Tuesday, December 27, 2016
How we almost die
Once, long ago, I almost died. Most of us have had our run ins with death. Life is dangerous. In this long ago time my friend Grape and I half died, not in the sense of injury, but in the sense of a fifty-fifty chance. It could have gone either way, control was gone, on one side lay death and on the other life. But since one can't be half dead I am still all here.
What if every time a chance at death came our way we died partly, like a cat losing one life out of its nine. It would only be fair though, since we are not cats and have but one life, that each portion would be in relation to what we have left: So if someone is already 50 percent dead, and a truck miraculously swerves to miss them, and it was a fifty-fifty shot, they lose half of the the 50 percent they have left and are now 75 percent dead. This results in them being able to see in the dark and causes their normal body temperature to drop ten degrees colder. On the down side of all this increased percentage of death one eventually sleeps almost all the time and shows no reflection in mirrors and is pale and faded. On the plus side no mere chance of death can kill us. We retain a fraction of life up until we encounter a 100 percent likelihood of death.
Maybe, though, there is no such thing as chance. If I had died that night it would have been 100 percent certain that I would have. Because I didn't I was always going to live without any possibility otherwise.
Well, either way, here I am. That simple moment in a car, teetering on the brink, out on Stunt Canyon Road, is somehow finding its way to completely inform the great bulk of your reality at this moment. After all, you are reading this. I'm pretty sure you couldn't be here if I were dead.
Of course, Grape may be reading this, but it would be different for him. He was there, driving the car.
When we were still teenagers we would drive into the Santa Monica Mountains. That's what they're called. They're more like hills, but they're really nice hills. And somewhere a canyon road winds its way steeply up near the top of Stunt Peak, which is really just the top of a big hill. But it's a mighty big hill, with a good view. We liked to go there. From where the road ended you could walk up to the top of the highest rocks. You could see ocean and the San Fernando Valley both. It was a holy place. A place of calling. It was somewhere you could politely throw rocks, see snakes, and get stoned.
One day, on the way driving down from that peak Grape took one of those steep canyon curves kind of fast. The back wheels skidded. It was fun! So naturally, following that, at each vicious hairpin turn Grape would go kind of fast. We'd skid. It was very exciting! So Grape went a little faster on each turn, but it was all very steep, and it was kind of hard to control just how fast we were going. So the last time he did it the back wheels skidded and then they kept on skidding. Then the front wheels skidded. Then the whole car just slalomed about on its own, careening down the road. On one side was a rock and dirt embankment, on the other side was something that was for all intents and purposes a cliff. Even now I can see us down there at the bottom of it, the smoking ruin of a burning car, blood, the end of the world.
We hit the embankment side. But you knew that.
I am not telling this story because I suddenly remembered our harrowing slide. I am telling it because for some reason I recently vividly remembered Grape calling his family from a public phone to report our accident. We modified the story to include a rock in the road. A big rock, well, pretty big. We might also, in the telling, have left out the roller coastery part, feeling it was a more of an optional detail that not everyone would handle as well as they should.
You might be thinking that Grape was not being such a good or responsible driver, but this never even occurred to me. I am merely thankful he somehow, through some measure of driving skill, managed to get us safely mashed into the side of Stunt Hill.
We still had things to do. And even now, 34 years later, we have not done them all.