Get Big Pivots

The Blink of an Eye, Part I

We were driving north on the interstate highway after a comfortable dinner on the outskirts of Pueblo. It had been a one-nighter to south-central Colorado and a day of leisurely exploring the landscape and small towns along the Arkansas River. Now setting out for the 150-mile trip to our home in the Denver metropolitan area, I inexplicably found myself thinking of an essay by the late Barry Lopez.

In that story he told about a trip he had taken when he was young, of driving too fast on the two-lane highway in southern Utah, of narrowly missing a head-on collision—

— motion blurred on my left, then sound. A motorcycle, traveling probably 130 mph, had threaded the needle between our car and a truck on the left.

I was stunned. Had I let our car drift a bit just as the motorcycle raced past us, the rider likely would have died. We might have, too.

It was  dusk on very nearly the longest day of the year. Lopez had died six months before, on the darkest day of 2020. The death of Lopez had surprised me, because he still seemed young. Now, driving toward Colorado Springs, I told Cathy about that story he had written many years ago, about driving north from Monticello, in southeastern Utah, his brushes with death on the way to a rendezvous with his girlfriend in Salt Lake City.

After the near head-on collision, Lopez had continued to Moab. There, at a drive-in restaurant, he happened into conversation with two women. One was married,  unhappily so. What his story never reveals, perhaps because he did not know, was what they saw in him that warranted the proposal that was made. He was a young student, on his way to a summer job in the great outdoors of Jackson Hole. The young woman wondered if he might be interested in being a murderer for hire.

As I related this story to Cathy, the softened foothills of the Rocky Mountains smiled in silhouettes created by the unhurried evening light.  At Winter Solstice, it’s the opposite. Then, the time between the full light of afternoon and deepest night is like a slammed door.

At Castle Rock I pulled off the highway, to restock my wallet at a bank ATM. It seemed so convenient. Cash in hand, I then succumbed to the whim of exploration. I wanted to see how the downtown had changed since I was last there.  The neon lights glowed in the sky that was finally dark.  After I had done so, though, I was unclear about how to return to Interstate 25. We drove north on a road paralleling the interstate, looking for a connecting street to an an on-ramp. I was traveling perhaps maybe 20 mph, perhaps 25, 30 tops—

—jammed on my brakes.

I had detected the motion.

My car stopped inches from a couple who had been walking across the street.

“You idiot!” the man screamed.

He pounded on the windshield.

“You idiot!” he screamed. “We had the crosswalk.”

He pounded again. It did not break, shattering glass on Cathy. I don’t know why.

“I’m sorry. I am so sorry,” I blubbered.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry”

My window was open. The driver of a pickup coming in the opposite direction had stopped. “Hey, there’s two sides to this story,” he said. “You’re wearing dark clothes. Nobody can see you.”

“I’m so terribly sorry,” I cried. “I’m sorry.”

I wanted to get out of the car, to offer my shaken apology face to face. The woman was pulling the man away.

“Let’s go,” Cathy said.

I drove six blocks, maybe a mile, and pulled off the road into the parking lot of an apartment complex. I  off the car’s engine.

Then I sobbed. overcome by an emotion I had never felt, that I had never understood.

In my life, I had wronged people. I had jilted lovers for reasons I did not understood, written things that had hurt feelings, said things that were arrogant and cutting. I had lived long enough to have regrets.

This was different.I was underwater in this new motion.

Finally, composed again, I drove us home, 45 minutes later.

Then I erupted into sobs again. The margin between life and health and that of injury and perhaps death had been so thin, just inches, a fraction of a second.

Should I have seen the couple walking across the road? There was a crosswalk.

And there was that nagging negligence of mine, my failure to replace the lenses on my car headlights. Over the course of 180,000 miles, the plastic had been dinged enough by pebbles to dim the lights.

Too, there was the issue of my night vision. I no longer have the vision able to feel comfortable hiking even at night as I had 30 years before. I had had cataract surgery 13 years before, while still in my mid-50s. The ophthalmologist that performed the cataract surgery had persuaded me of implants to end both my near-sightedness and my far-sightedness. I would never need glasses again. “Quality of life,” he had said. It worked as predicted in daylight. In dim light, though, my vision had worsened. He had done me no favors.

Tormented by what had happened, I returned the next day to Castle Rock. I wanted to see the scene in broad daylight. We found the crosswalk, the signs noting the crosswalk, which I had missed as I had glanced sideways, looking for a route to I-25. We also found that pedestrians were able to create flashing lights, to alert drivers to their presence.

The couple had not done this.

Why? Had they not seen the buttons?

Did they also sob when they got home? Or was there only anger?

The next week I took my car to a dealer who replaced the lens of my headlines. It cost me $130, which was $110 more than the do-it-yourself kit that I had never found time to use. The new headlight lens seemed to make a little difference, but not much. Was it time to quit driving at night? Or to be ever more cautious, even if that sometimes caused other drivers to nearly climb aboard my rear bumper?

WE had returned to the crosswalk on Summer Solstice, our day of maximum light in 2021.

Inside, I felt darkness.


The Blink of an Eye, Part II

The morning after we revisited the crosswalk in Castle Rock I had an interview in East Denver. There, I learned about a ceremony scheduled that afternoon in Boulder. The governor was to sign a raft of clean energy bills into law in the afternoon sunlight atop a parking garage. I wanted to be there, because I cover energy and because I considered this energy legislation to be a bright spot for Colorado, a bold step forward in how we address climate change.

I’ve forgotten why I needed to stop by my house on the way to Boulder, but I did. Rushing to retrieve items, I stepped outside.

A blast. It wasn’t a familiar sound. I was puzzled. Likely something from a construction site, I concluded, a new piece of machinery, a new sound I was unfamiliar with.

I returned inside the house to retrieve something else.

As I stepped toward my car, another blast.

Again, I paused in my head to wonder what exactly would make that sound. Could it be gunfire? Surely not. If not, then what could it be?

Less than a block from my house, driving toward Boulder, I heard the sirens

I knew.

About 90 minutes later, at the bill-signing ceremony, the governor announced the shooting in Arvada of a police officer.

This had happened about a block from my house, in the town square, in space proximate to the library. Somebody who hated police had called for help, and when the officer arrived, ran from behind with his shotgun and killed the police officer. He never even saw his assassin. The cop had spent the last 16 months working in elementary schools.

Across the town square, somebody shopping in the Army-Navy Surplus store—this store is across the street and a parking lot from my house—had run out and then shot the individual who had killed the police officer.

After shooting the cop-hater, this individual then went to where his victim lay. Kneeing, he was inspecting the weapon dropped by the assassin when other police arrived. In a split-second decision, one of them shot the good guy.

Three deaths, two minutes, twenty shots. All this in a public space a block from my house amid the square where organic tomatoes, carrots and potatoes are sold at a farmers’ market on summer Sundays. Within feet of a fountain where children pranced with delight amid the jets of water shooting into the air with seeming randomness on leisurely afternoons. Near tables where I sometimes retreated from my computer on summer afternoons to read, not write.

Always, the darkness is near, emerging with no notice. How do we dwell in the shadows of that darkness, respectful but not fearful of the margins? How do we embrace the light?

— Allen Best

Allen Best
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