Hitting the Punchline

by AJ Earl

In December of 2018, a bus I was riding struck a cow and proceeded to skid down the road before coming to a stop.

I was in an accident in December of last year, I was on a bus and I was thrown down the aisle when we wrecked.

These are two true statements, and they’re the cause of a lot of my physical problems today. The difference between them is the little detail of hitting a cow, something I’ve learned the importance of since the accident. Although without the cow there’d have been no accident, a retelling of the same without that cow makes people visibly uncomfortable.

When I enter the room, my cane clacking or my walker squeaking, I reveal a lot about myself without ever speaking. I also don’t speak, so I reveal a lot about myself without doing that, even. Every little movement, graceful or not, is followed by people looking to be reassured about what’s wrong with me.

Their unease grows when they see that I have to type things out, and so when they ask what happened to me, I can see the narrowing of the eyes, the tightening of the brow. They’re waiting for something that will absolve them of their gaze and pity. The fact that I was in an accident doesn’t help, of course, but then the cow shows up.

I have to make it quick, since the revelation of my accident is like the cow itself, life-stopping. How can you really move on from the realization that you’re looking at someone whose whole life is now changed after an accident? The cow gives them permission to do so.

The bus looked terrible, but you should have seen the cow!

The inertia of the bus I was riding is much like the momentary anxiety of others when I talk about my past, it all seems to vanish when the cow shows up. “Oh no” and hands raised to mouths in shock become “oh dang” and a slight, polite chuckle.

At least my accident is amusing, I suppose.

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