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Gail Konop Baker Headshot

Refracted Love

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I got hit by an SUV three weeks after my divorce was finalized. My middle daughter and I were leisurely biking home from a downtown festival. We approached an alleyway, I glanced up, thought I caught the driver's eye, braked and then, just like they say, everything went slow-mo. The impact. The flip. The slam to the ground. My first thought; this can't be happening. Followed, in immediate succession by...I don't want my daughter to see me die or be seriously injured. I don't want to die or be seriously injured. I don't have time for this.

Next thing I knew worried faces were hovered over me, my daughter's stricken, horrified. I didn't make a peep, she later told me, making her certain I was either dead or paralyzed. I was assessing the damage, I later told her. Head fine. Neck fine. Back fine. Leg not broken. The only thing worrying me was the impact internally where I'd landed. My first words, "I'm fine." Followed, in immediate succession by, "I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine." All directed at my daughter. The driver of the SUV leaned in close and said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." The sorry less a sorry than a plea for me to say, hey no problem. It's okay you hit me. The third time she said I'm sorry. I said, "Please don't look at me right now I'm trying to figure out if I'm okay." That was when my daughter stood up and started screaming, "Leave my mother alone! You almost killed her!" I was touched and worried and distracted by her screaming and said, "No fighting please. No fighting. I need to figure out if I'm internally damaged."

At the E.R., I was x-rayed, told I had a chest contusion that would hurt for awhile, that I was very lucky and was released in less than an hour. My boyfriend picked me up from the hospital with his 7 year-old daughter. As we walked to the elevator she said, "Not too many people get hit by an SUV and walk out of the hospital the same day." On the way home we passed the site of the accident. The driver of the undamaged SUV still there, pacing, talking to the police, looking like she was in more pain than I was at that moment.

Less than a week later, I went back to yoga and was pleasantly surprised that I had already healed enough to manage most of the poses without much discomfort. Until savasana. It was the first time I'd laid flat on my back since the accident. I squirmed. I squiggled. I rocked from side to side. Nothing felt right. I rolled to my uninjured side and that's when I finally wept. I couldn't rest in resting pose. It was the first moment the impact of the impact sunk in. I had been struck by a car. Unexpectedly. Flipped on my side. Slammed to the ground and while I wasn't seriously injured I was wounded. Internally bruised.

Later that week my boyfriend and I were chatting about some aspect of the unraveling of our respective marriages. We often did that, both of us newly uncoupled and working through the hows and whys and what ifs. Sometimes the parallels were so striking (three kids, lots of moves, somewhat traditional division of labor, wife who left) it felt squirmingly uncomfortable. I could often imagine my ex telling similar stories about me to his girlfriend. And while I knew how difficult it was to disentangle emotionally from a long-term marriage even knowing it was over, it was challenging to see that complication in my new love's eyes. I sometimes lay in bed at night after one of our discussions wondering why we didn't run from one another. But, I think, because of our personalities, in many ways the emotional roles we played in our marriages were analogous. Our conversations, riddled with refracted mirrors, ended up deepening both our compassion for one another as well as our ex's.

That night I had a dream. My daughter and I biking on that sunny day. The SUV. The realization, one second too late, I'm going to be hit. The look of horror on my daughter's face. The dull ache in my side waking me. I rolled over and thought, I was the SUV. In my marriage. My ex and I did have ten years of marital therapy that I'd initiated, during which I'd given my marriage my best shot, worked hard to change the dysfunctional patterns. However, that morning, I realized, as I lay in bed half awake, me finally walking out the door sideswiped him. Flipped him and threw him to the ground. Then I thought about my boyfriend and how he'd also been sideswiped when his wife left. The word shock often coming up in our conversations.

As the ache in my side grew achier and deeper, and it occurred to me, I was feeling not only the ache for me, but the ache for my ex and my boyfriend, who'd both been left when they still had hope. And even more agonizingly, for my daughter who had witnessed both the accident and the divorce. It didn't change the fact that my marriage was over or make me regret my decision to leave. In the end I believe we'll all be happier. Refracted and reconfigured. But it made me heart-wrenchingly aware of my ex's and my children's and my new love's and his soon-to-be ex's and his children's still raw pain, deep inside my chest cavity, slowly healing, still bruised.