I knew it was a red car.
Three boys and a girl were killed, and another girl critically injured, in that freeway accident last Monday. Local articles have referred to it as "grisly," "high-impact," "ugly," and "tragic."
It has been difficult to escape the aftermath of the accident over the course of the past week. You can see the red smudges and black skid marks all along the freeway wall, if you know where to look and what to look for. They're difficult to miss, especially for me, since I drove by just a couple hours after the accident, when the cars were still there, during the beginning of a week that turned out to be overwhelmingly stressful and disheartening anyway. Not to mention the fact that I now can't sleep at night without my overactive imagination conjuring up visions of me being involved in car accidents galore.
It has now become a habit for me to turn my head to look every time I drive by on my way home. The day after the crash, bouquets of flowers began appearing all along the chain-link fence and retaining wall that separate the city street from the freeway. Over the past several days, I've noticed dozens of people stopping by, huddling in groups, standing silently before the makeshift memorial. One evening there was a group of adults and small children. The next day, a crowd of teenagers. The day after, a blonde woman holding a toddler at her hip.
It wasn't until Friday morning that I checked online editions of local newspapers and read about the details of the crash. On an impulse, I grabbed a pair of scissors I found while rummaging through my backpack on my way out the door and quickly gathered together a rough bouquet of roses from the garden.
I called my brother while driving through town.
"Guess what, my hair's red now!" he crowed.
"Slick!" I answered absently. "Hey, is Main Street the one that turns into Contra Costa Boulevard?"
A minivan was pulling away from the sidewalk just as I parked my car right under the "No Parking At Any Time" sign, along the street running parallel to southbound Interstate-680, just on the other side of the retaining wall. (There was no other place to park.) I felt relieved to not have to deal with groups of people who had known the victims, to have to offer condolences to strangers when I couldn't even begin to fathom their grief. Freeway traffic whizzed by in front of me, on the other side of the fence, while four lanes of city traffic slowed down behind my back to catch a glimpse of the memorial. Standing on the sidewalk, I carefully threaded my roses into the chain-link fence, then stepped back to view the entire memorial. Amid all the posters, candles, balloons, endless flowers, signs, and photographs, two scrawled statements stood out to me:
Remember when we were little, you taught me how to throw a football.
I know you're break-dancing up there in the sky.
The four people who died last week ranged in age from 15 to 20. I thought of their short lives, and of my three speeding tickets and the over one-hundred-thousand miles I've put on two cars.
Sometime life is so ironic, you don't even know whether to laugh or cry.