Thursday, January 30, 2014

Close Call

Ah my nine beautiful lives. I’ve had so many close calls with death and disaster, danger and worse. To clarify, I indeed have a charmed life, but it has not been a cakewalk. Many odd and awful things  have happened to me in this journey called life, things I would fight to the death to prevent from happening to my daughter. But despite the tragedies, there have a million near misses, a million miracles where I was saved from the grasps of death and worse. Here’s one of those stories…

My mother needed us out of the house so my father took me down to Inwood Park to go sledding. I was in fifth or sixth grade. It was a cold icy evening and I was bundled up in my coat and hat and mittens, none of which were enough. We walked down 215th street past Seaman, down towards park. The sled dragged on the salted streets with an unpleasant scraping sound.

My parents were very conservative safe parents. They made sure that we never even considered taking our sleds on the big hill on  Park Terrace West, because if the street at the bottom was icy you could go flying into traffic on Seaman Avenue. There was at least one terrible accident there, one that involved a friend of ours, so we heeded their warnings and stayed  off that hill.

The day was ending as we walked down into the park and got to the top of the hill above the salt-water marshy inlet just below the baseball field. My father lay on the sled and I lay on his back and we flew fast and cold down the slope on a diagonal. Had we gone straight down the hill we would have gone right into the water. There was a low black metal railing around certain parts of the inlet but it was sporadic. My father steered us down the icy hill and we continued to careened along the flat ice-covered walking path at the bottom for a bit till we finally slowed down.

It was fun but cold as hell, maybe better than being home, maybe not. We went together down the hill a few times and then I wanted to go alone. “Just steer to the left,” my father said, as he gave the sled a starter shove. The icy wind off of the water hit my face as I started down the hill, but no matter how hard I turned the steering bar, the sled refused to go left. I did not have much body weight and the sled wasn’t really gripping the snow, instead it was skimming the icy top surface, like an out of control car. I could hear my father yelling to steer but nothing was happening. I was low to the earth, watching helplessly as I was flying over the land  at top speed towards the tangle of plants that defined the waters edge.

S M A S H ! ! ! ! !

The forward motion stopped with a brutal thud. I fell off the sled onto my side. The snow crunched under me and then silence. I lay still unable to speak or move. It was completely dark by now and the street lamps along the park walkways were glowing. I watched my father run towards me, calling to me in a panic, asking if I was ok. Everything seemed to be in slow motion and quiet. I could not move or reply. I will never forget how scared my father looked as he approached me or how relieved he was to see that I was alive. 

I had hit one of the metal railing posts, a random one. Had there been a proper rail with a series of posts there, I might have gone through two posts, might have gotten stuck there on a freezing night and had to wait alone while my father went for help for some one to cut me out. Had there been no rails I might have gone into the water. Had my head taken the impact I am not sure what would have happened. The sled hit the rail first and then my body, so the impact was slightly diminished. Luckily, it was not my head or face that took the brunt of the high-speed collision, but my side.

Miraculously, I wound up with the wind knocked out of me and a badly bruised rib cage, maybe a fracture, but not a break. My father laid me back on the sled and pulled me home over the ice, joking about the hard work to cover his feelings. I laughed a little but it hurt too much so I asked him to stop. I was freezing as he pulled me along, glad to be going back to a warm home.

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