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The Noise That Won't Go Away: A True Life Story


BY NATHAN WILL SHEETS

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Photo by Ben Husmann; some rights reserved.

The noise is what I remember the most.

The noise itself was not deafening in a literal sense; however, my mind remembers it as such. When I have flashbacks, it is the thought of the noise that triggers me first, putting me into a state of anxiety or apprehension. Music is constantly flooding my mind: a song from this musical, or a classical piece by that person or even something that I have made up; I typically do not notice noises around me, or even, in some cases, noises directed at me. This noise, however, could not be avoided or ignored.

I had finally chosen to come out of my shell and visit with some old friends on that Friday night, the day after Thanksgiving. I was having mixed feelings about seeing them, but overall I was feeling ready to wander into this social New World. We were meeting in Gladstone, only a few miles from my house. I remember, en route, approaching River Road, wondering if I should diverge (it runs perpendicular to McLoughlin, the street I had originally intended to take). I decided to keep on cruising down McLoughlin -- River Road was too curvy for my tastes. Besides, I was driving my parents' van due to my car being out of commission, and curvy roads and big vans are to be avoided when possible.

I wonder what we'll be doing tonight, I thought with some apprehension. These people were my old church friends -- a church none of us were a part of anymore. Incidentally, I was no longer a part of any church or religion or "spirituality," having gotten my fill of religious indoctrination in the years previous. They're still kind of really into God -- that's going to be awkward. I wonder if we'll do anything, or if we'll just sit around talking. That would be nice, only I really don't want to talk to them about God. I'd rather just hear how they're -- F*CK!

I hope the reader excuses the language, because when a person runs in front of your car while you are driving 40 miles per hour, the "f-word" is the only word that any English-speaker thinks, regardless of religious affiliation or moral view of cursing. Indeed, my mind had not finished the entire one-syllable word before the noise entered into my mind forever.

Her head hit the windshield, so the noise included cracking. Her body hit the hood, so the noise included crumpling. My foot was slammed on the brake, so the noise included skidding and swerving. My voice was engaged in some form of horrified expression, so the noise included a whimper.

My eyes squeezed shut as I slammed on the brakes as one does when startled, but I still saw her hit the windshield and hood nonetheless. When I opened my eyes, I saw her -- a person: a living, breathing fellow human being on this confusing world of ours, with passions and family and a history -- flying 20 feet in front of my car. She lay lifeless in front of my van.

What? What just happened? Is that a person? Oh my god, it's a person. A person just ran in front -- oh my god! What if she's dead? All of these thoughts, occurring simultaneously, filled my mind, while my body managed to grab my phone, get out of the car, and walk ahead to the nearest cross street so I could tell a 911 operator what had happened and where I was.

There were people. "Somebody help her!" I screamed. Deep down, I knew I should not approach and look at her. I knew she was dead. I had no idea if it was my fault or not, and I knew seeing her up close would not be good for me later. What I did see from afar was hard to stomach: the shin of one of her legs -- Oh my god, look at her leg! I did that! I did that with my car. Oh my god, she's dead -- was broken in half, lying irregularly at a ninety-degree angle.

People were hovering over her, with one lady administering CPR. "I'm on McLoughlin and Glen Echo -- this woman just ran in front of my car!" More people were gathering -- out of taverns, out of cars. Oh my god, I did this. "What if she's dead?"

"Sir, just stay calm; I have emergency response on their way," the 911 operator gently said, keeping calm, as if we were having a casual Sunday afternoon chat.

My disbelief of the situation began to overwhelm me. More people. Gladstone police, Milwaukie police and Clackamas County Sheriffs were all on the scene. Don't faint, Nate. The 911 operator is still on the phone, asking you questions. Be a man. Don't get overcome with emotion. "Yes, ma'am, the police just showed up."

"OK, go ahead and hang up with me and find one of them to talk to."

As I hung up the phone, my body went into shock. "Where is the driver?" I heard people asking. The voices were muffled and a high-pitched sound filled my head. My head kept drifting down -- Must . . . find . . . officer -- and I had to make a concerted effort to keep it up. I walked like a zombie, taking six-inch steps. The noise . . . she hit my car so hard. There's no way she can be alive. Oh my god I just hit a person with my car. It was so loud. Where are the police? I need help!

"Where's the driver?" I kept hearing. Forty people were on the scene by this time. Witnesses, bystanders, police, paramedics. I could not find a police officer, even though there were a dozen running around me. My mind did not recognize them. Finally, I found two bystanders on the sidewalk. I looked at them with sad,