By Ingrid Diaz
For the rest of her existence, hospital Kassandra Cooper would say that it was a salad that saved her life. It had not been a particularly good salad, the leaves somewhat yellow at the edges, the carrots dry, the dressing runny. ‘Unremarkable’ was the word she would use to describe it when recounting the tale of ‘The Day She Could Have Died’ to friends, strangers, and anyone who’d listen.
The unremarkable salad had ended on her lap in a moment of carelessness (her elbow had accidentally tipped the edge of her tray downward). The people around her had turned to glance at the commotion caused by her frantic cursing, as she was left with only two choices: catch the train, or clean the mess.
She thought perhaps she could do both.
The dressing, while unable to remain on the lettuce leaves without sliding off like raindrops on a windowpane, managed to cling quite forcefully to the fabric of her pale blue skirt, and by the time she’d managed to dry off what would certainly be a questionable wet spot at her crotch, she knew the train was gone.
The news called it a horrific tragedy, and for years to come everyone in town would refer to it as ‘The Accident.’
The Accident occurred on a breezy spring afternoon, the kind of day when bad things happen just because no one expects it. A man had left home in his black Land Rover with his wife of eight years, and their six year-old son. Their intended destination remains unknown, though some speculate they were headed to the carnival two miles from the train tracks when the husband, for reasons also unknown, decided to drive into the path of the incoming train.
Psychologists all over the country jumped at the chance to explain the unthinkable. Why would a mentally stable man, a man considered to be a ‘devoted husband’ and ‘loving father’ by those who knew him, kill himself and his entire family for no reason that anyone could think of?
Friends and family claimed the couple had no problems, rarely argued. They were frequently seen laughing, telling jokes.
“You don’t always know,” said one psychologist, “what the human mind will do.”
Some have said that The Accident was nothing but an accident. The man hit the accelerator when he meant to hit the break. It was bad timing, tragic luck. Something that shouldn’t have happened.
For a long time, Kassandra Cooper cut out and collected all articles on the subject. Dutifully, she sat through a decidedly bad TV movie version of the incident. Bad as it was, she recorded it and watched it repeatedly, rewinding and re-watching the moment of impact, thinking, I should have been there.
The day after The Day She Could Have Died, Kassandra spent some time at the nearby park watching the trees sway, and the ducks swim, and the people pass. She sat there thinking of the second chance she’d been awarded, at the meaning of her survival, at the wonder that was life. She made lists in her head of goals she’d attain, of tasks she’d complete, of people she’d get back in touch with.
She wondered if others had missed the train too, and what they thought of their near-miss encounter. She thought of tracking them down, inviting them for coffee or tea. She imagined sitting with the man or woman and asking, “So how did you end up missing it?” She envisioned the one-line responses: kids couldn’t find their socks; car wouldn’t start; emergency phone call; because such a life-altering moment needed only a few words to describe. Kassandra would then tell him or her about the unremarkable salad that had saved her life. Together, they would laugh, softly, gratefully, at the bizarre coincidences that led to their salvation.
Afterwards, she would refill the mugs. They would sit in quiet reflection, thinking, ‘Thank God,” but ‘Why me?’
Why me, Kassandra would frequently wonder. Why not the train’s conductor? Or the man driving the car? Why weren’t they too late?
Kassandra would spend the rest of her life wondering why she had been spared. She was not extraordinarily beautiful, nor particularly smart. She had no talents, no world-changing aspirations. She liked to make beaded necklaces in her spare time, and do crossword puzzles before bed. The sound of ice clinking in a glass made her smile. She would never write moving songs, make award winning films, nor discover the cure for threatening diseases.
She would always know, in her heart, that she was as unremarkable as the salad that saved her.
And yet, for the rest of her life, Kassandra Cooper would feel that she’d been chosen.
Twenty-six minutes before the accident, a woman leaned over to the driver’s side of the car and honked the horn, calling, “Hurry up!” to her husband and child. She had been sitting in the car for ten minutes, waiting, and while she knew that she’d forgive their tardiness the second their smiling faces appeared in her view, she remained, for the moment, annoyed.
It was, she’d decided that morning, the perfect day for a family outing, and while her husband had grumbled good-naturedly, she knew he agreed.
While she waited, she watched the next door neighbor’s dog sniff the flowers in her garden. She was tempted to shoo him away, but he sensed her stare and scampered away before she got a chance to. Across the street, the sprinkler system came on at a different neighbor’s yard, and two children ran , laughing, into the spray.
She smiled, feeling a sense of peace. Maybe tonight they could eat someplace fancy, she thought, someplace nice. Why not splurge from time to time?
“Sorry about that,” her husband said, smiling as he opened the door to their Land Rover. “I was teaching the little guy to shave.”
She arched a brow at the declaration, watching the boy run around to get into the back seat. “Mommy, I shaved! Look!”
“There was no razor, don’t worry,” her husband assured her as he pulled the seatbelt over his frame. He turned half way around, “Are you belted down back there, buddy?”
“So, where are we going,” he asked his wife.
She smiled, relaxing into the seat. “Just drive,” she said.