Saturday, March 31, 2007

as she lay dying

On my way to the commuter train before sunrise Thursday, I made my usual left turn into the parking lot, and my windshield exploded. It was a bicycler from nowhere out of the dark suddenly crashing head first over the hood of my car.

During the first minute of hysterically waiting for the ambulance, I thought she was dead. I was kin to a hand-wringing Iraqi on a street after a suicide bombing.

She woke up, as if drugged; bleeding head, and tried to sit up. I pleaded with her to not try to move, but she said weakly she was alright, which only meant: not dead yet. I couldn't know how much internal bleeding was going on. When the ambulance took her away, she was not dead yet. The police later assured me that the accident was truly an accident, not my fault: The street was dark; she wasn't in her lane, was wearing dark clothes, and didn't have a light on her bike. She was evidently wearing her helmut, though it wasn't on her head as she lay in front of my car.

I didn't know her name. I couldn't inquire effectively about her injuries, couldn't cause hospital personnel to locate her with information from me about the time of the accident: "privacy" rules. If she has remained alive, her helmut saved her life.

Traumatized as I was, I was faced by my consoling insurer with their need to process my claim and manage the damage. The day became a surreality of customer service communications. "This call may be monitored so that we may improve service to our valued customers." Even the police ended their presence by giving me an incident information card that had attached a perforated business reply card with a checklist of questions about quality of service (which, I know, is an admirable thing).

Friends respond with that numinous ambiguity of concern to console (as if I'm the victim—the only victim available, of course) and nearly prurient interest. My distress has more reality than any of the uncountable newspaper stories each day that accompany prevailing space for advertising; or "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" TV news vehicles for advertising whose cost is recovered in the price of what's sold (e.g., the relentless market for new cars). The event wasn't mentioned in my local newspaper the next day, though the immanent closing of a nearby ice skating rink was reported at length.

It turned out that her head had dented my car's roof so badly that the cost of body work (replacing the roof) that would allow placement of a new windshield was greater than the value of my old car, which is now already sold for parts. The police officer had said that "you'd be surprised how easy it is to dent the roof," but he evidently wasn't noticing that the force had been horizontal to the plane of the roof. The auto body man was amazed that someone's head could have made such a dent at that angle and lived.

Is she dead? If so, it's allegedly not that "I killed her," but that "a death resulted from the accident" of a girl's path one dark morning that continues to explode into my days and nights, as if I'm an inner-city kid with an attention-deficit disorder; or dissociative homeless man (with useless philosophical insight).

BAGHDAD (Reuters, 3/31) - The Iraqi government raised the death toll on Saturday from a truck bomb in the town of Tal Afar to 152, making it the deadliest single bombing of the four-year-old war.

Mahmood Mamdani, Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, in his article "The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency," for the March 8 London Review of Books, begins: "The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly similar...."