On the home stretch of completing my Castro book, with my tongue hanging, with the crowds roaring, with the finish line in sight, I almost lost my life in a hideous accident. (on exactly 9-11, 2004, as it turned out.)
At 11:30 PM that night (my favorite bike-riding time) I was thrown from my bicycle and plunged off a tall bridge, bounced off sharp steel girders on the way down and finally landed face and (unhelmeted) head first, twenty feet below on jagged boulders. Amazingly someone was walking their dog on the bike trail at that hour. They noticed a bicycle on the ground near the railing and peered over. There I lay, unconscious and bleeding heavily. I’d been down there for twenty minutes. Had that person not happened along…..?
Anyway, finally at the emergency room we learned the results of my midnight ride: fractured skull, subdermal hematoma, smashed eye and orbit, 8 inch gash in forehead with cracked skull exposed, leg and hip broken in 6 places, 5 ribs broken along with arm and hand. Various internal injuries. The first few days in intensive care the speculations ran to survival. We cleared that one. Then came speculations about paralysis, life in a wheelchair (considering my hobbies, not a happy prospect.) We cleared that one. Then came speculations concerning severe brain damage from the horrific trauma to the head (I write and speak for a living, again not a happy prospect.)
And here’s were the therapists got REALLY worried. “Here,” one said while handing me a notebook as I lay in my hospital bed. “Just write us a paragraph about what you see in this drawing.”
“Sure,” I groaned. “No problema.” The picture was a cutesy family pic-nic on a lakeshore. A smiling Mom and Dad, two kids frolicking. “This poor guy,” I started writing, “is miserable. There’s a Honky-Tonk just behind that hill and he longs — with every fiber of his being — to be in it, first whooping it up with the pole-dancers , then settling in front of the video poker machine with a double-crown on the rocks. The poor woman is on the verge of slapping the kids silly because they just finished feeding the sandwiches she lovingly prepared and packaged, to some turtles. And the little boy just crippled a duck by heaving a brick at it while it competed with the turtles for a sandwich scrap.”
“Here ya go,” and I handed it back. One frowning therapist quickly handed it to the other who frowned even harder. They were silent for a second and Shirley got worried. “What’s wrong?” She blurted. “Is he…?”
“Well, here. ” And they handed her the booklet.
“Then he’s fine!” Shirley erupted after a quick glance. “Back to normal!”
The Therapists gaped. “He’s fine, I tell you!” Shirley blurted again. “Don’t worry. Oh, he’s deranged alright. No doubt about that. But that has nothing to do with this accident. He was born that way. Here…” and she rummaged behind my bed where I had copies of Helldiver’s Rodeo and Hellpig Hunt. She handed the books to the therapists. “Open any page and read. You’ll see. He’s back to normal for sure!”
Just then the doctor walked in. “Hiya sport!” he beamed. “Ah! Got your books here. I read ‘em both. “
“Good,” Shirley said. “Then maybe you can explain to these therapists that Humberto’s fine in the head. They seem a little worried because of what he just wrote in their booklet.”
“Let’s see here, ” and he leaned over and read. “Yep! That’s Humberto! I’d say he’s doing great. Now let’s have a look at that wound, old sport.”
Almost a month later I was finally home. Amazingly, this past Christmas season, barely three months after the bashing, I found myself not just merrily celebrating the Holidays along with my book’s completion, along with my dad’s 78th Birthday, along with my 26th wedding anniversary, along with my parents 55th anniversary, along with my daughter’s engagement — but dancing at the multifarious and raucous celebrations!
And I’m talking everything from the Hustle and Bump to the Boot-Scootin-Boogie and Cha-Cha-Cha! I was on a crutch and wearing an eye patch — so, okay, I wasn’t exactly John Travolta. But STILL!
And these rollicking festivities also found me as engaging, witty, erudite, sparkling, talkative boisterous….Hunnh? — Oh Hi, honey (My darling wife often reads over my shoulder, making helpful suggestions.)
“A bit wordy, Humberto….just write as obnoxious as ever.”
“Thanks honey!” You get the point, amigos. Thanks to a chorus of prayers, thanks to a positively suffocating avalanche of moral (and physical) support from my family and a crowd of — not fairweather, by any means! — friends, I find myself joyfully back at it. Heck, I even managed a week-end duck-hunt/booze/food-fest at my chum’s duck-camp last New Years week-end. But more on that extravaganza next week.
Humberto Fontova [send him mail] holds an M.A. in History from Tulane University. He’s the author of the newly-published Fidel; Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, as well as The Hellpig Hunt: A Hunting Adventure in the Wild Wetlands at the Mouth of the Mississippi River by Middle-Aged Lunatics Who Refuse to Grow Up and Helldiver’s Rodeo described as "Highly entertaining!" by Publisher’s Weekly, as "Terrific!" by Salon.com, and as "Just what the doctor ordered!" by Ted Nugent.