something from nothing

Saturday night I picked my two boys up from their grandparents’ house. As soon as they climbed into my car they asked if we could stop and pick up something to eat. This is a recurring theme.

Between them, Max and Jackson eat about three different kinds of food. Both of them display an almost pathological aversion to any nutritional item that falls outside this rather narrow pyramid. As a result, when coming back from family events they pop this same question approximately 85% of the time. My willingness to respond affirmatively correlates directly with how much I want a Diet Coke. Saturday night I was thirsty. So I stopped at a drive-thru at the corner of a major intersection: the intersection where I lost my leg.

As I sat next to the drive-thru window waiting for the kids’ food and the soda that would hasten my descent towards diabetes, I realized that 16 years ago my wife, Cara, waited in virtually the same position while I walked into the middle of the road. My car shone its headlights across the road exactly the same way our Honda Civic had in 1996. Without even turning my head to the right I could see where I imagine the point of impact was. With only the slightest shift I identified what I believe to be the area where my body wound up after getting rag-dolled down the road. Only 50 yards down the road a red, white and blue Mobil sign now sits atop the stanchion that previously hosted the yellow and red Shell logo that had presided atop the southwest corner of the intersection long ago. The same building presumably houses a phone that a gas station attendant refused to let Cara use in an effort to call for help.

I rarely find myself at this place. It doesn’t upset me to be there. Having little to no memory of the accident leaves me viewing the point of impact with detached curiosity. It’s like going to a historically significant site. I know it’s important but I can’t fully appreciate what occurred there. I have the scars to prove I walked out into the middle of the street in December 1996 but not the associated memories.

So as the Burger King staff assembled the kids’ meals, I felt a sudden compulsion to try to describe everything that had happened to me that night to Max and Jackson. I blurted out, “This is the intersection where my accident happened,” a fact that they both already know. Then, like the tour guide at a National monument, I started reciting the relevant history. As I pulled my car back onto the road I pointed out the lane the stranded vehicle had occupied. One of the boys asked me where I ended up after I got hit. I provided an educated guess based upon what I’ve heard. I showed the boys where Cara was. I pointed towards a now-empty lot that was a second gas station where two off-duty EMT’s happened to be filling up when I got hit. Jackson asked if I would have died if they hadn’t been there. I responded affirmatively.

As we pulled away from the site, Max commented that it would be interesting for me to write a blog post imagining what was going through my mind for the period that my memory got wiped.

*     *     *

It’s an interesting concept. What would happen if I tried to fill in the gap on my personal hard drive by rewriting history? But the more I thought about it the more I realized that at least once a year I end up writing a post revisiting my accident. I’ve written about it from my point of view. I’ve described it from my wife’s vantage point. I’ve written about odd coincidences involving its time and place. And I’ve written about how this gap in my memory alternately terrifies and fascinates me. Without my own memories about the most formative hours of my adult life, I have this uncontrollable urge to tell my own story in a consistent, coherent way.

Ironically, the more I write about the events of 16 years ago, the less real they get. And that’s because the story isn’t mine. The fact that I can more easily recall the layout of a friend’s house that I’ve visited only twice than I can the sound of two cars hitting each other with me sandwiched between them – undeniably there – seems unfair. The defining moments of our lives typically remain etched in our memories with startling clarity. Mine sit in a safe that I can’t crack.

I’ve had people tell me that I’m lucky not to have those images available to me. I used to agree with them without even thinking. I always suspected that my ability to push forward with barely a thought towards the past immediately after my accident resulted from that amnesia. But the more I get separated from December, 1996, the more I want to reconnect with that night. Now when people reassure me that my brain mysteriously works to protect me from unimaginable horrors, I utter meaningless vagaries that might suggest to an especially interested listener that I’m not convinced.

I’m pretty sure that my need to keep coming back to the site of my accident in these e-pages shows that I’m already knee-deep in the project Max suggested. I continue on what may be a Sisyphean quest, writing more and more about the most important night of my life and getting further and further from the reality of it.

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