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Archive for December 7th, 2009

By Bob Chrisman


The question strikes me as amusing because I wonder how many times I’ve been on the edge of dying and didn’t realize it. How about the time the gray BMW swung around the corner as it turned left? The outside mirror on the right side caught my open coat and flung it in the air. Even the driver thought he had hit me because he stopped, at least the brake lights flickered before he drove away. But the question is about a time I knew I was close to death.

In college I ran with a group of theater people. My friend, Margie (not her real name), lived at home in the suburbs with her family: Mom, Dad, and a younger brother and sister. The parents regularly invited us to their house for taco night, a family and friends feast of food and laughter. One night in February I left their house to drive back into the city. I felt so lonely and depressed as I headed home in my VW bug.

I took a shortcut down a curving, two-lane road to the main highway. At the beginning of every curve I pushed the accelerator hard. Looking back, I may have wanted to die at that moment. My friend and her family showed me what I would never have in the way of a warm, loving family.

The car entered one curve. I caught the sheen of ice on the highway. Too late I took my foot off the accelerator and stomped on the brake. The car spun around like a yoyo, first one way and then the other.

I left my body. From the backseat of the VW, I watched my physical body frantically try to regain control of the spinning car by turning the steering wheel. Finally “I” gave up. As I watched the accident unfold, I said, “Oh, crap. I’m gonna die.” The car ran up the side of the hill and turned over on the left side. In that instant, I found myself in my body watching the asphalt speed past my driver’s side window.

The car ran into a ditch, stopped and flipped upright. I stumbled out into the cold, dark night on a lonely road in a wooded area. A young couple, on their way to a movie, stopped and made me climb into their car. They took me to a pay phone so I could call the police. When we arrived back at the wreck, they insisted on staying until the police arrived. A tow truck pulled my car from the ditch. The officers told me I could drive it home and I did.

I always remember that night whenever I drive a car. The accident made me more cautious about my driving. To have death come so close made me appreciate how quickly life can be snatched away.



-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the first of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to post PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy)

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I have a tracheotomy scar that I got when I was 18 months. Mom said I used to get croup and that this particular time my croup turned into pneumonia. By the time they realized how bad it was, I was turning blue. They rushed me to the emergency room, and Mom says that a little Mexican doctor, a woman, performed the emergency tracheotomy on me. They kept me in an oxygen tent for days, and Mom said that’s when my hair went curly. She said I looked like an angel under the plastic of the tent.

Later, as a young girl, any time I got fever, I would have dreams where it seemed angels were hovering in the room with me. I could hear people talk, my brother and sisters, but it was the underwater sound of voices. And I felt like there were other children with me, except these children were calm and light. Those were the angels who visited any time I was sick, and I often wonder now if they related at all to the time I almost died.

Also, in my mind, I picture that little Mexican woman. The doctor. Mom and Dad had great pride in saying that it was a Mexican woman who saved my life. Mom’s grandmother on her dad’s side was a little dark woman with a long thick braid. Mom talks about how as a child she would go in and see her grandmother, who was sick in bed. Her name was Elena, and Mom said she’d be in a white bed dress, sitting up, her gray-black hair pulled back in a thick braid. Mom says that she thinks Elena had Indian in her, Spanish and Indian, which is Mexican. And somehow, when Mom talks about the Mexican doctor, I often think of Elena as being that woman. She wasn’t, of course, but that’s who I picture saving my life.

The other thing that I picture is the doctor puncturing my throat with a pair of scissors. I don’t know why I see that, but I do, and it’s comical now to think that someone would take whatever object they could find, a good pair of steel scissors with black handles, and poke them into my throat to open up a passageway.

And I see myself under the tent afterward, sweaty from the oxygen and heat that builds up. And then like when the house falls on the Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy takes off the witch’s ruby slippers, and all of sudden the witch’s feet curl and retract under the house, this is how I picture my curls happening. Mom and Dad are staring at me in the tent, my hair is wet but straight, and suddenly the entire head of hair starts to curl into ringlets. I picture my parents’ eyes getting big and the two of them looking at each other, incredulous.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my parents to almost lose a child. Mom says that after that, she didn’t like to take me out. She didn’t like it when people with colds came over. She tried to keep me covered and away from germs. Back then we had relatives visiting all the time. And neighbors, too. We were a big family, social. All my sisters’ friends would come to our house to play and hang out. And Mom’s friends, too. On Sundays my Aunt Barbara and her eight kids would often drive up from a town just south of us. Eventually Mom must have just let it go, let me be a normal kid again. What do they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the first of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to PRACTICE: Hair – 15min

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