My daughter recently had a mishap in a parking lot in Brooklyn, where her old Subaru wagon met a sportier car of a newer vintage, which, as often happens with encounters between wagons and sedans, got the worst of the deal. Luckily, nothing but metal and plastic was hurt—except maybe feelings on both sides.

It’s not fun to have an accident, of course, and it makes you feel like an idiot. Especially when it’s in a parking lot. You keep re-hashing it in your head—What if I’d just waited a minute before shifting gears…What if I’d just stuck a CD in the slot, taken a breath…What if…if…if…

I know how it feels, because I’ve done it.

At 66, I’ve put dents in more than one car. Of mine. And…of others. Twice, it happened in parking lots. Luckily—perhaps miraculously—nobody’s ever been hurt.

The worst accident I ever had, in terms of damage, came not in a parking lot, per se—but when I pulled out of a parking space. Like my daughter’s accident, it involved a collision between a station wagon and a sedan.

Unlike my daughter’s case, the sedan—alas—was mine.

I was heading off that afternoon on some errand I’ve long since forgotten, when I pulled out of my parking space in front of the apartment house where Paul and I lived in Northampton, MA.

Northampton was Paul’s hometown, and the apartment house contained our first apartment.

It wasn’t easy for me to live in my husband’s hometown, where he knew everybody and everybody knew him, and I was the stranger from a strange land (the Midwest—which, compared to hippie-dippy 1970 Massachusetts, might have been the moon, if the moon were conservative and church-going). We hadn’t been married long; we were there so he could go to grad school and I could work as a nurse, and we could be near his family when we had our first baby.

Which would be soon; I was more than eight months pregnant.

So anyway, I pulled our new Toyota Corolla into Elm Street, and was jarred by the sickening sound of crumpling steel and fiberglass that, as it turns out, was the driver-side-rear of my little car.

I shoved my baby-bulked body out of my pleated door to find a huge, battered old station wagon stopped next to me. A tall, raw-boned woman sat in the driver’s seat, and a kid sat next to her.

They both seemed okay, clearly not happy, but surprisingly un-fazed.

I was shaken. And shaking. It was the first accident I’d ever had, and I felt like an idiot. An eight-months-plus-pregnant, guilty idiot. What if I’d just double-checked the side-view mirror? What if I’d just stuck my head out the window, into the cold late-January wind, to make absolutely sure I could see past the Corolla’s blind spot? What if…if…if…

I apologized a dozen or so times to the woman, and ran into the house to call the police.

The cruiser came almost immediately and a young officer got out. I rushed up to the cop, who was surveying the scene. “It’s my fault,” I said, still trembling, fighting tears.

He calmed me down, distributed forms, supervised as we traded insurance information. The woman and her kid drove away in her wagon, the cop left, and I waddled back inside to call my husband and the tow truck and fill out forms.

Paul was patient and understanding. The car was towed to a local garage, and the guy gave us a rusty old beater to drive while it was being fixed.


A couple days later, Paul stopped to have a beer with a friend after school, and he came home with a weird smile on his face. “Mike told me a funny story today,” he said.

Paul’s friend had been a high school classmate of Paul’s, and his Best Man at our wedding. Mike was a lawyer. He, like Paul, grew up in Northampton; he, like Paul, knew everybody in town.

Paul told me that Mike had been sitting in a local watering hole the night before, when a buddy of his came in. The buddy was a cop. He looked exhausted, and he told Mike he’d been called in the night before for a domestic dispute between a married couple. It wasn’t the first time the police had been called on them. They were yelling at each other, the cop said, and the woman was throwing things at her husband, including insults in the kind of language that could’ve taught sailors a thing or two. “They were awful,” the cop told Mike, “And the woman was especially big and nasty and aggressive. I thought she’d kill him. I spent a couple hours trying to calm them down, get them to leave each other alone, but whenever it looked like I could finally leave, damned if she didn’t go at him again. And at me. I had to threaten to throw them both in jail before they cooled off enough for me to go.”

The very next afternoon, the cop said, he’d been called to check out an accident on Elm Street. “I drive up, and what do I see but this little Toyota, one side stoved in, with this poor little woman pregnant out to here, and this big old station wagon that’s obviously destroyed her car. And who do I see behind the wheel of that station wagon, but this horrible woman who’d made my life such a hell the night before. I get out of my cruiser thinking, Man, this was handed to me by God himself—“

Paul paused, and the funky smile came back. “But then, the cop tells Mike, ‘So just when I’m about to lay into this woman, doesn’t the pregnant lady run up and say, “It was all my fault! It was my fault!” So what could I do but shut my mouth and hand out accident forms…’”

And that, my daughter, might well have something to do with why you came a week early.