This past Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided to take our three girls out for a “walk.” What this actually meant was that we decided to go to the book store, and we announced our intention to go on foot, and then we frog-marched the girls along while they whined and moaned and announced every few yards that we were the cruelest parents ever to have lived. They were sure we were, like, straight out of Grimm’s fairy tales, which is saying something because those Grimm guys -- they came up with some seriously messed up bad apple parents.
This is a fairly common occurrence – the walking, I mean. I’m big on walking places, especially if it’s only half a mile or so to the destination in question. Walking is green. It’s healthy. And by golly, it’s good for family togetherness. Not surprisingly, our daughters hate it. In years to come, I think they will recoil from the notion of “going for a walk” with the same intensity that I recoiled from the idea of “going to church” when I was their age.
But as we are the grown-ups in charge, and as they had no other choice if they wanted to continue to be fed and clothed by us, they did as we requested – although reserving the all-American right to kvetch every step of the way. We got to a point in our journey where we had to cross a street that can be quite busy, and my youngest, who is five, for just a moment decided that she wasn’t going to walk with us. In a not-infrequent burst of independence, she ran further ahead into the street, and as she did, I turned my head and saw this black BMW screaming toward us. I yelled at her, “STOP! OH, MY GOD!” and then grabbed her and quickly jerked her back. Had she continued to run and had the car continued at the pace it was going, she would have been hit and she probably would have been killed. Writing these words makes me sick all over again.
For a horrifying moment I saw it all happen. I saw what could have been. I saw the image of her getting thrown up into the air. I felt the impact and the aftermath. That night I could not get the scene I had imagined out of my head, and it so rattled me, I had trouble sleeping. It was just one of those moments when you realize how easily something awful can happen in your life.
I know this is not unique to writers – I think all parents have these moments -- but I do think that perhaps my inability to shake the images from my mind was exacerbated by the fact that I’m a writer. I could see the broken glass, smell the burning rubber, hear my own scream, and most of all, feel the guilt that I had not prevented it from happening. The whole scene bloomed in my mind with such brutal intensity, and I realized afterward that sometimes your imagination is most definitely not your friend.
Consequently I spent Mother’s Day feeling relieved that this was all just confined to the realm of imagination and what might have been. And I am very, very grateful for that, of course.
Have you ever had a moment when you wished, gosh, I really wish I hadn’t thought of that? Sometimes a vivid imagination is a curse, isn’t it? Let’s just put it this way, I really don’t know how Stephen King does it. The man must never sleep at all.