CHAPTER 6: Untitled
Grand Jury duty. Leaving the courthouse one day, I headed for a crosswalk that spanned a four-lane road in the middle of town. The crosswalk had bright flashing lights embedded in the street to remind dim-witted drivers of the hoards of pedestrians often present around the capitol complex. As I approach the crosswalk, a van in the first lane came to a stop and the driver kindly waved me on. When I reached the second lane, a car I was unable to see behind the van sped past at a good 40 miles an hour. Normally the whole area would be swarming with police, but naturally there were none around at that moment to witness the fact that the speeding car very nearly brushed against my clothes; they were still fluttering as I turned to watch the car screech around the corner at the next intersection. Had I arrived a split second earlier, I wouldn't be writing this.
I was not afforded any time to process this near-death experience, for I was standing in the middle of the street. I pressed on, and waited until I got home to contemplate my place in the Universe. For anyone wondering, no, it didn't change my life. I didn't suddenly find God or anything of the sort. It simply became another memory, albeit an incredibly vivid one, not unlike how people describe witnessing the 9-11 attacks.
I didn't witness 9-11—I saw the replay minutes later—but I did fly over Ground Zero in a helicopter a few weeks later while the area was still smoldering. That was bad enough. Talk about a mind-fuck. That's another indelible memory that was immediately followed by the near-crash-landing of the helicopter in which I rode. Along with three other colleagues, I was being flown to Connecticut for an important meeting. A freak thunderstorm formed over our landing site minutes before our arrival, and the copter had insufficient fuel to reach another landing pad. So we descended directly down through the middle of the storm: the copter pitched and spun and rain blasted against the windows and lightning flashed all around us and we were all certain we were going to die. Then, crunch—a hard but safe landing.
Years before, I was returning from a business trip to New Orleans. As we approached Philadelphia airport, a wind shear microburst greeted us at the runway. The jet pitched wildly from side to side—my view through the window alternated between sky and tarmac, while we were mere feet off the ground. All around me was bedlam: people were screaming, they were crying, they were praying, they were vomiting. Me? I just sat there thinking, well, if I'm going to die—which looked highly likely at that point—what could I do about it? So I just sat in silence, waiting for the inevitable. But we had good pilots that day, and we made a hard but safe touchdown, immediately after which the airport was shut down.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I hate flying. I don't care about safety statistics; my experiences have been sufficiently terrifying that it's impossible to induce me to fly any more. I'm also terrified of dogs. It's called cynophobia, and I earned it the hard way.
At the age of four, I was dragged along by my parents to a strangers' house, where kids were playing in the backyard with their German Shepherd. I was invited to join them, and they encouraged me to climb up on the dog and ride it like a horse, just as they had been doing moments earlier. The consequence was a hard chomp that tore my pants and bruised my butt.
Riding my bike home from the train station one day when I was a tween, a neighbor's Weimaraner started loping along side me. I pedaled faster; the dog ran faster. Then it locked its jaws on my ankle and tore it open. Several stitches later, the doctor ordered the dog into quarantine. The owners were not pleased. I was further terrorized.
Fast-forward to my adulthood. I'm still afraid of dogs—ice-water in the veins, shortness of breath—but I'd learned to control it enough that it didn't show. I was visiting a friend for the first time, and he introduced me to his mutt, "the laziest dog alive." But later, as I was heading for the front door to get something from my car, this "lazy" dog raced through the house, lunged with jaws open, and punctured my calf, just as I was descending the porch stairs towards a sidewalk. Good thing the railing held, or who knows what might have happened to my skull. And any progress I'd made dealing with my fear all evaporated that day.
Funny thing about fear. Based on my experiences with women—a mother who abused me, schoolgirls who teased me, significant others who cheated on me—I should have been either fearful or resentful of them. My therapist predicted as much... incorrectly. I still love women. I have and will always admire, respect, adore and cherish them. I'm more comfortable around them than men. It may be a mystery as to why this is so, but it's one I'm not inclined to attempt to unravel, for I'm eternally grateful that I've no inclination to fear, avoid, or harm them.
At the end of my college freshman year, my drawing class professor lined the halls with the fruits of his students' labors for all to see. As I was admiring one particularly captivating pencil drawing of a field of grass with a tree in the distance, the artist strode up next to me, and we struck up a conversation. I was instantly lost in an enormous pair of gorgeous eyes that seemed to draw me in ever deeper. Diane and I talked it seemed for hours, although I imagine it was minutes, and it continued as we both slowly wandered out toward the parking lot. It was like something from a romance film: our conversation kept getting deeper, more personal, and while I may be wrong, I sensed the tiniest spark of romance forming. I followed her to her car, whereupon she advised me that she was that evening headed home—halfway across the country, never to return. I began choking up, and with the saddest lilt of irony, she said, "Don't worry, you'll soon forget all about me." I never have. And Diane will never know how often I've thought of her all of these decades. I sometimes wonder, does she ever think of me?
I'd known Beth since high school, but it wasn't until college that we connected. I'm not certain, but I have a feeling that she was particularly over-endowed with pheromones. She could walk into a room wearing a tent, and within seconds, every pair of male eyes would be locked on her. I wasn't immune to the effect, but I did have one advantage: we were dating. And there were other things about her that overwhelmed the senses. I vividly recall the sound of her hosiery rubbing together as she walked; that gentle, rhythmic swish was intoxicating. We'd actually gotten engaged, until I found out what the wedding would be like: between fifty and a hundred on her side, seven on mine (optimistically). We were from very different social universes, and I just couldn't see it working. And that was the end of that.
I've even dated a lesbian. After discovering some mutual interests with Claire in college, we began hanging out together, and our conversations got progressively more personal. We were sitting in my car one afternoon, and following a particularly candid discussion, there was a long pause, after which Claire haltingly admitted she was attracted to women. Without hesitating, I replied, "So?" That seemed to catch her totally by surprise, but it hit the right note because she then lip-locked me. Eventually we were on the verge of getting more sexually involved when her girlfriend found out about us, and that was the end of that.
Yes, I'd love to see some old flames again, or maybe have a new one. But I'm old. I'm paunchy. I'm balding and have no teeth. Plus, I'm dying. I'm no prize, by any stretch of the imagination, so I have no illusions of ever having a torrid—or even tame—love affair again. Granted, I was no Casanova, but I've had enough experiences that I can pick and choose from a select few quite enjoyable memories. Still, at the end of the day, to quote Benny Andersson and Bjoern Ulvaeus (Abba), "Love was one prolonged goodbye."
I was forced to overcome my fear of flying one last time when I was coerced by my brothers to make a trip to Phoenix to see my father one last time. Thankfully the trip itself was uneventful. I cannot say the same about the visit.
My father was in a nursing home. I was ushered into his room to see him, alone. He looked at me and blinked. I had to keep reminding myself he'd had two strokes. But that blank stare was haunting. I finally asked him, "Do you know me?" He shook his head. "Do you remember having a son named David?" "Yes," he managed to croak, and I pointed to myself. He looked away. "You are not him."
Yes, I understand I was dealing with only a shadow of a person. Yet that denial of who I was so perfectly fit with his disappointment in me as I grew up that it was a blunt force trauma to the head. I left the room an emptied person.
It still hurts.
Copyright © 2020 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved