My old buddy Dave threw a poker party to help round out my funds for a “walk around the world.” I had hitchhiked out to Schenectady, New York, to spend a few days with Dave before taking the Greyhound bus down into “the Big Apple” in October 1975. The political karma was dense in New York that year, with the country’s biggest city in deep disrepair.
The poker party’s outcome was predetermined. Eight or nine guys around the table shared a tacit agreement to keep my Scotch glass filled while letting me win all the big pots. By the time I was ushered aboard the bus, my backpack had a few hundred more U.S. dollars to go along with the German marks to get me across Europe.
The New York Port Authority, at 5 a.m. on a misty autumn morning, looked and smelled unloved. I hailed a cab. My backpack and its 28-year-old soaked companion settled into the back seat. In those more felony prone days, a thick wire mesh separated the driver and his uncoddled back-seat passenger. The cabbie, driving with one hand, squealed out to the Van Wyke Expressway and headed toward the airport at 80 miles per hour.
Fear never really made my list of automatic reactions.
Panic was always supplanted by a backup plan. The cabbie changed all that. He was driving with an arm parked atop the front seat, weaving between cars and sheets of rain.
I told him to slow down. I yelled at him to slow down. I shook the thick wire mesh and demanded he slow down. He just smiled.
The world in the cab’s back seat began to change. As adrenaline found its way to my hair tips, time sped up. The inner doors, windows, seat, wire mesh and floorboard became projection screens upon which careening memories poured out of my eyes faster and faster. Every detail of my life appeared at warp speed in: the rain hammering the windows; myriad variations of texture in the black-painted interior; and endless shades of shadow from street lamp reflections. Libraries of years filled the imperfections of worn thread in the cab’s back seat.
The entire “life flashing before my eyes” process was probably a minute or two from onset to culmination. It ended when I looked up and saw we were about to crash into an old Chevy, maybe 20 feet in front of us, in the next half-second. The eternity of that half-second allowed me to assess the situation and reach the only logical conclusion: death.
Tubes and angles
The wall clock said noon. I could move my head. I couldn’t move anything else. There were five or six tubes entering my body from various angles. My toes felt like they could almost wiggle.
I didn’t know my name.
I knew who I was and I was fine. Identity and history could be dealt with later after my toes wiggled.
I closed my eyes and slept a few hours. When the sun was setting outside the one window in the old Bronx hospital room, I woke and turned my head to see a kindly looking New York cop with a graying Afro. Without a word, he picked up my backpack and showed me the embroidered name tag. I nodded a smile and closed my eyes. I now had my password to log back onto Richard Curney.
The next 18 hours were déjà vu within déjà vu. Memories washed back through and into the dry stream bed of my consciousness. When the most concentrated self-actuating exercise of my life was over, I relaxed into the newer bed and the bigger room they had put me in sometime during the process and remembered what happened after the crash.
Scream of pain
There were no seat belts in the back of a New York cab in 1975. The impact thrust my well-toned body pate first, into the thick wire mesh. My spine buckled a bit and was severely bruised but not severed. The pain was beyond excruciating.
The first memory after impact was hearing a loud noise coming from somewhere down below me to the right. I focused on the noise and realized it was a constant scream of pain pouring out of my body down below on the curb of the expressway.
I was weightless and bodiless, hovering in gray, watching the same Afro-ed cop cradling my body.
I felt like a flag waving in the gray. I was attached to the scream like a flag on a flagpole. If I let go, I would be pulled up and to my left into a swirling vortex composed of an ecstasy even greater than the bliss beyond description in which I was currently waving. I saw images — images of a little blonde toddler with a high forehead and another smaller child behind her and a sense of another child behind him. The temptation to let go and be carried into a reality beyond responsibilities, beyond doing anything and just being, being in eternal bliss beyond any earthen measure, was enormous.
Decisions come in many forms. This was literally the biggest decision of my life, and it was crystal clear. I didn’t need help from the heavenly presence of a vortex. I had loved ones yet to be born awaiting me down below, and I directed my consciousness to them.
Leah was born in 1980. She was the little blonde toddler with the high forehead. Matt was born in 1983 and Casey in 1994. Kashia is their older sister born in 1971. They continue to be the crystal clear focus of my life and love.
It didn’t take long to get my legs back. I wore the back brace for a month or so until my back muscles were strong enough to keep me vertical. Karma gives us options. Instead of world travel, I came back to Minnesota and built a successful natural foods business. Another big bonus is having three amazing grandchildren to enjoy as they travel their new roads into the future.