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I don’t remember the wreck, only the recovery

6 mins read

By Scott Graber

It is Saturday, early, and I’ve got Lavazza’s Gran Selezione and the Wall Street Journal. 

Today’s Journal tells us that Britain has, again, rejected Theresa May’s exit plan. But I do not linger long on the front page; rather I turn to a section called ‘Review’ where one finds an essay on cremation. 

This piece — featuring a lengthy discussion on container options — leads me back to 1966, when I was involved in an automobile wreck.

The injuries suffered in that accident very nearly presented my parents with these unhappy options.

I was with a classmate, Ken Tucker, and we were on our way to William and Mary for a rendezvous with two coeds. 

I don’t remember much about the wreck itself. However I do remember waking up on the highway and then crawling into the median of I-95. 

Ken had not been ejected, and he crawled out of the overturned Corvair. Together way lay in the median watching a comet streak through the night-time sky. 

The Ikeya-Seki Comet had been discovered by Kaoru Ikeya and Tsutomu Seki earlier that month, but it could not be seen in Charleston where we were students at The Citadel. As we lay in the median, waiting for the ambulance, we spoke of this comet and our great good luck in seeing it. 

Later we were transported to the emergency room in Emporia, Va., where further work was done on my skull, clavicle, sternum and spleen. Later that same night my parents were told by the young surgeon  that I would not survive the night.

But I did survive, and more whole-body restoration took place at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. And it was there — several days later — where I was reunited with my William and Mary girlfriend, who seemed genuinely happy that she would not be called upon to deliver my eulogy. 

It was also there, on the 14th floor, where I was given a continuing course of Demerol — a pain-masking drug that, apparently, made me say things I wouldn’t have ordinarily said. 

To this day I do not know exactly what I said. I do not have a transcript of those late night remarks with my then girlfriend. But after three or four visits, I sensed our long-distance romance was over.

With her departure, I had an opportunity to examine my life without distractions — especially a college career that had been disappointing. Yes, by that time I had encountered the inspirational Larry Moreland and his course on Constitutional Law, but I had acquired no rank. 

One must understand that getting promoted, getting stripes on one’s sleeve at The Citadel was partly based on peer approval. And it was obvious that my classmates had little regard for my leadership skills. 

I was mostly known for elaborate practical jokes that usually involved fish heads and ketchup mixed with an “accelerant,” usually cherry bombs. 

As I lay in my hospital bed, I wondered if my classmates really liked me. If they did, why didn’t I have any rank? Maybe it was time to leave the military school.

But then 20 of my classmates from India Company crashed into my room. Apparently they had just caravanned the 6-hour, 400-mile trip from Charleston to Richmond. 

At first there was male banter: “I actually think the skull surgery has improved your Quasimodo-like looks. You’re not going to frighten the children in Charleston anymore.” 

Then, an hour later, as they were heading for the parking lot and a long slog back to Charleston, my roommate stopped, leaned over my bed and said, “If you miss much more time you won’t graduate with our class. And we want you on the stage with us when we graduate. We’ve arranged for you to live at the college infirmary.” 

I think these last three sentences motivated me, and my recovery, more than anything I’d heard from my nurses or the surgeons who had heroically worked on my skull. 

Suddenly, in spite of the Demerol, I felt a yearning for these young men and for the rigid, rule-bound life in the barracks. 

And within a week I was on my way to Richmond’s airport and a short flight back home.

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