At a party the other night I met the girl who was first on the scene when I was hit by a car biking in July. She witnessed it all and pulled over to hold my hand and comfort me as I slipped in and out of consciousness before the paramedics arrived. She’s one of my only memories of that crazy experience – I saw the car, I saw her blond hair leaning over me, and then I woke up in the emergency room.
It’s a hard thing, not remembering a moment in your life when everything shifted. “I’ll see you at 6:45″ I texted Jessie, as I slipped two PBRs into my backpack and left the house. The traffic was heavy on Oak Street and I stood with my bike on Lyon waiting for the light to change, taking a moment to pause and tighten my helmet.
I was running a little late, I thought – though actually we would have had time. I was thinking about Market Street and how difficult rush hour would be today, wondering if Jessie would like my weekly Wednesday night ride, looking forward to seeing the sunset from the edge of Land’s End. The light through Divisadero was green ahead of me, and I coasted down the bike lane, keeping an eye on the cars to the left. They moved forward and for a moment it was just me and an empty intersection, a green light and a best friend waiting for me, a group of cyclists gathering at the other end of San Francisco.
And then there it was – a black SUV in my peripheral vision. It sped up fast in the left lane and swung right without using its indicator or merging into the bike lane. I remember having a stomach-dropping feeling of fear and then nothing.
According to the police report, I flew 25 feet over the car after hitting it. The front of my bike accordioned and slid under the car’s wheel. I flew past two lanes of traffic and a median and landed on my face and my right side. I still don’t know if I blacked out when I hit the car or the street, but either way by the time Mary got to me I was unconscious and was bleeding heavily from my forehead.
Driving behind me on Oak Street she hadn’t actually seen the accident, but heard it. When she saw me lying on the ground she pulled over. No one was doing anything, standing on the street corners. “Did you call the police?” she asked someone. A cyclist pulled up with EMT training, and another guy rushed over and started taking off my backpack. As I came to I had no idea what happened, and kept repeating that I didn’t have health insurance. Her blond hair was framed by the bright sunlight and I blacked out again until I was being loaded into the ambulance, and the pain of my shattered elbow shook me awake.
Jessie, waiting for me, got worried. She’d met up with the group of cyclists, who hadn’t seen me either. Finally the paramedics picked up my cellphone, told her I was okay, and she, Matt and Brian biked to the hospital to take me out for a beer. It took them a while to track me down, as I couldn’t remember my name and was registered as Trauma November. I kept asking for the blonde paramedic and no one knew who I was talking about. I spent 3 days in the hospital hooked up to monitors and IV tubes and listening to the fireworks exploding in the Mission. It was July 4th.
While I lay in the hospital Matt went out at a bar with a friend, who’d brought someone along who just moved to town. “I saw the most horrific bike accident the other day” she mentioned. “My friend Nuala was in one too”, he said. They compared notes and a photo – and there she was – my “blonde paramedic”. I was on so much morphine when he told me this story that I laughed it off. What a small city! And a good story. But it wasn’t over.
Three facial fractures, stitches, a lacerated liver, and a shattered elbow. I had surgery, I healed, I laughed about it, I went to physical therapy 3 days a week for four months. I got back on my bike. And yet – every month or so I’d pull up that police report and try to remember what happened.
And then, Matt’s birthday happened. Two days before the end of 2013 I’m drinking a beer in his kitchen and in walks a blonde woman. “You know who that is, right?” asked Jessie. “It’s Mary.”
And so I got to shake her hand, and I remembered what it felt like in mine as I lay shattered and terrified in the middle of the street. And she filled in the pieces I don’t remember. And told me how scared she was, how she wanted to find out so badly what had happened to me. And when we hugged I burst into tears, right there in the kitchen, surrounded by cute bike messengers on my friend’s birthday. Crying because I had a little more clarity which I’d so desperately needed. Because there I was – whole again, having biked 203 miles that week.
I cried for days afterwards, at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t stop – good happy deep tears. And then I realized – I hadn’t once cried about the accident. I cried in pain, I cried when my friends cried because I felt so bad for them seeing me beaten, stitched and bruised. I cried at the look on my mom’s face when she walked into my hospital room after flying across the country. But I never once cried for how fucking hard it was, how far this accident has reached itself into all the different pockets of my life, how broke and sore and stressed it has made me. And yet oh – how strong! Because when something bad happens in front of me – as it does, in a city – I will not stand on street corners. I will hold a hand, I will wait until help arrives, I will worry and I will be there. And maybe in some weird twisted piece of fate that’s why all of this happened.