Red Light Apologies

At first, there was the certainty he would stop. It was with the same certainty that a clock will move from 8:23 am to 8:24 am that I believed he would stop. It had to happen. People stop at red lights. That’s what happens. As we neared the blaring red eye, the brake wasn’t applied. We sped forward, closer and closer. My gut started to clench, but I said nothing. He would stop. That’s what happens.

As we neared the intersection, I looked at him. His eyes were glazed, and his lips were quivering. At first, I thought he was crying, but the quick movements seemed more like a nervous tick. His eyes, though, are what I truly remember. They were the brown eyes that crinkled with laughter, that so often rolled at my jokes, that reassured me when I was most in need of a friend. With the red reflection of the stop light bouncing in their vastness, his eyes were so full of nothing that my heart broke. We sped on. I faced the intersection and whatever was about to happen.

I squeezed the side of my seat. I held my breath. We flew across the intersection, completely unscathed. There had seemed to be dozens of cars just moments before, but there must have been a break.

Slowly, my muscles unclenched. I looked at him cautiously and whispered his name. He raised his eyebrows in response, but his eyes remained silent. I waited a moment, not sure what to say.

Suddenly, something wiped away the clouds in his eyes. He snapped to attention, his body rigid. His head twisted to see the forgotten red light as if he remembered a bad dream. He shook his head, waking himself up. “I’m sorry.”

The words rang out and bounced around the car. Something about them sounded off, like an instrument out of tune. He was sorry. About what?

When I got home, I replayed the scene in my head, from the moment we got into the car up to his apology. There must have been something I missed. It started out so well.

We had the windows down, and the sun kissed our arms. I turned up the volume of whatever catchy top 40 song was playing on the radio. I was singing and bobbing my head and smiling so hard my face was due to split. Occasionally I laughed aloud at the magnificent nothing of a car ride we were taking. I was happier than I had been in weeks.

I think I sucked the joy right out of him. Knowing him, he gave it willingly. He gave up the spark in his eyes for my one good day, my one good drive.

Over the next two years, we drove together without another red light incident. Over the next two years, we grew closer, and we grew apart. Over the next two years, I recovered. Over the next two years, he sank.

I think about that car ride every time I get a burst of energy or a smile sneaks onto my face without me noticing. I wonder if the smile comes from him.

I wonder if he ran a red light to gift it.

I wonder if all of those who gift their smiles run red lights.

I wonder if they’re sorry when they make it through.