There are moments in one’s life that change everything, that knock a person off a path like a giant meteor colliding with a planet. Maybe if the victim had known it was coming he could have done something to stop it, but then again, who can really stop a meteor destined to find him. Jacob sat at the red light, tapping his finger on the steering wheel and watching the rain pelt the glass in the blinding way it likes to do at times, he was unaware the meteor had already crossed into his atmosphere as a fiery ball with a predetermined target.
The light switched to green and Jacob hit the gas to try to time his speed with the next green light. Why was it always when he was running late that he ended up out of sync with the switching signal? Why was it always when a room full of colleagues sat waiting in a conference room did his wife, Samantha, have a rambling to do list she needed to review with him before he could get out the door? Didn’t she realize that with the chaos of the kids scrambling to get ready for school, and his mind half at work already, he would be capable only of half-listening to anything she was saying, yet somehow he would be held to one hundred percent accuracy of each detail?
Distracted by his thoughts, Jacob didn’t see the light turn red until it was almost too late. Slamming on the brakes just in time allowed only a small amount of hydroplaning to have its way with his car. The horn behind him screamed obscenities as only car horns can. Although Jacob wanted to avoid eye contact with the finger-wielding woman in the car behind him, he failed when she decided to pull up next to him for better communication. After a quick glance her way that said, “Whatever, lady,” the time on the phone blared in the dark car, 6:45. There was no getting around being late for the meeting with his boss-his father-in-law-an ironical position which meant Jacob was held to higher standards as well as being ensured of higher awards. Before the light could change, a text came through, as expected, from his father-in-law: “Meeting in fifteen minutes.”
With his hands resting on top of the steering wheel, he quickly responded, “Be there in ten,” he lied. Deep breath, he told himself. In the office, people knew him as the put-together, calming leader. The office didn’t make him lose his temper, but combining a hectic morning, being late, pouring rain, and a woman with an attitude watching his every move while he tried to get his morning back on track, made him feel insane. In for seven, hold for four, out for eight, or at least that’s what he remembered of the breathing pattern he used to calm himself.
Jacob could feel the woman’s glare, so he laid the phone on the seat next to him and watched the light. As soon as the light turned green, he sped up just a bit faster than necessary to escape her. Noticing the closeness of the next green light, he continued to accelerate, hoping to outrun another encounter.
Just then, his phone buzzed, forcing him to glance down. Not her again. Somehow, by trying to make things right, he had created an impossible situation. Maybe the texts were innocent on her part, but he always suspected otherwise. Telling Samantha would only ignite a war that didn’t need to be fought. No, he would handle this on his own.
What was she saying this time? He picked up the phone to help his aging eyes read it a bit clearer.
“Great new stock tip. Give me a call.”
True, some of her tips ended up being useful both professionally and financially, but he could figure out the information on his own. It’s what he did. Jacob alternated glances between the phone and the green light as he contemplated his response.
Once again, he took the polite route, and continuing a habit that could go nowhere.
“Call you later.”
Jacob saw the woman coming up on his right, the light turning yellow. She was watching him. He could feel it rather than see it.
I won’t be stuck at the next light being glared at by a stranger with an anger issue.
Jacob sped up just enough, he thought, to make the light. The rain picked up as well, and he let the phone drop on the seat while his hand fumbled with the wiper blades. The light changed to red, but he was going too fast to stop in time and barreled through the intersection. He felt a definite thump, a curb perhaps? Debris? Jacob glanced back but could see nothing through the now-pounding rain except the angry woman stopping at the light.
Good riddance, unpleasant stranger. May I never see you again.
With his attention still half on the woman behind him, Jacob crossed the next intersection. The sound of squealing tires split the air before the truck hit him. In the blurred moment before his head impacted with the side airbag, one confused thought drifted through his mind: The light was green, wasn’t it?
What was it that awakened him? Was it the excruciating pain on the left side of his head, the bruised feeling up his torso, or the sound of beeping machines and unfamiliar voices? His eyes, as heavy as drapes in a theater of long ago, begged him not to reveal the truth behind them, somehow knowing it would be better that way, but he refused to listen to their warnings. He had to know where he was and why. A blurred vision began to form: IVs, a nurse adjusting the bag, empty walls.
“Where am I?” he uttered with a raspy voice.
“You’re at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital, Mr. Truax. You’ve been in an accident,” replied the young nurse. Jacob scanned her up and down, judging her lack of capabilities by the flawless skin of her youth. She turned to him, and with seeming reluctance, made eye contact.
“Does my wife know?” his eyes pleaded. Dread and need washed over him.
“Yes, she’s been contacted, and I believe she’s on the way.” The nurse paused, and he sensed maybe sympathy and something else hidden behind her eyes.
“Does she know I’m okay?”
“She’s aware of your condition,” she replied while adjusting the IV again.
“And what is that?” Jacob asked.
“A couple of broken ribs and a concussion. Other than that, you will most likely feel pretty sore everywhere from the jarring your body took.”
“That would explain the pain up my side, I guess.”
She smiled softly, as if this was part of her job requirements she was forced to perform before adding, “There are some officers here who have been waiting to speak with you.”
“Now?” Jacob winced as he tried to adjust himself in the bed.
“Don’t try to move.” Jacob noticed her badge read Kelly as she leaned over to gently press his shoulder back toward the mattress. Her eyes once again gave a look he couldn’t quite understand. “They’re ready to see you as soon as you’re ready.”
Jacob looked over his body, assessing the damage. He decided his parts appeared intact enough to answer questions. He knew he would never remember the events any better by waiting, so he told her he could talk to them now.
“Okay then, I’ll send them in.” As she headed toward the door and peered back at Jacob he began to recognize her expression. It was the same one his mother would use when his father walked in the house after a long day at work and had learned of some childhood mess up Jacob had managed to do at school, the look a mother makes when she knows you deserve to be reprimanded but she wants to protect you anyway.
Jacob thought back to the angry woman, the rain, the text, and then that moment when he realized the collision was inevitable. He wouldn’t be able to tell them much about the vehicle that struck him other than the fact that it was a dark color and, from where the headlights were, he assumed it was a truck. Jacob knew almost positively that the light was green. He struggled for the memory but as the moments ticked away he began to doubt everything.
Panic welled up inside of him as he slowly understood he could not prove it. The only other car he had paid much attention to was the one carrying the pissed-off woman, and from the interactions they had, he was quite sure she was not going to come to his rescue. In fact, she would most likely paint him in an unfavorable light. Maybe there was a camera? Somewhere deep within, he felt the rise of doubt again, and he swallowed the hazy memory that made him hope there wasn’t a witness. Everything had happened so fast. How could anyone be sure?
As he let a myriad of thoughts ramble through his mind, two uniformed officers walked into his room. One of them, rather large, seemed to take up the whole doorframe. The other, much younger, looked like an apprentice rather than an officer. He quickly thought, He must hate having a partner with that presence making him feel so inferior. Or maybe he likes it, knowing he isn’t very intimidating on his own. He noticed neither of them was smiling. You would think they were the ones who had the shitty morning. Or maybe this was a sign there wasn’t a camera watching, and he would be defending himself more than he had hoped.
“Morning, officers.” Jacob again tried to shift higher in the bed, letting his painful grimace settle between them.
The larger one nodded his head. “Mr. Truax,” was all he said while the smaller one lingered behind him.
“Well, this wasn’t the start of the day I was expecting,” Jacob grumbled.
“I would hope not,” the large officer retorted as he took another step toward the bed.
As silence filled the room, Jacob felt his heart rate increase. Did they notice it on the heart monitor like a makeshift lie detector? But he wasn’t lying, was he? The officer, now towering over Jacob, studied him, not saying anything for a moment before continuing, but the air was changing. Jacob’s heart began to slam against his chest. If he could only calm himself, if he could just go back to the moment when he knew he was innocent-but hadn’t he heard of innocent people being charged just due to bad circumstances?
“I’m Officer Talbot, and this is my partner, Officer Jordan. We responded to the calls about your accident this morning.” Officer Jordan nodded like a puppet in the background.
Officer Talbot paused long enough to pull a chair up next to Jacob. Somehow, being eye level did not lessen his presence in the room.
“Why don’t you start by telling us about your morning and how you ended up here, Mr. Truax?” He then crossed his arms and leaned back as if to say, “Impress me,” and then sat silently.
Jacob shifted under the weight of Talbot’s stare. The pain of his broken rib radiated through his body making the sweat begin to form on his upper lip.
“Take your time. We’ve got all day if you need it.”
Talbot’s face was rigid. No sympathy hid in his unblinking eyes. The long pauses between their responses began wearing on Jacob, and he found himself cowering into the pillow. The younger one, Officer Jordan, pulled out a pad and prepared himself for writing.
“Well, it all happened so fast. I was driving through a green light.” Jacob felt the need to rub his aching forehead as the image of the accident appeared before him. “It was raining so hard that I was watching the lights carefully, so I know it was green, and then I saw two headlights. They were about at truck level, and then I woke up here.”
“That matches up with the other guy’s story and the witnesses’ accounts.” Officer Talbot remained in his position as if waiting for more.
“Well, that’s good. Keeps things simple. So I guess that means the other driver is okay as well.” Jacob’s growing fear lifted. The light was green. Other people agreed. He let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding.
“Bumps and bruises, but he’s not in danger,” Talbot replied stone-faced.
Jacob waited for them to wrap it up but they both stood watching him. What else could they want? The stories matched up. Everyone was going to be fine. He wanted them to leave and to stop looking at him with that look.
“I guess I’ll just contact my insurance company today, and they can take it from here then.” Jacob looked from one officer to the next.
“It’s not that simple, Mr. Truax.” Talbot leaned in closer.
“No? Why not?” Jacob rubbed his forehead again. Every part of him seemed to be screaming in pain.
“You said you were watching the lights carefully,” Talbot locked eyes like a predator before the pounce.
“Yes.” Jacob replied as the sweat began to bead on his forehead again.
“Were all the lights green when you went through them?”
What were they trying to do? Were they seriously so short on their ticket quota for the month that they were going to track him down in the hospital for running a late yellow light? For God’s sake, hadn’t his morning been bad enough?
“I’ll ask you again. Were all the lights green that you went through?” His voice rose only slightly for the first time.
“Are you serious, officers? I’m in a hospital bed. I have a concussion and broken ribs, and you’re going to ticket me for being a little behind a yellow light? It was raining hard, and I wouldn’t have been able to stop in time. I did what I thought was the safer choice.” Again, he looked back and forth pleading for one of them to show understanding.
“I’m afraid you made the wrong choice, Mr. Truax.”