This is a prose poem I wrote based on an actual tragic incident. It deals with a theme I think of often- the exemplary life negated and defined by one terrible mistake.
He awoke to the Summer sunlight.
Eight-six years old. All of his life he loved to drive. His children begged him to hang up his keys- no. The freedom- the power of being behind the wheel- better to be dead.
Eighty-six years old. Sometimes reality is right in front of you, but you do not see it- just like you do not see lights, changing from yellow to red- or bright signs and admonitions, telling you to slow down, or stop all together. But you still back the big Buick out of the garage.
Such a beautiful Summer day- July, before the heat waves of August. So free within your movable fortress, tons of metal shielding you from the horrors of the modern world.
What- what was that sound- that grinding impact? Did you hit something? No- it must be a bump in the road. The day is so pure and clear. You are 21 again.
What-what is that ahead?
Who are those people? They look so young- and happy.
Why are they in the middle of the street? Why are they not on the sidewalk?
They are getting closer. Surely they can see you.
That horrible thud, followed by screams.
The first one simply disappeared beneath the car. Then, the second and third were simultaneous; they rose into the sky in synchronicity, until you lost sight of them. They ascended, it seemed, through the clouds, as if in rapture.
You must stop. Confusion. Which pedal would make this nightmare end- right, or left?
No, of course, it is the one on the right.
You shove hard. It is not working. You pump the right pedal, then shove it to the floor.
You are moving faster. More bodies are catapulting above and to the sides.
You can see their faces. Fear, hate and horror contort their expressions. Another thud. An infant in a stroller tumbles into the air, head over heels. Time freezes. The infant looks happy. Does he think this is a game? Does his father throw him from the floor to the ceiling, only to be caught by powerful hands? Where is his father now?
Then, the engine dies. The sounds of sirens and broken sobs pierce your ears.
Ten dead- 63 injured.
You are not a bad man- you are just a man.
We are all like spheres in a pinball machine, careening off one another in chaos. The miracle is that we leave as little carnage as we do.
One false move and you are damned forever.
For the rest of your days, you will be a pariah, pitied as much as hated. Your legacy- the countless things you did right for eighty-six years- every good deed will bear an asterisk.
He kept waking up in the morning, but he was not really awake.
He would have morning coffee as the sunlight broke through the kitchen window, but he was not really having coffee.
He was dead; just like the people at the farmer’s market- only they knew it and he didn’t.