“Is your mom going to be mad at you?”

I honestly don’t remember if the cop was a man or woman – I think a man – but I remember those words.

“No,” I sobbed, from where I was sitting on the curb. The remains of my t-boned VW Cabriolet stood at an awkward angle across the median of Highway 99. It was raining. When I came to, a bruise that never would develop into something visible and awesome lurking in my cheekbone, You Wreck Me was on the radio. Tom Petty, you don’t know how it feels, either, was my first thought. My second was to make sure everyone was okay.

“My mom’s just going to be grateful that everybody’s okay.” And they were – I had already checked on them – including Matt’s cousin, in the backseat of the other car (never gonna live that one down), the dark grey one that had come around a blind corner in the rain while I was trying to turn left. Kids, man. Kids. Inexperienced drivers, both of us, and a difficult corner out of the high school onto the highway.

“If you’re sure.”

The cop called my mom. Got the answering machine, anyway. That was the end of the little “winter white” convertible, with the rollbars you could stand up and hold onto. (Mom, I promise, it was Ben and Jaime, not me.)

“Is your mom going to be mad at you?”

At seventeen, I knew what the cop was asking: Are you safe? Do you need protection? Do you need me to run interference?

And I wondered then and wonder now: did they have their own experience to back that up, or someone else’s? Because it would have been so easy to simply do the job. Make the call to the parent. Let it be someone else’s problem. But they didn’t. They took the extra second to check in on me, to make sure that I’d be as safe when I went home as I was sitting on the curb.

It doesn’t take much, is what I’m saying. It doesn’t take much to check in on someone. To make sure they’re really all right. To make sure that the story of their life fits into the same narrative you’re supposed to be working with. It doesn’t take much to make sure someone’s not being abused, that they’re okay going home with that guy, that they know the person leaning over them in the bar, that they have a place to sleep, that they think the “joke” is funny.

Except it does.

Because once you ask, you’re making a commitment, aren’t you? You’re promising that if you see them, you won’t just turn back and unsee. You’re committing to reconciling, for the rest of your life, what you do after you see with the kind of person you want to be. You’re promising that you’re ready to act on that information.

Somewhere, a kid in a car accident has parents who aren’t just going to be grateful that everyone’s okay. I hope they get the same cop who patted my shoulder, awkwardly, and made the phone call so that I didn’t have to, even though it would have been fine.

“This is Officer [can’t remember] from the [redacted] police department and I want you to know your daughter’s okay.”

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