I was driving north in Ypsilanti near the old projects — this big block of apartments with a shitty parking lot near the old hospital. It was sunrise and early winter, probably November, there was a frost on the ground and the air was numbing and the puddles were all ice.
I took the circular outer drive that goes around the projects to take a shortcut from Huron drive to Golfside. In doing so I’d avoid the extra-long light at the intersection.
I was in a hurry but not speeding.
I don’t remember where I was going.
The guy was crouched in the center of the lane about halfway around the scythe-shaped road that curved around the projects. I wasn’t even going that fast, only about twenty or so.
Initially I thought he was a bag of garbage that could easily be straddled with my wheels, but then he turned and sat up at the last second when it was too late, and I was on him. I don’t know why he didn’t hear me coming and move.
He was white, which was odd for a homeless person in that area. He had red hair, an angular face — looked kind of like Prince Harry, actually. Prince Harry without the muscles or the ultra-privileged upbringing.
He was wearing a black jacket and wrapped in what might have been a black sleeping bag or some kind of utility blanket. He’d been sleeping there right in the middle of the road. Maybe it was warmer there somehow, or maybe he was kind of half hoping some poor sap like myself would come along and not be paying attention and put him out of his misery.
I plowed right into him before I could hit the brakes. He went under my front end. I drive a mid-size sedan and I could feel him getting dragged under the car for a good several feet. It was the worst sound I’ve ever heard. He didn’t scream.
You don’t realize how heavy a car is until you need to stop it instantly.
I slammed the brakes and skidded to a stop. It took years off my life before that car stopped.
He slid out from the hindquarters again, the car bouncing over him like he was a speed bump or something. It felt like a speed bump, though I wouldn’t admit that to myself until a long time later.
I was horrified, beyond horrified, in fact. My insides had this feeling like I’d been injected with mercury or some other cold liquid metal.
I turned around up the road a bit, and now there were people from the projects beginning to gather around him. I don’t know where they were a moment before — the parking lot is big and they couldn’t have just walked across it without me seeing them. The torn-up lot was completely empty and the asphalt was grey with snow and ice.
I was in too much shock to do much of anything but gape as I drove by the bloody, crumpled mess that he’d turned into. I saw his face, and it was still intact, and his eyes were open, staring up into the blue morning sky. Of course he wasn’t moving. I’d slammed right into him hard enough to crack my bumper and then I’d dragged him along icy, winter-ravaged pavement full of potholes and cracks and fissures. He was fucked up, if he was going to live at all.
I parked nearby, pulling neatly into a spot with faded lines. I called 911, not believing that I was doing it.
The operator came on and I couldn’t remember the name of the road I was on. I couldn’t remember the name of this sickle-shaped shortcut or the name of the project building.
There were people gathered all around him right now, and most of them were black. It was good thing the guy was white otherwise they’d probably be ripping me from the car and kicking the shit out of me right now, or worse.
I got off the phone with the operator, and I don’t remember our conversation. I could hear sirens in the distance.
I got out of my car, and but I wasn’t standing. I was floating.
“I didn’t see him,” I said. No one answered me, they all just looked at him lying there but I couldn’t look at him anymore.
I wanted to cry but couldn’t.
Once the cops got there they took me down to the other end of the street while they put a plastic sheet over the body and took my car into custody.
I was sitting on the curb and waiting to be questioned when I finally had a proper response in the form of a panic attack. I’d never had one before that.
The cops were very accommodating, covering me with a blanket and taking me into one of their patrol cars. They didn’t cuff me or read me my rights but I was pretty sure I was under arrest.
It took me a minute or two to calm down, but someone brought me some tea and I was sipping it and it was burning my fingers and tongue but I kept sipping.
The cop in the front of the car had grey hair coming out of his ears and he was writing on a clipboard.
“That’s why they call ’em accidents,” he said, sounding like he dealt with this every other day. “They don’t call ’em ‘on-purposes’.”