You Have Earned A Free Life

For something as precious as consciousness, I don’t remember losing it. I remember having it. Then, I remember sitting on a guard rail, wondering how I could be sitting on a guard rail when the last thing I remember was driving 50mph on the highway. This one is a tale of confusion, awakening, and self-discovery. I invite you to discover part of yourself as you share my journey through the darkness.

There are moments that influence us, moments that shape us, moments that shake us to the core. At the upper end, it’s the butterflies before that first kiss or the uncertainty of pitching that next big deal to investors. At the lower end, it’s the pavement in your face and the smell of the airbag. I could easily envision myself with less confusion trying to re-attach limbs blown off by a land mine. That landscape somehow makes more sense than the facts. That is a social contract I can understand.

Soldier loses arm in land mine tragedy.

That is a headline I’ve grown all too familiar with reading. I can wrap my head around the broad strokes of war and Hollywood has taught me to appreciate its subtleties. But this one is just unreal:

Citizen wrecks car on highway, has no memory of incident.

The arrest report claims alcohol was involved. That fact is not in dispute. I had consumed more than one alcoholic beverage in the 24hrs leading up to the incident. Nothing illegal about that. I would not knowingly attempt to pilot a vehicle while intoxicated. I clearly remember paying for my tab, walking to the car, leaving the parking lot. All that seems routine. I had been to this same pub every week for months for karaoke on Wednesday. There are plenty of places I could go, but this place is special, and I have not been shy about my affinity for this specific pub. Normally, I stop at Checkers on my way home, around 1am. This time, I remember fighting myself to stop there. I had just eaten some fast food the previous day, so I thought it was better to lay off. This decision may later be debated for its contributory merit, but that’s a discussion for another time. The point is I have clear memory of my state of mind as I drove toward the interstate.

There was another remarkable thing about that trip. I encountered only one red light between the pub and the highway. There are several (4-5, I believe) lights on that stretch of road. It’s very unlikely for all of them to be green, but I specifically remember their being green – all but the last one. I do remember feeling tired as I turned onto the highway. From that point on, it’s anyone’s guess.

The best explanation I can muster, from what little I remember and what the witness testimony states in the police report, is that I fell asleep. I do not remember bouncing off a guard rail. I do not remember veering across two lanes and slamming into the opposite guard rail head-on. I do not remember impact with either guard rail. When they arrested me, I didn’t even realize there had been a crash. I do remember losing my balance during a field sobriety exam and asking if I could start over, as well as the trooper refusing to allow me to do so. I especially remember them kicking my feet out from beneath me and smashing my face into the pavement. I’m very grateful to walk away from the accident that totaled my car, but I’m sad to say that the accident did less damage than the arresting officer did. My wrist was bruised for two weeks after the arrest. My face is still healing, nearly a month after the incident.

I want to be clear about something, set the record straight for the haters who are inevitably reading this, saying “you drove drunk. you desserve it.” Until such time as the court finds me guilty of the charges against me, kindly withhold your judgment. I would give you due process, and I expect you’ll give me the same. If the court finds me guilty, I will endure whatever punishment the state finds appropriate. Whatever the outcome, I am thankful that no one was hurt. Future posts may elaborate on the great lengths I went to in order to prove to myself that I had actually survived the crash. There was great debate in my mind to that end, and the jury is still out.

The most profound lesson in all this is the experience of going to jail. I’ve seen representations of jail in film, but never experienced it first hand. I promise you: it’s not a place you ever want to find yourself. If you value freedom and civil rights as I do, you will learn from my misfortune and take great effort to keep yourself out of jail. If 10hrs is all the time I’ll spend in jail, it’s 10hrs too many. Lesson learned. There’s a coldness to it. It’s not the feeling of over-achieving air conditioning. It’s the loss of self, the vacuum of hope, almost like time doesn’t even move. It doesn’t just suck the heat from your bones. It takes your soul as well. They say there are only two days in prison – the day you get locked up and the day you get released. Those were the same day in my case. The day I spent in prison was more than enough to dissuade me from further dealings with that end of the law. This point is magnified by the fun fact that I spent my birthday in jail, an achievement I never thought I’d unlock.

I like to find the positive in all this. After all, what better birthday present could I ever get than the chance to stay alive? As my grandmother says, at least I woke up on the right side of the dirt today. And I could kiss that dirt from this day onward just for the opportunity to be thankful for it.

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