A few years back, on a cold November evening, I hit a man with my car.
This is a true story. I couldn’t make this up.
My wife and I were driving through Ojai—pronounced oh-hi—a small artist community in the hills above the town in Southern California where we were living at the time. I turned to say something to my wife and when I looked back at the road, an older gentleman in a tweed jacket stepped off the curb with his cane. To my credit, the side streets in Ojai are not well-lit.
In a moment of panic, we put the man into the backseat, thinking that we could drive him to the hospital, but before we even had time to breathe, my wife received a call from her twin sister who was living in Santa Fe.
Her sister, her identical twin, was going into labor. She was having her first child, or children—twins, strangely enough—and because my wife, a midwife, was talking her through it, we quite simply forgot about the gentleman in the backseat until we pulled into our driveway and heard him moan and cry out for Lynne.
I suggested that we return to Ojai and leave him somewhere along the highway, but my wife would have nothing to do with it. We helped him inside and put him up in the guest room. We were a little short on rent. We found some money in his jacket pocket. My wife nursed him back to health. He got better. Our lives during these months—because purposeful—made the most sense.
The man had either lost his mind as the result of the accident or had already been going crazy before I hit him. There was no way of knowing which it was, of course, but he claimed to be professor emeritus of classics at Stanford University. Even though he did seem to know more Homer than was probably good for him, the story seemed pretty far-fetched.
Anyway, one evening I came home from work to find the professor sitting at my place at the table across from my wife laughing at some old story that she was reminding him of while passing him the rice. He was wearing what I might be wearing on any night like this when coming home from work. I saw then, when I looked down, that I was wearing the professor’s old tweed, torn on the sleeve from the night of the accident.
I told them, “I am the man who hit the man and not the man who was hit.”
“Oh, Gerald,” they said, and shook their heads as if I was making a joke.
“But why do you say ‘Gerald,’ I said, “when my name is actually Steve?”
I’m only trying to give an idea of how my mind was working at the time.
On some days now, as Steve, I drive off to a corporate business park where I work in sales, as far as I can gather, in the automotive industry, and return home late at night thirsting for a scotch. On other days, as Gerald, I hole myself up in the guest room studying the classics, going downstairs only when Jeannie calls me for the occasional late afternoon cocktail on the back deck. Other than the sometimes more confusing days when I don’t know which guy I am, or the few bad days when I don’t want to be either one of them, life, to be honest, is mostly okay.