My mind was a collective pit of pain and color, I could use my eyes but barely; seeing only the shadows of people running around. Sound began to return to my brain, I could hear crying, but it wasn’t my own. I could hear someone being pulled from the car. I could hear someone praying. Someone asking me if they could also pray for me. My brain focused on that, for some reason. “Pray for me?” I thought, “don’t pray for me.” Of all the people in the world, of all the sick and neglected, the young and old dying from things humans could do something about, you want to pray for me? The idea of accepting a prayer, even in this dark hour of my life, made me bitter and had me feeling like a hypocrite. I heard a voice then, one I thought I recognized.
“He’s one of ours! He’s one of ours!” A woman’s voice cried out. “He’s on our board of directors! Don’t touch him!” I knew that voice. I could hear her rallying witnesses, though I could see nothing. She had the driver held in custody by other people. I was finally able to breathe a little easier, literally, but the pain was barely manageable. I managed to speak finally – only wanting to express one thing, “Please take my Road ID off and call my contacts.” My Road ID was on my right wrist, and I couldn’t feel my right side except for the pain I was in.
I could feel someone approach me and start to touch my right hand, and I felt calm then, relieved if at all possible. Then suddenly someone screamed for him to stop, to not move me at all. “Please, please call my contacts, please.” I begged but no one was listening to me. People were on the phone with 911, others were praying, but no one was listening to me. I felt confused, scared, and then frustrated. Why wouldn’t anyone take my Road ID? I needed my contacts to be called. I needed to close my eyes and relax and stop worrying, but I didn’t want to let go of consciousness until someone had my Road ID. I was literally fighting this feeling to just let go if for only the sake of making sure someone called my Road ID, but no one would listen to my cries.
Then it hit me, I couldn’t move half my body without the most excruciating hot pain shooting through me. “I don’t want to lose my arm,” I cried out. “Oh my God, I don’t want to lose my arm… and my bike… oh my God, my bike…” My mind was racing. “Someone needs to call my Road ID! Please! My brother needs to find me, my girlfriend needs to know…” Tears were flowing down my face and mixing with the blood, the source of which was still uncertain. Then the sirens came. There was running and the sound of something heavy on wheels moving towards me. I could hear that woman’s voice again, arguing with a police officer, I think, about her keeping the bike so they didn’t take it. I later found out it was Cameron, the co-owner of Forward Motion Sports.
Voices were talking to me then, rushed and concerned voices of E.M.T.s, firefighters, or police officers. I kept saying the same thing, “Please call my Road ID. Please call my contacts.” I could hear the stretcher being setup. They were starting to explain to me what was going to happen next. I kept begging them, confused why they weren’t listening. And finally it happened, someone took my ID off my arm. A police officer, came and took it, and finally allowed me to relax. Without knowing it, a dozen hands proceeded to lift and flip me on to the stretcher, and I screamed.
When writers describe a scream that could awake the dead, they were probably describing this: a cry that transcended the living and emitted color; blinding white color. Much later I found out that people could hear me throughout Downtown Danville, but it wasn’t until I was in the ambulance that I came back to reality. The fight to control the pain started again, but now I was begging for help, because the pain was so much I thought I was going to piss myself. Instead of listening to me though, they started to ask me questions. “What’s your name? How old are you? What is your insurance?” I became belligerent and started swearing at them. “Where’s my fucking Road ID? Call my Road ID! Call my fucking Road ID you idiots!” I felt like I was in a movie surrounded with the stupidest human beings on the planet. I’m constantly being ignored for what I’m saying, yet what I’m trying to tell them is that my Road ID contained everything they could possibly need from me and – most importantly – who to notify.
I reluctantly began to answer their questions, but not out of kindness. They told me they were going to withhold the morphine until I answered all their questions. So every time I answered a question, I threw one back, “Where’s my Road ID?” After the sixth question someone finally said, “it’s not here.” My eyes opened wide, and the pain was replaced – if only momentarily – with anger, rage. “The police officer took it off me! WHERE IS IT.” They dutifully instructed me that she must have still had it. Panic set in. “Where’s my phone?” They looked confused. Now no one knew where my phone was either. I was seriously hurt, on my way to a hospital, and no one knew. No one would know. She wouldn’t know.
I started to cry. Exhausted from my ordeal, and now my forced interrogation. I stopped listening to them, stopped answering. My mind was racing and I felt hopelessly alone in my ordeal. Then a small prick hit my left vein and moments later a calming warmth washed over me. I felt disconnected from my pain, and I began to fade into that nothingness.
I jerked back into reality as the stretcher was pulled off the ambulance, and I was rushed into the Emergency Room. Bright white lights were overhead in the hall and I was surrounded by doctors and nurses as all of us ran down the hall. The E.M.T.s explaining to the emergency trauma team my vitals and condition, while I laid incapacitated in a drug induced contentment. The stretcher stopped moving and I started to go back into that darkness, but pain suddenly shot through my body keeping me grounded in reality. The trauma team was cutting my uniform off of me and it was moving my arm. Then, I saw it. My phone was coming out of the my jersey as it was being taken off of me.
Before the nurse turned away I begged her, please hold the phone up for me. Please. “I need you to call my brother, I need you to call him and not my family.” I unlocked my phone and pulled up the dialer, and a pain of regret and hurt hit me as my finger moved over her face icon and hit my brother’s, knowing I only had one person I could choose, and it had to be him because he was closest – and because if something worse were to happen to me, I wanted it to be him that told my mom and not a police officer. I hit dial and she turned to go out of the Emergency Room to talk to Brian. I started to cry again, and began to fade to the morphine as they started hooking me up to all sorts of instruments, taking x-rays, and stripping me of my attire. Sometime in that moment they turned the morphine up a bit and I succumbed to the chemical bliss. The pain faded away, and I slipped into blackness.
I awoke somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but it was pre-surgery. Brian was there, and I think it was only him. I can’t be certain of what I said, but I believe that I first asked if he called my mom. They were on their way, so was my sister. The morphine was calling me back to the black, and I was struggling to fight it. I don’t know if I asked about Shea, though she was on the tip of my tongue, my mind and my mouth were disconnected.
Hours may have gone by, even days for all I knew, but I woke in a fog in a room. Mechanical beeps and sounds came from devices around me, I couldn’t move – not that I wanted to – due to being hooked up to so many things. Nibs were under my nose and the oxygen was cold and clean. Brian was there, and so was my mom, and I think my sister as well. Though when I finally opened my mouth, the first words, as I was told later, was me asking for Shea. That was when Brian called her. Some of my aunts and uncles showed up sometime later, but everything felt so disconnected. When I was finally connected with reality again I was amazed at how fast the word got out about my accident, but as Brian reminded me, it was actually of my own undoing. In my drug induced haze, I told him to grab my phone and pull up Instagram.
He recorded a video of me talking to the camera in a drugged out state of mind, where I deliriously told everyone I was alive and was in John Muir. It sent out across the social media web, and I was finally able to relax. In retrospect, it was pretty brilliant of me as it was quite efficient. Though now that I think about it, it probably made many people worried that I wouldn’t want to worry about me. Life or death, I never wanted my friends to worry about me, or feel concern or hurt. It’s why I wanted only Brian to know about the accident, because I knew he could handle it and I knew if it was worse than it was he would be able to take care of everything.
I slept some more then, until late that evening when Shea finally showed up. When I saw her face I almost felt salvation, if that is what salvation could feel like. Redemption from perdition maybe. Though in that moment no one else in the world mattered but her. I could see the hurt in her eyes, the hours of panic and fear she must have been in, crying the entire three hour drive as fast as she could to the hospital. Let me tell you all something. You will never realize how much you love someone until you, or they, are gone. I hope, no I pray, that you never have to experience losing someone you deeply love – or worse – realize that something may be happening to you where you will never get to tell them how you feel. Never take love for granted. Not for an hour, not for a minute, not for a second, not for a moment of any day.
You see the real irony here, at least to me, is in the moments I was closest to death, only then did I realize what I would miss of life the most. It would have been my friends, my family, and most importantly, her. When I was in that room, knowing my mom and sister (who were just feet away) have never met this person despite me seeing her for almost a year, I could look her in the eyes and see the colossal amount of love she had for me, and hurt she was feeling at my near demise, but I couldn’t open up and tell her the truth.
The truth that says: beyond the stupid and hurtful things I say and do, that are not a reflection of your worth or my love for you, is not only the fact that I love you, but you were thing that I would miss the most; you are the person I wouldn’t want to live without.
On Sunday I would be discharged, not back into the world I knew, but a new one. One that, to this day, is still not the same – and maybe it will never be again. That old saying, nothing gold can stay, is true. Nothing gold can stay gold, and I was bound to lose my physical prowess at some point in my life, I just didn’t think I’d lose my ability to do anything with my arm in my twenties. Maybe this was the right thing to happen, the events that needed to transpire in order for the story to continue. In the past month I’ve read two books, and an email correspondence from a professional triathlete – who had reached out to me after hearing about my ordeal. All mentioning a specific publication by Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search For Meaning.
I finished it yesterday, and like all books I read, it is covered in post-it tabs which serve as quick-references to sections or sentences worth coming back to whenever I should feel the need to pick up the book. At lunch I had still not quite finished it, but was having a bit of an existential crisis.
It was now September, and has now been a year since my accident. It has been almost seven months since Shea left. It has been six months since I finally got help and realized I’ve been clinically depressed since as early as high school. It has been five months since I’ve finally started to feel calm and not perpetually manic.
It has been four months since I took time off work to go to the mountains alone to pray, and I think where God found me (another story, for another day). It has been three months since I decided I needed to leave again, but even further away. Deciding in less than a week to buy a ticket to Europe and to go, with no set plans except a backpack, a laptop, a camera, and a train ticket. Where I left my family behind and just went on my own across Europe. To live, and to write (though still not finished) a story of my life as experienced in those days.
It has been two months since I came back, since I realized that California is just a place. Since I realized that there is no need for me to stay here if I don’t want to, and that the people I love – and who hopefully still love me – will continue to do so where ever I decide to go. Two months since I decided that it isn’t life that in and of itself is worth living, but rather the stories I can experience if I continue to do so – no matter how futile and hopeless that story feels at times. Finally, it has been a month since I found, what everyone considered, the job that I was made to find in Portland. A month since I painstakingly spent the better part of fifty hours working on submission material for my application, which included building a website and designing a document that was so carefully constructed that I could of had it printed, bound, and shipped to them for them to view as a hard copy portfolio.
My birthday was coming up, and with it the anniversary of one of the worst days of my life. This time she won’t be there, this time I will be alone. My thumb was holding the place in the book where I had left off, I was filled with emotion but I opened it and continued reading – this is what came next:
An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.
Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.
To this day, I have yet to hear from that company in Portland, but what is funny, almost ironic actually, is that if it wasn’t for finding them and researching extensively about what they’re trying to do as a company. If it wasn’t for experiencing Europe and talking and meeting all the people I did while I backpacked through that hellishly hot summer. If it wasn’t for the time alone in the mountains, or finally getting help and getting full control of my mind for the first time since I was a teenager. If it wasn’t for losing my ability to use my arm for anything more than typing and -barely- playing guitar; and as hard it is to say this next part, it needs to be said: If it wasn’t for losing someone I loved by my own actions. Completely and absolutely unable to be myself for the better part of a year due to being so mentally sick that I had shut myself in my head and lost my ability to communicate my feelings at all to anyone.
If none of these things had happened, I don’t know if I would be here today; on the precipice of making an idea, a crazy idea that might just work, a reality. I’ve gone over the details with my dad, I’ve talked them over with someone I consider as much my blood as my sister, and now I’m in the process of incorporating the idea once we get a minimal viable product. I’m going to start applying for funding soon. I’m hoping to find some investors who will see this dream, and hear my story, and realize that what I’m trying to do is partially revolutionary and may impact many lives if it works. And all of this comes back to the moment where I woke up one morning and decided I had to go for a bike ride, but if that’s the case, it also goes back to a Christmas party where I met a girl, and goes back from there to accepting a strange position in San Ramon over a lucrative Project Management position in Seattle. And so on.
Maybe we are the product of not only our decisions, or our circumstances, but of things that are truly beyond our control. Maybe there is something as powerful as fate, or a divine calling. I wish I was wise enough to know with certainty instead of sitting here pitching conjecture, and I too wish it would all have come at less of a cost. Hurting another person, directly or indirectly, is a price to pay to which I would never so choose even if promised all the riches and power in the world. No reward is worth that. I always remembered what Proctor did in The Crucible; what he said. “I have given you my soul, but leave me my name!” This burned a mark onto my heart that said I must be true, that nothing is worth losing your good name for. And yet, I did lie. I gave myself over to lies. And it cost me greatly. I only hope that what I do now, with this idea – this project – and the rest of my life, will vindicate me and redeem me for the last two years. Maybe in time I will come to understand why. Maybe all of this was meant to be realized; the actual irony of almost dying on my birthday.
Wherever you are in the world, call someone you love but have been too busy to talk to, or what other excuses that have kept you apart. Call them and tell them you love them. And remember that every day is a gift that we don’t deserve but are gracefully given. We cannot know if we will live to see the end of it, so make sure to fill your days with nothing but love. There is nothing in the world more valuable or important than that.