing at the corner of 18th and Summit, and because Summit is clear of traffic, I step off the curb. I have only taken four or five steps when I see a car turning toward me from the opposite side of the street. In a moment that stretches like elastic, I realize the driver has gunned it while still looking over his shoulder for oncoming traffic.
I have nowhere to go when I realize he is going to hit me.
I stand, stranded, in the middle of four lanes, and in that single second when the car and I are facing each other, I pivot and do an about-face in an attempt to avoid being hit head on.
The car rolls over my foot, the tire surprising me with how it feels like a fat, heavy marshmallow, and in that instant the driver jams on his brakes. The traction of the braking tire pins my foot under it and slams me backward onto the ground. As I lie there, I realize I am doing the splits, something I have always been jealous of my cheerleader sister for being able to do. And then, as I blink up at the milk-white sky, I have a very deliberate thought: if I don’t get out of the road, another driver is going to finish what this one started. I stand up and hobble to the side of the road, then place my palm against a maple tree, leaning there to catch my breath.
The driver—clearly a college student also, about my age—puts the car in park at the side of the road and runs out to me, all oh my god oh my god and I’m so sorry and are you okay? All I can think to say—and I realize it is strange as I say it—is that I’m sorry, because I’m pretty sure I’ve ruined his day. My jeans are ripped, my knees exposed and bloody, and the hard plastic sole of my leather shoe is cleanly split, a perfect fracture along the ball of my foot. But I tell him I’m okay—I am not in any immediate pain. The driver insists on writing his name and phone number on the back of a torn cardboard M&M box, the kind used by high school kids for fundraising. I tuck the cardboard into my backpack pocket, and proceed to walk, dazed, to my boyfriend’s to deliver the pancakes. He isn’t there and no one is home at his fraternity house; I feel a twinge of disappointment that I have no one to tell so I walk back home, my jeans flapping open at the knees.
Later that afternoon, I call my mother to tell her what happened, not because I expect her to care—she isn’t that kind of mother and we don’t have that kind of relationship—but because it’s a good story and I still haven’t told anyone. You won’t believe this! I say. I got hit by a car! She startles me with the urgency in her voice: Go to the emergency room right now and get yourself x-rayed. I don’t care if you think you’re not hurt.
My roommate drops me off. A nurse places me on a backboard, where I lie immobilized, my head in a brace, for three hours; I am right next to the automatic doors, which open and close constantly, letting chilly spring air coast over me. The triage nurse has taken my socks off to examine my feet, so my toes are white with cold. My skull has begun to ache from the impact with the street, and my right foot is swollen and throbbing. Tears dribble down the side of my face, more from loneliness than pain. It does not occur to me to sit up and tell someone I’m tired of waiting, to see if anyone cares that I’m here; I’ve been told to lie still so I don’t injure my neck, so lie still is what I do.
After the x-rays show only sprains—no concussion or fractures—I am sent home on crutches. Walking is now painful and I labor with each step. My injuries are all soft-tissue injuries, invisible to everyone but me. I call my boyfriend from a payphone in the lobby to come pick me up, and he is irritated at my request for a ride—I do not have time for this!—and then he gets angry when I burst into tears. He drops me at the curb and doesn’t help me inside, then speeds away.
When I get home, I call the Columbus police; the hospital registration official has told me I need a police report to get the insurance claims paid. A young officer comes to my shabby little apartment, and he perches on the edge of the blue plaid chair next to the door, writing on his clipboard. I hand him the M&M cardboard with the driver’s name and phone number; when he calls the number he gets an answering machine. Seems legit, he says. That’s his name on the message.
When I tell the officer I’m sorry for making him come to my house, for not calling the police when the accident occurred—sorry sorry sorry the refrain of my days—he looks at me and says, Probably better that you didn’t. I cock my head at him, confused. You would have been cited for not crossing at the crosswalk at 17th, he says. Why? I ask. Because you should have used the crosswalk a block away, he says. I feel a bloom of anger in my chest and I knit my brows, letting a little laugh escape. Are you serious? I ask him. You mean I should have walked a block out of my way so I wouldn’t get hit by a car? He stops writing and looks at me. That’s the law, he says.
And even though I have just been told I am at fault for this accident—the one in which the driver was looking backwards when he hit me, the one in which I could have been killed—I sit a little straighter, indignant. I do not say I’m sorry again.
Amy Collini’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Slice, Indiana Review, Baltimore Review, Soundings Review, Pithead Chapel, Rappahannock Review, Ilanot Review and elsewhere.