Sunday, July 11, 2010

Near Collision

Friday’s phone bill encounter hurled me back into a fresh round of “what ifs” and “why didn’ts” and, even worse, a fresh round of perseverating thoughts about every moment in the hospital. Grief, although ultimately a process of healing, can be cruel and so very unpredictable. I even had a few days last week where I thought perhaps I was feeling a bit of peace for the first time, and then WHAM! I am yanked right back into the abyss.

So I went down to the river this morning for a row. The sun was shining, the air was actually cool for the first time in too many days, and the river was peaceful. For the first time, I rowed around Roosevelt Island—the narrow strip of water behind the island was practically still, and my scull just glided effortlessly across the surface. Once I came out from behind the island, I kept rowing down to Memorial Bridge, where I turned to cut back across the river to the east. I admit I was lost in thought. I got about a third of the way out, looked up river and saw two two-man sculls headed down river. I stopped immediately. I know the rule—cross-river traffic must yield to up- and down-river traffic. I watched them for a few moments, trying to judge the distance between their boats and mine—they were coming at full speed and their coach’s motor boat was on the other side of them. In our class, we never learned anything about how to change direction quickly if we found ourselves too close to oncoming traffic. I thought surely their coach saw me and had told them to turn just slightly out of my direction, but apparently not (recall that rowers are rowing backwards, so the only way they could have seen me was if they’d looked over their shoulders). They got closer and closer, and I just sat there, having no idea what to do—it was clear to me that the boat closest to mine might hit me. I wasn’t sure if I should yell something at them or what. So I just waited and hoped they would miss me. The bow of their boat headed straight toward mine, then missed it by about two feet. Their oars, however, struck the bow of my boat, and the two guys in it cursed as their boat slowed, their stride interrupted. I said, meekly, “So sorry.  I thought you saw me.” They went on by, I crossed the river, and then they passed me again as we were both headed back up river. One of the boats slowed and one guy asked if I understood what happened—I said I did and that I had actually stopped, but just not soon enough. I had misjudged the distance and how fast they were coming. He said that when crews are out rowing like that, they are usually just going, and that it’s best just to stay to shore until they cross. I apologized again, feeling terrible about my bad judgment. They were pretty nice, given the circumstances. Then I realized how close we came to something much worse happening—if I had been a foot or two closer, the bows of our boats would have collided, the boats would have been destroyed, and one or all of us could have been injured.

As I drove home in the car, I played the scene over and over in my head. Why hadn’t I seen them coming sooner? Why hadn’t I stopped sooner? How did I so badly misjudge the distance and their speed? Why didn’t I know they were coming too fast for me to avoid them? How awful would it have been if we’d crashed?

I was very, very lucky that didn’t happen and now I know how to avoid those near-misses in the future.

But please, please, tell me why don’t I get the same chance with my little girl?


  1. Phew! I'm glad you are ok, Mandy. When I was rowing in college, our coxswain once steered us too close to a passing 8 and some of our guys took oars off their heads. We had to race the next day with one guy in stiches. So it happens. You'll work on your back-watering and evasive manuevers during your next row!

    As for the larger question, it's unanswerable. You are blameless. The gods, fates, stars are guilty. You did what you'd said you'd do: You were always there for that wonderful girl.

  2. I am so glad you didn't get hit! I'm sure that was scary.

    Why Hudson's illness ended in the worst possible way is a question that, as Shawn said, is unanswerable. It's cruel, and it's unfair. But it didn't happen because of any mistake you made, other than being human and unable to see into the future.

    I wish I could give you a big hug today.