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  • I awoke from my dream of a perfect world at the age of sixteen. I was in shock. I couldn’t feel my legs. I hadn’t thought to check my penis yet. Each breath was a hot sword of fire skewering me from my tailbone to the base of my brain. I tried not to breathe.

    My face was bleeding. I could see that in the reflection of the black glass of the apparatus under which I lay. I hadn’t lost consciousness.

    It was hours since I heard the first screech of the tires as the Fiat spun out of control. It could have been days.

    My perceptions were altered, like I’d taken a large dose of LSD.

    I hadn’t.

    Everything seemed hyper-real, moving in slow motion.

    The car entered the last curve hard and fast like it had taken all the previous ones that night and all the countless other nights we’d raced around the beach towns of Southern California. This time was different. We spun out of control exiting the curve.

    I heard the familiar screech of the tires but the sound didn’t stop like it usually did. Rocks striking the undercarriage harmonized with the tire squeal producing a cacophony of stunning chaotic urgency. I have never lost the memory of that soundtrack or the images it underscored.

    The car was swapping ends. We were spinning out. There was no moon that night. The only illumination came from the Fiat’s headlights and the glow of the dashboard. The lights revealed a rapidly shifting landscape of highway, hillside, and desert.

    We were going to hit the mountain or fly off the cliff.

    I had my seatbelt on. Not a harness. A lap belt. I was sitting low in the bucket seat my long legs stretched out in a very narrow space. The g-force of the 360-degree spins pinned my head against the back of the seat. I saw a kaleidoscope of stars, planets, galaxies melting into a single multi-layered, psychedelic image of light and color like one of those paint-spinning games on a carnival midway. It was profoundly beautiful.

    I wondered why I had never noticed something so obvious so close so beautiful so loud. The sound of the tires was very loud. It hadn’t stopped. I wanted to say all of this to Mike. I glanced at him. I noticed for the first time that he was gripping the wheel fighting to control the car. I opened my mouth to speak.

    We hit the mountain. We hit it hard on the passenger’s side just at the seam of the door and the front quarter panel. All motion stopped.

    Then it started again.

    In real time the stillness lasted only a fraction of a second. For me the moment was longer than that. I had plenty of time to watch what was happening.

    The car slammed into a huge boulder. It crumpled. Then it rebounded. I was propelled up, then sideways and forward. The seatbelt stopped my upward motion suddenly. It cut deep into my abdomen. I felt like I’d been punched hard in the gut. It knocked all the wind out of me.

    The momentum twisted my head and upper body to the right then carried me forward. My forehead plowed into the top of the windshield. My neck snapped like a whip and the back of my head bounced off the headrest. My nose slammed into the dashboard. My left cheek scraped across the top of the stick shift knob.

    I was being violently broken in half by gravity and the seatbelt. I experienced a white-hot, all encompassing explosion of intense pain. It was the full body equivalent of banging the elbow, the funny bone, when burning pain shoots up the arm searing the fingers numbing the hand. I couldn’t draw a breath.

    My eyes were closed but I was still seeing stars. My face hit the floorboards. My feet and legs were smashed and bent somewhere in the dark in front of me. My ass was flat on the seat.

    I was sweating profusely. The loud sounds and the wild movement ceased. I felt like I was pinned beneath something. I struggled. I moved to the left pushing with my hands and arms, extricating my head from beneath the dashboard.

    I sat up.

    My first thought was that we’d best get out of there before the cops arrived. I turned to look at Mike. I could see him clearly in the orange glow. He still held the steering wheel. As he faced me his eyes widened. He looked horrified.

    I thought what’s the matter with him? Why is he looking at me like that? Is there something wrong with my face? Where the hell is that light coming from?

    Before either of us spoke we turned in unison to look behind us. Flames flashed from the vents of the engine compartment illuminating the desert hillside with a flickering glow.

    Our eyes met.

    “The engine is burning!”

    “Oh shit you’re bleeding!”

    “We gotta get the hell out of here before cops come!”

    “We gotta get the hell out of the car before it burns up!”

    Mike scrambled out of his seat and over the car door. I still felt stuck, like I was pinned beneath wreckage, but I wasn’t. The seat belt was jammed. I got it undone. I tried to stand up but couldn’t.

    The flames were growing higher and brighter.

    Mike reached in grabbing me under the arms. He dragged me up out of my seat and over the driver’s side door. He let go quickly moving away from the burning wreck. I collapsed. He turned and came back, grabbing me under the arms again.

    I pushed with my hands as Mike pulled me along. My class ring snagged on a rock. It came off my finger. I watched it disappear into the darkness as I backpedaled with Mike’s assistance away from the flaming wreckage. We lay on the shoulder a hundred yards from the burning Fiat watching the fire consume it.

    A Volkswagen van full of hippies returning from a night of revelry at the Ortega Hot Springs found us first. Two of them stayed with us. The others raced off to the ranger station a few miles up the road.

    Rangers and paramedics arrived in little more than an hour.

    They assessed our respective conditions and began to administer first aid. I was obviously the more severely injured victim. I lay flat on my back. I was unable to sit up or stand. My face was caked with blood. Mike climbed into the ambulance. The rangers strapped me to a stretcher, lifted it onto a gurney and loaded me up.

    They drove us to Mission Viejo community hospital. Mike’s Dad, Dr. O. B. Quijano, M. D., was on the board of directors there. Mike mentioned this the moment the doors of the ambulance slammed shut.

    The rangers relayed this information to their dispatcher.

    The hospital was informed. Dr. Quijano was notified. He arrived at the hospital soon after we did. I don’t know who contacted my parents with the phone call that all parents with teenagers of driving age dread, but someone did.

    Our house was a two-hour drive north of the hospital. My parents said later that it was the longest trip of their lives.

    Mike and I had been friends since we met as high school freshman 3 years earlier. Mike’s Dad was the first Doctor that I knew as a person and not simply as a patient. He was a calm, quiet man. He was one of those parents who treated his children and their friends as if they were already the mature, well-balanced adults he hoped they would one day become.

    I was X-rayed from head to toe. Dr. Quijano looked at the film then examined me himself. When he determined the extent of my injuries he contacted Dr. John Kennady, a trusted colleague.

    Dr. Kennady was an accomplished neuro-surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. He specialized in the treatment of spinal trauma. Dr. Kennady had developed spinal reconstruction techniques under battlefield conditions while serving with a MEDEVAC unit in the Vietnam War. He was absolutely the best man for the job.

    Dr. Quijano realized that the severity of my injuries threatened my chances of walking again and of fathering children. He must have been filled with horrible conflicting emotions of gratitude that his own son had escaped serious physical harm and guilt at seeing me so badly wounded.

    Dr. Kennady lived in Los Angeles. He was hours away from Mission Viejo. Speed is of the utmost importance when treating traumatic injuries.

    Nonetheless, Dr. Quijano determined I would be best served, and stood a greater chance of a more complete recovery, by waiting for Dr. Kennady. There was no other surgeon with his skills and knowledge of spinal reconstruction in Southern California.

    Kennady was an old school sawbones to the core. A real meatball surgeon he was. He told me he removed a blood clot the size of his fist where my diaphragm had torn from the ileum. None of the usual visual or tactile spinal landmarks were easily identifiable due to the severity of the damage to bone and tissue. He did not believe in metal. I have no staples. No screws. No pins.

    I was on the table under John Kennady’s knife for 6 hours.

    It was a long and complicated surgery. The good doctor spent a third of that time cleaning up and assessing the damage - 18 areas of fracture between T10 and L5.

    He performed a series of laminectomies, re-sculpting and resetting fractured vertebrae and reattaching connecting tissues as closely as possible to their original locations along the newly restructured spinal column.

    He got most of it right. I’m an ambulatory paraplegic. I walk but my bladder and bowels are paralyzed. I don’t have a colostomy and I don’t use catheters. I have all the physical health issues of someone who lives in a chair. But I am not in a chair.

    I rolled out of that hospital with a powerful addiction to opiates that lasted for years. All bets were off. I had survived. Only the good die young became my mantra.

    I drove fast. I took chances. I lived hard. I got strong in the broken places.
    It’s been 39 years. Some days I hurt like it happened yesterday.

    Would I change anything?


    I would not change one single frame of this wild and wooly, weird and wacky, crazy, kinky, loony, madcap, zany mile a minute action adventure epic. This is my life and I dig it. I've got a few more stories to tell.
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