A true story as first told in 1956 by the person whose story it is and who prefers to remain anonymous.
(“What the…..Why is it so hot in here? It’s so damned hot I can’t sleep. What was I dreaming about? Damn it all to hell, shit. Sumbitch..
Shit, shit , shit, shit, shit.
I’m on fire!.”)
He opened his eyes. He was covered with ripped and torn pages of newspapers and magazines all of which were burning; the scraps of paper were ablaze, his jumpsuit was afire, he was on fire.
He rose from his bunk, twirling, whirling, spinning around like a maddened dervish, pounding out flames, slapping his chest, stomping on the still burning pages, cursing as his seven noisy bunkmates yelled with laughter, mimicking their angered, vociferous victim as they had done at other fun times in previous siestas.
On his last spin his right foot connected with Cherry’s chin and the laughter stopped.
“What happened then? This Cherry fellow must have really been annoyed” I remarked.
“You got that right; within seconds both my arms were being pinned behind me by Cherry’s thugs. Within minutes I was being represented by a cellmate as Cherry himself conducted a kangaroo court.
There wasn’t actually a court; one of Cherry’s goons read the charge of malicious personal injury to our self-elected cell boss and stated that these charges could be reversed in hand-to-hand combat. If I could physically overcome the warrior of Cherry’s Choice in a battle for limited freedom and possibly for my life, they would quit harassing me.
Cherry declared himself as my opponent. We would spar during the evening meal which always took place in a larger cell referred to as the Day Room. There were three full cells in this cellbloc which held eight occupants each. I would have an audience of 31 inmates.
How could I do this? My hands were nearly useless. At least Cherry had a sore jaw which would help to even things up.
I’d been in a similar situation in a previous jail where I had been charged with loitering. Had it not been for the results of my participation in a one-on-one struggle for possession of my shoes, a contest in which justice had prevailed at the expense of my attacker’s consciousness, I would have been free by now. As it happened, a new charge would free me from the city jail only to find myself behind county bars; had I surrendered my shoes I would have served a scant week or more after which I would have been free. As it was I had already spent three months awaiting trial on new charges.
With the help of a couple of sympathizers my hands were wrapped in towels, though I realized that the cotton protection would be of little use; I needed an alternate plan.
As we were being transferred to the larger room I decided not to wait until after dinner and went back over my plan. As soon as we had been served and the trustees were gone I would charge with my feet. And I did.
As my left foot connected with Cherry’s patella my adversary shouted at the pain in his injured kneecap and fell to the floor. My moment of triumph was quickly interrupted however by those members of Cherry’s enterage who had apparently formulated some alternative plans of their own. From the left I detected a sneak attack in progress. I whirled around to meet two new opponents and kicked the one on the left in the mouth; as he went down I grappled with his partner. Unable to use my hands I remembered some advice from a cellmate, ‘if you can’t use your hands, use your feet; if you’re too close to use your feet, use your teeth.’ And I dined on a greasy earlobe.”
Wresting the grisly gob of human flesh from its owner, the young warrior spat it out. At that point the room became a cacophony of troubled screams and multiple blows to his head and body. As he went down he described his head being stomped on and kicked about.
On the following day he awoke in a hospital bed. A nurse explained that he had been unconscious for 27 hours.
“What day is this?” he asked.
“Today is Christmas.” Came the reply. “You have two Christmas presents.”
“Where are they?”
“First, let me show you what you look like” replied the lady in the nurse’s cap and she held a mirror to his face.
“So, what did you look like” I asked. “That was only a year ago. You look fine now”.
“I gasped. My heart sank. What I saw in that mirror was a badly beaten stranger; all my features were so swollen that I recognized only my hair. The nurse lady with the mirror informed me that the skin was not broken and that no stitches had been taken.
I continued to look at the stranger in the mirror, looking for something familiar. Eventually I asked for my Christmas presents.”
“You already have them” she told me. “For one thing, you’re still alive and secondly you’re being released on your own recognizance. Your parents will be here to take you home tomorrow morning. Merry Christmas.”
Letter to a friend.
I met some pals of mine for dinner last evening and after being seated, I started a “Thanks for the memories” kinda thing. Frank said to me “Lee, you never talk about stuff like this; what gives?” I told him that since the accident I had discovered that I was afraid to drive again and that when I wrote yesterday’s post I found myself reviewing the past and wondering about the future and asked Frank if that stirred anything in his mind and the stories began to fly between Lee and Frank and John and Rob..
We usually meet at 6:00 PM on Wednesday evenings; we eat, we kid each other, we go to a fellowship meeting at seven. Last night we missed most of the meeting. Our gabfest was wonderful.
When bedtime came I skipped the painkillers and muscle relaxants and eased myself into bed. At 2:00 AM I awoke in agony. I couldn’t stop the pain. I called family member Betty who helped me to calm down emotionally and then called John and told him what was happening; he asked if I wanted to go to a hospital. “NOOOO” I screamed, “they’ll stick me in a bed which will be more painful.” And John began to talk.
By 3:30 I was calm and pain free. Later this morning I heard from Steve. I had called him during his family trip to Maui last weekend and interrupted a family event; he and his brother were preparing to kayak out to visit a dolphin family. We had discussed gratitude and the affect that the accident had on the subject.
It was good to hear back from him. We spoke again of friends and family and I told him of my talk with John. As we parted company we discussed our families and the opportunity to share with others and yes I would look forward to his open house this coming weekend..
I’m using this day to prepare for court and I will join the dozens of family members later this evening who are currently gobbling turkey and enjoying each other’s company. We will visit over tea and leftover pie.
Am I grateful?
For the near miss on the fifteenth of this month when my head converted a car window to crumbs, emerging with a cut 1/16th of an inch from the outer carotid?
Or the cut near my right eye; the one which restored 20/20 vision to an orb that was nearly blind, earlier this year?
Or the strangers who gathered around the cab of my truck after the accident and kept me posted on injuries and blood loss till the trauma team arrived?
Or the trauma team?
And why am I grateful for these things?
Perhaps for a chance to get to know and love the new members of my rapidly growing family?
Or for the opportunities to serve those who are not feeling grateful right now?
Or for another few walks on those canals where I ran thousands of miles in younger years, remembering……..?