He’d crossed Virginia Avenue a thousand times since taking an apartment across the street from his office three years ago. It meant jaywalking—one summons in the three years, a small price to pay for not having to trudge to a corner crossing, especially in the sweltering heat of summer in the nation’s capital. His morning sprint across the broad avenue involved more than avoiding a ticket, however. Dodging speeding cars was a greater hurdle, with more dire consequences. He’d come to consider it a contest, a test of his agility and quickness of foot, a game he’d always won.
* * *
His move to the apartment followed the divorce from Jasmine, his wife of twenty-two years. Until the breakup he’d commuted from their home in Chevy Chase to his downtown office, where he spent the day listening to the trials and tribulations of his patients as they reclined on his couch, a box of tissues always within easy reach, and poured out their troubles to Dr. Mark Sedgwick.
“Dr. Mark,” as his patients called him, at least those with enough tenure on his couch to be comfortable with it, graduated from the University of California Medical School in San Francisco in 1964. He’d aspired to become an orthopedic surgeon, but his manual dexterity was judged lacking by his professors. They suggested a medical specialty demanding less physical challenge. What could be less physical than psychiatry?
He wasn’t disappointed at this shift in direction his medical studies had taken. He quickly discovered that he enjoyed delving into the human psyche more than peering into spinal columns or replacing arthritic knees and hips. What prompted people to do things became infinitely more interesting to him than how they did them.
He’d intended to do his residency in San Francisco, where he’d been born, and to establish a practice there. But an offer from the George Washington University Department of Psychiatry in Washington, D.C., lured him east. Fresh with an M.D. after his name—and now better able to secure restaurant reservations as Dr. Sedgwick—he would have followed through on his intention to return to San Francisco. But he met Jasmine, a nurse at the hospital.
Jasmine Smith—her parents chose the more exotic first name Jasmine to counterbalance her mundane last name—set her sights on the handsome resident Mark Sedgwick from the day he walked in. Her feminine charms were evident front and back, but it was her wide, ready smile that derailed his plan to return home. He accepted a staff position at the hospital, and they were married after a relatively short courtship. Two children later, a boy and a girl, they bought the house in Chevy Chase and settled into what was to be blissful domesticity. But the bliss soon came off the rose, to mix metaphors, and they grew increasingly apart, especially when Sedgwick resigned from the hospital to open a private practice on Virginia Avenue N.W. The pressure of getting an office up and running, coupled with a growing involvement with a psychiatric institute in San Francisco, meant little time at home for the good doctor and led to the eventual dissolution of the marriage, which Sedgwick choreographed in order to, as he told Jasmine, minimize the hurt to all. He was, after all, a psychiatrist.
* * *
Now, three years later, he began his day as he always did. Sedgwick was very much a creature of habit—routine was essential. His alarm went off at seven twenty, its backup buzzer sounding at seven thirty. Coffee had been ground and mixed the night before, and the coffeemaker was timed to begin brewing at seven fifteen. Because it was summer, Sedgwick took his coffee and a bowl of yogurt with mixed fruit and nuts to the balcony of his third-floor apartment, shady in the morning before the sun swung around to make it uncomfortably hot. He downloaded that day’s Washington Post to his BlackBerry and read the news while eating.
At eight o’clock he was in the shower, dried off by eight fifteen, dressed by eight forty-five, and on his way downstairs at eight fifty-five. His first patient would arrive at nine twenty for her forty-minute session.
He prepared to cross the avenue the way he always did after having received his jaywalking ticket a year earlier, looking up and down the street for signs of the police. Seeing none, he stepped off the curb and took in the traffic. It wasn’t unusually busy at that hour, men and women driving to work in the city’s major industry, government and all its elements. He waited until a stream of cars had passed and there was a break in the traffic. The sun to his left blinded him as he looked in that direction, then he observed the situation to his right. It looked good, and he started across.
He was halfway to the other side when he became aware of a car bearing down on his right. He hadn’t seen it, but he sensed it. He turned in that direction, and his mouth opened and a prolonged “Nooo” came from it. The vehicle, a white sedan, raced toward him, going at least sixty miles per hour, probably faster. Because he stood in the middle of the avenue, the driver could have opted to go either in front of him or behind. But the car straddled the median stripe, its engine revving loudly, no sound of brakes being applied, no sign of trying to stop. It struck Sedgwick head on with a thud that was heard up and down the street and sent him flying onto the hood, his head crashing into the windshield and creating a spiderweb of cracks on the driver’s side. Sedgwick’s body was propelled off. He hit the pavement and tumbled thirty feet before coming to rest, a pool of blood oozing from his crushed skull and creating a crimson circle around it.
Copyright © 2012 by Estate of Margaret Truman