(Bob Dylan reference)
Part 2: When I went to my first and only permanent assignment with the United States Air Force, I was a young man with a beautiful wife and a beautiful baby girl. By happenstance, I found an apartment about 30 minutes from the base (which was about 30 minutes from Boston, Hanscom AFB, at the confluence of Lexington, Concord, and Bedford, famous for their roles in the Revolutionary War).
I met another young airman there, also married, by the name of Mike. We became friends. We became more than friends. Eventually I would tell him that he was not just like a younger brother to me, he was a younger brother to me. This, despite the fact I already had three younger brothers, more than most people know what to do with.
We pretty much did everything together. He and me, his family and mine. He taught me how to throw darts; I taught him that even when you are passing gas, you should excel at it: I once followed a breakfast in his kitchen of eggs and venison steak (and beer) with the most righteous effort of my life, and he ran to the bathroom, with tears in his eyes, and puked. This is a true story.
We were young, we were wild, we were reckless. We once planned a week-long whitewater canoe trip, down to the exact time our wives should pick us up at the pick-up point, and I only found out when we were sitting around the fire the first night that he had not been IN a canoe before, much less on rapids.
He nearly drowned less than 30 minutes into the trip the next morning. I am not lying. He lost his oar and went in after it and jumped into a vortex of swirling water and could not get out. I had the canoe on the other shore and was laughing my rear end off watching him gasping and clutching like someone in a Three Stooges clip, not realizing that he was, oh, I don’t know: DROWNING.
Luckily, he made it back to shore somehow, albeit without the oar. Good thing, too, as I would never have forgiven myself for the tears of laughter I was shedding if he had actually died.
He spent the rest of that trip paddling with a piece of wood, and getting out of the canoe with all of our equipment just before we hit really heavy rapids, so that I could do them alone. And I did. And it was a good thing he was not in the canoe, because we would have crashed and burned if he had been. His absence, you see, gave me ultimate maneuverability; I could turn the nose of that baby any which way I wanted to, and dodged many a boulder in that fashion at the last moment.
Meanwhile, he would be running along the shore with two backpacks, camera, whatever else we had, until I hit calm water again, when I would pull in, wait for him, load up, and move on.
It was exhilarating for both of us, I assure you. We avoided death, of course, and even made it to our appointed rendezvous point almost exactly at the moment the women arrived to pick us up.
At one time during the trip, we stopped for the night and discovered a cabin in the woods, a rather nice one. And there were oars leaning against the outside wall of the front facade. I advised my buddy to take one, thinking of the wilderness code, that we take what we need, and give it back somewhere else along the trail. Mike refused. I will admire him forever for that. I hope he is alive and gets a chance to read this. I will forever consider him the better man on that day.
This is not about that.
This is about how we hung out together all the time.
Well, it’s not really even about that.
Eventually, I expect to get to death and dying. So let me start now: Mike and I played a lot of darts together, and we drank a lot together, did pretty much everything together. One night in the winter, we took his used, but new-to-him, Saab up to Fort Devon, an Army joint about 20 minutes up the road. We had a couple of other guys with us. Mike was driving, I was in the shotgun seat and all was good.
We went, we shot pool, we drank, we shot pool, we drank, we shot pool, we drank, we drank, one of us needed to leave for hitting on an Army babe when we were mere Airmen, and we left.
Same seating arrangement, but the roads were a tad bit different. There was snow on them. Mike seemed to mind not at all, despite the fact were in some curvaceous country between Fort Devon and Boxboro.
We approached a curve where there was a sign telling us to slow down to 25mph in good weather, and Mike was doing 40mph, easily. The tunes were loud, the tunes were good. The weather was not. Snow was banked up on the side of the road, snow was on the road, ice was on the road. Just as I said, Mike, you need to slow down, we hit the snow bank on the right and sailed through the night.
I honestly cannot tell you the remaining sequence in proper order, because I do not know it, and I did not know it then.
What I do know is that we went airborne and left the road. We must have flipped, because we next hit a telephone pole/power line pole, away from the road about 20 feet, maybe 30 feet, upside down. I know this because later I was able to take red reflector light (taillight glass) from that pole, about eight, 10 feet up the pole. We hit the ground on the roof. I do know this. I remember the glass breaking right before I blacked out. I remember snow and ice flying as if we were a shovel.
But we hit that pole at some point, and I think that flipped us back over, right side up. No windows, and a deep V-shape right over where my head should have been, don’t ask me how I escaped that, and not a single piece of glass left in the vehicle. Beside that, we were between the pole and a tree. Beside that, we were five feet from falling over the side of a hill and rolling on forever. I will never forget, for whatever reason, looking down there later and seeing the house, it’s lights still on, smoke coming from the chimney, so far away, so far down.
We should have died.
Mike had blood coming from his ear but was busy screaming that he could have killed us. One guy in the backseat broke his ankle. The other, he broke his collarbone, but that may have happened because he kept screaming over and over, “IT’S GONNA BLOW!”, so that I finally yanked him through the window to ‘safety’ just to shut him up. Naturally, Mike was my concern, due to the blood coming from his ear, but I had no time to worry, because the Police showed up.
What did this man do? Breathalyzer? No. Drunk test walk? No. Recite the alphabet? No. He invited us into his ride, took us to the scene of another accident, where the victim, yes the victim, had run into a tree in his brand new truck and would not live to drive the replacement, and had us sit there for a few minutes while he explained some things.
He meant well :).
And then, believe it or not, he drove us back to the base! Our base!
Mike’s wife was never happy, but on this night/morning, she was especially unhappy. Their Saab, the car he HAD to have was totalled. And I can tell you, Airmen did not make enough money to replace cars back in the day.
Somehow, though, he bought a Monte Carlo, a beautiful machine. I should tell you that Mike had a gift for acquiring things. I don’t mean that he was a thief, as you should know from above, but he had a magic about him, like those guys you see in the war movies who are known for coming up with what you need. Mike was like that. Probably still is.
He asked me to play darts with him one night in the rain, at a tournament in another town, and my wife was unhappy with me not spending more time with her so I said no. Maybe I was unhappy with spending so much time with him too, I don’t know :). I do know that on his way home from that tournament, he wrapped the Monte Carlo around a telephone pole as he left the interstate, and anyone sitting in the passenger’s seat would have died instantly. Mike lived. Not much more than a scratch somehow, but the car was wrapped around that pole like a pretzel. No way a passenger gets out. No way a passenger lives.
You would think by this point that I believed in Divine Provenance, but I do not. I believe I am lucky.
And you may be asking what this has to do with anything anyway, but I am getting to that. I am just taking my time, because I can :).
We are talking about death and dying, right? Let’s take our time. I am in no hurry to get there.