My girlfriend lives in an apartment across the street from the Saint Paul Cathedral. She has a very Catholic upbringing that only shows when we get to fooling around on her bed with its view of the illuminated massive doors and dome of the church across the street. Then guilt kicks in and I wish there was a curtain to draw. More than once desire has been quashed and old morality triumphs over free love as I am sent packing.
After my latest expulsion, I’m driving my economical four-cylinder Chevy II in a sour mood as I pass through the intersection of John Ireland Boulevard on Kellogg when a fast Pontiac Grand Prix roars through the red light and hits me.
The massive bulk of real steel doesn’t just stop my forward progress; it shears off the front of the smaller, lighter Chevy with a crumpling sound much like stepping on a soda can. The impact begins by flattening the right front fender, the wheel bends and slides under the Pontiac, then momentum tears the engine out of the mount and pushes the frame, radiator, headlights, and grill toward the Cathedral steps. The windshield cracks, pops out of place, and sprays itself over the hood of the Pontiac. The steering wheel is jerked from my hands, trying to follow the engine as it moves to the left and I am somersaulting though the space where the windshield had been to land on my back, my feet kicking the Grand Prix’s wiper blades and my head looking at my car from a most peculiar angle.
There is a moment of silence; then I hear the stoplight click from red to green. The sound of the door of the Pontiac opening is followed by a voice saying, “Jesus, are you all right?” The question comes with the distinct odor of beer attached to the slur that repeats it.
Am I all right? I’m lying head down looking at what’s left of my car, trying to figure out how I got there, when I hear myself laugh. “You’d better hope I can’t get up, because if I can, I’m going to hurt you.”
“Hey, man, don’t move,” the guy says as he gets out to stand on unsteady feet, surveying the trail of pieces crossing two lanes of Kellogg. “I didn’t see it coming.”
No one saw this coming. Not me, not him, not the cops who arrive on the scene and won’t let me get off the hood until the guys in the ambulance that are now pulling up look me over and declare
me the luckiest man they’ve met. Bruises and some superficial cuts unworthy of stitches.
I’m finally allowed to leave the scene and head back the 100 yards to my girlfriend’s apartment to ask her to give me a ride home. I’d like to say that she is so shaken, so swept up with emotion that she’ll take me to her bed to soothe my shattered nerves with her kisses, but that would be the movie version of the moment. The fact is, she puts on her jacket, gets her keys, and drives me past the squad car that was still on the scene, lights flashing, while a cop directs us around the remains of the Chevy.
I don’t remember her saying anything during the ride. I don’t remember my saying anything either. She kisses me goodbye as she drops me off at my place on Nicollet Island and drives away. Why do I have a feeling that I’ve lost more than a car?
Loren Niemi tells philosophically and emotionally nuanced tales of urban life and works a day job as the executive director of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.