On January 10th, I was in Kansas City on business and got knocked around pretty good in a car wreck. I don’t remember much of the accident itself, mostly because I was unconscious for most of it, but I do recall—pristinely, actually—the words of the cops and the EMTs, when they informed me, in that calm jaded way they have, that had the other car hit mine on the driver’s side I would not be sitting here writing this, or in the “best case scenario,” would now be walking around without any legs.
Long story short, the whole thing got me thinking—largely about the various other times, over the course of my life, that the world has attempted to do me grievous harm, or to force my acquaintance upon the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
I once half-rolled, half-fell, about 30 feet, through a cottonwood tree and into a dry river bed when the embankment I was standing on collapsed out from under me. I’ve wrecked twice on motorcycles and once on a freaking scooter, and the scooter mishap messed me up worse than the other two combined. When I was in college I fell off the extension of an A-frame ladder and sliced the back of my head open. Also in college, I fell through a plate-glass window. Not counting this most recent journey into la-la land, I’ve knocked myself unconscious, or been knocked unconscious by other means, on four other occasions. I’ve been bitten twice by rattlesnakes (once on a boot, but once on my hand), once by a black widow spider, and three times by scorpions. I’ve been nose to nose with a black bear, about as far from a zoo as you can get. In junior high I got hit in the face with a baseball bat, breaking my nose and cracking the orbit around my left eye. I got through a cancer scare unscathed a couple of years back. At a theater in New York an inexperienced stagehand dropped a 30-pound cable bundle on my head from the loading bridge. When I was a cook at a Japanese restaurant, I got bit by a 220v plug with a short in it. I dislocated my shoulder and broke both collar bones while mud diving one night in a rain storm. I’ve been in three other car wrecks, killing two other cars. Four Hells Angels backed me into a corner in a bar, but I talked my way out of it. One very stupid night I tried to break up a dog fight and got half my right thumb bitten off. Over the years I’ve ingested enough drugs and alcohol to open my own clinic. I’ve been held up at knife-point once. I’ve been robbed at gun-point three times—on the last occasion the robbers had a very casual conversation about whether they should just take off or tie me up in the cooler and cut my throat. I’ve been shot at once, by an angry farmer with a shotgun who didn’t like trespassers. (I was eight years old.) And I’ve had my heart broken three times.
I thought all about all these things, but I thought about something else, too.
When I was 13 I went on a sort of fieldtrip to the Soviet Union (long story). One of the first things I did upon arrival was buy one of those pill-boxy beaver-fur caps with the ear flaps that tie over the top. It was February, and Russia in February is witch-tit cold, so I wore the flaps down a lot, tying them under my chin. Kept tying them in knots, though, and couldn’t get the damn hat off half the time.
All of us students were walking around Gorky Park late one afternoon. I was waiting on line for a merry-go-round, and was worrying about my hat flying off during the ride. Once again, though, the strings were knotted. I let lots of people go ahead of me while I fumbled, and the ride guy was getting impatient.
Then there was a girl standing in front of me. She was on the trip with the rest of us, but I hadn’t talked with her much because she was an older kid—a ninth grader. She asked if I needed help, and I said that I did. She started picking at the knot with her little cold-pink fingers, but couldn’t get it to loosen. So she leaned into me and went after the thing with her teeth. A couple of nibbles and the knot came undone. When she pulled back she looked me in the eyes and giggled.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if people thought we were kissing?”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
And then she just did it. Her soft lips touched mine. She smelled like bubble gum.
It was my first kiss. The whole thing lasted about five seconds.
But for those five seconds I saw infinity.
So, I’ve been thinking about that.