I was driving to work that morning. I would be on time as long as there were no delays. I passed the section with all the lights and made it to a straight stretch where I would make good time. I winched a bit when I thought that, I remember a high school driving instructor said you never make time when driving, that’s not the point. The purpose of driving is to get safely to your destination. All of a sudden traffic slowed down. At the same time, in the distance I can see the corner of tall boxy vehicle with emergency lights on. It’s an ambulance. My three lanes of traffic are moving slow, but still moving, I'm pretty sure the road isn't shutdown, this might not be so bad. The sudden slowdown caused the radio to be too loud. It was spring and I was driving with the window partly down. Going slower made less wind noise. I have a new procedure for this. I turn my head sideways, right eye on the radio, left eye on the bumper of the car ahead and turn the radio down. I came up with this after a previous fiasco.
I steadily creep up on the ambulance. It’s probably 30 car lengths ahead, 3 lanes of traffic merging into the outside lane. Merging process is pretty civilized this time even though the other drivers can’t handle the concept of alternate merge. Once merged, traffic picks up a bit. The ambulance is parked in the 2 closed lanes facing traffic. When I finally get just past it I could see a single police car about 10 car lengths ahead and I can see in my rear view mirror the double doors of the ambulance are open and two emts are standing and talking. I guess all the victims are already taken away. Often there is a flatbed truck and maybe a guy sweeping up the chards of plastic and glass, but the road is clean. On the road just in front of the two emts are two little white objects. There are chalk circles around them and some other marks. Traffic is moving pretty well but I take some quick glances in my side mirror. At the same time I can see the mark in the one circle more clearly. Its two lines intersecting. It’s like a upside down 'L'. I'm getting further and further away but I continue to take quick glances in my mirror. I realize the white objects are shoes, and even at the distance i recognized they are what a long ago girlfriend called ‘nursey’ shoes. Her mom, a nurse’s aide, bought several pair at a time for a discount and gave some to her and her sister. I looked more closely at the other chalk circle and realized the mark was an 'R'. At the same time I figuring out all this, I'm getting a sick feeling in my head and gut. This isn’t a typical fender bender with a bruised up occupant, it’s a pedestrian hit, female. The chalk marks have me worried. Is the victim dead? Is there any other explanation for the chalk marks? Maybe the victim is hurt badly enough that they could die, so they have to process the scene as if they were killed, just in case. I thought about shouting out to the EMT to find out how bad it was. I've seen people do that before. But I'm getting too far away and I can't figure out a tactful way to say it. I'm not very good at shouting and being understood very well anyway, especially when half turned around. They would probably just motion me to continue on anyway. Besides, they might not know and even if i did find out anything it wouldn’t' help the victim anyway.
I shake my head a bit and refocus on what’s ahead. I did a pretty good job following the car ahead of me keeping the same following distance as the other cars. I'm coming up on the police car now. In front of it on the pavement is something crumpled and blue. Dark denim blue. I give some more thought to the former girlfriend. It’s been a long time, but despite a rough breakup i hope she's happy and safe. I wondered how the tragedy would affect everyone if she was in this kind of an accident and i wondered what this girl’s family and friends would be going through.
I'm coming up on the police car and the blue object. It’s limp, crumpled and blue. It’s in front of the police car and really close to my lane. It’s really small, made of denim, puffy in some places and i can see some sleeves and a neck. It’s a jacket. But it’s so small. Was the girl carrying a doll or something and this is a doll jacket? That doesn't make any sense. I'm really close to it now. I can see the stitching and texture of the cloth. It’s new and cute and really, really small. Oh god, it’s a kids jacket. I'm hard choking on this thought. How dense could i be to think it was a doll’s. It had to have been a tiny girl. No older or at least no bigger than my 6 year old niece. It makes me sick thinking of something like this happening to such a small child. The whole scene was dawning on me. She was probably knocked out of her shoes 100ft up the road and ended up all the way down here. Thinking about a little girl makes me remember a few months earlier, after a long road trip, i carried my niece from the car to the house, her body was dead weight but I could tell her mind was still partly awake. I saw the flash of a stealthy grin ahead of time and then when i put her down and my face got close to hers I got what I called the ambush kiss. I can't imagine how everyone’s life would change if something happen to her. I just imagine this little girl with her family getting ready for school that morning, putting on these clothes that are now evidence in an investigation and how her family is going to cope with such a dreadful day.
I got past the police car and the 3 lanes open up. Normally I'm jockeying for position at this point to find the emptiest lane and get moving again, but not this time. I was close to work but momentarily thought about just turning around and going home. If I did go to work I knew i couldn't say anything to anyone. i would just get some coffee and bury my face in my computer terminal and hope that i wouldn't behave differently enough for my coworkers to ask any questions . I wondered too if any of my coworkers ever had a similar experience without me realizing it.
At the end of the day, I was surprised that I made it through without thinking too much about it. I checked the newspapers the next few days and didn't see anything about the incident. It happened nearly 10 yrs ago now and i still think about it time to time especially as I see my niece growing up. But I have a new procedure now when I'm driving. Anytime I'm going a bit too fast or my attention is drifting while driving on the local roads, I just repeat the phrase, 'little blue jacket' and I immediately slow down and watch the road ahead a lot more carefully.