By Laura Moore
I can feel a physical response immediately: my face heats up, adrenaline diffuses throughout my body, and an insatiable urge to intervene overtakes my brain.
Even when I should keep my mouth shut, I can't.
Something inside of me is wired to speak up, to speak out, to take some sort of action to help a person who has been wronged, even if it is none of my business.
Unfortunately, this impulse can often lead to post-good-samaritan regret when the offender snaps back, or the victim defends the offender, or I simply realize it was a offense that didn't deserve the attention. Sometimes it is just not my place to scold someone who skips in front of another person in line, or intentionally drives the wrong way down the street, or calls someone a terrible name.
Sometimes, I need to let it go.
But at other times, speaking up--even if you don't have all of the facts--still seems like the right thing to do.
A few years ago, when I was working as a server in a restaurant in the Short North, I looked across the street and witnessed a man thrust a woman against a brick wall, hold her up off the ground and proceed to scream at her. I called 9-1-1 immediately and the police were there in minutes. When the cops confronted the couple though, the woman claimed they were "playing," so the officers let them both go and everyone involved seemed pretty annoyed that I notified authorities.
As I watched the couple depart--and the police write up the report--I felt a mixed bag of emotions. I worried--for a second--that perhaps I overstepped the line by picking up the phone, but even now, looking back, at no point did the man's actions seem playful, and every time I consider the woman's defense, it seems borne of fear rather than truth. So even if I did over step the line by thrusting myself into a situation that didn't involve me, I still contend it was the right thing to do; I still contend that over-stepping was the better mistake to make.
I suppose I hope I will feel the same way--regardless of how it turns out--each time I look back at what happened last Friday. While trying to buckle my son into his carseat, I heard a loud crash, leaned out to investigate, and saw that an SUV had slammed into the sedan parked behind him. My first instinct was to snap a picture, but when the driver turned around and made eye contact with me, I decided to lean back into the car instead. I thought for sure he'd own up to his crime and leave a note, but when I saw him driving past my window a few seconds later, I realized he was fleeing the scene.
I tried to steady my phone with the hand that wasn't holding my baby, but my fingers were too slow; the man got away.
Everything inside me wanted to scream.
It was entirely unfair. It was immoral. It was unexpected, even though I suppose I should have expected it.
I wanted to vomit.
Once it all registered, I grabbed my baby, exited my car and carried him over to the sedan. Even though deep down I knew I would find nothing, I still hoped there would be a note; I still believed in human decency. When I saw nothing but damage, I felt nauseated imagining the owner of the car walking outside and realizing he or she would begin the weekend as the unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run.
I ran back into the daycare center to see if they had a security camera and to report the incident to the administrator. Unfortunately, their cameras only captured images of who walked in and out of the door, not who drove into their lot, so the only thing we could really do was wait for the owner of the sedan to come outside so we could explain what happened. He emerged a short time later, and as soon as I passed along what I had seen, I left to feed my son.
The police called later that evening and asked me to email a follow up statement. I agreed, of course, and as I sat at the computer and typed, I felt heat filling my chest just thinking about the man who got away, thinking about my decision not to take that initial picture, thinking about every last detail of the crash. I wondered whether or not the man spent even one second reflecting on his crime, worrying about the victim, or feeling guilty about his actions. I wondered what he told his child who had to have been jarred from the collision, and whether or not he had any anxiety about me--the witness--speaking up, or if he just assumed he'd get away with it, if he assumed he could bury his head in the sand and I would just turn the other way.
Regardless of what he did or didn't think though, the following Monday when I returned to the daycare center, I saw what I believed to be his SUV sitting there, roughly 50 feet from where the accident occurred a few days before. The moment I spotted it, I stopped in the middle of the round-a-bout drive, put my car in park, pulled out my camera, and snapped a photograph of the back: license plate, damaged bumper and all. Seconds after I took the picture, the man who owned the car walked through the doors, carrying his daughter, and for a brief instant, I made eye contact with him.
He greatly resembled the driver I had seen the previous Friday, and as we connected, I felt his unease. I felt his discomfort. I felt like he recognized me, but I didn't know if that was real, or if it seemed that way because I wanted it to, because I wanted to believe that even if he didn't do the right thing--he at least understood his crime, he at least felt bad for what he had done--and seeing me reminded him of the smear he smudged on the timeline of his life.
But I suppose another part of me doubted my instincts. Another part of me feared the one percent uncertainty that I felt. Another part of me worried that by turning him in--when I was only 99% sure--I could potentially create a horrible situation for an innocent man. I thought it was him--I really did--but I wasn't positive. How could I be? I saw him from two cars away.
As I considered all of this, the man strapped his daughter into his car, and I pulled around, parked, and collected myself. He drove past me, and turned out of the lot, but I continued to sit there, processing, reviewing, analyzing. I continued wondering what made the driver who hit that car let go, what made him leave; and I thought about what made me hold on, what made me stay.
And there, in my mind as I processed it all, I continued seeing the car that got hit, and the world I've given my son. I continued seeing two things I wanted to be better than they are today. I continued hoping that I would be strong enough to teach my little one to speak up--to speak out--when he has something to say, when his words could help authorities do the right thing.
And so even though I was nervous about accusing that man of something I was pretty sure--but not positive--he did, I pulled up the image anyway. I typed up the note. And I gave someone else the power to figure it out.