Sometimes I know things before they happen. I can’t control it. I get this feeling like someone pulled the lever on a slot machine inside my head, and when the reels stop spinning there it is. It’s usually totally useless; I didn’t pick the slot machine metaphor for nothing. I’ll be standing in line at the coffee shop, sleepily staring at the back of the stranger in front of me, when suddenly it comes to me that she is going to order a double espresso and a scone. Or I’ll be at the park and know that someone is going to come by with an Irish setter on a leash and their left shoe untied.
Once in a while, my magic slot machine gives me a payout. I’ll predict the weather and dress accordingly. Or I’m able to catch the vase that someone knocks off a shelf. I’ve never predicted lottery numbers, nor have I had much luck in casinos; trust me, I’ve tried. There might be a few establishments from which I have been banned. Youth. But what gives me comfort is that if I want to, I can usually interfere and change the outcome of my premonitions.
That’s why I thought to call the ambulance when I knew I was going to be hit by a car.
This one really frightened me. My premonitions are typically pretty mundane stuff; I don’t even think of them as unusual anymore. But the certainty that I was going to get ploughed into by a speeding vehicle straight up freaked me out. I knew that I was going to get pretty fucked up, but what really put the terror into me was that I didn’t know if I was going to survive.
I was out for a walk on the Commons when the premonition came. It was a brisk fall day. The sun was out. The changing foliage was a firework display of red and orange, and the fallen acorns made satisfying crunching noises under the soles of my boots as I walked. I took a deep breath of the crisp air, and then there it was, that feeling of the slot machine tumbling inside my head. It stopped me in my tracks and I shuddered despite the sunshine.
Instinctively I looked around me in alarm, but of course, there’s no motor traffic on the Commons. My abrupt halt caused a fast-moving cyclist to pass me a little too close, startling me. I maybe shouted several impolite things after her, which I’m not proud of, but I wasn’t quite myself just then. I realized I was shaking, so I went and sat on a bench to see if I could wait it out. Maybe if I just stayed put in the Commons and away from traffic I’d be safe.
But it wouldn’t go away.
After waiting almost two hours, I couldn’t stay put any longer and I decided to try and take the T. I walked to Park Street station and pondered where to go. If I took the green line home I’d have several blocks to walk from the station, with a lot of intersections on the way. Or I could just head one stop up the red line straight to Mass General Hospital.
If I was going to get hit by a car, I figured, I might as well be at the hospital already.
I was feeling a slight sense of relief as I boarded the train, but coming down the stairs from the Charles/MGH station, I realized I’d made a mistake. Of course the station didn’t let out at the emergency room doors: I had a big intersection to cross. Okay, sure, it was only three lanes, something I would normally jaywalk without batting an eyelash. This is Boston after all. But after several hours with this sense of doom weighing down upon me, the anxiety was paralyzing me. I stared at the cars swishing past, imagining that any one of them could have my name written on it. My feet felt glued to the pavement as I watched the crosswalk cycle, once, twice, three times while the light changed phases, but I couldn’t make myself move.
That’s when I decided to call 911.
My hands felt cold and clammy as I pulled out my phone. I felt bad lying to the dispatcher by saying that it had already happened, but I would rather take the fine for a false 911 call than die splattered on the pavement. I told her where, and said that a woman with my description had been hit by a car, and hung up.
Nothing had hit me yet when I saw the ambulance enter the intersection, lights and sirens blazing. I was practically on the doorstep of the hospital, so it had arrived almost immediately. A sense of relief washed over me, but it curdled just as quickly when the deadweight of my premonition did not lift from my shoulders. Nothing had changed. I was still going to get hit.
Just then, a pickup truck entered the intersection, coming around the corner from the Longfellow bridge at high speed. It had a green light but hadn’t noticed the other traffic stopped for the ambulance, and it tore into the intersection without slowing.
My heart seized up in my chest.
The ambulance was already most of the way through the intersection, and the two vehicles were on a perfect path for collision. Both drivers swerved when they saw each other. The truck went left and up onto the median with a squeal of tires before it struck a light pole. The ambulance also pulled left, but not hard enough, and it came up onto the sidewalk. The last thing I saw before everything went dark was the word “AMBULANCE” written backwards in big red letters on the front bumper.
I really didn’t see that one coming.
When I woke up in the hospital I had a concussion and some nasty contusions from the bumper and the sidewalk, but I was alive. My body was stiff and ached, but I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. Perhaps a little manically. The ambulance. Of course it had to be the mother fucking ambulance. But I quickly swallowed my laughter when I saw that it was alarming my nurse.
“Sorry,” I told him with a weak smile. “Just happy to be here.”
They kept me for observation overnight, and the next the morning I was eating a plastic container of ambiguously flavored red Jello when the police officer arrived. She was clad in black with all those heavy, violent things on her belt and there was a badge glittering on her chest. But her face was kind, and I was taken with her beautiful red hair.
“How are you feeling this morning?” she asked in one of the thickest Boston accents I have ever had the privilege to hear.
“I’m just happy to be here,” I said, accidentally calling to mind my skittish nurse.
But the officer just smiled warmly as she stood next to my bed. “I felt the same way after my bike accident. I thought I was going to die, and when I didn’t, I felt amazing. Don’t let it fool you though, you’ll probably have an emotional low as well. So take it easy the next few days, okay?”
After that she got my statement regarding the crash. I filled in details about where I was standing and the paths that the vehicles took. I got the impression I was the final person on her list of people to interview. She seemed very thorough, which worried me.
“There’s one last thing I’d like to verify. Your phone number is 617 441 9797, correct?”
Her question arrested my spoon of Jello midair. “Yes,” I said, “it is.” I didn’t need my slot machine to know what was coming next.
“So how is it that the phone call reporting the incident came from your phone, before the crash happened?”
I returned my spoon to the plastic container as I desperately searched for my words. While my mind flailed helplessly to find a way to allay suspicion, another premonition took me. The reels spun madly in my head and I knew it was a big one, even bigger than yesterday’s, and my eyes went wide.
“What is it?” she asked, leaning in and putting a strong hand on my shoulder. “Are you alright?”
And I broke into the biggest, stupidest grin that has ever graced my features. Maybe I was wrong, maybe it wasn’t a slot machine after all. Maybe it was a gracefully spinning roulette wheel, and someone in the aether, from where all this madness came, had placed a bet for me on red.
“I just knew,” I said, suddenly relaxed as I looked up at her. “I know things sometimes.”
“What, like you’re psychic?” she asked, raising a suspicious eyebrow.
“Something like that,” I said, shaking my head. “I know how it sounds. Believe me, I know. It’s a long story, and kind of complicated. But maybe,” I said as I prodded at my Jello with the spoon, suddenly shy, “maybe I could explain it to you over drinks. Or dinner?”
I looked up as I said the last words and saw the expression of surprise on her face. But then she smiled. It was a wry, amused smile and she gave me a measuring look, as though she couldn’t decide if she liked my boldness or not.
“Sure,” she said finally, “I’d like that.”
But I already knew she’d say yes.