It was eleven years ago tonight (April 14, 2001): I was living in Arkansas at the time, and had been trying to catch up on some work that needed to be finished at the office. (Okay, I was being my then-typical workaholic self, going in to work on a Saturday. I’ve learned since then to appreciate what time we have available.) It was one of those days that runs from cloudy to sunny to stormy. I’d had lunch with my friend Clayton, in the Flying Saucer Beer Emporium: the only time we ever had lunch together (he died a year later) and one of the few times I ate there. I had one beer (there was later a question about whether I’d been drinking). As the day wore on I finished up my work, and went home to get changed for the Easter Basket Auction at the local Diamond State Rodeo Association clubhouse. At the time I was Rodeo Director, and I was supposed to help MC the event and organize the donations.
About the time I started back the weather turned into a more direct rainfall: and it was hard. I heard later that it was one of the more severe rainstorms that people could remember. I only lived 3 miles (4.5 km) from my office, and it normally took me no more than ten minutes to get home: especially on a weekend. But today, when I was about two thirds of the way home, passing the curve in the road before the Arkansas School for the Deaf: I hydroplaned and lost control of my Jeep. Apparently I spun around and hit one of the supports for the elevated walking bridge that goes over Markham, at Dennison. (The spot is marked on this Google Map; there is also a Google Streetview of the bridge above, with the evil support waiting patiently for another victim.)
I never made it to that Easter Basket Auction. I didn’t make it to my first rodeo, either. I was in a coma for a month and a half, so spent the next 45 days blurring between conscious states and fighting for cognitive awareness. At right are the only two pictures that exist from this time: the top is my jeep after it was taken away, the bottom is the only picture my sister was able to take while I was in the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. They saved my life.
Each year we recognize May 29th as “Wake Up Day”, to recognize not only the blessings of life and health that continue to abound: but also the friends and support that were so important for me in those days. We’ve done this every year since the first anniversary, when my family reconvened in Little Rock because I’d been unable to travel for previous year. I do have some pictures from WakeUp Day 2005; we used to do catfish and beer and have a grand time in my backyard in Little Rock. Since coming to Toronto, the visitors are different, but we still hold to the tradition. We can’t get catfish quite as easily as we did in the South, so up here we serve grilled pizza. And this year we’ll be having wine we brewed at a local place where we bottled our own. It is generally an open invitation party. All I ask is that if you do decide to come, please let us know so that we will have enough food.
One last point. Although we celebrate every year on Wake Up Day, we also recognize “Accident Day”: April 14th, the day before American Tax Day. (Here in Canada our tax day is at the end of the month.) Normally it’s fairly quiet: I try not do very much lest anything serious happens again. Each day for the next six weeks I can’t help but wake up in the morning and think: I was still in a coma. I have no memory of it: but I know my friends and family (especially Tim) were very concerned about my well-being. Forty-five days: that’s more than 12% of a year. But it’s in the past now, and I’m sufficiently well-recovered that most people don’t notice any effect from the injuries. That is reason for me to celebrate, and to bring along as many as will come with me.