Just about when I start telling myself that maybe I see things a bit too darkly, maybe I let that ennui, the ‘ol rolling blah infiltrate too deeply into my cerebral cortex, something like this happens. My wife has been working for several years now with kids, keeping them constructively busy in after school programs so they’ll stay off the streets and out of their otherwise latchkey afternoons and early evenings. She gets a lot out of it, and so do the kids, who grow very attached to the people looking after them. It’s the kind of thing you’d imagine would build up nice karma cushions for all those concerned in that kind of work. Well, two nights ago, at three o’clock in the morning, a car speeding down Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the west San Fernando Valley hit a pole, careened, hit a few other things and finally came to a brutal stop. Inside the car were two people, one of whom was a young woman my wife had worked with in the after school program operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The woman, her name was Jennie, was twenty three years old. Her boyfriend, at the wheel, was twenty seven. God only knows why they were going as fast as they were, why they went into that curve near Lassen Street and Topanga Canyon Boulevard maybe just a little too high, a little too quick to hug the road.
Nobody”s going to be able to explain this adequately to Jennie’s four year old little boy, the light of her life. Nobody’s going to be able to reconcile what happened with the fact that she’d just a couple months before finished getting her degree at California State University, Northridge. Nobody’s going to be able to really make sense of why a young life full of potential and good spirit needed to wind up inside a mangled white and black metal body along Topanga. They could’ve stayed home. They could’ve been sitting in a restaurant. They could’ve been making love, making popcorn, making plans.
It makes no sense that some people live to ripe old ages and don’t appreciate it — or maybe they do, I don’t know, I’m not there yet — while others get cheated out of the absolute best their lives were going to give them. It certainly makes me, for one, look around and give quiet thanks for the fortunate, good long run I’ve been on. I hope that for more than one day or so, I remember and appreciate what I have, what’s around me, what I see when I go to the beach or the bathroom or the market or… you name it. It’s going to make me treasure any little encounter I have with my sons, my nephew, of course my wife, even my dog. Because the person who I believe must be hurting the most is the other now-staggered soul who lived with Jennie. Her mother. I can’t even conceptualize what the parent who survives their child’s sudden, violent death must cope with and try to overcome. She’s got to be there for her grandson. Hell, she’s probably having enough trouble just being there for herself. She’s going to run the events of that early morning through her mind a million times over the rest of her own life, and not once will it make sense, seem right, seem even possible. And she’ll have to live with that anvil on her chest.
So me, the ambitious writer, living in denial of the effects of gravity on a body significantly older than Jennie’s ever got to be, thinks that this really is the random, lurching, bull-in-a-china-closet reality I thought it was, after all. Demolishing unpredictably, demolishing predictability. The greatest power in the universe is an amalgam of chance, entropy, unfortunate collision and undeserved pain. The poet described life as nasty, brutish, and short when discussing the medieval survival chances of the average man. Well, nowadays medieval times isn’t just a bad dinner theater in Anaheim or Buena Park or wherever it is. It’s still what we’re living in. It’s all around us when we’re riding in little japanese cars at three o’clock in the morning on Topanga, and the Bad Luck Spirits are out upon the land. It’s a hunter and a killer, a panther, coyote, or telephone pole. It’s the reason you give another quiet little sigh of thanks — to whomever you think might be listening — when you come up that freeway off ramp at the end of a late night high speed ride from the other side of town, or farther. And you can relax for a while, because tonight the unexpected sudden stop against the immovable object wasn’t in your cards. The Bad Luck Spirits attached themselves, lamprey style, to someone else’s back.