I could tell you it was raining, my windshield was fogging, and the mailbox was on the road. All true. But none of that mattered. No sense in adding lies to vandalism: I wasn't paying attention. I swerved and nicked it with the mirror on my passenger side.
The mirror now dangles from its wiring, clanking against the car door whenever I hit a bump. I had to tell my husband, who has never done such a stupid thing in his life. The car will cost a bundle to fix. Hundreds, at least. Maybe a thousand. Everything's a thousand now.
Haven't I been punished enough?
Nobody saw. I got clean away with it. Nobody would ever know. It was a small thing.
If I confessed, I'd put myself in the hands of strangers. They might be unscrupulous, vindictive people. They might charge a ridiculous amount for fixing the mailbox. They might call the police.
Isn't having your mailbox run over one of the risks of having a mailbox?I didn't want to go back. .
|If I confessed, I'd put myself in the hands of strangers. They might be unscrupulous, vindictive people. The last time I did the right and honorable thing, it got me sued.|
The last time I did the right and honorable thing, it got me sued. I was researching a true-crime book. I went to the house of a family whose daughter had been molested years ago to ask if they would talk about the man who had abused their trust. They didn't want to. I wrote them a note apologizing for the intrusion.
They used the note to sue me, saying that my visit had ruined their health and the health of almost everyone else in the family. A lawyer later told me, "Never apologize. Never."
Fixing the mailbox won't cost the owners much, I told myself. They probably have homeowners insurance.
But I couldn't get that smashed mailbox off my mind. Someone stole my garden hose once. I was so outraged and betrayed. The world felt less safe.
I decided to drive by just to see the damage. Maybe I hadn't really hurt the mailbox. On the way there, I scanned the side of the road. As I passed one unblemished mailbox after another, my hopes rose. Maybe I didn't really hit it. Maybe I hit a tree.
Nope. There it was. One spindly, naked pole with a splintered neck. It stuck up like the blackened finger of blame. Beside it lay a crushed plastic box.
The house was a long way from the street. I couldn't see any lights. Maybe no one was home. They shouldn't have put that mailbox so close to the road.
Oh, shoot. Gravel crunched as I walked the drive. The wooden house sprawled like an old cat, sagging toward the middle. Probably a rental. Oh, great. I was about to become Christine, champion of landlords. Probably full of drug dealers who'll shoot me. The doorbell squawked.
Nobody stirred. Good.
Then I heard the shuffle of old feet fumbling across the floor. Fingers struggled with the lock. A stocky little man with hunched shoulders twisted his neck to squint at me. Thick glasses made his eyes hazy and vague.
"I ran over your mailbox,'' I said, almost shouting. I didn't want to repeat myself.
"My mailbox?" he asked.
"I know," I said. "It's hard to believe." Couldn't we just skip how stupid I was and get to the point? "I'll leave my name and address. You can send me the bill."But being face-to-face with a cold-blooded mailbox killer was apparently too much for him to take in all at once. He unlatched the screen. "Come in," he said. .
|You say some hurtful words, and you never know how deeply they cut. You pocket that wrong change, and you never know whether the clerk has to make it up or loses his job.|
The house was hot and quiet. A metal kitchen table sat on linoleum. At the window, African violets squatted, limp and malign. A wheelchair occupied most of the living room. In it sat a tiny, skeletal woman with puffs of hair cropped as close as a man's. Her head tiled toward her shoulder like a bird with a broken neck. I said hello.
She babbled something. Her eyes, black and deep in their sockets, followed as I walked past.
"My wife,'' the man said. His voice was perfectly normal. He could hear fine. "She's had Alzheimer's for 10 years. She can't recognize her sisters. I take care of her, change her Depends, feed her."
Oh, boy. What a mess. "Maybe I should find someone to fix the mailbox for you,'' I said.
"That would be good,'' he said.
The cost suddenly didn't mean a thing to me. What if I hadn't come back?
I would have been a horrible person.
I would never have known that, of course. I would have never known who and how much my carelessness hurt.
But that's always how it is, isn't it? When you choose to do something wrong, you never know what it costs the other guy. You say some hurtful words, and you never know how deeply they cut. You pocket that wrong change, and you never know whether the clerk has to make it up or loses his job or gets bawled out and quits, feeling like an imbecile.
You always tell yourself that you're just doing some little wrong, something insignificant and justifiable. But you don't really know.
Once you choose to do wrong, it goes on beyond you. In exactly the same way that doing good spreads beyond the moment, doing bad takes on its own life.
I apologized. "That's OK,'' the man replied. "Everyone makes mistakes.''
That's all it was. Just a mistake. I could fix it. How foolish I would have been to lose that chance.