I hit a car when I was going to visit my baby son in the hospital. I was pulling into a gas station and there was a pump available just past this other car. I wanted to get to my son as quickly as possible, so I arrogantly tried to sneak by the other car with my bigass minivan. And I could see the Latina woman in her car screaming at me WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! as I edged forward, and I heard her shriek out in anger when I brushed against her front panel.
If you’ve ever been in a fender bender, you know how awkward it is, especially when it’s your fault. I got out of the car and did the customary amateur inspection of the woman’s car, praying I’d find nothing. But no, her shit was scratched up pretty good.
“Why did you do that?!” the woman screamed.
“Oh, God. I am so, so sorry,” I said to her.
“How am I gonna pay for this?” she cried. “I’ve had a really terrible week, and now this. This is a loaner car because someone hit me last week, and I’m here illeg…” She cut herself off before she could say more. She began sobbing heavily, with her sister trying to comfort her. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. I said it over and over, as if it would do any good. This woman was being crushed by life, and I was the cherry on her shit sundae. I was the white asshole in the minivan swooping in to drive her to the brink of madness.
I tried to comfort her. “I have a son in the hospital, and uh…” I trailed off. My son, barely a week old, was on the verge of being operated on for a life-threatening condition, which you can read about in this book. I guess I was trying to even up our suffering somehow, even though that was crude and pointless.
“I’m sorry about your son,” she said.
“No, no. I hit you. This is all my fault.” I tried my best to let her know that I knew how it felt, that I knew about those moments when everything just piles and piles and piles on top of you until you feel ready to break, when you wonder why life is so intent on shitting all over you. I gave her my insurance card, my full name, and my phone number, and I told her she could contact me at any time if she needed more information. And then she drove off. I felt like I had handled the situation responsibly… that I had somewhat atoned for my stupidity.
A mechanic who saw the whole exchange went up to me.
“Why didn’t you just give that woman some cash?”
I hadn’t even considered that.
“Should I have done that?” I asked him. “I just gave her my insurance information.”
“Just give her a hundred bucks. She doesn’t have any fucking insurance, man.”
And he was right. I never heard from the woman again. I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she went further into debt, or got deported, or any of that. I wish I would bump into her again (not with my car!) so that I could hand her all the cash in my wallet, to make up for the time when I hit her right at a moment where I cared about my son’s life and no one else’s. I wasn’t the only one in rough shape that day. Your suffering is never unique to the world, and I wish I had remembered that.