Posts Tagged ‘death’

Sudden Death for Thirty Classmates

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Thirty of my high school classmates wiped out in a few seconds! Did disaster strike a class reunion? No, in truth they have been dying one by one over the years, while I was unaware of it, just as I was unaware of any details of cialis their lives. But reading the list of the names of the deceased, as I did recently, was like reading in the paper that they had all been mowed down at the same time, and I was shaken.

This experience has made me realize how my life, divorced from contact with anyone from that time in my past, has been unrealistic in a certain way, shielded from the strongest material evidence of mortality, the numerous deaths of those my own age with whom I shared the rather unhappy years of my adolescence. Suicide and heart attacks and causes unknown to me—accident? AIDS? cancer?—have brought them down. The total represents roughly ten percent of our class, which seems reasonable, though the list is probably incomplete. Of the thirty dead, twenty-two ambien were male.

Some of the names on the list I merely recognize as belonging to a classmate but associate with no face or personality. A couple of names are even below that level of recognition. A few names evoke phantoms I can almost but not quite make out clearly. Some names are attached to persons or events that have survived in my memory. Here are some I remember, without mentioning names.

The girl and boy whom I and the rest of the class gathered around to watch dance the “dirty bop” at the seventh grade Christmas party—they’re both dead. That girl whose ass caught my attention with such curious force (as I watched her walk out of the room one time in the seventh grade) that the event seems to have marked the beginning of a new phase in my life, as if some dormant primate instinct came to life at that moment—she’s not moving now, or ever again. The senior football player, whom I saw brutally put a sophomore player in his place (I picked a tooth up off the ground)—he’s no longer commanding respect on this Earth. The catcher that threw me out at third base in “Show Me Where It Hurts: Memory Illuminates a Few Moments of My Baseball Career” is gone as well. Our exuberant male cheer leader—silent now as old Marley. Dead also is the boy I envied as he related how a neighbor kid’s older sister had called him into her bedroom for an initiation I could only dream of.

My friend with the Ford convertible, one of only a couple of boys with whom I could talk about books, God, life, and death, now knows nothing—or perhaps everything—about what we pondered then. My fellow unexpected National Merit Finalist—he’s been dead some twenty years. A girl xanax whom I imagined to have suffered, as one deemed so unattractive must, feels neither suffering nor joy anymore in this life. A boy that later served voluntarily in Vietnam and survived the war, now rests in endless peace. Another who went to West Point (and Vietnam too?)—also dead. An odd fellow I really didn’t like, who once in the ninth grade invited me to meet him after school for a “friendly fight,” is now among those I’ll never meet again in this life. How could that boy I knew as such a lively, smiling kid in junior high, before he slipped into the background for me, have come to such a static, stolid end? The boy I resembled superficially, whose name a friend would tease me with, owes any current resemblance to the embalmer.

Also on the list of the dead is a guy with whom I shared a hair-raising (for me) ride home from an out-of-town football game as he drove at high speed on the city streets; we stopped to retrieve beer from the back of a building, the site where he had earlier in the evening used the full beer cans as missiles in a battle with someone encountered on the way to the game. Had he tried to escape there, only to find himself cornered? Or had he and a different passenger been the pursuers? I never understood what had happened. The chance for him to clarify has passed away with his existence.

I’ve written this piece to convey the shock that I experienced on learning of all these deaths at once and then the contemplation I fell into about this new knowledge. I remembered some of the dead and have presented a few images of them, just to cast the light of memory on a moment or two of their lives. The moments I remember are by the nature of memory—mine anyway—ones that stand out because of something out of the ordinary in my experience, and thus they are not at all of the sort to give a full and undistorted picture of the person. Should any of my surviving classmates read this (and I know at least one will), I request you not to ask me about the identity of any of the people in these memories. Read the names and see what images your own memory pulls up. As far as relevance to the lives of those dead classmates goes, I could have made up my memories. To me these memories made the people real again, though, and let me experience more intensely the knowledge that they have left this world forever, trailblazers for the rest of us in the class, whose names will all surely join theirs on the list of the departed within the next three decades.

Last Days of Chestnut, Guinea Pig

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

May 22

Our guinea pig, Chestnut, is dying. He will probably be dead before I finish writing this, but I am going to leave the beginning as it is. I had hopes that the antibiotics he started yesterday would do their saving work; and his eating one of his favorite delicacies—cucumber peelings—last night with a final, feeble amount of gusto gave me hope that he was bouncing back, perking up. But he has retreated inside his little plastic “igloo” inside his cage, with his back to its opening, minimizing sensory input; the equivalent of turning over to face the wall. He makes no sound, but turns away from proffered food or water as from an annoyance that belongs to the past. He has decided it is time to die. I know that he hasn’t decided anything, really; he is just too sick to stand the sight of food or drink. Yet it seems he has decided it is time to die, and he knows the right way to do it. He has decided it is time to die, and the house is heavy with his decision.

To whom shall I pose silly rhetorical questions with Chestnut gone? How long will it be before I stop adding, “Right, Chestnut?” to the end of statements. Chestnut, Chesty, Chesterfield, Lord Chesterfield, C-Field—he answered to them all the same way: with the inexpressive face of a rodent looking in your direction. “Did you mention food?” he perhaps was thinking. He loved to eat. He lived to eat. And now he turns away from food, but seems to have a certain quiet wisdom about him.

That reminds me of something our friend Carmi said when she was visiting. Being a poet with a mystical bent, Carmi often says things that stick in your mind just in her ordinary talking. She and her daughter had had a guinea pig named Oreo. Carmi was impressed that when I went out the back door, scissors in hand, to harvest some fresh grass for Chestnut, he had been so excited that he’d jumped out the open door of his cage in clear anticipation of the upcoming treat. Oreo, Carmi said, had had “ancient wisdom,” but had not been as “street smart” as Chestnut. Now Chestnut’s ancient wisdom has come to the fore.

The antibiotics and painkiller the vet gave us yesterday were just to make us all feel better that we were trying what we could think of. But Chestnut has something called bumble foot, a foot rot—maybe it’s the equivalent of gangrene, I don’t know. Anyway, for it to have affected him so severely means almost certainly that it is too late. The vet wanted to be sure that we knew it was serious, not to be surprised if he was “much worse” this morning.

Yes, there’s some guilt here. We should have noticed how bad the foot was and taken him to the vet earlier. We didn’t take him in for the foot, just for the severe overall decline, lethargy, loss of appetite, etc. Chestnut lived the life of a king from the food standpoint, but I’m afraid his long claws bear witness to a certain lack of care in other regards, including regular inspection for things such as infected feet. He had a known problem, common in older “boars,” of stool agglomeration. Instead of numerous small dry pellets, he would also produce large masses of soft fused pellets. Sometimes it would be a great effort to pass the mass of guinea pig poop. We assumed that one too big to expel was the problem that was causing his loss of appetite, which would not have been as serious.

Chestnut is my daughter’s first and only pet. Well, mammalian pet; she had some African dwarf frogs. He was a birthday present a few years ago, a reward for her agreeing to attend a summer chamber music day camp. We had taken care of a few guinea pigs for days and weeks at a time in the past, and she had been wanting one for quite some time. My wife remembered how she had lost interest in her own guinea pig as a child in a fairly short period and didn’t look forward to becoming the real guinea pig care provider. Looking farther into the future, she dreaded years more of such duty after our daughter had gone away to college. But little Chestnut, just weaned, was purchased at a local pet store, and amused us greatly with his antics, especially the “popcorning”—spastic leaps which guinea pigs engage in when they are feeling good (I guess).

We left the door of his cage open when we were home, and he would roam around the house, even follow people from room to room sometimes. He seemed to like company and play. I would put newspaper (to absorb pee) under the wicker coffee table near the chair in which I would sit reading, and Chestnut would stay under the table. Except he would venture out on a quick foray to nibble away a corner from a paper or a paperback book cover. We turned it into a game with me putting paper out for him and then gently swatting at him with a sheet of paper when he came to get it. I will think of you, Chestnut, when I see those books with the neat bites taken out of their covers. He was quick! And their teeth are so sharp.

This was all when he was young. As he matured, he stopped venturing out of his cage, even though the door was still left open. We found he had chewed on a lamp cord. Had he gotten a traumatizing shock? We couldn’t know of course, but the exposed copper made us think he was lucky to be alive. For a while I was able to lure him out by putting a newspaper near the cage door, which he couldn’t resist coming out to nibble on, but eventually he got to where he almost never came out except when it was forced on him during cage cleanings. Then, he would usually take a few laps around the cage.

My daughter cried for Chestnut last night, as is only right. Sad as it makes me to see her feel bad, I would rather have that than see her heartless and unconcerned.

We have given Chestnut his pain killer and antibiotics for the day, and then used the antibiotics mouth syringe to get some water into him. Dehydration will kill you far more quickly than starvation. He’s fat enough to miss a few meals, I imagine. The only encouraging sign is that he is now facing the entrance to his igloo so he can see out to the world.

May 23

OK, it’s now the morning of the next day. We forced some more water down him, and it must have done him good. He still wouldn’t eat until I brought him some fresh, green grass. That he munched on for quite a while, a very big improvement. Don’t know whether we should get our hopes up.

12:30 pm. Now he’s whimpering in the most pathetic way. It’s really unbearable to hear. Catatonic was better. We will have to euthanize if that doesn’t get better. When my wife gets back from the store, we’ll give him another dose of painkiller. One little rodent in agony here has more of an effect on me than the somewhat abstract knowledge of mass human suffering now occurring. I have not been watching television coverage of tragedies; perhaps I should be.

11:30 pm. My wife said that he had been whimpering that way for days, though I hadn’t heard it before. So it doesn’t signal a new stage of decline and pain, but it is still painful to hear and makes his earlier suffering seem all the worse. She went back to the vet’s because the test-tube-like container the antibiotics was in was too long for the syringe we need to use for giving Chestnut his dose. I doubt the vet thought he’d still be alive, for only now did he mention the importance of food and water. He suggested pulverizing the hay pellets he eats and mixing them with baby food carrots and water and using another bigger syringe to feed it to Chestnut. We thought we got a little into him in the afternoon.

Just before bed, all three of us—my wife, daughter, and I—tried again to get some more water and food into him. He had trouble keeping his eyes open, nothing I’d ever seen before. He didn’t drink water that was squeezed into his mouth this time, as though reflexes aren’t even working. He wasn’t interested in food and didn’t get much if any. Would not be surprised to find him dead in the morning. Glad he ate grass one last time anyway. We’ve gone from hoping for recovery to hoping for a quick end.

May 24

Chestnut greeted me with what might be described as loud whimpers when I came downstairs to start breakfast. Maybe he is doing some things automatically, like greeting, but can only make certain sounds. Hard not to take it as a plea to put him out of his misery. He turned away from his water bottle spout as from something noxious.

10:30 am. We’re now waiting for our daughter to wake up (it’s Saturday morning), so she can be in on the decision to take him to the vet to put an end to his suffering. The waiting is getting to me, since it is starting to seem urgent to put him out his misery, as I think of what he must be enduring with so many bodily systems having broken down. Hopefully the vet is open today.

11:00 am. He’s not, but the phone message gave another place to call for an emergency. My daughter is up, and she agrees it’s time.

1:30 pm. She took him out of his cage and carried him, wrapped in a towel like a baby, upstairs to her room for a long while.

My wife has been felled by the same cold I have presumably, but harder and with fever. She got the news yesterday that an old friend she hadn’t seen in years had just died. The friend’s husband called.

The only place I have found that will euthanize a guinea pig today is quite a distance away, and my wife is too sick to be left alone. She is weak, dizzy, and nauseated in addition to having a sore throat.

I go in to check on Chestnut and he is lying flat, rhythmically whimpering. When he becomes aware of my presence, his whimpers get louder, definitely an acknowledgment of some kind. Maybe a plea. The guilt I feel is heavier, the sadness more acute.

A friend is coming over. Maybe I’ll take Chestnut to the place that will end his life for a fee while she stays with my wife. We haven’t attempted forced feeding today.

5:30 pm. I’m not changing anything I wrote before. Chestnut has been buried in the back yard. My son arrived back from his ultimate frisbee tournament just in time to help his sister and me dig and cover.

I drove to Jamaica Plain to have Chestnut put to sleep. On the way there, I and drivers in the other lanes of a very busy road had to stop for some Canada geese and a passel of goslings to cross. Very slowly. First one bunch, and then another. Especially given the nature of my journey, it was a heartening sight to me, animal life and new animal life. And everyone seemed glad to stop. The geese were lucky, and I hope they don’t try it too often, for their luck must run out.

I talked to Chestnut on the way. I told him what a good pig he had been. He was in the back of the minivan in his cage, so we couldn’t see each other. I wanted to pray, but didn’t know what to pray for. I decided to pray for whatever was the best thing a guinea pig in Chestnut’s condition, about to die, could have. I put in a word for him, knowing it was superfluous, but I asked that he might have the very best the Creator still had to offer.

We arrive at the animal hospital, and I take Chestnut out of his cage and put him in a small cardboard box, just his size, along with an old teeshirt of mine. Judging by the movements of his body and head, as we enter the building, he seems to be more alert than I’ve seen him in days. What is going on? Is this a miracle starting to happen? He actually starts trying to climb out of the box!

At the intake desk, where I’ve already told them my purpose, I’m talking to him: “What are you doing, Chestnut? Are you trying to get me to take you back home?” His body feels surprisingly strong in my hands. I look at him closely, trying to discern what the change means. I say to the intake woman, who is looking at me quizzically, “He hasn’t eaten anything in days. He hasn’t moved like this in I don’t know how long.” Chestnut moves about again. And then a small popcorn! Tired out, I suppose, he relents.

I take Chestnut and the registration form that I need to fill out over to the empty “cat area.” If Chestnut’s activity resumes, I’ll have to think harder about what I’m about to do. I’ve gotten through name and address when I look in at Chestnut, who is still. I wonder. His visible eye is now wide open and clear. His body is soft and warm, but feels totally relaxed in my hand. Is he? Yes—dead.

I’m stunned, as though a lightning bolt of mystery had struck me, electrifying me with hidden meaning I can feel but not decipher. I feel a sort of joyful sadness and great relief. I stroke his beautiful white and light-chestnut coat a few times, then carry him over to the intake desk. I know he’s dead, but I say “I think he’s dead.”

A technician takes the little box with the body away to verify he has no heartbeat, free of charge and with genuine sympathy. The young woman at the desk tries to reassure me about having let his foot infection get so bad. Small animals are very fragile, so the least thing can kill them. She has canaries. Yes, I will take him home, and we will bury him in the back yard.

What was the urgency that drove Chestnut to use every last atom of his remaining strength and life in that seeming attempt to escape? As far as I know he’d never acted that way at the vet’s before, even in that same box, which came from his last trip there. He had always been quite docile the few times he’d been to the vet. But maybe he had some memory of the recent painful foot treatment associated with being in the box. Could he have had a vague premonition, which awakened a powerful desire to live, when he hadn’t been able to summon up the strength or desire to eat or drink for days? Was he trying to escape a sudden pain or fear that came with death’s arrival and which had nothing to do with the external situation? Was it something like a chicken running around with it’s head cut off? It seemed more natural than that.

I don’t know enough about physiology, guinea pig or otherwise, to venture an educated guess. None of these speculations keep me from feeling proud of Chestnut for dying such a death. The burst of activity was brief and strangely inspiring; and, for whatever reason, the timing was just right. If we hadn’t had to wait for the geese to cross… I don’t know.

Did I cry over his death? Well, rodents have never been my favorite kind of animal. They are not the most intelligent beasts. They don’t have to be, the way predators do. They eat whatever suits them with those wonderfully efficient teeth, and they survive by reproducing bountifully, so that an individual is not so precious to the species. Do you think a rational grown man would cry over the death of a mere rodent? Even over a beautiful death that spared us from having Chestnut die at the hands of a stranger and spared me from the possibility of lingering doubt about the decision? Yes, I did cry. When out in the parking lot, I even said “Thank you, Lord” out loud more than once. Superstitious, irrational, childish: call it whatever you like. I felt and feel that Chestnut’s death at just that time—and with a flashback to his former vigorous self!—was a gift, and gifts require a giver. Amen. And, Chesterfield, I have faith that you are getting or have already gotten whatever is the best a guinea pig can get.

Times I Might Have Died

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

I have not lived a life fraught with peril. I have never been in combat, nor have I been attracted to dangerous activities such as mountain climbing or sky diving, which others find recreational. The physics jobs I had were not dangerous. I was on one demonstration where a man was shot to death by the police, but I was not even aware of it when it happened. Yet, there have been a few moments in my life which have left a lasting taste of possible fatality.

This is not going to be an all-inclusive account. The one serious car accident I was in is not going to be dealt with here. Instead I am going to talk about three times when I was lucky, and nothing serious happened. Yet the thought of those times makes me realize that I’m alive through luck or providence, and thinking about them gives me an uneasy feeling, a bit like having to go through them again. What a short life it would have been! The three incidents have in common the hurtling toward a road, with the danger of death coming at the road. The scenes seem well suited for appearing in a nightmare, and I suppose that may be what makes them so vivid and gives them their lasting power to evoke fear.

The first of these times was when I was quite young, probably eight. To my shame at the time, I was one of the last among my peers to learn how to ride a bicycle. But I got one for Christmas, and I mastered bicycle riding pretty quickly after that. To be more precise, I mastered the balance and pedaling part. I didn’t get braking. This was an old “balloon tire” American bike without hand brakes. To brake such a bike one has to apply pressure to one of the pedals in the sense opposite to that which propels the bike forward. I understood there was something different about the pedal work to brake, just not what. Instead of standing up and applying the back pressure on one pedal, as I had observed others doing, I stood and applied pressure to both pedals, one in one sense and the other in the other, so that I just balanced them and might as well have taken both feet off the pedals. It was coasting, not braking.

I think I knew that method wasn’t quite right, but it resembled what the others were doing to brake. I remember that when I needed to stop, I would run off the sidewalk into the grass to help me slow down, then dismount while the bike was still rolling to pull it to a stop. I was not thinking this through or verifying stopping power. I guess I basically thought I knew how to brake the bicycle just from the looks of things without analyzing the actual effect. It never occurred to me to ask anyone, adult or child, to show me how to brake.

Highway 80 ran right through my small hometown as broad, red-bricked Main Street, whose surface, I remember, seemed especially hot to our bare feet in the summer. This was the busiest street in Eastland, Texas. Given our theme of luck and fate, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that Eastland was named after an early Texas Ranger, William Mosby Eastland, honored for a brave death as the first to draw a black bean, fatal in the “lottery of death” ordered by the Mexican dictator Santa Anna in 1842 to determine which prisoners were to be executed after an escape attempt.

One day I was out riding my bike by myself and rode up by the high school, which was on a hill above Main Street. I rode along the street that went past the high school parallel to Main St. then turned to go down the steep hill, intending to turn right on Main as part of my loop back home. I don’t remember if I picked up extra speed by pedaling downhill, or if my acceleration was strictly due to gravity, but I know that I was going fast as I came to Main Street. Of course, any attempt at braking with my method could do nothing to slow me down.

This is naturally the part of the journey that gives me that uneasy feeling and makes me want to ward off the memory even as I call it up today. I was trying to make the right turn, but I was moving much too fast for that, and I was moving so fast that a driver in a car approaching that intersection would have had little warning time to try to stop. Unable to slow down, I might as well have shut my eyes and trusted God or Fate to get me safely across. I crossed Main Street at an angle, unscathed, then hit the curb on the other side of the street and went on up it.

Embarrassment now became stronger than fear. There must have been people around that had seen me hit the curb. I tried to give the appearance that that had been my intent all along by continuing to turn to the right so as to ride on the sidewalk alongside Main Street. But I was still going too fast to do that either. I ran into a low stone wall, which finally stopped the bike. More embarrassment. I wasn’t hurt; and the bike, though dented, was still rideable. I can’t remember if I walked it home or rode it. It would have been sufficiently uphill for safe riding.

Eight-year-olds do get killed in bike accidents, and I could have been one of them. In those days, I might add, a kid would have been as likely to wear water wings as a helmet when riding a bicycle. I don’t remember telling my parents about the accident, and I don’t remember when I learned how to brake my bike. The accident did teach me not to go down steep hills until I had mastered stopping. Rest assured that I made sure my own helmeted children learned to brake before they went very far on their bikes.

The next time that sticks in my mind was when I was fifteen living in Garland, Texas. My friends and I would ride around in a car almost every evening. This was a Saturday night, and we were out late. It was one of the rare times when I had gotten our family Ford and was the driver for the night. There were five of us, all fifteen or sixteen years old. It was well after midnight, perhaps as late as 2 am, and we were in a heavy rainstorm. Without going into the details here, suffice it to say that we were being chased by a determined adult in a pickup who had good reason, relating to certain decorative auto accessories recently in his possession, to be chasing us. The consequences of his catching us might be physically dangerous, for all we knew, and would likely involve trouble with the law (and of course our parents) for us. It was a living nightmare: I was responsible for making sure we didn’t get caught.

The windshield wipers on the car were of the type that completely stopped working whenever you accelerated, which meant a lot of driving blind, given the circumstances of the heavy rain and frequent acceleration. We were sliding around like crazy, fishtailing as we turned corners on the slippery streets. The part I remember most vividly is our approach to a major thoroughfare we would have to cross. The chances of a car coming down that street were much lower so late at night than during regular hours, but still not zero. There might be some other speeding teenagers! Before we came to the street someone shouted “Don’t slow down!” so I flew across the street without slowing or looking. The street had been empty; we had won that round of automotive Russian roulette. Soon after that, however, we realized we were not going to shake the guy anyway, so that we had better stop and throw ourselves at his mercy.

Playing the mental tape of the approach to that intersection at full speed gives me the same quasi-panicky feeling as remembering that uncontrolled street-crossing on the bicycle years before and makes me want to put my hands out in front of me to stop it. The difference between the two times, during the actual events, was that I remember being scared of a crash at the time I crossed the street in the car. I was conscious of the possibility that I might be in my last seconds of life. Now I wonder what in the hell were a bunch of kids that young doing out that late in a car? That was the fifties in Texas.

The third incident occurred sometime later while I was in high school. Near the town I lived in there was a 3M plant. Next to the plant was a street that mainly served as a way for workers at the plant to enter the plant parking lot. The street, which was probably less than half a mile long, ran between a major street and what amounted to a country road. It was straight and wide and had very little traffic except when workers were coming to work or leaving. The 3M plant was on one side of this street, and the fenced backyards of houses that faced away from the street were on the other. This broad side street was regularly used as a drag strip by area teenagers, illegally of course.

A drag strip needs to be a quarter of a mile long plus sufficient additional track length to enable the racers to stop or slow down enough to turn after crossing the finish line. The object of a drag race is to accelerate from a complete stop to the quarter-mile line in the fastest time. Improvised drag races along the 3M strip were head-to-head matches between two cars that raced side by side for a quarter-mile. I don’t recall what landmarks were used for the start and finish lines, but I assume there must have been some. One kid would stand in the middle of the street in front of the two cars and signal the start of the race with a dramatic gesture. The cars would accelerate to the finish line and then start braking because the street’s end was not far ahead. Even beyond the obvious danger of speeding, each race would have been something of a gamble, as the street was not marked as being one way, so an unlucky driver could have turned onto the drag strip from the country road to meet a speeding car head-on. Drag races were usually late at night when that danger was minimized. In addition to accommodating two-car races, the 3M road provided a place to see what speed your car could reach in a quarter of a mile.

I don’t remember any of the circumstances of the next event beyond the fact that I was once again driving the family Ford and that I had two passengers in the front seat beside me, Bobby and Jim. Bobby was a year ahead of me, Jim in my class. I recall that it was broad daylight, most likely on a Sunday. Probably at their urging, I drove to the 3M “drag strip” to see what the car could do in a quarter. I should mention again that I didn’t drive all that much, usually relying on one of the other members of our group to get his family car or, in the case of a couple of them, drive his own personal car, to cruise around in. I really didn’t share my friends’ fascination with cars and speed. Somehow I had ended up running around with a certain group, starting with a couple from my neighborhood, despite my not feeling a very deep connection with them or sharing their tastes and opinions on much of anything except music and sports. It did provide me with a group identity, something to do, and a certain status, since a couple of the group were known as being very tough in a fight.

Anyway, there I was at the wheel of our Ford, ready to make a test run. The car had an automatic transmission. I revved the engine up, while holding the brake down with my left foot. The back wheels spun slowly, squealing a little, but without propelling the car forward until I took my foot off the brake and the car surged forward “burning rubber.” There was no gear shifting required on my part; all I had to do was keep that gas pedal on the floor as we raced up the strip, checking the speedometer to see what speed we’d reach in the quarter. I believe it was about eighty miles an hour. We continued speeding on. On down the straight road, pedal on the floor. I must have seemed transfixed.

“Bob! Bob! Shut off!” Jim’s voice broke through to my blanked-out mind to alert me to the reality of the danger we were in, as we rushed toward the road at the end of the street. I don’t remember what was on the other side of the road, probably a ditch and a barbed-wire fence, but we would not have wanted to go flying into it at ninety miles an hour. I managed to slow the car down, without a panic stop, just enough to make the turn onto the road. Fortunately, there wasn’t a car on the country road approaching the intersection at the same time.

I don’t know what was actually in Bobby’s mind, but he was merciless in ridiculing Jim for having been so afraid as to cry out. I was still in a daze, weak with relief and residual fear, realizing how close we had come to a terrible crash. I didn’t join in Bobby’s razzing of Jim, but I also didn’t let on that we had been in danger because of my freezing at the wheel. And I never thanked Jim. I was weak, and in my weakness I didn’t want to acknowledge weakness. I haven’t seen Jim in close to fifty years.

Jim Allen, I hope you have had a good and interesting life, which you are still enjoying. Thank you for speaking up that day when seconds truly mattered.