Lying in the street near the downtown intersection of Broadway and Fifth, two thoughts passed quickly through my head. Feeling alone while I cried out for help. And hearing a weak, female voice say, “I didn’t see her.”
I had just been hit by a car while on a morning walk. And because of my crumpled body, I couldn’t twist or turn. When I heard those words uttered by the driver to the police officer, I felt like I had disappeared.
Three months later, I set out for my walk with a new implement strapped around my waist. For Christmas, my husband had gifted me a Noxgear running strap with colored, fiber optic tubes that also blinked. Starting off down our back alley, I looked more like a Mardi Gras participant in a second line parade.
Would anyone take me seriously, or take notice of me at all?
In the depths of dawn, I followed the same route I took that fateful day. South on Race. East on Fifth. Attempting to cross Broadway, I was met with the same fateful decision now, as then. Turn toward home or cross Broadway and head toward Mt. Adams and the city’s beloved church on the hill?
My heart beat faster as I stepped into the painted crosswalk. The light from cars behind me created an ominous shadow. The drivers waited—and waited—for me to complete my crossing. I looked back, convinced I would see another twisted body, but the streets were clear and cars went on their way.
Now on “the other side” of my nightmare, I wondered, could I make it up the several sets of steps that met up with the Holy Cross-Immaculata’s famed stairway where thousands prayed at Easter? I hadn’t walked that distance in one spell in three months’ time.
A quote from Thoreau’s essay, Walking, not rosary prayers, carried me upward. “It [walking] comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of Walkers.”
At the top of the mount, I took in a deep breath. I had conquered my fears. Still, at the end of my walk, the question I had set out to answer, was I safer with the lighted belt on, remained.
There had been three occasions where drivers who encountered a red light saw it merely as a suggestion and rolled through the stop without paying attention to me. Loud rumbling noises from trucks driving on the highway below me shook me off my feet. And I watched, in a state of horror, the near misses that happened every day. Post-traumatic stress syndrome was the monster that had restrained my feet and would not let go.
But perhaps there had been a lone driver on the streets the morning of my renewed commitment who noticed my green, lighted strap, slowed down, and became more aware of pedestrians—after “seeing me.”
But later in the week, on different morning route, I circled near an elementary school. In the near dark, my new vest glowed. Little ones and teenagers, parents too, giggled behind my back. A tall, lanky gentleman wearing a black wool coat and ear buds gently smiled at me.
My new light. Sure, everyone could see me. But wearing the belt was a personal affront to each of them, to my former self who walked or biked to school every day, to workers who tread the sidewalks every morning in the dark—and to me.
That day, I returned home deflated, knowing it would take many more months before I felt comfortable on the city’s streets. Before anger and disappointment didn’t rise from inside me, before I felt “seen” again.