Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

That time I hit a kid with my car

I’m working as a lifeguard and it is the summer of 1996.

I’ve come to the Lewis & Clark College campus for my morning shift teaching swim lessons to preschoolers. I love my job but I’m deathly ill that morning and haven’t slept at all.

The swim lesson if configured with me in the shallow end of the pool with my little ones and one of the other guards sits in a folding chair right next to us. That way, I can take one of the kids off for a minute of 1-on-1 time without having to keep an eye on the others.

This morning, I have to get out of the pool every 15 minutes to go throw up in the locker room.

I slog my way through the lessons and my shift as guard at the indoor pool. I’m heading home by 2:30pm, thank god.

I drive up the hill from the staff parking area at the Pamplin Athletic Center, past the campus safety office. I stop at the stop sign, look both ways, and start to make my right turn onto Palatine Hill Rd.

And I run straight into a kid on a bike. He comes swooping down the wrong side of the road right as I’m pulling out and I turn into him. I’m not going fast but it’s enough to knock him over.

I leap out of the car and go running over to check on him.

And I realize that it’s Benny’s oldest kid.

Benny is my favorite camps safety officer. He is the perfect mix of competent, funny, and not too strict. Everyone loves Benny and is happy to oblige when he asks you do something. He only writes people up if he absolutely has too, not just to be a dick like some of the others. Benny will just shake his head when he finds you in an altered state laying on top of the arbor next to the rose garden.

And I have just hit his kid with my car.

He’s scrambling to get up when I reach him. Insisting he’s fine, he jumps on his bike and rides away before I can check him out. I get a glimpse of his calf though and it seems like something is wrong with it.

Shaking with adrenaline, I walk down to the campus safety office and report to the officer at the desk.

β€œUmm, I just hit Benny’s kid with my car.”

β€œWhat?!? Is he OK?”

β€œYes…I’m not sure…I think so. He took off before I could get a good look at him.”

β€œOK, wait here.”

He disappears into the back of the office. I sit and await my fate.

He’s smiling when he comes back a few minutes later.

β€œI talked to Benny. His son is fine. You can go.”

Benny lives right across the street from the school so I stop on my way to campus the next day to apologize. He offers me a seat in the living room and calls his son in.

I’m stunned when he starts gently his son for riding on the wrong side of the road and not wearing his helmet. Then he makes his son apologize to me. I get a better look at his son’s leg and I see that it’s been burned but it’s an old wound. For the first time since the accident, my heart beats a little slower.

Benny shakes my hand and thanks me for reporting myself after the accident and for stopping by to check on them.

I see Benny less and less over the next few years. We raise a hand to each other when we pass by on campus or when he wanders past the outdoor pool but we never have an extended conversation again.

I like to imagine that he’s retired now. His son has to be in his late 20s. I like to imagine retired Benny in that house across the street. Maybe his son has his own kids and he brings them to Benny’s to visit.

I always liked Benny and I hope he’s happy, wherever he is.