A Lesson Learned
1965 – day after Thanksgiving – Friday, late evening – true story.
I was 14, a sophomore in high school (huh? soph at 14? that’s another story)…
Tom & I were hanging out in the school playground, wishing we had something to drink but alcohol was not so easy to come by. Still, we managed to have a good night with some fun and now it was time to go home – a 5 mile walk.
But Tom didn’t want to walk. He was fifteen and walking was not so cool anymore. Besides, it was work.
“Come on M, what’s the big deal? We go over to the party and hitch a ride home with your brother. Easy. Come on.”
“I don’t know what the big deal is Tom, but I keep telling you I just don’t want to go. I don’t know why. I want to walk home.”
“Geez! It’s cold out here and it’s wet. Plus it’s getting late and my mom’ll kill me if I get in after 11. No way I want to walk. Come on! Let’s go hitch a ride.”
This went on for a while…. back and forth…
As the minutes passed, I wouldn’t give in and neither would Tom…. and he was beginning to get worked up. Somehow I could see (ahead) that if this kept up we were going to get into a fist fight. But Tom was my best friend and I didn’t want that to happen. Still, a couple more minutes went by… and we got closer to fighting.
Finally I said, “OK, look Tom. I really, really don’t want to go, but I also don’t want to fight about it. We’re friends and fighting would be stupid, so OK, I’ll go.”
We walked over to where the party was and got there just as it was starting to break up. My older brother (16) had been drinking (we all did whenever we could) but seemed OK to drive. My younger brother also showed up looking for a ride. We all piled into the Buick which belonged to my oldest brother… I think it was a Skylark, maybe a 1962… a soft beige color with a white convertible top and wicked touchy/light power steering & power brakes. Back then power steering & brakes were still pretty new.
Tom & my younger brother took the back seat and I got into the front passenger seat. I didn’t fasten the seat belt. Belts had just come out and I didn’t like the feeling of constraint.
Off we went, warm, dry, and headed for home.
About a mile from our house, on a fairly narrow road – the kind where two cars can pass each other going in different directions, but they need to slow down and be careful about it – we came around a bend and started down a not too steep hill… maybe 8-10 car lengths long.
I heard a voice – it wasn’t one of the guys in the car, but I could not ignore it; almost like in my head but not quite.
“Now M, you’re going to get into an accident and you need to just relax.”
What could I do? I mean it’s kinda hard to ask a question of some voice when I’m sitting in a car with three other people… so I thought “OK” and relaxed…
A second later, less than halfway down the hill, the car went into a skid toward the left. Could’ve been the wet road & light power steering, or black ice – temperature was just above freezing, very light drizzle… Don’t know.
I thought, “no sweat, we’re going to go up over the bank, maybe go airborne for a bit and land in the field.”
Almost… problem was there’s a hole in the ground at the end of the bank.
The left front wheel went up the bank while the right front wheel hit the hole dead on. The car just flipped over onto its back and proceeded to slide down the road on its hood and the convertible top… for 150 feet.
When we finally came to a stop, and I woke up, I had to extract my foot from under the dash which was resting on the road… my foot stuck beneath it and against the road. I crawled out the driver’s side window because the windshield post (on my, the passenger, side) was resting on the back of the front seat, also on the road… the post running along the top of the door from dash to seat (leaving no headroom)… road to top of door to top of seat.
I had ‘ridden’ down the road on my knees, with my back & head on the bottom of the seat (where the butt usually goes). My foot was OK, but the leather boot was scuffed almost through and my knees required seven stitches each to stop the bleeding.
Days later, as I limped along the school hallways and up & down stairs with knees that were bandaged and would not bend, I kept thinking about the voice… the warning to relax… how I would have no head if I had stiffened up… or fastened my seat belt… how all of this could have been avoided if I had just gone with my very strong gut feeling and walked home. Heck of a way to learn, but it could have been worse…
My friend Tom (unhurt) ended up on top of my younger brother (13) who needed a plastic ligament and 150 stitches in his hand, plus a couple hundred stitches in his scalp.
As I was lying on the table and the doctor was sewing up my knees, a nurse came in and said “Doctor, the boy out in the hall?” (my younger brother) “He’s not breathing.”
The doctor threw the needle & thread down on the table, next to my knee and said, “Damn it, I told them to let me know his status,” and hurried out to save my brother’s life… by reviving him from death as far as I know.
The driver? Scraped his elbow & needed a large bandaid. And Tom with his minor stuff.
But the story didn’t end yet…
There was a man waiting in the ER that night. The newspaper said he was having a heart attack. ER was too busy because of us. He died.
I should’ve walked…
but I *did* learn.