It was 10:06 a.m. The birds were singing. It was sunny. Almost unbearably hot. My wife and I were out for a morning stroll.
We were keeping to the side of the road, chatting, laughing, working up a moderate sweat. My wife walks a lot faster than me. She was telling a story. She was talking with her hands. My wife always talks with her hands.
I was cackling. We were having a great time. There’s nothing like a morning walk.
A blue Ford SUV came flying up the road. We could see it in the distance. I could hear the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine howling like a bat out of You Know Where. The vehicle was heading toward us.
I was thinking, “Surely this car will slow down. Surely the driver sees us.”
I guided my wife to the shoulder. Only, the car wasn’t merely passing. It was coming straight at us like a dive bomber. We might as well have had bullseyes drawn on our chests.
“Get out of the way!” I shouted to my wife. It was all I could think to do.
My wife froze before jolting into action and trying to get out of the way. She was nearly too late.
The Ford slammed its brakes and squealed. The grille of the SUV stopped only inches from my wife.
The birds were still singing.
The Ford sat idling. I could see the lady driver behind the windshield. The woman still didn’t realize anything was wrong. She was too busy reading a text message.
The driver was a young, professional-looking woman, mid-thirties, blonde hair, nice earrings. She didn’t even make eye contact with us, she never even put the phone down. She gunned her engine and sped away kicking up a rooster tail of grit behind her.
I immediately became sick. I doubled over and almost vomited. My wife was white as milk toast.
The worst part was that I had watched the whole thing go down. It had been like a strange hypnotic vision. I don’t know how tragedies can happen so fast and still feel like slow motion.
We stayed put, breathing heavily. My wife still couldn’t form words. Neither could I. The birds were giving an encore.
And I kept thinking about how if the lady driver would have hesitated tapping her brakes by one millisecond my wife would have died. Her body would have been flung into a ditch. She would have been surrounded by ambulances, paramedics, sheriff’s department vehicles, and spectators.
I would have had to stand by and watch her Raggedy-Anne-doll remains get loaded into an emergency vehicle while an officer asked me for a statement.
I can hardly even write about it.
I placed my face into my hands. My legs had turned to Jello, and my stomach was shot. We sat on the curb for awhile in silence, just breathing, holding each other, and listening to the sweet songs of mockingbirds.
“Are you alright?” I finally asked my wife.
“Yeah.” But her voice was hollow. Her cheeks were getting some color back.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
She nodded. “What just happened? I’m not even sure what happened.”
We stood. We brushed ourselves off. We embraced. We walked home together in the blazing heat, and neither of us felt much like conversation.
“I’m really shaken up,” she said.
I still can’t get over how lucky we are. In fact, I feel like the luckiest man alive right now. My wife and I are breathing. We can both use our arms, legs, necks, eyes, ears, brains, and I still have a devastating overbite.
But in other towns, on other roadways, on other mornings, other people might not be so lucky.
On a typical weekday in the United States, 700 people are injured in distracted driving crashes. There are 1.6 million crashes each year caused by drivers screwing around with their phones.
I won’t give you too many statistics because you probably don’t care about numbers. But I will simply say that at any given moment in America, 660,000 drivers are using electronic devices while on highways.
Basically, what this means is that each year heaps of normal people are killed by other normal people who are texting and driving.
It happens like this: A carefree, nice-looking, moderately successful, average guy is driving fifty-five miles per hour on a beautiful Saturday. When all of a sudden his phone will ding.
His buddy will text, or his girlfriend will send a private message, or he’ll get an email, or his cousin will text a comical picture of a hamster eating pizza, or whatever.
He will take his eyes off the road to pick up his phone. He will hear a loud crash. And that will be it.
In the time it took you to read that last paragraph, that exact event just occurred more than a few times.
When we got home my wife sat on our porch for several minutes, watching the woods, kind of numb. I sat with her. She was still in shock. She leaned her head onto my shoulder and we couldn’t find any sentences for a long time.
Finally, she smiled and walked inside to take a nap.
Then, and only then, did I let myself cry so hard that my ears clogged up. Because today a blue SUV on an average road, in an ordinary town, almost took my wife from me.
And it was all because of a text message.