Over the years, I’ve witness dozens of accidents, or their immediate aftermath, in the crosswalk in front of my home. It’s a bad spot on an over-taxed road. Each time an accident happens, I rush outside to check that everyone is okay, and offer both drivers my contact information. From this I’ve learned something useful: Whoever is at fault won’t look at me.
Often, the offending party will fully pretend I am not there, keeping to their phone or crossing their arms and staring out into space. It’s like they hope I will go away.
I know some people worry about terrorists, unhinged shooters, or home invaders, but I know the greatest threat to me and my family, by far, are these people. The odds getting plowed into in that crosswalk is hundreds or thousands of times greater the uncommon tragedies we preoccupy ourselves with. These are the people who drive away.
So why won’t they look me in the eye? My theory is that they can’t face the fact that they have done wrong. Their minds are occupied with the business of re-writing the facts until they have a story concocted that will keep their premiums level their version of events righteous. But somewhere, deep inside, the truth continues to dwell. While they look away, there is hope. I know this. I need it to be true.
I must point out, I don’t always have the objective truth. Most often I hear the accident, then turn to see what happened. This only takes a second or two. Often, it’s easy to divine who was likely at fault from the placement of cars, but not always. When I emerge, though, as the neutral witness, one party usually turns away while the other can’t get my information fast enough, before they even know what I may have seen.
There have been three exceptions in my time here. The first was an older German woman who cried “Mein Got what did I do?” Not much, it turns out. It was a small fender bender and the woman she hit comforted her. The German woman looked me in the eye. “I should have been paying closer attention,” she confessed. She felt awful. The truth was not her enemy.
The second was an accident where I couldn’t tell who was at fault. When I came down, both drivers avoided my eyes. I suspect they had both contributed to the accident and I was sent away.
The third exception was a red-faced man in sweatpants and a Red-Sox cap. He looked me in the eye. He glared with all the warning he had in him. His hands were fists, and might have come at me but for my reminder the police were already on their way. Later he said to the officer “That fuckin’ guy didn’t see shit,” while eyeing at me. He had no idea what I saw, or didn’t. “Everyone’s gotta stick their nose in,” he added, crushing out a cigarette. This wasn’t true. Everyone doesn’t. In fact, rarely does anyone else stop, even though there are always better witnesses than I. People want to get on their way. People don’t want to risk getting pummeled. Most people have learned not to get involved for fear of guys like him. He didn’t care about being wrong. He cared about himself. He was, I suspect, incapable of guilt. He wanted to intimidate me and, failing that, discredit me. He did not want a witness.
He did not want a witness.
The guilty never want a witness. When they can look you in the eye and tell you so, you know are looking into an amoral void. When they look away, there is still hope.