Yesterday morning, early, before the August heat raked over Laredo, three women around my age went for a run. Before they could return home, a truck hopped the curb onto the sidewalk and barreled into them. One of the women died there, where just moments before she had been talking or laughing or focusing on the forward motion of her feet; another died shortly after at a local hospital; and the third is still in critical condition here in San Antonio. The driver, a 22-year-old university student, was unhurt.
For the last day and a half, every time my mind has wandered, it has wandered here--or, rather, there, to that sidewalk. I wonder how this could have happened, what distracted the driver at 7:30 a.m. on a calm road, whether any of the girls had time to fear before they were hit. I consider the hundreds of times I have left my house, calling "See you later!" if Adrian is here or "Be a good girl!" to Lola if he's not, the hundreds of times I've used running as a salve or meditation, each time certain that my day--my life--would continue afterward. I think of the girls' families, their parents and husbands and, for two of them, their young children, and my chest seizes with the inconceivable. I looked at Adrian across the lunch table yesterday and nearly wept, imagining ever receiving a call about him like these girls' families received about them.
Laredo is a small enough town that most people seem to have some connection with the women: they were a husband's cousin, a child's teacher, a former coworker. I met one of them, Karina, several times through her best friend, a mutual friend of mine. But I think the proximity we feel to them, the shock of their tragedy, has less to do with how we actually knew them and more to do with the fact that we are them. After all, they were not soldiers or drug traffickers, not police officers or gang members. The photos of them on my Facebook newsfeed are interchangeable with my own: mid-laugh in a wedding dress, girls' night at a bar, arms raised in victory at the finish line of a race I, too, have run. There is nothing about what happened to them that we can use to distance ourselves from it.
The thing is, as much as we are them, we are also the driver.
Though the Laredo Police Department has not officially announced what caused the accident, the boy--because, at 22, what else can we call him?--has been charged with two counts of manslaughter for the deaths of Karina Villarreal and Adriana Gonzalez Rodriguez and, according to a police statement, "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (motor vehicle) causing serious bodily harm to Monica Pastrana." These are the facts, charges that the police can prove right now. The driver's blood sample results have not yet been released. It's possible, then, that charges will be added; that a long Friday night extended into an unimaginable Saturday morning. But most people have come to assume that it was a moment of distraction that devastated so many lives--and the most plausible reason for such a moment, most people think, is texting.
Two days ago, driving down the highway, I texted my friend to let her know I was running late. I've checked my email at red lights. I've even tracked packages in a traffic jam, as if the delivery of those pajamas I bought on the cheap is so urgent. I heard once that if a car is moving 60 miles an hour, in the time it takes to send a short text--say, "I'm 15 mins away!"--the car has traversed the space of a football field.
I'm no mathematician, but let's try this out: 60 miles an hour equals 1 mile a minute. One mile is 1760 yards. That means 60 miles an hour, or 1760 yards per minute, is 29.3 yards per second. The length of a football field is 120 yards. 120 yards divided by 29.3 yards a second equals 4.1 seconds. In 4.1 seconds, you've typed "I'm 15 mins away!" or "Running late!" or "See you soon!" For 4.1 seconds, your eyes have been on your phone. 4.1 seconds--it seems like nothing. But in 4.1 seconds, you've driven across an entire football field, blind. Let's take that metaphor literally: someone ties a blindfold behind your head and tells you to go, floor it, from one end of the field to the other. "You'll be fine," that person assures. It's a ridiculous enough idea if the field is empty, but what if it's not? What if there are other cars, some being tasked with the same gross dare and others not, and what if there are people--kids, even--walking at the periphery of the field? Would you take that chance? To either lose everything or win nothing at the other side but what you started with?
But so many of us do, so often. So we--and those we love--are as catastrophically at risk as the women in yesterday's tragedy, and yet, we are as culpable as the driver who hit them. We are as utterly innocent, as utterly undeserving, and as utterly at fault.
Unable to take my mind off the runners, I went for a walk this afternoon. Before I left, I kissed both Adrian and Lola, and I told them that I love them. Adrian did something he rarely does and asked me what route I'd be taking. Then he told me to be careful. We said goodbye aware, as we rarely are, that it could be the last time. The chances of that, of course, were infinitesimal--but not impossible. And as I kept to the far edge of the sidewalk, eyeing oncoming traffic on a road not unlike Jacaman Road, I recognized that what I was doing was an act of both honoring and defiance. I will not stop lacing my running shoes out of fear of the infinitesimal, but I will also not continue the madness of driving blindly across football fields.
It's the least any of us can do.