Erin Murphy

An oncoming car misses a squirrel by inches. The squirrel darts to a patch of grass, picks up a black nut and begins nibbling as if nothing has happened. My daughter asks, “Do you think squirrels get that feeling like, ‘I almost died?’”

Thirteen months earlier, my daughter was stopped at a red light at 9:41 p.m. when a drunk driver of a two-ton pickup plowed into her from behind. She’d had her license just over a year. Her car was totaled. Her body was less damaged — soft tissue injuries, doctors called them. A police officer said she was lucky to be alive. “Look at the road,” he said. “No tire marks. He didn’t even try to brake.” The driver was handcuffed and installed in the back of a squad car, and we returned to our routines: school, work. She went to physical therapy a few times a week. Every now and then the D.A. called with updates. There was a plea agreement but when the man showed up to the hearing drunk, they took house arrest off the table and sent him to prison.

I’ve heard that squirrels don’t remember where they’ve buried their nuts. Chances are when they find one, it was planted by a fellow rodent. Sometimes when I see a squirrel dig up an acorn in my yard, I imagine him patting himself on his little squirrel back and saying, “What a good idea it was for me to hide this nut right here where I’d find it!”

How easy it is to anthropomorphize animals. How difficult to humanize some humans. The man who hit my daughter is a welder. I pass his shop every day on my way to work. It seems he does mostly routine jobs — machine parts, pipes — but out front there are a few art pieces on display: a fanciful bicycle, a tree with cursive limbs. A scrolled arch says “for rent — perfect for weddings.” He works with the door open, even in cool weather. But the month he was incarcerated, the door was shut, and there was a handwritten note on the glass. I never got close enough to read it. I imagine it said some version of “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

When my daughter wondered about the inner lives of squirrels, I didn’t think about her accident. Most days I give the man only the smallest thought, like my late grandmother crossing herself as she passed a church. Other days I drive by the shop and it hits me — literally hits me, like I’ve been slammed by an invisible battering ram. All the air is sucked from my lungs and it’s — I — can’t — I — try — I — she — almost —

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