Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Today's Bullet

We've all dodged bullets: little bullets, big bullets, huge freakin' bullets.

Sometimes we know immediately when we've dodged one. Sometimes we dodge bullets without even knowing it (those can play with your head if you've had one too many drinks and think about it too hard.) And sometimes something happens, and it doesn't dawn on you until sometime later that it was another one of those bullets you dodged.

I immediately knew I dodged one the time when my daughter Everett, four years old at the time, uncharacteristically broke away from me while I was chatting on the sidewalk, and dashed across the street to the playground. A particularly notorious side street where drivers frequently and blatantly exceeded the speed limit. Nothing happened, though the hair on my arms still stands up when I think about it thirteen years later.

The bullets dodged inadvertantly and unwittingly...well, obviously I can't tell you anything about those. Those are the ones that those of us who pray, pray for protection from. And those of us who don't...well, I guess we're just beneficiaries of dumb luck, as long as it lasts.

Today, I had a delayed-response bullet. My son Zack, wanted to take the city bus to school. A not-unreasonable request for a twelve year old. He's walked to school several times, and walked home at the end of the day even more frequently. He has a school-issued metrocard for the city bus (half-fare, because we live less than a mile from the school.) He assured me he knew how to use the card and pay the half-fare, because his sister showed him. He knew which stop to get off, how to cross the footbridge over the parkway, and which door to enter the school. Good to go.

So he goes. And I leave a few minutes later in my car to head to work. I round the corner at the end of my street, and who do I spy but Zack, standing at the bus stop. The WRONG bus stop! He's standing with all the suits, waiting to catch the bus for their office jobs down in Manhattan. My short little guy, with his shaggy hair, t-shirt, bermuda shorts, giant sneakers and his bookbag on his back, with the grown-ups and their briefcases. I was momentarily amused. I pulled over, and told him to get in the car. When I explained the mistake, he wanted to get out and wait for the bus at the right bus stop, so I let him, and went on my way. He got to school OK (I checked, of course) so, end of story...

...Except, I started thinking about it, and then thinking and thinking about it. What could have happened if he had gotten on that wrong bus?? Ian has a cell phone, though this particular morning, he didn't have it with him, because he hadn't re-charged it overnight. Seventh grade boys aren't always on top of things like keeping their cell phone charged. Actually, they're rarely on top of things like that. Actually, they're hardly ever on top of things like that. But I knew this, and said it was OK, because, after all, it was only a five-minute bus ride (going in the correct direction, of course!) But if he had gotten on the wrong bus, and gone the wrong way, what would he have done?

Would he have gotten off the bus and attempted to find a bus going back the right way from down on Broadway in the Bronx? Would a kind-hearted bus driver have let him back on, even though he only had the half-fare metrocard and no money? Would he have asked a nice "mom" looking lady if he could use her cell phone to call me? Would he have been foolish enough to get in the car of someone who might prey on a little lost-looking kid in the street?

It boggles the mind, the variables. And when you have kids, your whole life is watching out for what could happen. The variables. Because if you slip up just once, and the stars aren't with you, instead of wondering what could happen, you might find yourself what you could have done to prevent a tragedy.

And if that ever happened, I wouldn't want to dodge a bullet, I'd want to jump in front of one.

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