“DYING – A DRESS REHEARSAL”

December 24, 2009 – 1:50 a.m.
“What sadist numbered these highways so that they all end in 80? Six-80. Eight-80. Five-80. Nine-80. Just plain stupid 80 all by itself. It’s a miracle more idiots don’t end up in Oregon or Mexico. Aw shit. Crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco is NOT what I wanted. Where the hell am I going to make a u-turn?

Where are all these cars coming from? Why aren’t these people home? It’s late. It’s almost Christmas. People should be home, getting their beauty sleep so they have the energy to do their last minute shopping tomorrow and spend all kinds of money they don’t have on presents for people they couldn’t give one shit about.

Ugh. I’m so wasted. I shouldn’t be driving. ‘Good thing no one’s with me. This car is a joke. It’s got no “cojones.” I should have taken the Porsche. Dad would never allow it. And he’d have my head if I took the Porsche without his OK.

God, the San Francisco skyline looks like it was made with an Etch-A-Sketch. Actually, the view from this bridge is stunning. No wonder poems and songs and books and whole movies are about this city. OK, it was worth it to get so completely lost that I’m heading into San Francisco instead of staying on my side of the bay. I love it here. I love living in California. Thank you Mamacita and Daddy-o.

It’s a good thing Dad’s got FastTrack in this car; I don’t have any cash. What do the toll police do to you if you don’t have FastTrack and don’t have cash or a credit card or a check? Do they let you over the bridge? Or do they make you turn around and go back to the ghetto, I mean: Oakland? Or is there some sort of bridge jail you’re locked in till someone bails you out? What if it’s an emergency? Like, “I have to get over the bridge; my wife’s having a baby!” No such luck.

Where the fuck can I turn around? How did I get so lost? God I’m tired. I should probably pull over and take a nap. But napping on the bridge is probably not a good idea. The last thing I need is some cop checking me out, smelling my breath, and sending me back to the slammer.

I wonder how fast I’m driving. It feels fast. 45 mph. That’s not bad. Maybe I’m not as drunk as I think I am.

It was good to see all my peeps. It just bums me out that they’re all going to schools they love when I can’t fucking stand where I am. I mean it’s UC-fucking-Davis. I’d love to live in the middle of nowhere and grow my own crops and shit, but I don’t want to be a UC-fucking-Davis agriculture conglomerate-type for crying out loud. That’s not why I’m there. I’m there because that’s what I could muster with my checkered past. All those other posher UCs weren’t gonna take me. No way.

Hmmm. What a night. I wouldn’t have minded getting laid. God. I can’t even go to a party and get laid any more. I’m losing it. Losing the Julian charm. Maybe I just got too wasted. But shit. Everyone was wasted. Who bought all that alcohol? If you ask me (and nobody has), our access to alcohol is pathetically un-checked. I mean we grew up in homes that had the finest and most expensive shit. Not that our parents were lushes. OK some of them were. Are. But not all of them. They just had nice shit. They could afford it. They enjoyed it. And because they had it, their kids had it. And now we’ve all become snobbish, practically pickled uppity-ups and and muckity-mucks who won’t settle for the cheap shit. It’s a curse growing up in the lap of luxury.

And the drugs. I mean our moms and dads have their own suppliers, uh, excuse me…doctors. Some of those prescription drugs aren’t half bad. And if their stash is low, they’ve always got cash handy. Easy access, man. Way too easy.

Where am I now? Can I turn around? Thank God. Back to the East Bay. I need to get to Moraga. How do I get there? Which damn fucking-80 freeway do I take? These signs are very confusing. Where am I going? Oh no. Heading to Oakland. Wrong way. Now what? I refuse to drive through the middle of that war zone at this time of night. Safer to stay on the freeway.

I need a compass. I don’t even know what direction I’m driving in. The sign says South. South? I want to be going east, don’t I?

Keep your eyes open, Julian. Don’t fall asleep. Just keep driving. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” Who said that? Oh yeah, the Ellen DeGeneres fish in “Finding Nemo.” God, I can’t believe my mother still has a copy of that movie and watches it. She plays it for the dog. I swear. Although I think that’s her girlfriend’s fault. Fucking girlfriend. Fucking everybody. My mother’s a dyke. My father hates me. My college sucks. I’m driving a Civic. I don’t know how to get home. I couldn’t get laid. My life sucks.

It was good to see Nadine though. God, she’s awesome. She cracks me up. Nadine’s like the only girl/person/friend that I wouldn’t dare fuck. She’s too awesome. She’s too good a friend. And you don’t fuck your friends. Because then it gets all fucked up.

Castro Valley? Holy shit! How did I get here? I gotta get over to the left. I gotta make a left (which is east, right?) so I can make another left and head north up 680. If I can just get to 680, then I’ll know where I am. Jesus, if this wasn’t so fucking sad it would be hysterical. I’m driving in one big gi-normous circle!

I’m gonna have to write about this night. Am I too fucked up to remember it? I hope not. I wish I had a recording device. Does my phone do that? I don’t think so. “Don’t look at your phone, Julian; you’ll drive into something.” Maybe I can call someone and talk to them about it and then they can remind me. Except that it’s 1:30 on Christmas Eve morning. No one wants to talk to me. They’re all too wasted or already asleep.

That’s what I gotta be soon. Asleep. I can’t wait to get into my bed. I’m gonna have to be a quiet little mouse when I get home. Dad’s gonna have a fucking shit fit if he sees how wasted I am. Even my lawyer would kill me. My probation officer, on the other hand, would throw a party. He’d be jumping up and down for joy so hard he’d piss himself. That bastard just wants my balls in a vice. Asshole.

God, I hate being 19. Twenty-one can’t come fast enough. At least I can get shitfaced legally then. Another year and some change. I hate being younger than everyone I know. Fucking skipping a grade. Whose genius idea was that anyway? Mom’s? Dad’s? They must have thought that because they skipped grades, what was good for them would be good for me? Parent have this faulty logic all the time.

Ahh, 680. Now we’re talkin’. I love 680. There’re hardly any cars on the road. I can zip, zip and I’ll be home before I know it. I wonder how fast this car will go. “Don’t do it.” I may be fucked up, but I’m not gonna try that. With my luck, the highway patrol is watching for idiots like me tonight. I wanna get home fast. But I don’t wanna draw attention. When you draw attention, your ass is grass. “Ass is grass.” That’s funny. It makes no sense. But it’s funny.

I’m getting off 680. Surface roads will force me to go slower. Danville Boulevard will do the trick. Danville. Dee’s house used to be around here. Fucking Dee. Stepmothers. Mothers are bad enough. Then they had to go and invent stepmothers. Parents should just stay married. Even if they hate each other. It would be better than having to deal with step-people.

Where am I now? Is that a curve up ahead? It looks like it goes nowhere if I turn, like I’d drive right into the side of the freeway if I turn, but it doesn’t look like it goes straight either. I can’t see it very well. Is there an embankment? This street could use some more light. Oh shit! I need to turn. I’m going too fast for this turn. Slow down, slow down!

2:13 a.m.
Jesus, my neck hurts like hell. Why can’t I move? Where am I? More important, which way is up? It feels like I’m hanging sideways. My head is throbbing. There is something straining against my neck. My seatbelt. It’s holding me in place, but it’s choking me like a motherfucker. My right butt cheek, the whole weight of me, really, is pressing into the damn seatbelt buckle on my right. That’s gonna leave a bruise.

It’s dark. Everything looks fuzzy. There’s a lot of glass. Little, sparkly jewel-like chunks decorate my hands, my bloody hands. With all the glass and blood, why don’t my hands hurt?

Then everything goes black.

Eight Minutes Later
I’m standing in some dirt. It’s a little muddy. It’s been raining. December in northern California: wet season, green season. Lush hillsides and mountains. I don’t want to slip in the mud. I’m gonna lean against this palm tree. This odd palm tree that’s really short and thick, unlike those tall breezy palm trees I’m used to. This palm tree needs to go on a diet.

What’s that sound? Cars whooshing on the freeway above me.

It’s very dark out. There’s a mangled mess of metal in front of me. The mangled mess looks like it could be a car. The car looks vaguely familiar, but it’s lying on its side. I’m standing behind the car. I can see the back of someone’s head through the rear window. Someone is in the driver’s seat. I try looking in from another angle to see inside the car, and see who it is inside the car. “It’s some guy.” But the mangled metal, this car on its side – how did it get on its side? – I’m confused.

I walk to the front of the car and try to look through the windshield, which is buckled and cracked so badly I can’t actually see through it. I can make out the shape of the driver a little better from this angle. The guy looks like someone I know. The guy’s hanging sideways. I tilt my head sideways to help make sense of what I’m looking at. The guy has his seatbelt on. It’s cutting into the guy’s neck. Nobody else is in the car. I feel oddly reassured by this. The guy is definitely unconscious. “Hey! Guy! Wake up!” I yell at the guy. It bugs me, not knowing who the guy is. Like I should know.

I walk around to the side (which is actually the bottom of the car) and try to climb up so I can get a look at the guy through the driver’s window (which is facing up towards the sky). But I can’t get a good grip on anything. I step on something hard. It’s a cell phone on the ground next to the car. I recognize the phone. Because it’s MY phone.

I run around to the front of the car again. I look through the windshield and strain harder this time to recognize the guy. And then it hits me: I am the guy. What’s happening? I’m not ready for this. “Julian! Wake up! Wake up man! Don’t die here. Not like this. Not now.” And then I scream as loud as I can at the top of my lungs, “JULIAN! WAKE THE FUCK UP!!!”

3:17 a.m.
Someone’s touching me. A small piece of cold metal being pressed against my chest. Here and then there. Someone’s voice reports, “I’ve got a pulse. He’s breathing.”

“Get your fucking hands off of me!” I am still hanging sideways. I feel cold air above me, like a door has been left open and a cold draft is blowing directly on my head. I know I have to get upright, my head above my ass, so that my head will stop throbbing. I hear voices shouting orders all around me. I want them to be quiet. All the yelling is making my head throb even more.

Someone releases my seatbelt and it feels like there are many sets of hands holding me in place so that gravity won’t pull me towards the passenger side of the car. Someone touches me where it hurts. “Fucking leave me alone!” My words are slurred. I flail my arms. It’s possible I hit someone.

“I’m gonna bet this one’s got an alcohol level that’s through the roof,” someone I can’t see is hazarding a guess.

“Yeah, asshole. That’s fucking right. I’m shitfaced. So-the-fuck-what?” They pull me out of the car through an opening where the car’s roof used to be. They must have sawed it off. I don’t remember that. I should remember that. It would have been loud and it would have taken a while. But I have no recollection. I wonder how long I’ve been unconscious.

They settle me onto a stretcher and strap my head down. Someone is shining an annoying flashlight into my pupils. They’re saying numbers to each other. Numbers that don’t mean anything to me. Medical numbers. And then something about a tow truck. “No one’s ever going to drive that thing again.”

For an instant I realize I’m actually alive. Still. Because it felt – at some point earlier – like maybe I crossed over? But how the hell is that possible? My mind is playing fucking games with me.

And then it’s dark. Again.

Noon
Already, several hospital staff have told me I am, and I quote, “Lucky to be alive.” No broken bones. No stitches necessary. No internal bleeding – as far as they can tell so far. No surgery required. A concussion. That’s it. So unimaginative: a lousy concussion. The car sped up an embankment, did a backwards somersault, and hit a palm tree which caused the car to roll sideways further down the embankment making its final landing on the passenger side.

My hands are bandaged. I vaguely remember glass and blood. But I don’t remember the accident itself. One of the doctors tells me this is one of the brain’s defense mechanisms. I can’t remember because it’s best for my health to not remember. A psychiatrist checks in on me and asks if I was trying to kill myself. I genuinely can’t remember, so I just say, “Yes.” They 5150 me, meaning I’m on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. I’m going to spend Christmas in the hospital. Fucking brilliant.

Mom and Dad have come and gone. They both look tired and distraught. I feel bad, but I know that I can’t say anything to them that’s going to make what they’re going through any better. I won’t promise to never do this again. I know better. They know better.

My whole body aches, but in a foggy kind of way. Must be the morphine. For someone with an addictive history, morphine probably isn’t a great idea. But I’m not going to sound any alarms. Opiates or pain? Hmmm. How is that even a real choice?

While Mom visits, I’m overcome by an intense wave of nausea, but my body won’t cooperate. Just wave after wave of nausea and dizziness and no throwing up. This is the most hung over I’ve ever been, and the nausea lasts for over an hour. Mom tries to massage my feet. But any touch only triggers more dizziness. I know she means well, but she’s making it worse. I groan and sway back and forth on my hospital bed. And then there’s a cold sweat, and my head wants to explode. Although my brain was jostled a bit as a result of the car’s impact, I know that most of this headache is the fault of massive amounts of alcohol consumed the night before. I never throw up, but the misery finally passes.

I wonder whether I’m going to be arrested right there in the hospital. I was driving drunk. I’m too young to be drinking legally, and I was too drunk to be driving legally. Plus, I’ve managed to commit a probation violation of serious magnitude. Will they even let me go home first? Will they handcuff me to my hospital bed? Will I be able to go back to UC Davis? Have I finally, permanently screwed things up? My parents aren’t sure. The good news is that I’ve already been in the hospital for 12 hours, with no sign of law enforcement. Tomorrow is Christmas, a Saturday, so chances are nothing official is going to happen until Monday.

My attorney calls and assures me the DUI could take weeks, even months, to process. He suggests the following: “Take care of yourself, get better, let me do the worrying; it’s what your parents pay me for.” I’ve got some breathing room. Not going back to jail right away is good news. But there’s a sense of impending doom, as if an axe is poised above my neck mid-swing, and could fall with deadly force at any moment.

“Merry Christmas to me,” I think to myself. Nothing about this feels like the holidays, but then I notice the bowl on my dinner tray with little cubes of green and red Jell-o. It’s lame, but it’s something.

[Author’s Note: People’s names have been changed and, in the pure sense, this story is fiction. The accident described above really happened, although what was going on in Julian’s head beforehand is anyone’s guess. His blood alcohol level put him at well beyond legally intoxicated. His only injuries were cuts and abrasions on his hands, and a concussion. The car wasn’t so lucky…

A Mangled Mess of Metal
A Mangled Mess of Metal

The irony of surviving this accident is that Julian died by suicide less than six months later. Some research has shown a link between concussion and depression. Although Julian had been battling depression for years, there is no way to know whether the concussion exacerbated his condition. If you are curious, there are several articles about the link between concussion and depression/suicide. Just Google: “link between concussion and suicide” for more on this subject.]

Go to: www.aa.org for support with alcohol abuse and addiction.

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