It happened 21 years ago. I was sixteen, a strong, athletic young man. I had plans to attend Case Western Reserve University on an ROTC scholarship and hoped to try out for their football team as well. My family didn’t have the money to send me to college, so all of my plans hinged on my physical abilities getting me there. At 3:00 PM on March 7, 1989, I was in perfect health. I weighed roughly 220 pounds, bench pressed 325, squatted 500, and ran three miles every day. In my teenage mind, I was invincible.
At 3:30 PM of that day, I lay on the ground, bleeding from a gash in my head and quite literally dying in front of my track and field teammates. During warm-ups, a fellow shot-putter hadn’t seen me retrieving my shot and had let his fly. If you tried a thousand times to hit a target with a shot-put, you couldn’t do it consistently, but on that day, he hit me in the forehead on the right side just above my hairline.
The blow itself didn’t hurt much, and I didn’t really lose consciousness fully. Had I been a boxer, I would’ve been counted out because I barely knew my own name and couldn’t stand without help, but I remember everything that happened, albeit a little fuzzily. Over the next twelve hours, I fought for my life and nearly lost, but by what can only be considered a true miracle, I pulled through. At one point, my blood pressure was 200/140 and pupils had quit dilating. That was when the doctors and nurses thought I was a goner. At the time, I didn’t realize the seriousness of my situation and couldn’t understand why everyone was so upset. Over the next three days, I lost twenty pounds and never fully regained my strength.
Over the years, I’ve told the story thousands of times. People react in a variety of ways — some laugh; others gasp; some are incredulous. The only long-term effects I’ve suffered are a little difficulty recalling a specific word on cue (The irony that I’m a writer who can’t think of words is beautiful to me), an occasional tremor in my left hand, and a few holes in my long-term memory. All in all, I’m pretty lucky.
It took me several years to realize that. For about six or seven years, I was very angry about all I had lost. Then, as I matured, one day I woke up and realized that just that fact was enough of a gift. I woke up. An inch in any direction and I wouldn’t have even stood up from that blow. Whenever I meet a Marine, I’m still a little sad because that’s what I wanted to be, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t meant to be. I was meant to be a writer and a teacher, and in some ways, the accident is what steered me onto that course. By taking away any opportunity to use my physical abilities to excel, it forced me to focus on my mental abilities.
I’ll be with my sons on Sunday and hopefully won’t have time to write a blog, so I wanted to write this today. Bobby, if you should happen to ever read this, please know that I never once blamed you. We were kids, and it was an accident. Janice, if you read it, thank you for yelling look out. That really did save my life. Dr. Olivera, thank you for giving me guidance and helping me find the good. Even though I grumble and complain, life is beautiful, and I’m grateful for every second.