Broken Mind Breaks Bike (Part 1)
By Wendy McNeill & Jerry Guern(Guest Writer)
My 2007 silver Honda Accord “Fancy” and I were entering the parking lot of the dentist’s office when I heard a thud on her rear right side. My head whipped around to see a human—a real human—glancing off the back window.
I reflected on the minutes before, Fancy and I crawling down Camino del Mar to Dr. “Rock” Raymond’s office. Even though I had been driving since the age of 16, at 43 being at the wheel still put me in a state of anxiety, sometimes waxing and sometimes waning. False moves by other drivers, aggressive motorcycles, and wavering pedestrians all spooked me. I wished that I could have road rage instead of rattled nerves just for some relief.
As I was closing in on the dentist’s driveway, I cringed in anticipation of the needle, the drill, the bright light—and Dr. Raymond’s puffy face inches away from mine, delivering his stern lecture about how I would lose my teeth if I didn’t take better care of them. My stomach tightened as I neared the parking lot entrance. My breath grew shallow; my grip on the wheel constricted.
Then as I was preparing to turn right into the parking lot, I saw a guy on a bike. A BIKE! My fear spiked, and I bolted. I made a desperate right, trying to reach the entrance before he did.
My brain flat-lined. I hit my brakes and put the car in park, still blocking the lot entrance, and dashed to check on the rider. He was on his hands and knees on the pavement, head down, his face hidden behind long brown hair flowing from under his helmet. I stopped a few feet away, shaking, afraid to approach. I realized I was hyperventilating when I heard myself say, “Are you okay?”
He didn’t answer. He stayed on his hands and knees on the pavement, breathing hard. A few seconds later he stood up and looked at me, and I could see his face for the first time. “I’m fine.”
He was fit young man, with a flashy helmet and loud jersey like a pro cyclist would wear. And he looked unharmed except a scraped knee.
Two ladies from a neighboring business rushed outside. They could see we were both shaken, and they took charge. Sometime during the are-you-okay?’s, I began to shut down. I stood stock-still, barely muttering my answers. One gal escorted me into what looked like a physical therapy office. Passing a mirror in a rehabilitation room, I saw that I looked pale and sickly. I followed her to a treatment-room-turned-holding tank. I sat down. My body hunched over. With a trembling hand I accepted the water she offered me.
Staring at my plastic cup, I waited for someone else to make something happen. My worst fear had come to fruition: I had hurt a human being with my car. And just to compound my anxiety, I started looking myself up and down. I did not look like I belonged in Del Mar, with my blue-streaked hair, Walmart jeans, black Converse shoes, and garage-sale backpack.
Those take-charge ladies did not disappoint. They conferred with the young man, ushered him into the room with me, and supervised as we introduced ourselves.
He was handsome. His name was Dustin, and he had the jaw of Superman. Dustin told me that he was on the cycling team at SDSU and that he lived in Torrey Pines. We agreed it could have been worse. His titanium racing bike, which he said cost $3000, might or might not have been totaled. He also informed me that my tail light had been broken. We exchanged contact information.
One of the ladies offered Dustin a ride home. I wondered how I was going to get myself home without unraveling completely.
With my cold and clammy hand, I shook Dustin’s and said goodbye.
My anxiety usually drives me to be chronically punctual and to never flake on an appointment, but I had failed today. I stopped in Dr. Raymond’s office and told the receptionist Alexis that I wouldn’t be staying and didn’t want to schedule another appointment at the moment.
Outside, I saw Fancy’s damaged taillight and the black streak where Dustin’s tire had come in contact with the bumper. I felt sick.
It could have been worse. It could have been worse. It could have been worse.
But it could have been better. If I had been more mindful, I could have let Dustin pass, made my right, parked, and gone to the dentist’s. Instead, what I had to show for my day’s work was a traumatized boy, a mangled bike, a broken taillight, and some intense guilt.
I got behind the wheel and tried to sooth and coach myself. I was safe. I was breathing. Not deeply, but breathing nonetheless.
No one was seriously injured. The material damage will get sorted out.
But how am I ever going to get better if things like this keep happening?
I breathed. I took a swig of lukewarm water. I breathed again. Finally I turned on the engine and maneuvered out of the parking lot.
My blood literally ran cold as I drove through Del Mar, looking both ways several times before crossing any intersection, hesitating to go through even the green lights, and constantly watching the bike lane in my mirror. My whole body was tense and aching by the time I reached the on-ramp to the 5 Freeway and was finally in the clear. There would be no cross traffic and no bikes to hit all the way home.
I craved a silver lining. But what is there to be learned from letting the fear of the road and the dentist and the bikes get the better of you, with terrible results?
I didn’t know.
But then, five days later, it happened. The miracle.
Part 2 to follow…