By circumstance, the two oldest kids and I must have been turning off the street at the same time an SUV and a 12-year-old girl riding her bike crossed paths a quarter-mile away. In mere moments, we stopped as the paramedics came rushing by. By the time we were done at the doctor's office -- getting that final Gardasil shot to protect my kids down the line -- the street was blocked off and police and medical personnel were evident everywhere. And by the time we made it home from that doctor's visit -- the one designed to safeguard my kids -- the helicopter could be clearly heard circling above, landing and then taking off again for Children's Hospital in Oakland.
Hailey Ratliff was declared dead less than three hours after being struck by the SUV Thursday afternoon. I continually checked for updates on both the local Patch site while I also logged in as Daughter and read the never-ending stream of discussion on Facebook. When her FBriends started saying Hailey was dead, I told Daughter that it wasn't confirmed, although I could tell by what kids were saying it that it was true. By the time she went to bed that night, it had been confirmed, of course, but I protected her from that truth.
During the afternoon, I mentioned to the Patch editor that I had never watched social media take off on such a local level. Sure, a big celebrity dies and we're all atwitter. But a child, a local child, dying like that, in an instant, I've never seen it play out online before.
I hope to never see it again. It felt so intrusive. But there I was, having to know. And there we all were, personalizing a situation involving people nearly all of us don't know. The family just moved to our town over the summer. Hailey had only been in school six weeks. She'd made friends, of course, as surely had her parents and three younger brothers, but their tentacles hadn't entwined and intertwined yet. Until now.
There's no point to this post, really. There's nothing I can say or do that will have any effect on the tragedy. Promises to always remember, to always go slower in school zones, to always be ever vigilant when I am driving, and to always treat each day as it might be my or my children's last will be broken within a week, maybe two. I'll go back to having that false sense of security as Youngest crosses a busy street at high school dismissal time to wind his way home each day. The same false sense of security that comes as time marches on and my children are safe.
I would like to promise that I will think of poor Hailey Ratliff, her family and the SUV driver and his family every day and recall these feelings to be a more aware human of the ease with which time passes and gradually takes everyone we love away.
But that promise will be broken. And, soon enough, we will all be gone.