Here's another installation of the things I found from cleaning out my computer. As many of you may know, or not, I was in a car accident that nearly took my life my senior year I had of high school. This is that story.
“Do you smoke marijuana?”
This is the welcome I get from my sister over dinner upon returning home.
“Because I hear that it really affects your memory…”
My sister has a genuine need to remind me of the depressing qualities of my personality. She isn’t purposefully evil; she just likes to see that look on my face that lets her know I’ve been defeated. As a senior in high school I was in a horrific car accident that left me nearly dead with a damaged and battered brain (along with a triple break to the right side of my pelvis and a shattered arm). For this reason, my memory isn’t that great. Those who see me throughout the week for meals or classes may not notice any side effects, but those lucky enough to see my charming face on a more regular basis will tell you the story of my accident in exact detail. All I was doing was sitting down with my sister for a nice meal, telling her stories about my life, failing to remember that this was the third (maybe fourth) time I’ve told her this particular story. This sort of thing happens to me everyday as I talk to people, making plans, telling stories… “You were in a car accident? What happened?” At this point my roommate retells the story the same way I would have.
Senior year homecoming, Jess was my date. We have been friends for years and being that neither of us had dates it worked out nicely to get to go with each other. The school day happened, which for us meant skipping class anyway possible, so we spent most of the day in the gym setting up for the dance. Hanging green and purple streamers were her job while I blew up the same colored balloons as though the life inside of me would escape. Mardi Gras was our theme that year; I thought that the whole thing looked sort of like a cheep dance club that should have updated their look years ago. Afterwards we went about the dance festivities of getting dressed up then dinner and whatnot. We skipped out on the flowers this year, because who wants to spend the money on that anyhow? After all, they just get thrown away at the end of the night (that being an understatement in my case). I wake up later not even wearing my suit and not knowing where I was.
While going home for a short time I would have to get in all of the doctors appointments that I could: eyes, bone, back, brain; it’s been around 2 years since the accident now. I get a call from my mother trying to set them all up. This call is only the first of four from her while visiting some friends with my girlfriend Jennifer. She proceeds to tell them of my cell phone addiction while I talk to my mother and how I would feel naked without it… I attempted to argue about not only the conveniences of such an instrument, but the necessity. By their laughter I realized that they couldn’t understand. What if I have a planned meeting that I can’t forget? Or I sleep through something important? Through all of my ranting and raving I made the mistake of sharing that when in an awkward situation I will sometimes pretend someone is calling so I can make a quick escape. Some laughs and even boos surface as I am blamed for weaseling my way out of this conversation with my previous “so-called” calls from my mother. At this point I recognize that my attempts of suggesting the cell phone as a necessary accessory have failed miserably. They aren’t thinking of a useful object to help with scheduling and forgetfulness. No, now they are now picturing it as a tool to be used and abused for my own personal liking and I find myself forgetting how I even got into this mess, as I usually do.
“The Silver Ring Thing” is a big thing for Christian high school kids—saving your virginity until marriage is what churchgoing kids are told to do—it was during this event I got the ring. I had gone a couple of times not knowing whether I believed everything about it or not, but my last year of high school I still wore the ring to make everyone believe I wanted to do the “right” things. It was sometime after the accident, the nurses gave me a suppository; I found out later that means pain reliever up the butt… Dad walked into the waiting room with some of the things I had on me at the time of the accident: phone, wallet, camera, and the ring. There, some friends and family were waiting to hear some kind of good news. Holding up the ring he says to them, “I guess he won’t be needing this anymore.” That’s my dad, always joking around. The good news didn’t come until three weeks later when I woke up from a coma.
I truly value the friends and family who are sympathetic of my small problem and am beyond a doubt appreciative of those who can joke with me about my injuries. Once when visiting a doctor that specializes in trauma rehab (because of the problem with my memory) the doctor asked what type of side effects have been noticed. After naming a few of the things I could think of, mom pulled out a small list of things I’ve talked about in the past, whispering, “I wrote down everything he’s mentioned because I figured he’d forget.” This reflected a rising hysteria that silently said to me how bad my memory has truly become. Even every time Jennifer and I make plans; it doesn’t matter if the plans are made for next month or that same day. “Make sure you set an alarm” or “Don’t forget to put that in your phone” are only some of the comments made during any kind of planning.
“Dinner next week with Tim & Joy?”
I pull out my phone calendar.
“Don’t you want to put that on your schedule, Zane?”
Why yes, I do!
I silently curse as I imagine the thoughts going through their heads—Why can’t he just remember? —until I realize that those are thoughts of my own beckoning me to become the person I wish I was. For this reason my cell phone has become one of my best friends; setting alarms, keeping dates on the built in calendar, and text messages from friends to make sure that I actually am where I said I was going to be.
In the hospital I was never told the true story of what happened that night, but at that point in time it wasn’t so important to me either. After I got out of the hospital I sat with Mikey, Jess’ cousin, as well as one of my good friends, in the back of the high school auditorium as he erupted out of pain. He was sitting in the backseat of the car at the time of the accident. I always grabbed shotgun. We left an after party sober and in enough time to drive around before heading to Ian’s house for a night of funny flicks in an uncomfortable setting. Now, in my hometown there is a bridge that is well known for jumps (which is when you speed up the bridge or hill to get the vehicle to lift in the air). We went to this bridge searching for adventure, thanks to Ian’s bright thinking, and thought we were clear for take off. We were unfortunately mistaken. Another car also came to that bridge and was headed right for us when we landed. While we don’t know who this person was, we do know we missed them. Swerving and hitting the guardrail, our car pinballed to the other side of the road where after falling into a ditch, we continued to spin and slide, upside-down, until we finally stopped by means of a telephone pole.
“Do you remember that upside-down house we saw on vacation?”
“Are you serious?! That was too cool!”
This is not an uncommon conversation in my family. I think it has more or less become a joke among those who love me most with a subtext that reads: let’s see what we can get him to believe today. We really had seen it… after looking at pictures I still didn’t remember.
I went to Florida and got my right nut pierced.
“…um. No you didn’t.”
Life is funny when on oxycontin. Despite the fact that I would on no occasion consider getting any kind of piercing near, around, or even remotely close to my testicles, I was convinced that I had gone down to Florida with some friends and had the job done. In reality, I was just lying in a hospital bed while under the influence of pain relieving (and apparently hallucinogenic) drugs. I find it interesting that when I need to remember certain things, I can’t. But when I think I actually do… I shouldn’t.
The only thing separating me from that pole was the compacted remains of the Taurus we were inside of. Throughout this entire episode I had suffered a four-way break to the right side of my pelvis, a shattered right arm, and an unknown measure of head trauma as Ian and I bumped heads somewhere in this roller coaster ride of a lifetime. Mike remembers this whole thing from the safety of his seat behind Ian, while the driver himself left the scene a little vague after suffering a mild concussion. I, on the other hand, took a life flight to three weeks of unconsciousness and years of feeling the consequences.
Another thing that I tend to have a problem with since the accident is noise in unnecessary places. Whether it be those who talk the whole way through a movie, coughs, sniffles, and movement during a stressful test, or stupid people talking, I get easily distracted by all of it. I have, however, found ways to overcome this problem. At any given time you may walk up to me and see purple foam ear plugs popping out of both of my ears and the concentration on my face that seems to correspond to that of a constipated gorilla. There was one time, my sophomore year, when I was sleeping and my roommates returned to the bedroom after classes, music blaring, and didn’t see me sleeping in my bed. Now to understand how they didn’t see me a conception on how our room was set-up is required. Having three people shoved into a room that most homes would only consider housing one person in makes space efficiency most important; thus, the triple-decker bunk beds. We were told that it couldn’t be done, but there I was sandwiched in the middle with barely enough room to roll over, sleeping after a long day of classes. For this reason, with the blanket over my head, it didn’t seem as though there was anyone there. When I finally woke up to pull the foam out of my ears, both of them apologized profusely. I honestly didn’t know why because I didn’t hear a thing. Or perhaps I just couldn’t remember…
The doctors told me that I wouldn’t walk for graduation in June. Laughing, I told them I had musical try-outs in January. Not only did I walk beautifully for graduation, but I also played the part of a monkey in our musical, jumping and dancing up and down the stage with Mike by my side as a fellow primate. After I got out of the hospital, Ian couldn’t talk to me about the accident (even after I knew the truth) and just avoided conversation about it at all. To this day, four years after the incident, we have yet to talk about our after party flight of fate. But part of me grew up as I learned how to walk again instead of visiting universities or whatever else you’re supposed to do your senior year; I knew that I had purpose for my life—why else would I still be alive? This accident gave me new eyes to see things, again, for the first time… even if I can’t remember anything else, when I wake up stiff or sore after a long week, I know that feeling is not there to defeat me, but to remind me that life has yet to be lived. Which is the way I should have been living all along. Now I have a daily reminder.