Thursday, February the 13th, 1992. My skiing accident. The members of the ski team who had qualified for Regionals had taken the day off from school to practice at Mt. Holly. I'd never skied Mt. Holly before, but like any ski hill in the Lower Peninsula, "Mountain" is a misnomer. Rumor has it that most are old landfills--Mount Trashmores.
I don't really know what happened. The details below are what I think I remember or what I was told later. I have no memory of the event. Maybe Nathan Ballard knows, since we were skiing together at the time. I imagine there was some glare on the snow, or shadows--during certain lighting conditions, the snow flattens out and it can be difficult to see. Maybe I was hot-dogging. I doubt it, but it's possible. Ballard was such a cocky kid--a good racer, but so young and inconsistent. He'd either finish in the top 10 or he'd DQ. It's possible I was hot-dogging, trying to show off.
At any rate, I skied off a cliff.
OK, I don't know if cliff is an exaggeration or not. Like I said, I have no recollection of the event. Needless to say, there was a vertical drop of some height, a drastic and unexpected change in elevation. One minute, I was skiing. The next minute--or several minutes, depending on how long I was unconscious--I was looking up at a bunch of concerned faces, including my ski coach. He told me there was so much blood on the snow he'd wanted to take a picture.
I went to the hospital and stayed the night for observation. I was supposed to take Angie Salstrom to the Valentine's dance. Tom O'Dougherty was taking Sarah Smith, and I was taking Angie Salstrom, we were all going together. I called her from the hospital and said something like, "Srmph, cnmt dmnce. Accdsmt." I don't recall if I got my point across or if someone else took over the talking for me.
I wasn't allowed to go to sleep, because I had a concussion. Many x-rays were taken of my head and neck. My nose was broken. My lips were the size of golf balls. The metal edge of one of my skis, which I sharpened before every race, had sliced into my face at an angle, just underneath my nose and just outside my left eye.
All in all, I was very lucky. It could have been much, much worse. I could be dead. I could be paralyzed. I could have brain damage.
Jim Colondo, my creative writing teacher, had the entire class make Valentine's Day cards on red construction paper for me the following day. I still have them, somewhere in my parents' house. How else could I have acquired a Valentine's Day card from a roomful of 17-and-18-year-olds, including Jomo Grady, of all people? I think Matt Collar, in his card, told me that the broken nose would make me look tough, like Brando or De Niro.
Stacy Walker sent me an FTD arrangement in a coffee mug with balloons printed on it.
Angie and Sarah, and probably others, came to visit me at home. Maybe Amanda Jones came to visit. I looked terrible. I looked like freshly-ground hamburger. I couldn't close my mouth all the way. I had handkerchief with me at all times to dab away the drool. Amanda and I had a date not long after--well, more like a sympathy date, I think she was already dating Zach Chartkoff at the time--to have dinner at Beggar's Banquet and see the opera at the Wharton Center. (Dr. Graeber, our English teacher, had surely put us up to the opera.) I'm sorry that she had to sit across from me as I tried my best to eat with dignity.
There was a tremendous amount of care and concern for me, far beyond what I would reasonably have expected. If I'd had any insight about anything important at the time, I think I would have realized that I had real and close friends. It should have been a humbling experience.
Although I hadn't trained since the accident, I skied again at the Regional meet. I think I was a little more reserved than usual. The conditions were icy, and many stronger skiers than I DQ'd that day. I did not, perhaps because I held back just a little. I missed qualifying for States in slalom by one or two places. Maybe if I'd skied more aggressively--balls out as we used to say, or shin it to win it--I could have made States. Or maybe I would have DQ'd like so many of the others.
Eventually, things started to heal. A couple weeks later, I looked normal. I thought I would always have the scars, but they are hardly visible now. I can still see the one under my nose right after I shave. The one next to my eye blends in with my crow's feet. My nose was crooked, but not so crooked that the doctors felt the need to cause me more pain by re-setting it. It's probably less-crooked now, after Drew Hudson punched me later that year and broke it again. I think he actually straightened it.
Somehow, I made it through the disaster relatively unscathed.
All the recent news stories about high school athletes and concussions do make me wonder if, possibly, that trauma may have influenced my behavior in the following year or so. That and the over 100 head x-rays I had that year. I did quite a few things that I was not proud of around that time. Maybe most of us do at that age, but I think I exceeded my quota. Perhaps it's wishful thinking to blame it on a concussion, indulging in a little post post post hoc denial of responsibility.
One of the head x-rays was taken from the same point-of-view as the Ministry A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste album cover, and become a decorative element in the apartment Sunil and Stephanie and I shared in 1994, taped over a lampshade. I don't know where the x-rays ended up. It looked cool, sure--but for me it was also a reminder of fates I had avoided.
When my brother Ben and I were skiing at Heavenly, at Lake Tahoe, some years later, we looked for the run where Sonny Bono met his demise. Orion. It was closed that day. A blue-square, or intermediate-level, run. We did not know it at the time, but he hadn't been skiing on the trail--he'd been skiing through the woods, "glade skiing", an expert-only, you'd best be sure you know damned-well what you're doing activity. The same thing Ben and I had been doing all day on the Nevada side of the resort. If you miss a turn, there's a rock or a tree waiting for you. Snow-snakes.
It's a marvel I am alive.