The first thing I notice is the dark winding ribbon on the pavement.
We are on the interstate driving through Seattle. I’ve been jolted out of a fitful doze in the backseat by the squeal of car tires. I automatically throw my arm in front of my daughter who is sleeping in the car seat next to me and search the road ahead of us through the windshield but I can see nothing. Just the brake lights of a dozen cars.
Within moments, sirens and flashing lights are streaming past us on the shoulder of the road. A delivery truck dutifully begins to merge into the lane ahead of us to avoid something. Perhaps a blown tire or a fender bender. I settle back into my seat.
We pull abreast of the first police car in the opposite lane almost immediately. This accident has happened moments ago. I turn my head to the right and look out of the window over my daughter’s head.
And there was that dark winding ribbon on the pavement.
The man is in his thirties or forties, maybe? A heavyset man in a t-shirt and dark pants. He lies motionless on his back in the road with his arms at his sides, his eyes closed, his feet pointing up the slight incline of the interstate. He is balding and has a mustache. Except for the winding ribbon of blood on the pavement and the funny angle of one of his legs, a passer-by might think him to be asleep. There is no violent sprawl or tangle of limbs.
A white police SUV is parked diagonally in the lane next to him with the door open, trying to shield him from us. Or perhaps they are shielding us from him. One of the troopers is standing some distance from the man, talking into his phone. There is a camper parked on the side of the road a little ways beyond the police car. A tall, thin woman is standing in the road with her hand over her mouth, staring at the man. No one is crying. No one is screaming. We are all just waiting.
I scan the road, looking for a bike, a motorcycle, an abandoned car. There is nothing. Then I glance up to the bridge directly above the interstate, above the man. People are leaning over the rail of the bridge. Staring. We are all staring. It seems disrespectful. But we cannot help it.
In the space of a few moments that seem like hours, we are free of the traffic. But I’m not free of the image of this man. What is appropriate here? A prayer? Perhaps just an acknowledgement? I look over at my daughter who is clutching her blanket and a book. She has not looked out of the window and I feel relief.
Hours later, days later, the image of the man is with me. Back in Chicago, I scan the news websites from Seattle, hoping for some explanation of the event. But there is nothing. No mention of the man or his fate. And I don’t feel closure. Please forgive me for writing about it. But I need to take it out of my head and put it away somewhere else. And this is where I put things. So, perhaps I can leave the man here and let him go.