In 1979 I was voted “Most Likely To Die Before 21” by my High School peers. This wasn’t printed in our yearbook or anything like that but it was widely assumed that I would be dead, and dead very soon. I spent more time in my Senior year passed out in the parking lot than in the classroom. In today’s world someone would get involved in something like that but back then serious drinking was what men did and I did it too. My problem wasn’t a secret to anyone who had known me for any length of time at all.
I turned fifty-five on Monday which is a terrible day on which to have a birthday. Worse, it rained all day long, but I decided to stay home, socialize with the mutts, and write this. I’m still alive, by the way. All attempts at causing anything other than this condition have clearly failed.
I’ve been shot at once in my life and I didn’t like it. I’ve never shot at anyone. I held a gun on a deputy once but that was a misunderstanding and I had a cop in Tampa hold a gun on me once, and that also was a misunderstanding, but when it comes to guns there cannot be misunderstanding without the very real possibility of tragedy. But I am still alive.
There have been four wrecks since 1979 and I’ve managed to walk away from all of them without serious injury. The last was in 2013 and because I was doing Yoga three times a week I wasn’t even sore.
A friend of mine, a lifelong friend of mine, died in 2013. Smoking finally caught up to him, as we all knew it would, and back in 1985 he told me he thought he would live longer than he would. We talked about that, even when he was going through chemo and radiation and all of that stuff, he never truly gave up the idea he might beat it. It’s hard to grasp the ending of life and I thought I had made peace with it decades ago but I realized when my friend died that I hadn’t. Or maybe I’m more willing to let go of my own life than anyone else’s. I can deal with my own death because I don’t have to but losing someone else is a lot harder.
A car crash took the lives of five young men I knew back in 1980. It was a strange thing, really, for five people to die at once, that quickly, and I didn’t even know about it until after the funerals. A log truck driven by a man with a history of seizures crossed over into their lane and in whatever time it takes for two vehicles to slam into one another was how long it took for five lives to end. Hopes and dreams, loves and memories, bodies and souls, all of that was gone in less than a second. I still remember my sister calling and telling me about it.
Of course, back when no one thought I was going to live long enough to be able to see twenty-one, I didn’t have a niece of a nephew, and neither of my sisters had been married. It would take another twenty-two years before I would get married and that ended poorly, but we both lived through it. No one saw me joining the Army, surviving that, and no one ever thought I would live to see thirty, or forty, or, damn, fifty.
Yet I am still here.
Do they ever wonder, those people who saw me carried out of class in High School, limp as a wet rag and unconscious, did they ever stop and wonder that perhaps even as large of a wreck as I might have been, that even at that very moment, I was outliving them? They colored inside of the lines, showed up for class, studied hard, went to church, and now, forty years later, I’m still here. How does this sort of thing happen? How did life not punish someone who lived on the edge for that long? I hitchhiked across country, smoked more pot than any other two people in High School, drank like a fish, lived in terrible neighborhoods, caught venomous snakes barehanded, and dated redheads.
How the hell am I still alive?
The simple truth is life is filled with chances to die every day. Some people are lucky and some people are not. I’ve been lucky to the extreme and some people die young for no good reason. For all my addictions and habits I have pretty much lived a quiet life for the last twenty-five years or so. I’ve rescued dogs and one or two humans. I’ve read more than any two people back in High School and I’m pretty sure I’ve written more than anyone else who ever knew me. I think at this age I’ve pretty much outlived all the bitter old women who tormented me in grade school. They’ve torn down that building that I regarded as a prison. I meet people who tell me that High School was the best four years of their lives and I can only pity them for that.
It’s odd, really, being fifty-five. It’s like being in a place I had no idea I was going, didn’t want to be there, but here I am. There’s a good half dozen or so people I would like to speak with before I die and I would like to ask them was it worth it, to live by the rules, and to not do the things that Mike did, and to spend a life in the same small town waiting to join the rest of the family in the same grave plot, I mean, really?
I do not feel fifty-five. I feel as if there are more rules to be broken, more excess to be explored, and more memories to be made. I feel a certain kinship with that kid back in High School where everyone was sure he was going to die, just because he lived.
You are all going to die anyway, bitches.
You might as well live.