It’s been a long time now, since I was on my knees, praying that the young woman lying crumpled in front of me on the street would keep breathing. Her face was a bloody mess of tangled, curly brown hair, broken teeth, and road rash. I noticed she had blue eyes and freckles too. Her twisted bicycle lay next to her. I didn’t see a helmet anywhere.
A few minutes earlier, on that summer evening, my husband and I sat at a table in a restaurant, after attending an artists’ reception for a show I was exhibiting in. As the server touched the plates holding our food to the table, I heard someone outside yell “Oh God!”, then a crashing sound. My attention focused to the window facing the street, where I saw a large, shadowy object fly over the roof of at least two cars, before landing on the larger boulevard, which faced west. The sun was slowly setting, and was at eye level with the horizon. She had run a stop sign from a side street to the boulevard, and was hit by an oncoming motorist , who couldn’t see her silhouette in the setting sun.
A surgeon I know once remarked that if medications for cancer treatment keep improving, she might be out of a job. I had told her not to worry; there will always be trauma patients. It’s human nature, people make mistakes.
I kneeled over the young woman, who was unconscious, counting her respirations, and assessing their quality, making sure she got enough oxygen until the paramedics arrived. A crowd gathered around, and I heard people whispering, “That guy over there, he hit her in his car.” I remember wondering what the driver might be feeling.
I’d forgotten that I was kneeling in the middle of a lane of a busy city street. When I did remember, I looked behind me. There was David, ready to scoop me up from harm’s way if another motorist came too close. But that wasn’t necessary, because, behind David, thirty or forty Portlanders made a human fence, protecting us from traffic, and beyond them, another two Portlanders directed traffic until the police arrived, keeping the human fence safe too. It’s one of my favorite memories of this city that I live in: Each one of us doing our part to keep each other safe.
People are human. They make mistakes in judgement sometimes. Mistakes are often judged by the severity of their outcomes, regardless of intent. Crimes are committed by intent. The bicyclist ran a stop sign. All I know is that I wanted her to keep breathing until the paramedics arrived. I wanted her to live.
It seemed like forever, but it was probably about fifteen minutes before the paramedics could get their rig through, and take the young woman to a hospital. She was regaining conciousness when they loaded her on a stretcher into the ambulance. I watched for the story on the news and in the papers, but I never found out what happened to her in the end.