A bird flies into a closed window when all it can see are reflections of trees and sky ahead of it. It mistakes an idea of the world for the world. I am in my own little world, when my head thwacks right against the car window, whiffs left into empty space. My daughter. My daughter sits behind me. I take flight through a door that won’t open more than a sliver, an eye squinting into sunlight. Wake up. I see sky. The metal under the car’s hood sings. I yank on the backseat handle. Her car seat has tipped over. I see only the tops of her shoes tilted sideways. Her tiny feet are still. I fling open the door, pull at straps. My daughter is wide-eyed and still. Still alive. My stunned little bird.
Only after I take her, whole and seemingly unharmed, into my arms do I notice my legs jerking so violently underneath me I need my husband’s arm to steady me toward a window ledge, a place to perch. He holds our son. They sat on the other side of the broadside. All in one piece, the saying goes. We are all in one piece. I remember the cake I’d been holding on my lap, my birthday cake. “We have to tell them we won’t make it to the party,” I say to no one. My party. My cake. The one I stayed up late to make, cracking eggs into the batter. “Give it to the police officers,” I say, as ambulances are called. My thoughts are cracked. Eggshells. Glass.
“I can make a statement.” A man appears. “I saw everything.” I nod. Yes. Please tell us what happened. He and the officer speak overhead. The details drift down like feathers. A red light run at Wisconsin Avenue. Our car through the green on Montgomery. A young woman driving. The airbag blown open so fiercely she can’t move her wrist. Our headlight in pieces, sliced orange on the ground. Pieces of cake cut and shared back at the precinct. My phone. Where is my phone? I need to tell my friends we won’t be there.
“The driver was probably texting.”
“How do you know?” my husband asks.
“She said, ‘I looked up, and it was red.’ ”
I looked up. From what? And it was red.
I fold my arms around my girl.
At Suburban Hospital, my husband and I talk quietly while waiting for evaluation. We might have died, we say. I think back to the moments before impact. Was my daughter singing? Had my son fallen asleep? Did my husband have his hand on mine? I can’t remember. I had been looking at my phone too. Already at the party, coordinating friends, telling them where to lay down the picnic blanket. I only remember fragments. Shards. A millisecond shriek of brakes. My head cracking against the glass. My daughter. And me, waking up into the moment like a bird startling toward the sky.