L’s and G’s: today, a personal, extremely compelling experience…
Late at night on December 6, 1991 (actually, early on the morning of December 7), I was driving home from a wrap party for the film on which I had just finished working. I was very unhappy about my situation in Los Angeles and very drunk. Though not in the habit of driving under the influence, I was “just going home.” At approximately 40 – 45 m.p.h., I ran straight-on into a utility pole. My face went through the windshield (I also wasn’t wearing my seatbelt — major evidence that I was greatly inebriated), my right knee was broken and my right hip was dislocated.
I have only the briefest of memories of being cut out of the car, and no memory of the actual impact, nor of the trip to the hospital and entering the Emergency Room.
I do have memory of about five or ten minutes in the Emergency room; my lacerated face was bleeding all over the place, and an intern was having me remove my contact lenses as I was lying on a metal gurney. They popped-out into my own blood, and I never saw them again.
I awoke the next morning, all bandaged-up and, for the following week, continued to spit-up blood — lots of it — and was unable to keep anything else down, even water would come back up. I continued to complain, all week, that I was having trouble breathing.
I was uninsured at the time, and the hospital was reticent to do anything for which they might not get paid.
Someone, I still do not know who, had telephoned mom (from whom I’d been estranged for years; since coming out) in Sacramento and told her I was in the hospital. She did not even know who it was that telephoned. She called me early in the evening, saying that she would be down on Saturday. I told her that, if she was coming, she had better come right down, for I was not sure that I was going to make it until Saturday, the way I was feeling . . .
That evening, my breathing became so belabored that the doctors finally — begrudgingly, as I was uninsured and all liability — sent me back downstairs for another round of tests and X-Rays. Stretched painfully on a cold slab, having inhaled some concoction of radioactive isotopes or some such, I heard the technician gasp, “OH…’
I said that didn’t sound so good; he said he’d let my doctors tell me. They wheeled me back to my room where I was met by three anxious surgeons…
Lo and behold, with this test they discovered severe internal damages: the impact of the wreck caused my stomach and large intestine to rip a 9.5-inch gash through my diaphragm, folding my esophagus and collapsing my left lung. They broke this news to me immediately, with looks of panic on their faces: and informed me that they could not even wait until morning to operate — it had to be done immediately.
So, at one a.m., they operated.
Prior to that, as I was outside the O.R. awaiting surgery; I sat in the bed feeling somehow calm and centered, and very terrified. The doctors were at various points of the room, contacting the surgical team and having them come-in for the Emergency surgery.
In my mind, I spoke to Terry – my partner who had died of AIDS a year earlier – as I sat there, wondering to him if I was about to see him again. I realized that all the things in my life left un-done and unsaid were immediately moot; my life could very easily end over this night.
Asking for a piece of paper from an attendant nurse, I wrote down who would be responsible for my funeral, what I wanted done with my ashes, stuff like that. Then, as the surgeon passed-by me, I asked him to take the paper and — if I didn’t survive — to give it to my friend, Chris. If I did survive, then I asked that he just give it back to me.
I expected him to say something like, “Oh, don’t you worry, you are going to be O.K.; we’re going to fix you right up!” What he said, instead, looking me steadily in the eye was, “All right.”
ALL RIGHT!!!? Needless to say, I was at that moment profoundly impressed with the seriousness of the situation.
They wheeled me into the O.R., and I noticed that one of the surgeons had Santa Claus pants on, and was very cheerful. The anesthesiologist has a big-ol needle ready for me. I looked at the team and said something like, “Well, good luck, guys . . .” The surgeon looked at me, funny; I said, “…well, you’re doing the work!”
I was thinking as I went under, “what if this is my last conscious thought?”
I survived. I was in intensive care for ten days following surgery, and was released from the hospital on the 23rd of December. Mom was there the entire time, from around 8 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night. We had some pretty good discussions during that time; and I no longer had this burning need to make her understand me or my life. It was all pretty-much beyond her, anyway.
[She died in 1995.]
I had a cast on my leg and crutches for about eight more weeks. I lost about 50 pounds by the end of January, though have managed to replace them since then. I went to court for the transgression on the 24th of January, went to jail from January 31st to the 4th of February.
Briefly, jail was another experience in absolutes. (“The Slammer” The Good Men Project)
I was sequestered in a room with 60 beds and 90 men. Slept on the floor for the first two days, in an upper bunk for the rest of the time. One of my crutches was stolen. There were three gangs; two black and one Chicano. Much violence. The guards had taken my painkillers, letting me know that the doctor would replace them.
Unfortunately, the doctor wasn’t available until the 3rd of February, so I was taking over 30 Tylenol each day to dull the pain. I was one of only 6 or 7 White guys there. There was an attempted murder on one night; they were throwing this guy so hard against the cinder block wall that I could feel the vibrations, 20 yards away.
I had nightmares about it for a long time, afterward…
I was released from custody on the 4th at 7:30 a.m., and flew to San Francisco on the same day at 2:00 p.m. to begin consulting work for The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. I spent the next five months in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. assisting in the re-creation of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the International Display that took place on October 9, 10 and 11 of that year.
During the time I was down, and especially when in the hospital, I was overwhelmed by the number of people from whom I’d become disconnected and for whom it was important enough to come to see me. Scores of emotional meetings, people from San Francisco, calls and flowers from all over the country. The outpouring of love was stunning. Mom kept asking, “Who are all these people?”
As I recovered, I was most deeply moved by the love I was receiving. “If all these people love me this much,” I thought to myself, “why don’t I?”
My life and the way in which I live it has changed much.
With that experience, I took a lot of pressure off of myself to succeed in any pre-set time period. I returned to doing more of the live Experience Creation production for which I was already known.
Since, then, I daily recommit to saying what I think, adhering to integrity, telling people for whom I care that I do care for them each time we part company; for one never knows when the Last Time might be.
There is rarely a doubt among peers, friends and colleagues as to what I believe is true. I pretty much communicate it all.
If I leave a mark on this planet; it will have been my inability to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing, deceit, dishonesty. There is always a price to pay for speaking out – truth to power – and I have often paid it; though with that comes the inner peace borne of knowing one’s integrity is intact.
If that’s all I have when I die, that’s enough.
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