From the Editor: On Mortality and Borrowed Time
The other night, in Uptown, I parked my car, ran across the street (northbound traffic was at a standstill; I couldn’t see any oncoming traffic in the other lanes), and was almost run down by a southbound Lexus. Like, I felt its slipstream whip the back of my flannel. A reckless and thoughtless move, to be sure.
I started to think about mortality and all the gravely stupid, adrenaline-seeking decisions I’ve made in my adult life—a time when those mistakes are supposed to have been left behind.
The last time I almost died, I’d just moved to L.A. I went swimming with some friends up in San Francisquito Canyon, and brought Gizmo, my Chihuahua, along. We spent some time pulling jackknifes and backflips off the ten-foot cliff into what was presumably the popular swimming hole. Then an elderly man, knobby and tan as smoked meat, approached and pointed downriver, to a “more exciting cliff.” This turned out to be an 80-foot drop into a pool surrounded by swells of bedrock. Two teenage boys were sunbathing on its banks below.
“No goddamn way” seemed to be the consensus among our group, rubbernecking over the cliff’s edge. Call it ego, hubris, or some kind of new-kid-in-town brinksmanship, but, with a cavalier shrug, I handed Gizmo to somebody and took a deep breath.
This is what happens when you get knocked out: In the event of a closed-head injury (as opposed to the much-worse-sounding open-head injury), the brain breaches the subarachnoid space and violently collides with the skull. This results in a cerebral contusion, or bruised brain, beginning a neurochemical reaction that causes degeneration in white and gray matter, not to mention frontotemporolimbic damage and cerebral atrophy. To boot, the neural axons—threadlike nerve fibers linking various parts of the brain to the rest of the body—get stretched and injured, throwing bodily communications out of whack. This is all way worse, though, when it’s happening underwater.
According to the other members of my group, who were thus scrambling down the mountainside’s hogback with Gizmo in tow, the first teenage boy dove after me when I didn’t resurface. After some time, he reappeared and hollered, “I can’t find him!” Then the other boy dove in, and pulled my body ashore by the ankles. I woke up to this terrified kid giving me mouth-to-mouth.
I said, “Where’s Gizmo?”
The kid blinked at me, winded.
“You jumped, man,” he said.
I shaded my eyes and followed his finger. I said, “That’s high.”
On the drive home, we stopped at my first In-N-Out Burger, in San Fernando, but I was in too much pain to eat. In the days following, my face was bruised in such a way that it looked underlit by flashlight.
I think about that sometimes, when I’m feeling down or unmotivated, and how I’m basically living on borrowed time. This time is a gift, and when I remember that after one simple, stupid decision it could be taken from me, just like that, I feel a meditative calm, like the present moment—through all the pollution of my day—finally shows itself.