March 13, 1965. My brother was working on his camping merit badge for boy scouts. My friend David and I agreed to camp with him on our farm twelve miles outside of Tyler near Overton. We drove our family car with the equipment, David following behind on his motorcycle. All I recall was that it was a Yamaha. Hidden away in the gear was a bottle of vodka the two of us had secreted away for the evening after my brother went to sleep. Dad drove the car back that Saturday afternoon and we set up camp. Soon enough my brother had fallen asleep and out came the bottle, and soon enough neither of us were feeling any pain.
The bike was stripped down for cross country riding, and that started to appeal to us. David looked over at me and said, "I need a battery for this headlight. With it we could do some cross country out here."
I replied, "Hmm, wonder where we could get one."
"They will be working late at the bike shop tonight. Tomorrow is a big race in Louisiana. Let's ride in and get a battery there."
I stumbled over to where my brother was sleeping, telling him we would be gone for a bit to get a battery and would he be okay? He mumbled something still asleep which of course we interpreted to mean yes. We pushed the bike out to the road, I climbed on the back and pushing the pedal the bike roared and we were off.
Let's be clear what was happening here. We were driving a motorcycle without a light along the Old Overton Road which winded about like a serpent until we got to the Kilgore Highway. Too many police were on that highway since it was the main thoroughfare for people going to buy alcohol from Tyler where selling booze was prohibited. So we cut over to the Old Kilgore Highway to ride the rest of the way into town, then cut back down back streets headed towards the bike shop located on Troup Rd. We were making this journey at a considerable speed. Driving down one back street, at what I would guess to be around 55 to 60 MPH, I looked around David, realizing to my horror that there was an intersection there with a car stopped at it. His eyes were watering and he hadn't seen it.
"Look out!" I screamed and he hit his brakes. We spun sideways and CRUNCH went the leg caught perfectly between bike frame and the car we had hit. Later a perfect imprint in the frame could be found where my leg had been. I was lying on the ground with my leg pulled up under me. Perhaps it was the shock, or maybe the considerable amount of alcohol in my system, but I really didn't feel much pain. I knew instinctively however that the leg was pretty badly broken.
A crowd began to gather. Some well meaning samaritan offered to help me straighten my leg. "Please don't," I said.
Leaning forward he says "Here if we just..." and he starts to reach for the leg. Now I was an instructor in Red Cross First Aid. Doubling my fist I promised to knock the crap out of him if he did not back off. A bit offended, he did so.
Meanwhile, there was David, feeling no pain, wandering around. The police arrived and he began to smart off with them. Bad mistake because he was immediately arrested for DWI. An ambulance arrived and I carefully instructed them on how to properly pick me up so as to do no damage. "We know all that. Just hold on and let us do our job, okay?" I shrugged as they moved me onto a stretcher.
"Take me to Mother Frances," I told them. "Can you guys call my dad too?" I gave them the number. Still buzzing, "Oh and can you turn on the sirens? That would be cool." They shook their heads, but turned on the sirens and rushed me to ER.
So here I am lying there waiting for the doctor to decide what to do for me. Our family doctor had arrived soon after I did. Lying there, I see my dad walk in. Oh, did I mention that the week before I had gotten three tickets. Two were for running stop signs, the other for speeding in a residential neighborhood. The officer had chased me a considerable distance before I saw him. A group of us were going off campus to lunch. At one point I had been going eighty, but the fastest he was able to clock me on this venture was 45. We raced across a shopping center parking lot, coming to a stop along the highway. One of my friends looks back and says, "There is a cop behind you."
Okay he is always saying that so I laughed and said, "Guess we are going to have to outrun him then." I never had looked back. Meanwhile he believes we are stopped for him. He is getting out of his car just as I peel out spraying him with gravel. Okay, so finally I saw him. Great timing huh?
He pulled in front of me, jumped out of his car with his hand on his holster, and ordered me to get out of the car. He was furious and screamed at me for a few minutes before settling down enough to get about writing the tickets.
No, I had not mentioned that had I? Nor did I mention it to my dad. I had been borrowing money from friends to pay the tickets and made my buddies swear not to rat me out. So there I was just a week later, lying in the hospital with a seriously messed up leg. Dad knows that we were drinking and that David was taken in for DWI. With no small amount of trepidation, I open my mouth. "Um Daddy? In my wallet. No way I can make court date now. I have three tickets that need to be paid in traffic court." His face is starting to turn red, and I can see his fists clenching. He was worried about me and furious with me all at the same time and if he had taken a swing I can't say I would've blamed him.
However he controlled his temper, quietly removing the tickets and putting the wallet in his own pocket. "Don't want anything to happen to it here," he said.
Then came some X-rays and a very concerned doctor standing by me. Dr. McDonald asked me, "how much did you have to drink tonight?"
"Between us we had a fifth of vodka," I told him.
"Frankly, I'm not sure how much use this leg is going to be for you after this. We're going to have to put a pin in there and use weights and try to keep one touch point and hope it fills in." He shows me the x-ray. "See that? It is a triangular piece of bone that fell out. It's going to dissolve. But we are going to put this point..." He showed me the part of the upper part of the femur above the knee. "... against this part of the femur next to your knee. The weights will keep the bone from slipping." He took a deep breath. "Trouble is, I can't put you under with all that alcohol in your system. It's going to hurt a lot."
I took a breath and nodded. They wheeled me into the operating room and then I felt them sticking a rather large pin in one side of the bone, then another to the other side. He was right. It was the most excruciating pain I had ever known up to that point. For two weeks it remained, with horrible spasms on occasion tearing out pieces of the muscles along my leg where the pin came out. Mostly though I was so heavily sedated with morphine and demerol that I just floated in and out. One night I heard a call for Dr. Red. Suddenly there were nurses running about. It was a five bed ward, and looking towards the window I could see flames. Seems the power system had caught on fire. They didn't have to move me though, and another shot of meds sent me back to the twilight.
After two weeks, a specialist was brought in. They put me under and replaced the pin in the knee itself. Progressively they were able to use less pain meds over time. I was moved to a semi private room on the fourth floor. A homebound teacher came to help me with my lessons since this was my senior year of high school and I did not want to repeat it.
This entire event, involving a three month stay in the hospital, followed by two months in a body cast, then another month in a wheel chair and then crutches for another six months, proved to be a profound blessing. It was my first experience with stillness. A parade of patients shared my room, and I could talk with them and often learn from them. I got to study human nature up close. Outside I watched the trees form their leaves. For someone with no patience, I had to develop some because there was no choice. I graduated from my high school in a hospital bed. The principal and school superintendent showed up along with a newspaper photographer to record the moment.
I attempted to have a relationship with a candy striper there. Yes, I was gay, but I sure was trying not to be, and looking back, I was pretty lonely and needy at that time. Years later we connected again, but on a basis it should have been in the first place, friendship. I love the way in my older life circles like that are completed, but that is another story. Though I drove the nuns there crazy, and to a degree perhaps the staff as well, it was to be the first of a number of life lessons that would propel me towards a sense of self knowledge that had alluded me before. I had more years of drinking to do, but the seeds had been planted. The leg turned out pretty well too, though it was bent out a bit, a condition that only a few years ago led to the need for a knee replacement.
One last thing. My friend had an aunt who lived right here in the Twin Cities area where I eventually would move many years later. Her aunt had written a poem which captured my heart. I cannot promise I can quote it exactly, but the gist of that poem has stayed with me over the years.
Blown by the winds of destiny
Into the hands of fate.
God, lay your hands upon that tumbleweed
Bless it and give it it's liberty
Bless it at any rate.
For I too am a tumbleweed
Blown by the winds of destiny
Into the hands of fate.
Thank you to my friend's aunt, who gave me through her niece words to hold me up until I could find my own way.