Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hit and Run


My first real friend, my first chosen friend, was Phillip Kent.  He lived across the street from me in Atlanta and was the youngest of four boys.  His brothers were high school aged and older when we were in third grade.  His mother liked to say he was a “blessing.”  I agreed.

We moved from “the apartment” to the house across the street from the Kents and Phillip introduced me to the joy and wonder of the creek.  The creek was a small stream that ran behind his house bordered by banks about a foot high.  In the spring it was full of pinchy crawdads and tadpoles as big as Tootsie Pops.  We would kneel on the side and scoop the life out of it, capturing wonder in Mason jars.  When the weather grew warmer we would stand bare legged, water half way up our shins and watch critters swim under the water and rest on top.

My mother would rant and rail against the Georgia clay ground into my clothes on my adventures with Phillip.  “Stay out of that creek!” she would shout, though we both knew it was for not. Before there was Phillip I had hosted tea parties and taught school with a legion of stuffed animals.  I can’t imagine now what I had to offer him, though he would take a place at the tea table on occasion.  Besides the creek and all it had to offer he tutored me in kick ball and won us a place in a pack of older kids who roamed the neighborhood.

Phillip and I planned rock concerts for our parents, who sat politely in folding chairs while we showed them treasures from our rock collections.  We spent the night at each other’s houses to the delight of his older brothers who hoped we were setting precedent.  Near the end of the third grade we were allowed to walk home from school together.

It was a few blocks, five at most, made longer by having to cross at the light and come around “the long way.”  It was a hard-won battle and we were sworn to cross with the guard at the busy street.  Mostly we did, but on days that we lingered on the playground after school, we would walk the winding road that led to a path through a wooded area that backed up to our street.  The shortcut covered our naughtiness.

On a day without a cloud in the sky we decided to take the shorter route.  We ambled along the empty road until it spit us out at the edge of the busy street.  This side street was just over a crest in a hill and we sprinted across, exuberant in our deception. 

I was just in front of Phillip so I cannot explain the clear image that I hold in my head of his body as it flew over ten feet in the air after being hit by the car.  I have no memory of the sound of the wheels as they skidded to stop or the impact of the car when it hit him.  I cannot remember a single detail about the car or the woman who was driving it.  I did turn back to see the papers from his notebook raining down around him. 

I do remember the woods and the trees, some no larger than sticks, as they blurred by in my peripheral vision.  I remember the pounding of my heart and the stitch in my side as I ran across the lawns of our neighbors, home, to tell my mother that Phillip was hurt.

I burst through the front door screaming, “Mom, Mom!  Phillip was hit by a car – you have to come!”  She did not say a word, but grabbed her keys and drove right to the spot, the spot that she must have worried over the dozens of times we walked home uneventfully.

In the few minutes that it took us to drive there, neither of us spoke a word.  Just as we arrived one of Phillip’s brothers came running down the street, his arms held wide, screaming his name.  There was a crowd and then there was the ambulance.

He was in the hospital for months.  A ruptured spleen, countless broken bones, a collapsed lung.  He would miss the rest of the school year, but he would live.  “I heard she was driving too fast.”  “The children weren’t supposed to be walking home that way.”  “I heard she swerved to miss Trish.”  The women of the neighborhood whispered in clusters on the curbs of our street.

At the beginning of summer vacation my mother took me on a trip to see one of our friends.  On the day we bought matching clogs she told me that my parents were getting a divorce and that it was not my fault. 

Phillip was not out of the hospital before we moved.  I did not see him again until I was in college, back in Atlanta for a visit. He was a man I did not recognize and some of the old neighbors said he never really recovered after the accident.  He was my first friend and that day in the woods I am not sure if I was chasing it or if it was chasing me, but that was the first time I felt death in my presence and we were there both breathing hard.

51 comments:

Gail, in northern California said...

A year you would no doubt like to forget...but can't. One horrible memory compounded by another.

Anonymous said...

Patricia,

Your personal history stories grip me, the writing is so strong. And like in decoration, the negative space is so important: the imagery of your writing is so vivid and the tension between that and what is unspoken (or I imagine in that white space) makes me want to read more, each and every time. You really are a wonderful writer.

LA

Dalai Lina said...

This is beautiful, Patricia. I bet he wasn't the only one that was changed forever.

MJH Design Arts said...

Hi Patricia. Thank you. Mary

Anonymous said...

This post left me bawling. I was about the same age when I witnessed the same thing - our neighborhood friend (a boy) dash across a busy road and get struck by a fast moving car. That moment is seared into my brain Forever and my heart still beats fast when I cross a similar street with my third-grader. Sure, I was a 'free range kid' at that age, and for all the good things that can come from it, it can have a dark side too. Anyhow, you are an amazing writer!

k. in atlanta said...

this is such a bitter sweet memory ..I am sorry you and your friend had this happen to you.. we all are touched by the realization of death at some time in our childhood.. it can shape us for the rest of our lives.....

kathi said...

Dear Patricia
Thank you for writing this story. I started to write a blog with the hope that I would someday be able to write about the things that have affected my life.
Reading this has encouraged me.
Kathi

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Beautifully written about the joyous, tender moments of childhood and the quick jolts of adult-like realities. That spring and summer was surely life-changing, I know it. I sprinted over those hills with you.

Amy in OK said...

Patricia, you give me chills. The protective veil of innocent childhood was ripped from your soul that day. I grieve for the little girl who lives within you.

Pam M. said...

Patricia: Aside from the clever prose, spot on style sense and scarily encyclopedic visual memory of every design mag ever published, it is precisely posts like these that have made me addicted to your blog. Your writing brought a knot to my throat, and I felt compelled to let you know that I think you are a tremendously gifted writer with a brave, open soul. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Patricia, that is one of the best pieces I have ever read in your blog. Detailed .... Personal .... Gripping .... Then visceral.
Best -
- Mike

Kel said...

You have surpassed yourself.

Suburbohemian said...

I am so glad you shared this, if "glad" is indeed the correct word. More like honored.

peggy braswell said...

Wonderful story. I felt like I was there. Thank you xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

Ann said...

So good!

Qwendy said...

What a moving story, Patricia. This is the kind of writing that first brought me to your blog, and I love when it pops up. You are a true humanist, and it is a pleasure to "know" you and have access to your sensibility which is an antidote to much of what we are subjected to in daily modern life in the big city.

Karen said...

I'm am tearful at your narrative. Sad on so many levels. I believe Phillip probably treasures your friendship from those early years as much as you.
Karen

northsidefour said...

There is nothing I like more than writing, or reading, about childhood. This was wonderful, so very well done, so illustrated and clear, and so very scary. I have a dear friend from third grade, maybe it's time to revisit that myself. Thank you!

Brillante Interiors said...

What a sad story, so well written and so real. In a split second our life can change forever.

Anonymous said...

He was a man I did not recognize

This made me want to hear more.

Anonymous said...

Holy kamoly, I am absolutely in awe of you.
There is nothing more to say.

MV in Chicago.

Boxwood Terrace said...

I held by breath from start to finish. The pithy title never gives anything away, but I sensed there'd be no paint or pillows today.

Michele from Boston said...

All I have to say is "Wow!" I am so, so happy you've gone back to writing a story or two. They are so strong and really hit me hard. M.

Susan Windsor Jones said...

Beautifully written and bravely told.

Anonymous said...

You are a wise and wonderful writer with a unique way of seeing things. I love your blog -- you restore my faith that there are thoughtful, sensitive people out there. Many heartfelt thanks!

Penny said...

Everyone else has said it all. But this vividly recalled memory has so much power. We can all relate to the "innocence lost" time in our lives. You have related it beautifully in words and words omitted. Thank you Patricia.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing. You remind me of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Deb Clements

Anonymous said...

Please write a book already! You are amazing.

LPC said...

Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Quite something.

Mrs. Blandings said...

All I can say is thank you. Really.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy all of your posts, but I just can't get enough when you write about your life experiences and observations!! Your writing is so powerful and absolutely draws me in. You are truly very gifted!

Anonymous said...

I silently carried your story with me all day yesterday, through one contentious meeting, one appointment lasting through lunch, one late afternoon meetup, it was a load on my heart and it went with me everywhere, but because you express things as you do, it was an exquisite load and I held it with reverence, it's almost as though you gave it to us to hold for you just a little while, thank you for your trust.

-Flo

Anonymous said...

It wasn't your fingers doing the typing -- it was your heart.
BarbaraG

diana said...

still holding my breath....what a writer you are

Anonymous said...

Ditto.

You were one of the very first blogs I caught onto a few years back. It reminds me now why.

What a tragic story. It makes me wonder if I should have my 9 year old son read this post. Just heart wrenching.

Emom said...

powerful stuff this....smiles

Grant K. Gibson said...

Your writing takes my breath away.

Dianne said...

Wow! Wow! Wow! This is gripping in every way. I feel your pain and anxiety. You are indeed a story teller, a writer, a lover of words. Now where is the book you should be writing?

Carole Buschmann said...

I, for all the good and heartfelt reasons already given thoroughly enjoyed this wonderfully told memoir.

redolence said...

please publish a volume of expanded essays. You have a gift I have not experienced since I read Mary Cantwell's work.

penelopebianchi said...

Oh my. Beautiful. Brought back a searing memory I will write about. Not as well as you.

You are a beautiful writer. Moments that change lives forever.

Thank you for this gift!

All Things Domestic said...

Oh, Patricia, that is horrible. When I was a freshman in college, my best friend was killed by a hit and run driver. She wanted to go to just one more fraternity house, but I elected to head back to our dorm, leaving her to walk alone. Soon classmates appeared at our dorm with the devastating news, and I was escorted to the accident scene to identify my friend so her parents could be contacted. Your post brought back so many memories of that night, truly an innocence lost type of event for then-18 year old me. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Mrs B.....
-inda,ny

Anonymous said...

So enjoyed your recounting of this strong event in your life. YOu were able to put us in the innocence of your childhood.

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Thank you. That's all really.

Sherri Cassara said...

Dang you can write.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if I feel lighter or heavier after this story. But it was beautiful in it's sadness. thank you.
Cherill W

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Blandings, did you ever watch [the video of] or read [the transcript of] Bill Moyers' PBS interview with Maurice Sendak? Sendak, one of the most deliriously complex, marvelous voices we have around, he is so blessedly forthcoming in interviews, he isn't afraid to cut to the core.

Well, MS tells BM of a childhood episode exactly like this of yours, exactly. And, MS being marvelous like he is, he shares that it marked him for life and informed his art forever. On and on, here's a link to the interview, if you haven't read or watched this before, cut to Part II for the material about the childhood event which parallels yours.

http://www.pbs.org/now/arts/sendak.html

You needn't publish this, I just wanted to share the link with you, I think you'll like it.

-Flo

katiedid said...

Patricia,
It's why we keep coming back. Wold a book be in your future, please?
Kuddos

Sara said...

gobsmacked. I have only been here a few times, and your writing about your life is so surprising on what the face of it is about a dream house. a book. Please put me on your list for when you do personal writings. And have pics of your dog. Your writing is a surprise in the sense that there was no warning in this telling, which is probably the way you felt when it happened. I admire the person telling, and the person who proceeded through life at that time in America - free ranging as it was.

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

What a sad memory and probably something that will stay with you for a long time.