Near Death, Vol 2

Okay. I’m very very sorry that I haven’t updated since last year. I really had been rather busy working on a zine (Litmus Test issue #1 coming out at the end of March). But it is rather unforgivable that I should neglect my blog to such a degree.

So here is an update, another funny story about a time I nearly died.

When I was 16 years old, I had long ugly hair, a terrible fashion sense, an irrational temper, and an inferiority complex that would embarrass Napoleon Bonaparte. I also had a girlfriend who – for one reason or another – was always causing me to storm off in a juvenile temper tantrum. Usually the situation ran something like this: we’d be at a party, or some get-together of friends, and I would perceive — rightly or wrongly — that Megan was flirting, I would sulk and when she refused to notice my sulking, I would make a scene of storming out and walking home, sometimes in the rain, other times in the snow, usually over distances of over three or four miles. Such was the pattern of our relationship.

Well, shortly after I turned 17 without shedding any of the accoutrements from the aforementioned list, my life was in total disarray. My Father was dying of cancer, my relationship was an all time “storming out of places” high and at the end of October I agreed to go on a trip with my girlfriend and our counterpart couple to hike to the top of a mountain. For some reason I was really excited to hike this mountain, in hindsight I realize my folly, which was that when you are the kind of guy who storms out of places over petty arguments with your girlfriend, you never want to position yourself — with your girlfriend — in a place that is inconvenient or even dangerous to storm out of. (this is what we in the literary world call “foreshadowing”)

So we hiked the mountain, all the way to the top. Here’s a new fact to keep in mind: my entire life my biggest fear has been heights. A fear of heights however is an interesting and complex fear, because it relies on your very human and very flawed ability to mentally calibrate where exactly “the ground” ends and “heights” begins. For example, you could right now be sitting on ground that is – geographically speaking – very high above sea level, but you perceive yourself as being on “the ground”. When I hike a mountain, my vertigo doesn’t set in because I perceive myself as being on “the ground”. But move to the edge of a plateau or cliff-ish rock formation and I’m Rubberlegs McGee, even though the change was a purely horizontal one. Make sense?

Well, when the five of us (me and my girlfriend, my friend and his girlfriend, and my friend’s mother and youth minister from our church who had driven us) reached the top of the mountain, we were doing the majesty of nature euphoric survey of the landscape when the other couple and my girlfriend climbed a narrow sort of rock formation that to me seemed like the difference between solid ground and being in a crashing airplane, even though the actual vertical distance was only maybe six or seven feet.

I stood at the bottom and pleaded with my girlfriend briefly to come down and join me because I was too afraid to climb up to meet her. She refused and I stormed off.

Storming off on a mountain however is not like storming out of a house party or a target or a movie theatre, in that storming off a mountain is a confusing and dangerous undertaking for someone who has never in his life been in anything resembling wilderness. In my rage I wandered off the clearly marked trail and ran off down the steep mountain into the forest. I was walking for a couple of hours before it dawned on me that not only was I not headed back toward the touristy parking lot campground area side of the mountain, I was in fact heading toward an area where animals lived. Not animals like I perceive animals — “animals” in my life being synonymous with either “pets” or “possums” — but wild animals, animals who have never been taught the hierarchy of humans over non-humans, animals that don’t know the rules, animals that could conceivably kill me.

When I realized this, every log looked like a bear, every twig looked like a snake, every leaf looked like some bloodthirsty owl waiting for the sun to go down so it could rip my eyes out of my face. I calmly decided that I couldn’t really be that far from the trail, so I called out a cautious “HELLO!” and received no answer but my own echo. I trudged on a bit further “HELLO!?! HELP!!” After another ten minutes of wandering in the absolute wrong direction, I stopped to ponder the hopelessness of my situation and glanced down and saw a snake. And this wasn’t a figment of my imagination twigsnake, it was a real, honest to god water moccasin. I was well within its striking distance (1/3 the length of its body, thanks National Geographic!) and it had not yet, as it were, struck.

My heart was beating as fast as…..well as something really fast, but my initial three steps backward were so slow that I could have tricked the motion detectors in that really tense scene in the first Mission Impossible movie. After that I sprinted back whence I came as fast as….damn I’m no good with similes tonight. Needless to say I ran like man who fears for his life.

My initial hope had been to find a way back to the parking lot area by wandering aimlessly in the wilderness like a fool. My near-death at the fangs of my mortal enemy the water moccasin had opened my eyes to the fact that the only way for me to return to where I came would be to ascend the mountain once again and get to the very top where I could regain the trail. When I reached the top I ran into an outdoors-ey nature type hiker lady who helped me to identify the snake as a water moccasin and accompanied me while I followed the trail back to the parking lot area.

I was just getting to the bottom of the mountain when I encountered my friend’s mother who had only just then begun to re-hike the mountain to search for me. It is a telling fact about this story that I was gone for over five hours before the search for me had even begun, and it was my friend’s mother, and not my girlfriend or friends who went to look for me. I was in a sad emotional state, sweaty, exhausted, weak, terrified, and crying when I finally got back into the car. No one had really been worried about me.

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