Friday, October 19, 2012

the man and the truck

Rain fell from the California sky as I was driving to work. Traffic was at a stutter. I followed a large green recycle truck as we approached the Caldecott tunnel. The recycle trucked reached the end of the tunnel and suddenly began spinning ferociously, and then as if in slow motion it fell to its side.

I carefully stopped my car so that the drivers behind me would not slam into the back of my car. Instantly the recycle truck started skidding toward me. My car was not completely out of the tunnel. Between the traffic and the tunnel I had nowhere to safely hide from the sideways oncoming recycle truck. I prepared my ears for the impending explosion.

The truck stopped.

I let the air out of my body that was suffocating my lungs. I put my car into park and quickly jumped out into the rain. The first drop hit my cheek. I didn’t feel it. The cab of the recycle truck was sitting up in the air. Gas was pouring out of the truck. I climbed up the side to be able to see into the cab. I was not prepared to see a dead man.

I recall my hands slipping and wondering if I was going to fall to the asphalt. I pulled myself up. I saw the driver. He was alive. He made eye contact with me and delivered a partial smile. It confused me. I screamed into the cab to ask if he was injured. He said that he was not. I asked him if he would get out of the truck and he replied that he would not. I explained to him that I would help him out. He declined.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt panicked and within perfect control. I let myself fall to the ground so that I could reach my phone and call for help as I started to direct traffic around the accident. I walked around the recycle truck to check on the back where I had previously seen gasoline spewing. The ground below looked like a river of colorful gas.

The phone continued to ring into the 911 call center. I reached a recording. I hung up and climbed back up to the cab of the truck. I asked the man to get out of the truck. Again the man declined. I looked down from where I had perched on top of the cab of the truck and saw a cop standing on the ground. He startled me. I didn’t where he came from. To be honest it was kind of creepy how he appeared.

I asked the driver again if he would let me help him get out of the truck. This time he agreed. I had to move carefully to the side to help open the door after he unlocked it. I jumped to the ground and tried to get out I had to reach to get a hold of the door so that he could exit. It seemed like it took him hours to reach the asphalt. The raindrops seemed to be falling too slow and the lights from the cars seemed unusually bright. The man finally landed on the ground, said thank you and ran across the freeway. I cringed as he quickly bolted, but my eyes processed in slow motion. It seemed certain death to me. I had already thought he was dead once. I had already thought I was going to be killed.

I looked at the police officer and he nodded at me and said to go on my way. I turned toward my car to attempt walking and the cop asked if I had been hit. I told him that I had not. He instructed me again to leave. I approached my car, it was still raining, and the doors were unlocked. I tried to open the door but my hand slipped off. I tried again. I was successful the second time. I attempted to place the car into the drive position when I realized I was shaking. The cop was anxiously waving at me to drive away. I wanted, needed, a moment to calm down. He wanted, needed me to leave. I left.

I shook with adrenaline and fear for the remainder of the drive to my school site. It wasn’t until I arrived that I discovered that I had been covered in gasoline. I didn’t remember how that happened.

I don’t remember much from the rest of the day except that I had revolving images in my head of the truck sliding toward me with no place for me to find safety, the man and the truck. Every conversation I had, I was thinking about the man and the truck. Every person I saw, I was thinking about the man and the truck. Every thought that I had was about the man and the truck.

No one stopped for him. No one seemed to care. To work everyone continued.

-except from a longer piece written in 2004

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