It always happens in a fraction of a second, or so they say. The bad things more than the good, or so it seems. A fraction of a second. No more.
I'm always holding my breath in those moments. Waiting. Seconds last longer than minutes as you wait, your mind playing out scenarios you hope aren't written in ink in this as yet unwritten script of life.
My husband is always telling me a person can't live in those moments. There's no room for anything else but worry. You have to move forward.
But he's not here. Directing.
It's just me … and my 10-year-old daughter. Ambling slowly, on our way to the park, behind a seven-year-old on a kick-scooter.
Anxiety hosts this particular party along our morning commute as I trudge along behind my son on the way to camp. I suppose I could drive the three blocks, but I don't want this specific fear to win.
The bridge between what my eyes see and what my mind imagines is always clogged with phantom traffic. But this traffic isn't invisible. A bottleneck of two-ton cars makes their way to the playground at the same time.
Inside every other one, a driver presses a cell phone against their ears, getting a jump on all the things they have to do in fewer than three hours their kids are in someone else's care. I have nowhere to be.
Tires screech somewhere in the distance. Not here, though. Not where I am slowly making my way back on this tree-lined, neighborhood street.
Traffic, that in my most panicked moments, always seems too fast for the road we are on.
My mind replays old moments, too. Like one from last summer, when the garbage truck took a swinging wide turn, clipping leaves of trees that would have been shading us only moments later.
It reminds me that anything could happen.
It didn't help that my son was kicking his scooter at least 200 yards past the break-nothing speed of my jog. Weaving like a drunken little imp on the sidewalk-less road between our house and camp.
I close my eyes. Washing away an image I don't want to see.
Only my voice – loud and panicked, and harshened by immediacy -- travels quickly through the space between us.
He stops to look at me but quickly swerves back to the sandy strip he was told to inhabit, between the lawns and the solid white line on asphalt.
I drew in enough breath to steady my swimming head.
Admonishments, now fully oxygenated, bubble up to my throat and catch there.
My daughter is faster than me, though.
“Don't do it,” she whispers. “Don't yell at him now. People are watching.”
I close my mouth and touch her head. How is she so smart? How is she not the mother?
She is right.
The only control I have at this moment is over myself. Ranting about the dangers of the road, the limits of visibility and the risk of losing the privilege to scooter altogether is a close-range prospect. It is a rant that is best served calm and in person.
“Can I go now?” he hollers.
He stays where he is until I catch up.
It's only a fraction of a second.