There will be a motorcyclist.
Passing you on the I-70 bridge, headed downhill over the Missouri river, he will gun his engine.
You will approve of the helmet on his head.
You will appreciate the distinctive, wide blue of his ride.
And as he disappears (from view, or just from your awareness?) you will return to Important Thoughts.
It’s good that I found the on-ramp.
I’m not sure I like the church I just visited.
I’m glad I’m meeting my family for dinner.
I have a headache.
You won’t remember coming around the corner.
You won’t understand that the mannequin-the man-whyishebleeding–is the same person you just saw.
Your mind will refuse to process, consciously, that this is a person at all, even as you act, without understanding, not to hit him to stop to get out to go to him, OhmyGod.
You will not understand, then, or later, or probably ever, how the motorcycle came to rest, alone, a quarter mile down the highway. You will be astonished, eventually, that you have left your own car running.
And now, at this moment, amid blood and broken pieces and things out of place, you will struggle to understand anything at all.
It will be surprisingly quiet.
There will not be a sign that flashes THIS IS WHAT AN EMERGENCY LOOKS LIKE. There will not be background music from ER or Law & Order. There will not be someone to give you instructions.
And so, you will wing it.
You will make an unlikely partner of the man, and he is a man, not a mannequin, not a body, as he follows you with his eyes, saying nothing. You will think, later, of a trout gasping on a riverbank.
This riverbank is made of concrete and set 60 feet in the air, strewn with debris, and no shoulder (no shoulder!?), no buffer–just two lanes and a white line and a wall.
And you. The trout’s cheerleader.
You will ask how he’s doing. You will ask if he can move. And when it’s clear to both of you that he can’t, you will still think that you are a team, you and him.
Your job in this team is to stand in front, to wave frantically as traffic comes around the corner, to jump up and down, and to yell at the 911 people who must determine, before helping you, if your square of the bridge is in Kansas or Missouri.
Your job is to plan quickly. Your job is to pray.
The man’s job is not to die.
You will say inane things like “stay with me” and “you’re gonna make it” and you’re ok, you’re ok, you’re ok.” You will know while you’re saying them that it’s not enough. Then you will say them again, jumping up and down and waving your arms for emphasis, furious with the cars, the drivers, the bridge, the minutes.
The first responders, the real ones, the ones not standing outside of their bodies and waiting for a script and hoping not to die, those people will take forever to reach you.
Truly, it will seem like it. Three forevers.
One of sheer disoriented panic.
Two in which you try, both of you, to survive, and you wonder, as if about someone else, what the woman on the bridge is going to do about the first driver to come around the curve who is not paying enough attention to see.
And three in which you no longer have to go it alone. Three is the best. You still might all die, but now there is someone else to yell at the dispatchers, to wave to the fire trucks circling below (on the BRIDGE, my people, the bridge), and to enact, from farther back, vigilante traffic control.
DO NOT STOP THERE, you will roar at the man whose car is causing traffic to come around the corner even more ferociously than before.
I’VE GOT YOU COVERED, he will yell back—I’M GONNA SLOW THEM DOWN.
So you will trust him. And he does.
Three forevers, as best you can tell from your phone, its outgoing call log now a record of this improbable evening, takes exactly eleven minutes.
And then they come: ambulance, fire truck, police cars, SUV. They will do their actual work, and because you did not hit the man or his motorcycle, yours is done.
Cheerleading is neither recordable nor reportable.
And so, you will shake your head, say a prayer for this man, and stand to leave.
You will wonder, later, how there came to be blood on both sides of both arms, none of it your own. You will marvel, in contrast, at the cleanness of your clothing. The relative order of your hair.
But first, you will hug two strangers and high-five a third. It will feel like not-enough, not for this team, but you look into each other’s eyes, and you know. You offer each other blessings. You’ll walk away, back to your still-on, highly air-conditioned car.
And there, in flashing lights and a slump of relief, you will notice that your hands are shaking, and you will call who you call in situations like these.
You’ll pick someone good.
And she will answer. She will help.
And then, you will drive away down the ghostly highway before it reopens, before the ambulance is ready to go, before it takes the man somewhere else. Later, you will realize that you know his name, his wife’s name, his boots, his t-shirt, his blood, but you will not know what happens to him.
It will be many hours later when, at home and in the arms of the safest person you know, you can cry.
But you will. And this will help, too.
And the next day you will find, again, the shirt that you got for your older son. The one you initially thought better of—words on shirts have to be good, and these are also neon yellow. But it was two dollars, and has long sleeves, and is the right size to grow into.
Your husband keeps hanging it in your closet. You keep taking it back out and reminding him to put it with the size-up clothes.
But today you will think maybe it’s yours. Or that, for one evening on a bridge in a borderland that no one quite wants to lay claim to, it could have been.
And, amid the everything-else that you are still trying to sort out, you will feel proud.