The eerie quiet of life before social media

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

Nowadays, if you stub your toe, you can quickly post “ouch” on social media and your following will respond with frowny faces. Every little event has whole photo pages devoted to it; see yourself posing in front of a banner, hugging a mascot, eating brie. Gawk at others. Click “like.” Technology has made us all the star of our own “Truman Show.”

A secluded Amazonian tribe believes that having your photo taken steals your soul. What would they think of Instagram?

But there was a time when none of this soul-stealing existed, and I was hit by a car – and there really was no one to tell.

Let’s flash back even further. I was 12 and earning some money with a paper route. I needed a bike, to make the job easier, so slowly but surely saved up $100 for a Huffy 10-speed from a department store chain that no longer exists, Zayre. I put the bike on layaway with my father, and would drop off $20 here and there, until I had paid it off and could ride it home. It was silver with orange sticker labeling.

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My father left the home soon after, but I still had the bike, and the route. The route had two components – delivery of the papers and collecting the money about once a week. My take was 25%. The collection book – which had payment receipts for the customers – was held together by two steel rings, and I’d loop one of those rings around a notch on the bike’s handlebars, so I didn’t have to hold it while I pedaled.

By age 16, I was still doing the route, and I’d gotten bigger and more adult-looking. My father was totally out of the picture and my mother was rarely around, as well; I guess recovering from the divorce in her own way. My siblings were little kids.

I had the route down by rote. A robot, at this point. Today, I still often dream I am doing that same route in my old hometown.

I was heading to one of my last customers’ houses – a chiropractor’s – my father had taken me there once as a younger child, because I’d hurt my knee playing Pop Warner football, but the guy really was faking it; I could tell. I crossed near a train track and a side-railed car, that now was serving as a hair salon called The Cutting Caboose. It was painted bright red, and I looked up at the sky, which was a rare, perfect blue. Two primary colors. A couple of puffs of clouds headed toward a subdued, relenting sun.

And – whack!

A car came out of nowhere and slammed into me – I rode on its hood and, when it finally stopped, I flew 20 feet, maybe more, ending in a tumble on the hard asphalt. The bike stayed embedded in the grill of the car, a brown, rusted jalopy.

Amazingly – perhaps because I had played so many contact sports and knew how to fall – I only was a bit sore after. The bike was a mangled mess.
The chiropractor ran out and looked at my knees and deemed them fine. The driver creeped out of his car, looking like Shaggy from “Scoobie Doo,” but with Coke-bottle glasses. A guy in a greasy white T-shirt had been waiting at the corner in his car and told the cops that it was all Shaggy’s fault. But then he gave the cops a fake phone number and was unreachable thereafter as a witness.

A Catholic priest showed up and, although I am Catholic, he went straight to Shaggy to make sure he was OK, as he’d seemed rattled. The priest didn’t talk to me. Disgusted, I pried my mangled bike from the grill of the car, refused an ambulance, put it on my shoulder, grabbed my disheveled collection book off the ground and limped home.

I never got my $100 back – the driver not only wouldn’t pay, but said if I brought him to small claims court, he’d countersue for the damage to his car. I called the cop, who said that without a witness, he might win, so it wasn’t worth pursuing. I instead got an hourly job at a convenience store.
I put the broken bike on the side of the house, where it rusted. I’d notice more weeds snaking around it each time I’d visit home from college. The house is long foreclosed on. Maybe the bike is still there.

When I was 18 and quite strong and had been in a few fights by then, I saw the weirdo who’d hit me in a different convenience store. I was much bigger than him at this point, and part of me thought I should throw him around – but then I saw what he was doing. With his thick glasses, he was holding various 2-liter Coke bottles up to the store lights to see which one had the most content. I shrugged and moved on. He wouldn’t have recognized me anyway; he was all about himself.

But the thing that strikes me now about all of this is, there was no one to tell. Getting hit by a car is a pretty big deal. My parents had their own problems. My siblings were too young. A friend of mine I told joked that because I had a little extra layer of fat on me that braced my fall. Thanks, pal. This taught me that no one really cares about my problems.

Nowadays, this accident would be all over social media. People would commiserate. Some would be impressed, some would be angry. But would their reactions be about them or about me? Would they care?

Yet, back then, as I flew through the air, seemingly in slow motion, under a big blue sky, it was just a moment in time; a time that’s now wholly forgotten, unrecorded, except in my mind.

And that’s the last word…for now!

Darren Johnson has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing and Literature from Southampton College and currently teaches PR courses, when he isn’t running Campus News. Reach him at darren@cccn.us.

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