“There’s something wrong”, she said, well of course there is.
“You’re still alive,” she said, oh, and do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so, if so who answers?
Who answers? – “Alive” – Pearl Jam
13 years ago I almost died. But I did not. And because I did not, I want to remember. To think not on what might have been. But was. And what is.
I remember riding my bike. I remember seeing a stop light and hoping it would stay green. And then I remember nothing.
I remember – vaguely – waking up in the hospital two days later. I remember wiggling my toes and the immense relief when they moved and I knew I was not paralyzed. I had a breathing tube in, so I communicated with Jill by squeezing her hand for the first few days. A…B…C… and then she’d stop when I squeezed her hand for that letter. It was slow going. I remember asking if I’d been wearing a helmet. I always did – and do – but I wasn’t sure. I had no idea what had happened. I still don’t really. Those two days are blank. And the rest of the 18 days in the hospital – and even much of the time after – is still a blur. Morphine, of course. And also the body’s own unwillingness – and inability – to remember. I don’t know if I’d want those memories, even if I could have them.
We mostly know what must have happened because of the evidence. I was riding my bike on Old Lewis Rd., coming back from the Pacific Coast Highway with the wind and the sun behind me when a driver pulled out in front of me in a maroon mini-van. I went through the side window, shattering the glass, slicing two of my jugular veins, fracturing my left cheek, left shoulder-blade, and left collarbone. And then he drove away. He was never caught, and I never think of him, except for briefly when telling this story. He ultimately played no role in my life, except as some sort of weird plot device that forever altered my story in some ways and in other ways not at all. I lay in the middle of the road for several minutes – it cannot have been very many, or I would have died; as it was I lost close to a half-gallon of blood.
Someone stopped and directed traffic around me. Someone called 911. And then, at some point, a Naval Petty Officer, Tom Sanchez, stopped and got out of his car. He walked over to me, stepping in what he thought at first was radiator fluid, and stuck his hand inside the softball-sized hole in my neck, felt for something pulsing, and pushed down. He held me there until the ambulance arrived, staunching the bleeding, and keeping me alive.
I have been asked about whether or not I think there was something of the divine in all of this. And I say, “No. But it does give me faith. Faith in other people. Because Tom was not the first person there. Tom was not the first person to stop. But he was the first person to do something. He was the first person who chose to help. He was the person who decided to save my life.” I do not fault anyone who did not intervene. I simply try to recognize the heroism of the one man who did.
I also do not think that there was – or is – anything especially deserving about me. Certainly I was no more deserving than the young bike racer who was killed that same week by a street racer in Bakersfield. He could have been me. And I him. But for luck. And chance. And, at least in my case, because of the kindness of another. I especially have a hard time with the idea of providence because it denies agency. Both the agency of the person who left me. And even more so Tom’s own agency in choosing to make a difference. We are empowered marvelously, and that is what I prefer to carry with me. Our capacity as people to do amazing things, especially for others.
This is not the first time I have told this story. Nor do I think it will be the last. But every time I tell it, I am reminded of how remarkable it is. How special. And how fortunate I am. I tell it to share it. But also to remind myself to be thankful. And to appreciate the wondrousness of it all.
I had lunch with Tom yesterday. I’m happy that we still live close to each other. In a testament to the power of time, I had actually forgotten that it was the week of our first meeting. I had just asked him to lunch because we try to do it regularly, and it had been a while. But when he reminded me over tacos that tomorrow was our 13 year “anniversary” as we call it, I wanted to try to capture, as I sometimes do on this day, the magic of a true second chance. And of our friendship. “This is my friend Tom. He saved my life.”
In the years since our meeting, I won some races and lost many more. Tom was deployed several more times, thankfully always coming back relatively unscathed, at least as much as any soldier who has seen the worst of it. We both got married. We both had kids (he added his fourth while I added all four). We both retired. And got new jobs. And then got other new jobs. And we’ve had a bunch of tacos at Ola’s in Camarillo. We both have lived our lives. But I have lived my life because of him. And that is something special.
I am not always grateful. But I try to be – especially today. Because I am alive. And I might not have been. But because of a stranger – a stranger that I now call a friend – I am.
March 23, 2010. My alive day.
© Donald Miralle 2013
One thought on “Alive”
Our Mother did a great job in raising us as My Brother Thomas would tell you and also he being a great father to his children is a testament to his being a wonderful Human Being ✌️🙏