I’m a crossing guard.
This is my second year doing it, and the job has added a new layer of patience and understanding for my fellow humans. It has given me a depth of empathy I had not thought possible. It is a calling, like being a nun or a super hero.
That’s bullshit, mostly. I do love being a crossing guard, and it has given me a new understanding of being patient and certainly feel empathy towards anyone who heads into Newton Square via Pleasant Street between 8 and 8:30 on a weekday. The only calling I got was one from the principal asking if I was interested in the job, as the previous crossing guard had to take two buses to get there and was absent a lot and I live a block away from the spot. I do willingly walk into traffic where there is a ferocious solar glare for the drivers who have probably left there houses with low blood sugar and spiked blood pressure for yelling at their child that flip flops aren’t appropriate for 30 degree weather and only getting a burnt end of toast. Superhero? Nope.
Because I completely get this. Usually, before I get out to the corner I have had the same sort of morning. Add “That’s not the lunch I wanted you to make me!” and a solid round of both fart noises and wailing. And usually a tea stain on whatever I peeled off the floor to put on and not even running a comb through it. Brush my teeth? Good luck with that.
As a parent, I’ve had the moment when you are driving and your child is being so miserable and loud in the seat right behind you that you unconsiously drive faster in order to escape the horror. My driver’s side headlight was a victim of this, I drove right into the chain link fence in my own driveway because some five year old who shall remain nameless had been following me around for a solid hour yelling about how unfair it was to have the worst mother in the world.
As a motorist, I love the time I am sometimes afforded in the car. When there isn’t anyone with you and you can just drive and be alone. Think the big thoughts, you know? Choose your own radio stations, and sing along, and not give one fuck. Pretend you look all hot in your whip, that they’re all looking at you with your red lipstick and flowing autumn colored hair and not that driver’s side headlight that’s held in with duct tape.
I want you- the motorist- to know that even though I have a reflective orange vest and a stop sign that’s bigger than my torso that sometimes, on a windy day, brings me airborne and conks me on the head; I am not some power-hungry traffic monster out to judge you and ruin your day.
The way the traffic flows into the square reminds me of a Motocross race in the first turn. My job is to get these little kids through that. In Motocross, there’s this lady who comes out before the gun to start and has to book it off the midway in less than three seconds. Minus the heels and the Monster Beverage halter top, sometimes that’s what I feel like when I step off the curb.
I often call on the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal when I am halfway across the westbound lane and holy fuck that guy in the F-350 isn’t stopping. I mostly pray that the kids on the curb DON’T step off before I’m sure that guy is stopped. Kids don’t have the same mental capacities that adults do- they don’t pay attention to things, and they don’t thing ahead. By default, I’m the one who has to be the adult and think of all these things for the littles. It’s not their fault they don’t think about these things, they are kids. It takes practice to be cognizant of everything. The kids are great, and we work on paying attention a lot.
I get when you don’t see me and when you blow through. It sucks, you should be paying better attention, but it’s not like I judge you as being a shitty person in general when it happens. And most people, when they don’t exactly see me and have to stop short or go through, know exactly what they’ve done and I can tell by the expression on their faces that they are horrified; that they will probably play through a very different what if scenario in their heads for the rest of the day- the one where I roll up on their hood or-even worse- they hit a child. GOD I get this. I can feel your anxiety viscerally right though your car door. If I yell, it’s not because I’m angry- it’s because I need to get your attention.
Humans are fallible, and people make mistakes. That’s why they put erasers on pencils. I could be the poster child for the entire human race on this mistake thing, so you probably won’t find someone more judgement free than me about whatever stupid thing you do, big or small.
There are those that I do judge, and I judge them relentlessly- the people who see me and then yell at me for not doing my job correctly. Two weeks ago, a man driving a sports car laid rubber and stopped two feet away from me. When I asked him if he saw me, he said “You were facing the wrong way.” As if I was a contestant in the Miss Crossing Walk pageant and had to make eye contact and wave with the judges on both sides of the runway.
If you have to skid to miss me, you aren’t right. Don’t project blame on me because I’ve got the lollipop job and I’m all official looking. When you tell me things like this, I know you are a nitwit, as you’ve removed all doubt by opening your mouth and putting forth that bullshit. I know you’re not a police officer or a lawyer, you’re just a loudmouth who doesn’t much like being in the wrong.
Maybe I was ‘facing the wrong way’ so you could kiss my ass, knower-of-all-things- Massachusetts-chapter-90-laws. I said this in my head, but I smiled and waved and thanked him for stopping.
The woman last Tuesday morning did not stop. Well, she did, for a minute; to tell me I wasn’t in the right place in the crosswalk. She had just struck a ten year old boy right in front of me. I had asked her if she saw me, and that’s what she said. She said it again. I told her she should probably pull over. By then, Daniel had gotten himself up and out of the lane of travel. The next thing I saw was her SUV driving away at a pace that seemed much too fast and in slow motion at the same time.
There were other people in the crosswalk, both parents and children. The road was flush with rush hour traffic.My crosswalk is in one of the most voter-y, politically active district in the city. Everyone else was stopped, traffic wise. Daniel’s mother and Spencer’s dad were already up and with Daniel by the side of the road, it’s like they flew they got there so fast. A kindergarten student began screaming, and an older kid wept. The noise of the impact had reached down into Newton Square and up into Monroe Ave, making one of the older kids run back into her house, yelling to her mother that someone had been shot.
I called 911, and told them what happened. Before emergency services arrived, the parents and motorists and citizens swarmed in with help. I stopped a priest to get people across in the pandemonium, and he said a prayer. Mr. Rogers had it right when he told us to look for the helpers- it was like bees in a hive, all working to one sweet goal- that Daniel was okay, and that the motorist got caught.
Daniel is great. He went to the hospital in the ambulance. He’s banged up- Nora tells me it hurts him when he laughs- but he’s back in school and doing fine. He wanted to go back to school the same day he was hit, God bless him.
I was able to identify the driver that same afternoon. She was pulled over on the same street she hit Daniel, about a mile away.
They sent a cruiser to pick me up, which was good for a seperate reason. I had told my eldest, who had spent an hour crying about how he only got an hour and a half to play with his friends the previous day- that I was going to tell all his friends that he only got that much time because I had just gotten out of jail. He was horrified at the thought, and I explained to him that this should give him some perspective on what might or might not be absolutely worth the tragedy of an hour of weeping. The cruiser came while my eldest’s class was at recess, so ALL of his friends got to see me climb into the back of the cruiser and the LEO close the door firmly after me. Dennis and I had a good chuckle about it at the end of the day.
The cruiser pulled up across the street from where they had her pulled over. I could see out the window, but not enough. I wanted to see her, to really look at her. I wanted to make sure that this was the same girl, and if it was the same girl, I wanted her to know that I saw her. That it was me, but more than that. That I was every single person at the scene who witnessed what happened that morning. I needed to get it right. If it wasn’t the same girl, I wanted to be able to say no and know this.
They asked me if I wanted to get out of the cruiser. I said “Yeah, I think I really do.” I was then cautioned and assured that I only should get as close to her as I felt comfortable.
“Can I cross the street?” I asked.
I approached her diagonally. Her hands were at ten-and-two, and her face was ashen. She was looking at her steering wheel. I got closer, I stood right outside her window. I looked at her. I looked at her profile, at the mole on her face that I remembered from speaking with her this morning, at the plastic beads that were strung on a string by a child that hung from her rear-view mirror. Hours ago, those beads swung lightly in the physical after effect of stopping short. I remember watching them in disbelief.
“Yes. That’s her.”
The officers removed her from the car and put handcuffs on her. I saw her knees buckle in and her hands shake, and she said “But I can’t get arrested!” I asked if it was alright if I looked at the front of the car, on the driver’s side headlight.
There it was, like a piece of a puzzle- the part of the lens cover that had split and broken when it collided with a ten year old boy. I saw the broken piece lying in the street as she drove away that morning. It all fit. This was the girl.
I watched the officers take her into custody. Here was a woman who had done this horrible thing, and they treated her respectfully and with dignity. I don’t know what their internal voices were saying, but watching her made my internal voice say “God, I feel bad for her.” That, and “I bet she’s got a big warrant.”
I did feel bad for her- but I was only kind of right on the legal part. It wasn’t a warrant, but a few active court cases in the past few months. Child endangerment. Speeding, and failing to stop for a police officer. Possesion with intent to distribute. Shoplifting.
Now, I really feel bad for her.
How does one get to a point in their life where they are making such bad descisions on such a consistant basis? I don’t know ONE PERSON IN MY LIFE who has done these things. What happened to this poor kid, that she does these things?
How do we end up with those very few people who so willfully violate the public contract over and over again? Did no one tell her that her good name and reputation is everything, and that she’s worth more than that?
In my family, you were not merely told about your good name and it’s worth- it was beaten into you, if nessesary. Not that I advocate beating anyone, but I will say that it worked out well for everyone in my family whether they suffered a damn good crack or not. We all know exactly what we’re worth. And since everyone in this city knows all of us in one way or another, to brazenly sully one’s own reputation is running a good chance of getting a damn good crack from the rest of us. As a reminder of that worth. Nothing says “I CARE” more than a blanket party, sometimes.
I’m still in the crosswalk, every day. You can’t miss me, not only am I in orange and red; but orange and red are not my colors and I am often drinking tea out of a Santa Claus mug and rocking the PIP shelter look. If you do miss me, I get it.
Forgive and remember.