Hit & Run
Updated: Oct 26
When you get hit by a car...tell your Mom.
Oak Park, IL Summer 1984
“I just wanted Red Licorice,” echoed in my rattled brain as my limp body launched into the air. Like a newborn baby giraffe learning to walk, my limbs flailed and failed to support me as I landed with a thud onto my bare knees, palms and chin. Chunks of asphalt dug bloody tracks into the first layers of my 10 year old skin. I had been hit by a car. The screech of trusty old rusty brakes held back the solid steel vehicle from completely running over me. For a long dark second I was dazed and unable to move. Still on my hands and knees in the middle of the street, a “honking” horn, like a gaggle of geese, blasted in my ear. Fearful and confused but mostly bummed that my “maiden voyage” to buy candy at Wilson's Grocery would end like this. I jumped to my feet."I'm fine. I’m fine!” I yelled out as I collected myself and candy from the ground. This was a lie.
Earlier that afternoon I had phoned my friend Becky at her home just three houses away. “Three”, click, click, click, “Eight”, click, click, click, “Six”, click, click, click...the phone dial circled rhythmically back around. “Hello”, Becky answered.
“Good news!” I replied. “My Mom said I could go to Wilson’s too!” Feeling giddy, I jumped up and down in the tight corner between the counter and kitchen table where our avocado green rotary phone hung on the wall. Born almost one month apart to the the day, we were inseparable. Both tall with blond hair (hers was blonder) and light eyes (mine green, hers blue). We were often mistaken for sisters. We walked to school together every day within the confines of our safe neighborhood and built Barbie dream homes in her basement long after it was cool to “play with dolls”.
With permission to venture out on our own we were full of excitement. “See you out back in five minutes!” She agreed.
In our matching white leather Nike swoosh tennis shoes we dodged pot holes and kicked rocks into metal trash cans as we ventured two blocks North to the end of the alley of stucco garages. “Be especially careful crossing Chicago Avenue” my Mother had cautioned us before we left. Chicago Avenue, the street we needed to cross to get to Wilson’s had no traffic light and was a main artery which connected our bedroom community of Oak Park to one of the rougher neighborhoods in the city. Both on high alert, we walked to the corner, looked both ways and safely crossed the street. Looking forward to our impending purchases, our mouths’ watered in anticipation of the overflowing bins of sweets to choose from. I clutched the dollar bills in my pocket, now sweaty from the heat of my body in the humid Mid-West Summer air.
The black and white striped awnings cast shadows onto the glass windows where the words "Wilson's Grocery" were painted on either side of the front door. The smell of hardware store meets farmers market filled our noses as we walked inside. Wilson’s sold candy from big bins and had the best assortment of popsicles for eating on a hot Summer day. "Hi ladies!" The cashier, an older gentleman, in a grey apron said in greeting us. We quickly waved and smiled and eagerly made our way to the candy bins on the other side of the long narrow store. The old wooden planked floors creaked under our feet as we stood and sorted our candy, thoughtfully placing each piece into paper bags provided by the store.
After successfully sorting our soggy money and paying for the carefully selected sweets: Lemon Heads, Now A Laters, Runts and Hubba Bubba, we exited the store with change to spare. We headed back up to the corner where we looked both ways, crossed and began to head home. At the top of the alley, I felt the extra money in my pocket and thought to myself, "I wanted licorice". As if my current stash wasn't satisfying enough...I wanted more. I always wanted more...and maybe this is why my Mom had me wait so long to go out on my own. All it would take is one more taste of independence and off I’d go!
“I’m going to go back for some Licorice, wanna come?” I asked. Becky, always the sensible one, agreed to wait for me as I crossed the street one more time. I purchased the licorice and now armed with two brown bags, walked out and saw Becky waiting for me across the way. Rather than walking back up the street, crossing at the crosswalk and back down again, I stepped right out into the middle of the street and "BOOM!" That’s when I got hit by the car.
"Ahhhh!" I screamed as I flew into the air and crumbled about four feet in front of the car now stopped in the middle of Chicago Avenue. “What just happened?” My puzzled brain re-played the moments before. I had stepped out between two parked cars , when out of nowhere a cream colored, chrome Cadillac boat of a vehicle, hit me. An older lady, who had clearly not seen me because her nose barely grazed the top of her steering wheel, was driving. She had just turned out of the gas station from the other end of the block. We were both shocked when her solid metal bumper knocked me off my feet and sent me flying into the air. Still holding onto my bags of candy, my knees, elbows and chin hit the pavement. The paper bag of goodies broke open like a piñata and scattered about the street like candy thrown from a Fourth of July parade float. In a shaky, unfamiliar voice, but classic Chicago accent the woman in the car pleaded, "Are you okay?"
“I guess so” I thought to myself. Despite the gravel ground into my bloody knees, what hurt the most was my bruised ego.
“I’m fine” I blurted out as I stood up. Still in shock I moved away from the car. No sooner had I stood up and “Screech!” The woman drove off. Was she going to come back? Was that it? Had anyone seen what just happened? Anyone? I guess if there were witnesses they assumed I wasn’t hurt. Was I hurt? It seemed everyone just went back to doing what they were doing. Everyone except for Becky who by now was totally freaked out.
“Oh my gosh, are you okay?” Becky’s voice trembled. “We’ve got to get you home!”
“Can we go to your house instead?” I asked.
Ashamed and scared, I didn’t want to go home. Between my Mom and Dad I wasn’t sure what reaction I’d get when I told them what happened. A Pisces, my mother’s emotions tended to be unpredictable and dramatic. A “well intended” helicopter parent to the neighborhood, she took pride in keeping all of us kids safe. Driven by her intense love for us and a deep need to control things, she was sensitive and strict. I didn’t want to upset her. My father, the kindest man I have ever known, rarely let his emotions show. Maybe from his days in Viet Nam as an actual helicopter pilot, he had seen the worst and nothing could get worse than that. He was reasonable, but if there were a chapter on safety in his Encyclopedia collection my Dad would insist we read it. I just didn’t want to hear about it. So I sought refuge in Becky’s basement. We covered my banged up knees and quietly got lost in our Barbie dream world.
Eventually I went home for dinner at 6:00 p.m.. Dinner was always at 6:00 p.m. even in the Summer. As I walked the long cement sidewalk of our backyard I rehearsed my speech. “So Mom and Dad, a funny thing happened today...I got hit by a car.” Normally an over-sharer, my father would often ask if my story had a beginning, middle and an end. Today I would keep it brief. “Don’t worry” I’d assure them “It sounds a lot worse than it was!” With each step up to the porch, my knees stung a little as I bent them. I debated on whether I should leave out the bit about not crossing at the crosswalk, which for me really was the worst part.
Through the picture window of our kitchen I could see my Dad and Brother Bob in their assigned seats around the circular wooden kitchen table. No doubt their hands were washed for dinner. “What happened to your knee?” My brother, who inherited his emotions from my Dad’s playbook, asked with little affect as I walked in the door. I sat down in my seat wedged between the kitchen counter under the phone. I told them what happened as we dined over soup, sandwiches and big tall glasses of 2% milk. When I was done with my story my father genuinely concerned for my well being made sure to ask, “Now Alison, you do know you should always cross at the crosswalk?” My Father loved a good rhetorical question. My Mother (true to her vigilante ways) was wanting a full description of the woman who hit me. Seated in her chair closest to the kitchen, she grabbed a pen and paper from the wooden cubby underneath the phone, and prepared to take notes. “What person would hit a girl in the middle of the road and then just take off?” She exclaimed.
When dinner was finished, My mom and I went to the powder room on the first floor where she poured hydrogen peroxide on my cuts. As the cuts foamed and stung, I focused on the black and white wallpaper with images of old fashioned toilets connected together by intertwining pipes. (Our house had the best wallpaper) Then I escaped to my room. I closed the squeaky door and flopped onto my twin bed with yellow and orange flowered sheets and a pink down comforter. On my pillow was my trusty "Teddy", in his checkered overalls with buttons that read, "I Love You". I hugged him tight. In the end, it wasn’t my Dad’s speeches or my Mom’s temper that I feared, it was their trust in my choices. I wondered if they would allow me walk to Wilson’s on my own again-which they did. I wondered if I was going to be ok with walking to Wilson’s on my own again-which I was-looking both ways of course! The walk to Wilson’s was just the beginning for me. I had my first taste of independence and just like the licorice, it was sweet.
This story is part of a collection of Memoir stories, “Advice To Your 12 Year Old Self”.
While the experience might be different today, the themes of our youth stay the same.
Encourage conversation with your kids. What advice would you give to your 12 year old self?
I look forward to sharing more soon!
Thanks for reading.