I must have been no more than eight years old when it happened. My brother Joseph and my cousin Pete were already across the street by the window of the “Mister Softee” truck as it played it’s mind numbing jingle. I remember running down from the stoop of my house, and NOT looking both ways before I crossed. Yes, I just ran into the street like the “street rat” I was.
The awful sound of the car tires skidding was the first thing I heard. Like an animal being slaughtered, the sound was high pitched and deafening. Then suddenly there was the flash of yellow to my right, I closed my eyes when it hit me, and I just flew through the air. My world had just ended.
The nuns never told us in “religious instructions” that heaven was so hot. And from all the pictures they showed us, I would think it was cool and windy because of all the clouds there. Yet it was just dark and silent. So I opened my eyes to look for the gate and someone in a white robe, but instead all I saw were black wires, silver pipes and the inside of a Goodyear tire. No, I didn’t think this was heaven at all.
Then slowly they arrived, the shoes, ankles and pant legs, blocking out whatever sunlight I could see from the bottom of the car. Yes, they came to rescue me, and I wasn’t dead at all. Someone then pulled at my feet and gently started dragging me from under the car. The pipes and wires slowly passed by my eyes until there was sunlight again.
There were at least ten heads in a circular pattern looking at me. They were the faces of my bother Joseph, cousin Pete and various adults including Mr. O’Callahan, my friend Neils Dad, who was holding onto my feet, because he just pulled me out. Most of the adults were telling me not to move and just stay still. I also noticed a man standing next to the cab crying hysterically. He was an old short man who looked something like Mickey Rooney. He was wearing a classic “cab drivers” hat. There were also some people yelling at him too, blaming him for what just happened. But I knew It wasn’t his fault at all, and I felt sorry for him.
And then in a flash I made my move, I just sprang to my feet and ran to my front porch across the street. The first person there I saw was my cousin Pete’s grandmother “Lita” from Spain. Although she didn’t speak English, she motioned me to sit and stay still. Then what she did next I will never forget, she pulled a purple flower from a bush in our front yard and handed it to me. She motioned me to smell it. I just sat there holding the flower, it was shaking uncontrollably in my right hand.
“Ronnie, Ronnie, my son”, my mom had just made it down the three flights of stairs and was now sitting next to me on our stoop. She just kissed my forehead. I was afraid to look at her because I knew the whole thing was my fault. She kissed me again and said it was OK. Then suddenly a police car and ambulance arrived, and now I knew I was really in trouble. I couldn’t look at anyone and just kept my head down when they took me inside the ambulance.
Even though I knew I wasn’t hurt, they made me lay down on the stretcher in the back anyway. They took me to Mamanodies Hospital in Boro Park and checked me out, nothing but a cut on my right index finger. When I got home that afternoon and walked up our front stairs, I still didn’t have the courage to look at my friends. I knew all the trouble I caused that afternoon was because I never looked before I ran into the street.
But what I remember most about that day was the image of the old man who drove that cab. The image of him crying against that yellow fender still haunts me today, and I never got to say I was sorry for what I did to him that afternoon. Because I’m certain thats a day he never forgot as well.