I never saw that light at the end of the tunnel. I never came so close as to have my heart stop beating. Not completely. The only times I’ve found detachment or levitation from the body have been on drugs. But, as some of you already know, I’ve taken some chances.
There was the time I shot hashish. Yeah, intravenous hash, soaked in water overnight. What a fool. Got what junkies call the “dirty water blues”. A bad case that time. Some call it “cotton fever”, named for the little bit of floss in the spoon, used to strain out larger impurities from whatever it is they’re putting in their arm. Symptoms usually happen when something gets into the bloodstream that really doesn’t belong there. Victims get chills, fever, joint pain, vomiting. The only cure is sleep. If you can. Although I caught “the blues” numerous times, it was always due to a mistake, whereas shooting the hash was on purpose. Some would say I took a chance every time I shot up, and that would be true, but we didn’t see it that way at the time. Ah- The folly of youth. We all have to learn somehow.
And then there was the time Momma X and I were attacked by Indians, chased along the Klamath River in California. That one wasn’t our fault.
We had set up at a state campground. Doing some fly-fishing, sightseeing, campfires at night, all in an area of California that virtually hasn’t changed in years. In fact, parts of the far north of the state are pretty much the same as they were fifty years ago. Good place to get out of the city and back to something more down-to-earth. Or so we thought.
We left camp one morning and drove to the river. I spotted some deadfall, and pulled to the shoulder to pick up firewood for the evening. Momma and I busted up several branches against an embankment, threw them in the hatch of our little Honda and continued down the highway. Not long after, a car sped up behind us, drove alongside, and a woman in the passenger seat pointed to the side of the road, to pull over. I thought they had some emergency, so her pleading look caused me to do what she’d asked.
When we stopped, all the doors of the other car opened, and out came a bunch of people, all native Americans, running at our car, saying “Get ’em. Get’ em!” I looked over to Momma, said something like, “I don’t like the looks of this!” slammed the car into gear, and peeled out onto the road again in a cloud of dust and gravel. In my rear-view, I could see them getting back in their car, doing the same.
The next five or ten flat out, white-knuckle minutes were some of the most difficult moments in my life. We were in a wonderfully remote but economically depressed area, the next town still twenty miles off. No place to get any help. The road along the Klamath in that area is twisted, not banked, with few guardrails, sometimes climbing hundreds of feet above the crashing water below. We were taking curves sideways, my rudimentary sports car driving experience now coming in handy. The people chasing us were in some big, beat-up American V-8, trying to pass every time we hit any kind of straightaway. In turn, I would swerve to force them off the road each time they were alongside our car. We were reaching speeds of over ninety miles an hour. I wished I had my .38 pistol with me, but we’d left it squirrelled away at camp.
Then up came a van, following the car behind us. It became apparent that they were all together, both vehicles chasing us. The V-8 managed to pass me. Now Momma and I were sandwiched between the two of them. The one in front slowed in the center of the road. I hugged his ass then passed them again on a sharp curve. We took off again at high speeds, but someone was going to die if we kept up like this. It was becoming surreal. I knew I had a fifteen-inch length of electrical service wire, about three quarters of an inch in diameter, hidden under the driver’s seat, kept as a weapon for possible emergencies in the city. It’s a great sap that would break the arm of anyone trying to block it. I pulled to the side of the road, got out, brandished the thing and hollered “Come on motherfuckers!” By now I was mad.
They all got out of the vehicles, lots of ‘em. They charged me, some more aggressive than others. I heard someone yell, “Jumping our claim!”
I went at them, threatening with the sap waving in front of me. “What the fuck?” I screamed. “What fucking claim?”
The woman who looked like the only sensible one of the group said, “Our gold claim, you city fuckers! You come up here lookin’ for a quick buck. We saw you, working with picks. We saw you with binoculars by the side of the road.”
I yelled, “You’re fucking kidding me, you assholes. We were getting firewood!” I threw open the Honda’s hatch and showed them the broken branches in the back of the car. “You could’ve got us killed!”
“Oh, firewood!” the woman said. “That’s cool, man!”
All of a sudden, most of them either started laughing or became embarrassed and apologetic. Only one guy (I suspect he was driving the car I tried to shove off the road a few times) wouldn’t let it go. Luckily his friends held him back. Now, on the bright side, I’m one of the only two people I know who’s been chased by wild Indians. Momma’s the other. Good thing we hadn’t brought our gold pans along for the drive. They were back at camp with the .38.
Years later, the real heart-stopper happened just before I was wheeled to the operating room for my ’04 liver transplant. I was one of the lucky ones. According to the stats back then, at any given moment, there were approximately 20,000 people in the US that needed a liver. They do about 5,000 a year. So, just being called up after months of waiting was a big step. With still many steps to go, as I found out.
When liver cancer patients receive a transplant, in order to keep diseased cells from contaminating the rest of the body, they inject the old liver with something that actually kills it dead before they open you up. They’d never told us that part. It hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Humans can’t live without a liver. What they had said was that the new liver wasn’t always viable once they get in.
I asked: “So, if something goes wrong with the new organ?”
Silence all around.