Driving home from work through the drizzling dusk, I'm following a bicycle. He's riding on the right side of the road, where a bicycle lane would be if a bicycle lane were there, and I could go around him if there weren't a steady stream of oncoming traffic, but there is. So, I creep along behind the bicycle, maybe fifteen miles per hour. I don't mind. I'll get where I'm going when where I'm going is where I've got. We pull up to a red light and wait while the traffic crosses, bicyclist in front, me behind. When the light changes, the bicyclist doesn't move. A second goes by, another. The green car facing us on the other side of the street starts into the intersection but the bicyclist waits.
Now, fast, from the right, a car plows through the red light and just about into the green car. Both cars slam to a stop. The car that ran the red light was going fast enough that when it stops, it's with a great jolt that rocks it back on its tires. For a second no one moves. The car that ran the red light, sitting stopped in the middle of the intersection right in front of me, its nose practically up against the other car's driver's side door, is a white Scion, the mirror image of my car.
Had that bicycle not hesitated, it would have been very bad.
Green car drives through, white Scion drives through, bicyclist and me, we ride through. The street is shiny with rain. Bicycle, how did you know? I didn't see you even turn your head. How did you know?
We creep up to a four-way stop. The bicyclist stops, then starts ahead, then does a little bobble-swerve to a halt as another car, a yellow old-fashioned station wagon, pulling to a stop where the cross street comes in from the right, rolls a tad too far into the intersection.
I felt it too, that jolt when the station wagon rolled forward. Coming from exactly the same direction as the white Scion that ran the light. A zing down to my fingertips on the wheel.
For just a moment, the bicyclist's foot is on the ground, and then he's getting back on the bike to continue on. As he rides through, the guy in the yellow station wagon, scraggly beard and puff of light brown hair, throws his hands up in the air at the bicyclist like, what are you freaking out for, you little twerp.
People and their need to judge.
Yellow station wagon, get your hands down. You don't know everything. You don't know anything at all.
On my way home from the car shop, then the pet store, then the grocery store, I pull out of the parking lot and onto the street, ease into a mid-range speed. From the right, the kind of quick you call a flash, not because it's a cliché but because that's the way you see it, a big, fluffy, white dog runs happy right in front of my car.
I slam the breaks and the instant breaks into tiny pieces of thought: it's OK, I won't hit him, it's OK, I'll stop, he has a very fluffy tail, does he belong to those people on the other side of the street with the black dog, no he wants to visit the black dog, his leash is trailing, it's OK, I'm stopping - and then for just one of those fractions of the moment, that automatic optimism my brain goes into whenever I panic is gone and the dog is right in front of my left front wheel, I'm sure of it, and then I know I'm completely stopped. And the dog is still running, to the far side of the street to say hi to the black dog.
Hot adrenaline out to the palms of my hands on the wheel. The white dog circles close to the black dog, then back across the street in front of me toward his owner, a small woman with white hair, her arms out, hands open, fingers splayed.
At her angle and from the terror on her face and her arms outstretched, I can tell she doesn't know if the dog if OK. I want to tell her he's fine and heading back to her. For one more of those fractions of a moment, her eyes connect with mine through the passenger window. And I don't know why I do it, but I do it. I blow her a kiss.
My good friend Steve is in the hospital again. As if the removal of that pesky kidney wasn't enough, he's been having issues breathing and, today, has been lying around another hospital bed awaiting results from testing for a possible pulmonary embolism. Those are two very scary words, words that have been following me around through my workday, following me through the early evening rain, here to the hospital, where his girlfriend, his daughter, and I sit around the bed as Steve, ever the storyteller, has been describing his earlier roommate, a young guy learning for the first time that he had diabetes.
"And so he had visitors in and out the whole time," Steve says, "nutritionists explaining the ways his life is going to have to change, teaching him how to do the shots. He was a military kid, and since it's Veteran's Day, I gave him a solute and thanked him for his service." He mimes a little solute, then runs his fingers across his close-cropped white hair. "I look kind of like a veteran, I've got this General MacArthur hair, so maybe that was OK."
Now here comes the doctor, a tall guy with dark hair, looking even taller since we're all sitting down and since we're all worried about what he's come to say. He goes directly to the end of Steve's bed, no expression at all on his face, at least nothing I can read. My heart does what hearts do when you're afraid you'll hear something bad about someone you love, it rises up on tiptoe inside my chest.
"Well, your results show no sign of a pulmonary embolism," he says. "We think what you've got here is a little pneumonia. We're going to put you on a good antibiotic."
I've never been so glad to hear the word pneumonia in my life.
A moment in the day becomes two, becomes more as the doctor talks about antibiotics and rest and the other things doctors talk about, and then Steve is introducing him to us around the room.
"When I first met this doctor, I told him I was a surfer," Steve says, "and I was kind of afraid he'd say I'd better not do that for a while, but he just starts talking about sharks."
"Oh, yeah," the doctor says, now, "I love sharks. I've always figured I'd die by shark. If the plane goes down, it's going down in the ocean, because I'm going to die by shark."
I can't believe we got that hulking thing through the narrow door and into the garage. I can't believe we were able to haul it all the way from the living room, through the front door, down the porch steps, past the car and along the side of the house, back to here. I can't believe my hands haven't fallen off. I'll tell you one thing: getting an old couch into a garage would be a lot easier if you had a garage door that wasn't broken in the down position.
For a moment, Stephen and I just stand here and look at it sitting there, without its cushions, in the clutter of the unpacked and unorganized art-studio-to-be.
Our success was not without its casualties. The upholstery along the back of the couch is frayed from rubbing against the door frame. And rubbing against the frame of the back door to the house when we first tried to take the thing down the stairs and around the corner into the basement. And from getting wedged in that corner during that one harrowing moment when I wasn't sure how we'd get it back out and Stephen would have to live in the basement forever and I'd have to throw food and art supplies down to him over the couch for the rest of his life. I've got an ice pack on my finger from when it got pinched between the bottom of the couch and the concrete step, Stephen's got a rip in his favorite jeans.
Still, we did it. It's done.
"If we ever have to get this thing out of here," I say, "let's get two strapping young men to help us."
"Yeah," Stephen says, and then, in all seriousness, "Or my mom."