Things had so quickly taken over my train of thoughts after I had calmly parked the car a block away, making sure I didn’t lock my keys in the car in this strange town, double-checking that I had grabbed all of the important papers for the interview, looking up the street to see how far I had to walk, that the near miss had gone completely out of my head.
It wasn’t until I curled up in bed, appreciating the warmth of the bed & the softness of the new sheets & sleep began to over-take me, that the details came rushing back to me. The way the winter sun, breaking out of the thick clouds for the first time in weeks, hit the little boy’s curls & lit them up like golden fire. The father, grabbing at his son’s shirt, stretching the shirt out until the striped fabric thins & slips from his fingers. The red, white & blue rubber playground ball bouncing & then rolling to a stop in front of my car. My breaks screaming and startling sparrows out from under a car parked to my right.
The father had fallen off balance when his son slipped out of his hands. The boy, running gleefully, headstrong & oblivious, to reclaim his ball, disappeared entirely as he bent over in front of my car, so small he was completely obscured by the hood.
In another flash, the man was at the child, picking him up, spanking him. His slaps on the butt were fueled by his own fear and the desire to protect his son from future pain. The boy sobbing and kicking, scaring the tiny sparrows up into the air again, now from under a car parked to my left.
The ball falls from the toddler’s hands and rolls under a car, sticking underneath, in the exact place that’s most impossible to reach without wallowing on the ground. Too bombarded with his inner thoughts, the father doesn’t notice a change in his son’s cries, or has had enough of that patriotic rubber ball & walks away, not even slowing down for a second to consider retrieving it.
It all happened in a flash and left my thoughts in a flash, not 5 minutes later. But the temporarily-buried memory came back, bringing with it a pounding heart, goosebumps on my arms, the flush that grows from my chest to my face when I’m embarrassed or panicked. Safe, snuggled into my bed, my husband at my side and no ability to hurt that curly-haired toddler or break his father’s heart, I experience the fear that should have hit me, 8 hours earlier. The paralyzing “what ifs”, the cyclical thoughts of a young life lost beat inside my chests until it was hard to draw breath.
As I fought to get my heart rate back under control, I hoped the father was sleeping better than I was, putting the experience behind him immediately after promising himself he would keep a better hold on his son, when he walks down that busy road in the future. I was positive the little boy was just oblivious to the danger he escaped as he had been earlier that day, in the suddenly bright winter’s sun.