In Her Words
Don’t Kill the Messenger
Finding humanity and getting knocked down by life
-Melina Gerosa Bellows
Lunch hour, Washington D.C., one block from the White House. I’m crossing the street and chatting on my cell, when I spot a bike messenger barreling straight toward me. Nah, I think.
The next thing I know, I’m knocked out of my shoes and land like a yard sale in the middle of the intersection. Strangers rush to my aid, pulling me to my feet and retrieving my far-flung belongings.
“Are you OK?” several Good Samaritans stop to ask me.
Miraculously, I’m not only OK, but my long, winter-white, wool coat, (a reckless, defiant purchase in the face of two preschoolers with chronically sticky hands), isn’t even dirty. I stand on the corner stunned.
By this time a crowd has formed.
“Did you see what happened?” a young professional asks me.
“Yeah, I got hit by a biker,” I say.
He starts to say something, but I wander past him to see the whereabouts of my assailant.
That’s when I see a motionless, black-clad body lying in the middle of busy 16th Street. Several people have surrounded him, diverting the oncoming traffic and calling 911 for help.
He isn’t wearing a helmet, just one of those ski hats that covers the face, and an ipod, which is now dangling beside him on the street. My eyes zero in on his gloved hand. No one is holding it, I think.
Immediately I’m drawn to his side, where I sit down next to him. His entire body is shaking. He’s stuttering so much that he’s difficult to understand. I put my handbag under his head and ask his name.
“G-g-g-george,” he says. “George Brown.”
“George, I’m just going to take off your hat, so you can breathe a little easier,” I say. “Just relax. Help is on the way.”
Did I see this on Law and Order, I wonder?
His cornrows are uneven and messy; you can tell he doesn’t care about his appearance. I am inches from his face, and can smell stale tobacco on his breath.
A businessman takes off his coat and drapes it on top of George. I remove his glove and take his leathered palm in my own.
Within minutes, the fire truck, ambulance and police arrive. The crowd of rubberneckers disseminates to Potbellies, Citibank and the other pressing destinations of the noon hour. For some reason, though, I cannot leave.
The paramedics are doing their thing, putting George’s neck in a collar, strapping him to a board, asking him questions about his health.
“What happened?” a policeman asks me and starts filling out a report.
I explain how the walk sign was blinking, and I was halfway through the crosswalk when the biker and I collided.
I had already heard George’s version, that he had swerved to avoid being hit by a car. But no cars were moving; they were all stopped at the red light. So that was a lie.
The thought occurs to me, was George … faking? Was he trying to get out of big, fat trouble by pretending he was hurt when he wasn’t? I remind myself of his shaking. This reassures me, as if I’d rather George be injured than dishonest.
I ask the cop what we should do about his bike.
“I guess I’ll take it,” says the cop who took the report.
“N-n-n-no,” said George, looking at me imploringly. “C-c-can you lock it up for me?”
I find the keys in his bag, and I do as he says. It’s one of those super light racing bikes, I notice. George asks me to use his walkie-talkies to notify the dispatchers at his jobs and to call his wife, Daniela.
“She’s going to be so pissed at me,” he says.
As they load George into the ambulance, the cops tell me that according to the paramedics, his injuries seem minor. He’s going to be fine.
But still, I can’t let go. I knock on the ambulance door, and the paramedic lets me in.
“George,” I say, leaning close to him, “I’m OK They say that you are going to be OK, too. So don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright.”
George closes his eyes and turns away from me. I think I hear him mumble “sorry,” but I can’t be sure. Strangely, I lose my words and can’t respond.
I walk back to my office wondering about my reaction to the whole event. Is that what I was after, an apology? Some sort of closure? Where was my anger? Hiding as usual. Or worse. It mutated into some strange guilt. I, after all, am clearly the lucky one, in every way.
Or perhaps my reaction was simply the nurture gene run amuck, the occupational hazard of being a working mother with no diapers to change or boo boos to kiss all day long.
“Sounds like Stockholm syndrome,” says my friend Addison, referring to the condition when hostages become attached to their captors.
Trauma can bind one person to another in weird ways. Remember how Christie Brinkley married that creep Ricky Taubman after the heli-skiing accident that nearly killed them both?
My estranged husband has a more benevolent perspective. “Maybe it felt good to be kind,” he suggests. “It was a peek into humanity. His and yours.”
It’s a good point. I’ve never been so physically intimate with anyone like George. Our paths would have never crossed except for in this violent twist of fate. And the coat thing is weird. I must have sat on the grimy, dirty, oily street for 20 minutes, yet the white wool remained pristine. Like I was protected in some way.
The truth is this, the collision actually felt like a relief. It really did happen. I did get knocked down by life.
While I walk around smiling, functioning, working, inside I feel like a bag of broken glass. My marriage of nine years is ending. For this one brief encounter, however, my outer reality appropriately reflects my painful inner landscape. I don’t have to pretend.
Two days later, I go to the scene of the crime and check on George’s bike. It’s gone.
Melina Gerosa Bellows is a best-selling author and a leading magazine editor. She is a new columnist-blogger for BettyConfidential.com.