Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

A Minor Head Injury (or So They Tell Me)

January 1991.

After the emptiness, the biblical chaos of time before creation, movement or matter, there was a light and it was blue.  It was good.  Bright deep blue. The screen thrown up by a failing hard drive.

The blue overflowed my eyes and filled my senses like sparkling water on a Caribbean day.  The blue flickered and popped.  It sometimes disappeared and then flared back across my vision like a tin of paint tipped sideways.  Occasionally, a solid cloud—yes, clouds so we must be dealing with sky—chiseled like marble suspended by invisible tethers would appear to break up the infinite beauty of blue.  The periods of blue were short and often replaced by longer periods of black in which there was no sound, only the nauseating sweep of free-fall.

“Trailers for sale or rent,” my voice sang.

Black.

Blue: “Rooms to let, fifty cents”

Black.

Blue: “phone, nor pets; I ain’t got no…”

Black.

Blue: “cigarettes.  King of the Road.”

Treetops appeared and disappeared on the searing edges of the blue.  Snow covered pine tips stood out against the azure sky like sterile needles rushing overhead.  I wondered what the bottoms of the trees looked like.  I closed my eyes.

“Killington, Vermont,” I guessed.

“I don’t know where that is,” a voice said.

“No, wait… Colorado?”

Blue: “I don’t pay no union dues.”

I was flying now, the trees nothing but a blur.  I attempted to sit up, but a thousand hammers crashed on my sternum and I fell back, gasping for air like a landed fish.  The lights went out.

When I heard the sound of an engine rattling, I opened my eyes again and stared at a group of men and women, scraggly and bundled in flannel, who looked at me through the dim gloom.  I couldn’t make out what lay behind them.

“It’s a Willie Nelson tune,” one of them stated with authority.

Uneasy laughter, then: “No, no, it’s that guy… Roger Miller.  Y’know, ‘King of the Road’”

“I ain’t got no cigarettes,” I said as if stating my name.

A woman leaned over and I stared up at her red face as she peered into my eyes.  I didn’t like the red cross emblazoned on her cap, nor the words ‘SKI PATROL’ stenciled underneath.  Again, I tried to sit, to swim for the beckoning surface of lucidity, but I was pulled down into the muck of half-remembered country lyrics and confused notions about who I was before I could break that glassy surface.

When my eyes opened, I stared up at the florescent tubes humming their official song of cold efficiency like a nest of bees contained.  I watched the tubes and listened to the hurried voices that came from remote lands around my scattered perception.

“Get out the way!”

“Hey, I need a hand!”

“STAT!”

It’s never a good situation when people are saying, ‘STAT’.  I waited for the word to be finished: STAT-ue, STAT-istic, STAT-ic.  But it was always just, “STAT.”

My head flopped to the side and my eyes focused on the gurney’s shiny chrome railing.  Beyond it, a familiar face.  Eric’s eyes were open and there was blood and ice in his blonde hair.  I watched him but I was afraid to speak. He stared back at me.

“What’s happening,” I asked with increasing alarm.

I waited for a flood of memories to come back, but instead I got nothing more than a shallow creek.  I came up against the black wall that curtained off the parts of memory that might give me answers.

“We’re hosed,” he whispered.  “I can’t move.”

Suddenly, I was moving.  I watched as his head disappeared, then his lift tickets attached like badges to his blue bib, then his socks… where were his shoes? My gurney rushed through the ER, confusing the sounds and blurred images of hurried people and intercom imperatives with the Doppler trails of scurrying doctors.  I felt sick. I gave up.

Black.

Blue: “Every door that ain’t locked when no one’s around.”

“You shouldn’t let yourself go out when you hit your head,” a gentle voice said, echoing through black veils.

“I can’t help it.”

“Try.”

I knew the voice from some hospital TV show.  It was Hawkeye.  I smiled.  I knew I would be in good hands with the best chest cutter in Korea working on me.  I would be getting a purple heart and the Army would be sending me—

“Sit up,” Hawkeye said.

I opened my eyes and found myself disappointed to be staring at an old pale-faced doctor with thinning red hair.  Not Hawkeye.  Not even Alan Alda.

“Feeling better?”

“My chest,” I mumbled.  I realized I was able to sit and stay awake at the same time.

“You and your buddy crashed into each other on a little connecter slope.”  His tone said, ‘stupid tourists.’

“Is Eric okay,” I asked.

“Concussion.  Same as you.  I’m giving you a prescription for Tylenol with codeine.  Don’t ski tomorrow, and don’t sleep more than two hours at a stretch.”  He smiled, but it wasn’t pleasant.  He obviously thought I was getting what I deserved for skiing recklessly on his slopes.

Two days later under the bright Colorado sun, I rode up the chairlift as if for the first time.  The codeine-altitude combination created a euphoric spinning sensation as we glided to the top where I put my skis down into the powder and coasted off the lift.  I turned a hard right and followed my friends down a connecting slope to a second lift, which would take us higher up the mountain.  We rounded a wide bend and skied down a ridge to a small place where a sheer rock wall rose thirty feet above us.  The other side of the trail dropped fifty feet to the snowy treetops below.

“Right here,” Jason said.

“What exactly happened,” I asked.

“You guys came flying down that ridge and nailed each other in the air.”

I shook my head and looked at Eric.  He shrugged.

I looked at the wholly unfamiliar place.  The codeine temporarily kept me from dwelling much on it.  I pushed on my poles and continued toward the chairs that would ferry me higher up that mountain that still exists in my mind as a dark crag upon the range of my otherwise clear memories as if a storm permanently dwells over that one spot.  It is a piece of my life that, like childhood, only exists in the memories and recollections of others.

More than anything else, I realize how desperately we need our stories.  Oh, we may (and will) edit them, polish and rewrite them for general consumption, but the fact remains: our stories are the truth of who we are.  Just as a writer cannot abide a blank piece of paper (or a white screen), neither can our souls bear a blank spot on the endless recorder of our memories.  We must fill those gaps with something whether it is pure invention, or fragments cobbled together into a narrative based on stories told us by trusted friends.  Without our stories we are lost.

Proof:  A medical bill and a photo of me, greenish from the low Kelvin light of the hospital tubes.  A photo of me staggering uncertainly through a Colorado ER, a frown on my face and a middle finger stuck towards the camera.

2 Comments

  1. A good story, well-told. Glad you got out of it OK. The only time I ever “saw stars” was after a rather spectacular ski fall; they aren’t kidding, you really do see them, and the brain probably isn’t happy about it!

  2. Thanks, Beth. Seeing stars is never fun. I guess that’s one of the risks of skiing and part of why it’s lost some of its charm for me. That and the nearest slopes are a day’s drive away.

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