It was 7:45AM when I left my house to begin my nearly daily pilgrimage to the gym. 7:45AM was the latest I ever left for the gym, I didn’t like getting back around 9:30AM when I would have ordinarily preferred to already be working. But on Tuesdays it was unavoidable, which is why I left at 7:45AM. I had actually intended on leaving five minutes earlier, at 7:40AM. If I left my house at 7:40AM I could walk to the gym and get there by 8:13AM. If I left the house at 7:45AM it meant I had to run at least two different stretches of the way there; which wasn’t terrible, mind you — sometimes it was even a good warm-up for the gym. But I would have preferred to leave at 7:40AM. I had planned on it, even.
Because I left at 7:45AM, however, I didn’t make the crosswalk sign at King & Neil. Neither did two girls running in front of me. The streetlight was generous in both directions, meaning that had I left at 7:40AM and walked to this point, I would have easily made it. Instead, I waited at least two solid minutes at the crosswalk before jogging behind the two girls across Neil Ave.
The three of us, two of them, and me behind, jogged for about one block after the light. The pair were a little ahead of me and jogged in front of a white truck that was trying to turn left onto King Ave from a side street. I considered that this might be a good time to slow down and walk for a few blocks, before jogging again. I saw a group of construction workers clustered on the sidewalk just a little ways ahead. I would have to run past them, which convinced me even further to slow my run down to a quick walk, as I crossed the side street behind the white truck so that he could turn left in front of me.
Music was blaring through my headphones, and after stepping back onto the sidewalk I finally looked back up immediately in front of me and saw the two girls paused on the sidewalk. I thought this was odd. The construction workers were no longer on the path, but then, suddenly, I noticed that they two girls were staring at something. I turned my gaze to the road way where I saw a grey car stopped, with a door open, and a lifeless man laying motionless in the road. It was 7:52AM.
I was still walking while taking in the scene, and then stopped alongside the girls. I saw someone on their phone across the street — a person standing outside her stopped car, in the opposite lane of traffic from the colliding driver. The construction workers were dispersing, barking orders to each other, as several of their order grabbed traffic cones — preparing to block off the street.
“Is he alive?” One of the girls asked a female construction worker as she ran with cones.
“We don’t know,” She replied — still working to assemble a line of traffic cones across the street.
The woman who been driving the colliding vehicle was crying loudly, stricken with grief at the situation. She sat on the curb by the road, just meters away from the accident site. One of the girls suggested that we console her, but we didn’t. We stayed exactly where we were.
“Did you see what happened?” An authoritative-looking construction worker asked us.
“I didn’t see anything until it already happened,” I said uselessly.
“We saw the guy flying through the air,” One of the girls replied.
“But not the moment before? Did you see what he was doing? Was he running into traffic?” The construction worker asked.
“We don’t know,” the girl replied.
We had both been just moments behind this critical information. I was perhaps four seconds behind — if I had looked up at a different time, if I had not passed the white truck from the back. The girls were even closer, perhaps a different movement of the eye would’ve caught it. It was the question that would come to matter so much over the next few hours. Why had this man been hit? Was he erratic and just running into the street out of nowhere? Had he been jaywalking and the woman just not been looking? But in this moment, in this instant, the assignment of blame didn’t seem to matter. The pain was universal, was permeating, was everywhere. The pain of man laying in the road, the pain of the woman who may have just done the worst thing in her life, the pain of all of us watching, seeing, experiencing. There was no talk of “victim blaming” because we felt the pain of the female driver, just as there was no talk of, “he should’ve looked more carefully” for the man slain in the road. It was just a collective, shared, (almost unifying) pain.
It was 7:59AM and the construction workers had taken over the street. Locals began to gather, a shirtless man ran out of his house and began dabbing the man’s body with paper towels and rags. The construction workers directed traffic onto intersecting roads. It was amazing that they had been there, amazing that they knew what needed to be done and did it. We heard sirens in the distance.
I looked off into the horizon, toward the towering hospital in the distance. My gaze settled onto the sidewalk a little ways off, and I saw two men clad in medical garb who were walking home from their shift when they came upon the scene. They immediately broke off into a run, and began looking at the man in the road. One of the medics pulled a stethoscope into his ears.
Some construction workers moved the cones to allow several police vehicles into the street. A police officer stepped out of his car and immediately began barking into his shoulder radio. Another vehicle blocked the west end of the accident scene, while a Columbus fire vehicle blocked the east end. It was 8:04AM.
The phrase “not breathing” was said somewhere, by someone, and the woman driving the colliding car began crying even louder. My heart felt unbearably heavy, particularly because there was nothing I could do. I had seen a lifeless body on the road, but I had no information of value. I wasn’t involved in this situation, I had no role to play. The experience felt like a weight across my chest, though I was literally irrelevant. It was an odd feeling, one that made me extremely tempted to break down in tears. The sheer humanity was overwhelming.
We heard a new set of sirens coming from the distance — it was an ambulance. The good samaritan medics stepped back from the body as the paramedics jumped out of the ambulance. One of the girls dialed a number on her phone, saying that she wouldn’t be making whatever appointment she had. It was 8:06AM.
It was 8:06AM, if I ran the rest of the way, I could still arrive at the gym by 8:15AM. I grunted an incoherent farewell to the two girls that probably sounded unimaginably awkward, and began jogging off into the distance. The road was still stained with blood, and the female driver responsible for the incident now sat in the back of a police car — another woman comforting her.
I ran from the scene. I ran from the pain, from the humanity, from everything. Back toward obligation, routine, pattern, regularity.
If I had left the house at 7:44AM, I would’ve caught the walk-sign on King & Neil and the entire scene would’ve been behind me. On the other hand, if I had looked up a few seconds earlier, I would’ve seen the exact moment a man got struck by a car and flew through the air. If I had looked up a few milliseconds sooner, I might have seen exactly what transpired to lead to that. How many times in our life do the seconds matter? How many times have I escaped death because I doubled back to my house to make sure it was locked, or because I paused after crossing a street, or because I checked Instagram and slowed my pace? How many times have the minutes or seconds spared me from hitting someone with my car, or causing some sort of accident? How many times have we been protected by luck — by sheer fate? How many more times do we have left?
And so I kept running.
I threw my stuff inside my gym locker at 8:15AM.