Wednesday, May 31, 2006

20

Today is Walt Whitman's birthday. Happy birthday, Walt. It's also the twentieth anniversary of the day I broke my neck. Which isn't a big deal, I'm not wearing black, or lighting candles in memory of my twelve year old self, but the fact that it's been twenty years is pretty wild to think about. I still remember it all very clearly, the day, a Saturday after I'd graduated from the sixth grade; what I was wearing, this horrific yellow ensemble of shorts and shirts, seriously hideous, my friends, and these awful K-Mart purchased hightop sneakers, Fleet Street they were called, red and black with absurdly long shoelaces that I had to wrap around the ankle a few times before they could be manageably knotted and even then they would inevitably loosen and whip around everywhere when I walked or ran. I loved those shoes, though. I'd take the early bus to school that year so that I could play a game of baseball on the fields behind the school that were still soaked with dew. Those shoelaces would act like wicks, drinking up the moisture from the grass, and for the rest of the morning my shoes would be a soggy mess. I've told the rest of the story in varying degrees here, and glancingly in my poems: at a party thrown for the small handful of us in the gifted class by the teacher of that class, a pretty, young woman named Joy who'd been with all of us since the first grade, I was sitting on the deck with my best friend Adam while the girls played inside with Joy's baby daughter. We were bored while Joy grilled burgers and hot dogs and seeing this she asked if we'd like to ride bikes until the food was ready. The bikes were ten speeds, old, rarely used, festooned in cobwebs, with tires we had to fill with air. Adam left the garage before me, having pumped his tires first, and I followed after him a few minutes later. Joy's house was atop a hill, fairly steep, and coasting down I realized the brakes didn't work. I wasn't used to riding a ten speed, riding instead my beloved Redline 20 inch BMX bike with its blue 4130 chromoly frame (so light!), so I was immediately scared. I was going fairly fast now on a bike I didn't feel comfortable riding, with no working brakes. I squeezed the caliper brakes, which were like mush. I decided in that instant a crash was probably inevitable so I coasted off into the yard to the right of the driveway, hoping for a softer landing on grass. What I didn't know was there was a ditch at the bottom of the hill, obscured by weeds. I hit it at a good speed and was thrown over the handlebars, breaking both my arms then my neck. There in the weeds I was having trouble breathing. My right arm was under me so I couldn't see it. But my left arm arm lay strangely bent across my chest; I could tell that it was broken. But I felt no pain. I couldn't feel anything, in fact. This anti-sensation was less than numb, or more than numb; it's hard to conceptualize what it feels like. It feels like your body is gone, amputated, floaty, indistinct, gone. It feels like zero. There was a faint ache in my neck. I began, even then, to suspect what had happened. Soon Adam was standing over me, out of breath, asking if I needed help. He'd turned around on his bike just in time to see the wreck happen from down the street. He ran to get Joy. She was there quickly along with her neighbors who'd also seen the accident from their porch. A man told me I was going to be alright, that I'd just knocked the wind from me, that I should stand up. He began to lift me up by the shoulders. I begged him not to move me. He lifted me to my feet. My head fell over, like a flower on a broken stem. I collapsed to my knees. The gravity of the moment was clear. An ambulance was called. On the way to the hospital the paramedics cut those terrible shoes from my feet.

16 comments:

C. Dale said...

Days ago, you asked what on earth one would write in a memoir. You just began chapter 2 of that memoir right here in this post. The language of beauty and memory, when mixed with this terror, is more than affecting. After reading this post and seeing how subtly you handle what had to be one of the most unreal days of your life, I would buy your memoir in a flash. Thank you for this.

A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz said...

Agreed. The sharing of one's pain is no mean thing. Thank you, Paul.

Diane K. Martin said...

Some of us (well, me) whine all the time, as if Life owed us something. You don't. You just say it.

Charles said...

Paul, this was really amazing. I didn't know what to say after I read it, but I wanted to say something. I can't believe you remember it so vividly.

Kells said...

Paul,

Reading this gives me chills--like a flower on a broken stem. I'm with C. Dale on the memoir feedback. I hope you continue with it.

LKD said...

How does one begin to write a memoir?

Like this, Paul. Like this.

shann said...

I want to call some one and read it to them- that's a sign of good writing in my book- you tell just enough in just the right way to so everyone who reads can 'get it'-

this is a memoir, write more.

thank you

A. D. said...

in accord with the memoir comments and the not-knowing-what-to-say-here a la charlie.

jeannine said...

Amazing writing, Paul. I agree with others about the memoir.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

I'm so struck by this...I became unexpectedly dependent upon a wheelchair a bit more than four years ago.

I am baffled with every anniversary of The Day The Chair Came.

Unlike you, I have at least considered the black dress and the candles, perhaps emergency ones.

But I can never decide between that and cupcakes served to the accompaniment of a drunken polka band.

Either way, at last...I know whom to ask.

Thanks, you did it so gracefully.

Peter said...

Wow. Intense stuff here.

Amy said...

Paul, I read this by following the link from C Dale's site. Wow. Inspiring. Thanks for posting this.

Penultimatina said...

Two words for you, Paul: keep going.

I'm looking forward to reading the entire book.

Shamrock said...

Can I pre-order a copy of this future best-seller?

Paul said...

Of course! ;)

Nick said...

I rarely find myself reading anything these days from start to finish without averting my eyes to some other task that awaits me. Alas, I too, have been afflicted with the Multi-tasking bug. But this had me in its grip and would not let me go. My espresso machine will never forgive me for the neglect. Great stuff! More...please!