The road was no wider than a driveway, hemmed in by tall trees that formed a canopy above. By day it was brooding and damp, and at night the only illumination came from the headlights of an occasional car.
We were driving from the Boonton Tavern to our musty apartment above a honky-tonk deep in the woods. My roommate, Nick was at the wheel. I was sweating like a hog in a sauna, due to the record heat and all the beer I’d drunk back in town. It did not help that the old car had no air conditioning. The windows were wide open, but the feeble breeze only made matters worse.
Nick pushed the old Toyota to 50 miles per hour in an effort to scare up a draft, while the worn-out shock absorbers sent shudders up my spine, and the pistons croaked and complained like a pair of old men on a park bench. I watched the speedometer needle climb higher and higher before it froze at 55 miles per hour.
Between my blood alcohol level and the unrelenting heat I was ready to pass out. I stuck my head out of the window in an effort to cool off. I stretched out further, balancing my weight on the window frame. The more I leaned out , the cooler the rush of air felt on my face.
Nick had bought a wooden roof rack at a yard sale for five dollars, and strapped it to the car with a pair of bungee cords. I figured that the flimsy device might be the coolest place in town. I reached up for it, fumbling until I gained enough purchase to pull myself up. Nick saw me climbing out and must have read my mind. He lunged for my ankle, but I tugged myself free. He bellowed that I should get back into the car, but I ignored him and hoisted myself to the roof.
The sudden gust of air took my breath away. I scrambled to the front, and wedged my knees between the front cross-bar and the roof. When I decided that I was properly secured, I knelt into a crouch. As the wind howled in my ears and whipped my long hair against my face. I filled my lungs and bent into the gale, spreading my arms like wings.
I blacked out for a moment, and when I regained consciousness, I found that I had folded my wings and had regained my hold on the roof rack. The wooden frame vibrated wildly beneath me, and I tightened my grip until my knuckles and my face turned as white as chalk. With a sudden snap the bungee cord at the front of the roof rack came loose, and the steel hook at the end of it raked across my chest. When the other cord let go, the car slid from under me, leaving me in a flying wooden heap, which a moment broke apart and crashed to the road. The only part that survived was a foot-long scrap of polished oak that I clutched in my hands. I watched Nick’s tail lights disappear around a dark bend in the road. He had never looked back. I took flight with the shard of roof rack still in my hands, held before me like a bumper..
Whatever velocity had kept me airborne faded quickly.The pavement drew closer as my speed diminished. Things began to unfold in slow motion. It felt as if was simply hovering over the road. Seconds passed like minutes as I coasted above the pavement, counting every pebble that I passed. I saw my mother’s face come into view. Her tears glistened in the night. She did not deserve this. I felt her heart break as I dropped the wooden scrap and crossed my arms to shield my head.
I awoke in a ditch. I didn’t know how long I’d been there, but the bright sun burning my cobwebbed eyes signaled that I was alive. My head felt as if it was wrapped in a piano wire, and the constant glare of the sun made me sick to my stomach. I lifted an arm out of the ditch and dug my fingernails into the hot asphalt. I climbed onto the road, but fell back into the ditch immediately.
The sounds of the emergency room made me cringe, and I had to shut my eyes tightly to escape the bright light above my bed. Soon I was placed onto a gurney and rolled into a cramped elevator, then steered through busy tiled avenues at breakneck speed.
I was parked outside a pair of swinging doors with the word ‘Radio' stenciled on one, and 'logy’ on the other, A wheezing woman as frail and thin as fungo bat was rolled to a stop against the opposite wall. Everything about her was gray, from her wispy hair to her toes. A cloud seemed to hover above her, and I wondered if I’d ever be so gray. As they rolled me through the doors to the CAT scan, I smiled and said ‘hello’ to her, although I knew she would never respond. Life sucks in the end, I thought as I was pushed feet-first through the doors. It’s difficult and sloppy and embarrassing, and in the end we all turn gray.
After the test I was returned to my room to await the verdict. A pair of nurses in green scrubs leaned over me, making small talk with each other as they hung bags on a stainless steel pole, and secured tubes from an oxygen line into my nostrils. One of them changed my dressing and re-taped the IV tubes to my arm, and the other replaced the vinyl morphine bag that dripped above my head. As the drug entered my veins I propped my head on the pillows and tried to stay awake. I didn’t want to waste a good morphine high.
A doctor appeared at the door with my chart in his hands. He said that I had suffered a minor concussion, and that I was a very lucky young man. He said that someone had seen me on the side of road and hauled me to the hospital in the bed of a pickup truck. The doctor said that all I needed was some rest. He added that they would keep me overnight for observation, and perform an EEG in the morning. If all went well I’d be discharged, he said as he left the room.
The damage was far worse than the doctors could have imagined. I continued on my self-destructive path for years until I was taken to the Meadowlands one evening and nearly beaten to death by a trio of juiced-up Jersey City cops. They placed my head on the roof of their unmarked car, and the blows from their nightsticks re-opened the scar tissue in my temporal lobe. Soon the seizures began. I denied the condition at first, but in the end, epilepsy saved my life.
October 1, 2012