Last winter, a car hit my 3-year-old daughter and me. We had been running errands in our neighborhood and were standing at a crosswalk, holding hands and waiting for the light to change. The sparkly silver wand my daughter had insisted on bringing along glittered in the late afternoon dusk.
The light changed and we stepped out into the crosswalk. Four steps, maybe five, and then it happened: Something hard struck my left side and I collapsed, my daughter falling beside me. I don’t know when her hand dropped from mine or when her wand skittered into the street. All I remember clearly is thinking I was just hit by a car oh my God was Hannah hit?
Hannah was wearing a long dress and hooded winter coat, so I couldn’t tell if her limbs were broken or bleeding, if she had hit her head; I was afraid to touch her, because if she was hurt, I didn’t want to make it worse. She was screaming hysterically, wailing so loudly that at first I didn’t realize that I was crying, too, rendered helpless by pain and fear.
Fear wasn’t an emotion I’d felt very often in my life, except during pregnancy. I hadn’t been afraid for any one specific reason then, but rather had lived with an ever-shifting sense of fear: of the myriad ways a pregnancy could go wrong, of the intense sleep deprivation of new parenthood, of the financial demands of raising a child.
But underneath those worries was a more personal fear that, no matter how much I had wanted to become a mother, I would find myself unprepared for the responsibility of my new role, that I would somehow fail my child.
On our first day home from the hospital with Hannah, my husband and I carried her into our house, took her out of her carseat, and let our dog sniff her. Then we looked at each other and marveled that the hospital actually let us leave with this 2-day-old baby. “What do we do now?” one of us asked the other. It felt like a rhetorical question, but it wasn’t; we really had no idea what came next.
So we put her in her stroller and went to the park, where we would return dozens of times as she grew into a healthy and cheerful little girl and we adjusted to being a family of three. My appreciation for our luck and happiness gradually overtook my anxiety and fear, and with each milestone—first words, first steps, first day of preschool—the fear receded deeper into the background.
And now it was back, as my daughter wailed and my body throbbed from the impact of the car: fear at what could have been, and at what still could come. Strangers surrounded us, called the police, and knelt on the cold street to reassure me that my daughter was fine. I carefully touched Hannah’s face and repeated their words, and she started to calm down as the lights of the approaching ambulance cut through the dusk.
The paramedics examined Hannah and told me she was probably fine but did I want her examined at a hospital? Yes, I said, yes, because as welcome as their words were, I couldn’t stop thinking about all that could be wrong under the surface: concussions, internal bleeding, hairline fractures.
Before we got in the ambulance, the driver approached me. He was about my father’s age and I wondered if, like my father, this man was also a grandfather. His pain was so naked: his face crumpled with worry, his eyes shiny with tears. He apologized over and over in a shaking voice, and in the face of such strong emotions I almost started sobbing again. In that moment I wanted to tell him that I forgave him.
That’s what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t yet. Not with my daughter staring up at me, her own face streaked with dried tears. Not with my injured body aching and the fear rearing up again in my consciousness after lying dormant for so long.
I looked at the intersection, already aware that I’d never cross here again without thinking about how scared and lucky we were, all at once. And then I looked back at him and said the only honest words I could, words that I needed to be true even more than he did: “We’re going to be all right.”