You saw a man who might’ve been dead today. You thought he was gone because airbags covered him like white sheets covered corpses at funerals but there was no ambulance and you didn’t know if that’s because it wasn’t needed or because it hadn’t arrived. You were in the passenger’s seat so you couldn’t pull the car over but you wanted to. Your mother said there are other cars there, that it wouldn’t help to stop, that we must keep going. “No”, you said, “no, you don’t understand.” You learned how to calculate angles today in physics and the man’s head is jerked back and if you just got a little bit close you could calculate it, all you have to do is find the side measurements. And then you laughed, mostly at yourself, because you once thought math would never be helpful in the real world but there you were, doing tangent inverse when the smoke began to rise. It annoyed you, all the sudden, that should an ambulance come, it would be white. The stretchers would be white and the nurse’s coats would be white and the blankets would be white, and wouldn’t it be better if it was all red, because that was the color of the light he ran and the sky and the blood that flowed in those moments faster than ever in the skin under your nails. You drove away and you told your mother that if you start a day and end a day in a same place your velocity is zero because your velocity is measured by displacement and your displacement is your distance from one place to another. So if you began a day in bed, and travelled the world or went to school or made an enemy or a friend or saw a man who might be dead, as long as you end the day in bed, your total velocity is still zero. You’ve gone nowhere. It’s almost like it didn’t happen. You pulled out a piece of paper and started to do the displacement formula, and by the time you’ve checked it for the sixth time you’ve almost convinced yourself that the answer is zero and that means that nothing happened, nothing happened, and that was when your mom pulled the car over to let the ambulance pass. You counted the seconds between the sirens and if you knew how many meters it travelled for every beep you could probably calculate its speed and how fast it’s going but the beating in your chest would always be faster, and you did the displacement formula again, but your physics teacher never told you how to calculate if the object moving has changed even if the displacement hasn’t, and you knew that even if you end this day in bed not everything would be the same because you were not the same. Your mother merged back onto the highway and you listened to the tires screech against the road, open the window a crack so that the air whistles through. If the man hadn’t been drunk. If he hadn’t run that light. Maybe he could have figured been the next great physicist. Maybe he would have been the one to launch a rocket to mars. But he’ll never even sit up again. You’ll try the formula again. Maybe you forgot to square the time.
This is a fictional story that I wrote after seeing a car crash. When I see something horrific happen, I want to make some sense of it, usually with science and math, but too often, they are senseless tragedies that could have been avoided if only somebody had been more careful.