The Tunnel

It’s all gotta start coming together somewhere. Maybe this chapter will explain everything.

Almost spring I think, still cold enough for sleeves, but not too much for a jacket.  Gary, Kenny Hicks, and I had just moved some equipment in the wareroom at Shreveport. Our motel was near I-20 across from the big white steamboat attraction, sitting in a small pond alongside the interstate.

Gary and Kenny were gonna work together that day, and I rode out by myself.  At least I wouldn’t have to split with anybody.  I wanted to head out into the country in search of places to pitch and to see where the road would take me. Before we left the motel room, the three of us burly, redneck, pot smoking, beer drinkers stood in a circle and joined hands in prayer.  We said our morning prayer, gave thanks for our many blessings, asked the Lord to forgive us our sins and those who sin against us.  Then we asked Him to bless us in our endeavors, help us keep our faith, and provide us with the opportunity to prosper.  Last, we asked the Lord if He would see to it that we stay safe and cause no harm today in our travels. After a big “Amen,” we went to work.

To give up and not make a sale, is to show little faith.  Keep working, have faith, don’t quit.

I was headed through the back woods from Shreveport to Marshall, Texas, the hometown of Lady Bird Johnson.  I was driving a Toyota U-haul truck with a load of tools, thinking that I’m gonna find somebody who could use this load of tools and help them get it cheap.

We manufactured our own brochures for the equipment.  We jacked up the price in our catalogues about $12,000.00 total to try to get ‘em to call the boss on the “what” number, the number “what don’t cost no money,” and make him a serial offer, one with a bunch of zeroes behind it.

I can see that the road I’m on is approaching a four way stop sign.  I stop, then I see a big green Oldsmobile cruising toward the intersection coming from my left.  I could tell the driver was a woman, it looked to me like she was slowing down to stop.

Since it was a four way stop and I was the first one into the intersection, I figured I should be the first to leave.  I never figured on what happened next.

I remember now, getting slammed from the jkmn200 (5)left, then from the impact smashing into the passenger door, the lock piercing my shoulder.  The Toyota U-Haul truck I was driving took the full force of that Oldsmobile at about 45 miles an hour. Ouch.

Next thing I remember, I am walking down a dark tunnel toward a bright light. The closer I got, the brighter the light got until it was blinding.  I left the “enclosure” of the tunnel and walked toward the light, then down a winding path. The further I walked away from the light, the dimmer the light got, until the air was hazy or kinda misty.  I walked up to an opening in a wall.  It might have been a gate.  It had walls that were about 4 feet high in the front, taller in the back, surrounding what looked like a waiting area.  Built like a Greco-Roman park, some people were walking around, and others were sitting down.

As I came up to the first group of people sitting at a concrete table, a woman stood up to hold my arm and hug my neck.  “I’m like …who is this woman?”  Then there was a young man standing next to me shaking my hand and clapping my back.  There were two more gentlemen standing in the background.  They all acted as if they were very glad to see me.

My new found friends stood up and kinda corralled me into walking in the same direction as them until we got into a more brightly lit area, closer to the entrance. As I walked into a little semi-enclosed area, there was a tall marble table with a very large book, opened to about the middle pages.  Behind the tables stood a man who had a bright light behind him, so bright I couldn’t see his face, but I could see that he was thumbing through the book, flipping the pages slowly, back and forth, sometimes nodding and sometimes shaking his head.

This guy must be St. Peter, I think now, but he looked a lot like Senator Chuck Schumer.  He lowered his head toward me, and he looked at me through the tops of his eyes and asked me, “What have you got to say for yourself?”

“About what?”  I asked.

He rolled his eyes this time and said, “I want to hear the good and the bad. I want to know if you deserve to be here or not, so tell me your story.”

I replied that I didn’t have a story to tell.  I didn’t remember anything, just walking in a dark tunnel until I saw this light, and here I am.

St. Peter then waved at the four people standing behind me and asked, “What about these people who came up here to stand up for you?”

I looked at them, drawing a blank and said, “No Sir, I don’t know ‘em.”

Then he asked, “What about that crowd of people outside the wall that who came up to speak against you, do you know any of them?”

I just shook my head and said, “No Sir, I don’t.”

This guy musta had some awesome power because he raised a quill feather in his hand and waved it. Instantly, I recognized that the four people who greeted me were my mother and younger brother, my brother-in-law Bug, and my Uncle J.P.  When I looked over at the crowd of people waving arms and making ugly faces, I thought that I saw an ugly face or two that looked familiar.  “Hey, wait a minute, they are supposed to be dead; no they don’t look dead.  What am I?  I’m still here, wherever ‘here’ is.”

The guy that I later figured out to be St. Peter said, “So you don’t remember, huh?”

I said, “Not a thing before walking in here.”

St. Peter said, “Every man should have a right to defend himself.  I want you to remember, from now on, all the good things you did in your life and all the bad things you’ve done, so that the next time I see you, we can talk about your deeds. Understood?”  I asked him if I should be afraid, and he answered, “A man like you, what do you think?”

Then without a word, court was dismissed.  My Mom and brother grabbed me by the hand, with my brother-in-law and my uncle walking on either side of them. We walked toward the tunnel, the five of us, side by side, with the bright light beaming behind us.  We walked slowly toward the tunnel. As we got closer, things got darker.  Mom and Duane were sending me well-wishes telepathically.  Before I could respond, we stepped up to the mouth of the tunnel at the line in the sand between light and darkness. Without notice, they let go of my hands, stopped walking, and disappeared; just faded away. I could feel their love and support for me as I kept walking, telling me that they will be here waiting for me. I entered the dark tunnel, saw a small light at the other end, and walked toward it.

lightnd of tunnl1 (1)

The end of the tunnel turned into an Intensive Care Unit.  I was at the top of the ceiling with my back against it and the wall, looking down on this poor slob who was in the hospital bed, strapped down, head bandaged, with tubes running in his mouth, his nose, and his penis. IVs were coming from everywhere. He even had tubes running from his lungs. I started zeroing in on this poor guy’s bloodied, swollen head with blackened eyes and saw that he was wearing a St. Christopher medallion on a chain, just like I do.

“Hey, that looks like me.”

I woke up. Then there was that bright light again, maybe this time not so bright, but it was shining right in my face, and I could read the word “Westinghouse” on the 6 inch circular bulb about 12 inches from my face.

Nothing, I didn’t remember anything, not a thing,… except visiting with my Mom and my kin, but they had already passed on, and talking to this strange dude about giving me time to remember the things I’ve done.  But then again, all of a sudden, I did remember something.

I remember the EMTs trying to save my life, hearing them say that I was a goner.  They called life flight from the LSU Trauma Center in Shreveport, and the medivac helicopter arrived within a few minutes.  The EMT had me on a stretcher. One of them grabbed my brother’s wallet that was lying on the floorboard.  His driver’s license said “ORGAN DONOR.”  He put it in my shirt pocket. The EMTs put me in a body bag that they partially filled with ice to keep my body cold, so much ice they couldn’t zip it all the way up. I can still feel the chill. I can remember now that they had a hard time zipping it up past my waist. I was thinking to myself, “No, not all the way,” and then the let down I felt once the zipper went past my belt line, thinking they were gonna zip it all the way up and block out the sky. They finally stopped just short of my chin.

They put the body bag in a hand held, wire mesh gurney, strapped to the outside runners of the helicopter.  I can still hear the steady whomp, whomp noise of the rotor blades as they propelled us through the air.  I remember hearing the chatter on the radio and the voices of the two pilots screaming at each other, their faces only a foot apart. The pilot was saying, “Hang on, Buddy,” then asked the EMT, “Is he gonna make it?”

The other guy said, “No, he’s gone.” I knew they had to be talking about somebody else, because I was still right there.

Next thing I remember clearly is what I now figure to be a Catholic priest giving me the last rites. I was lying on an operating table. Bending over me, he touched the rosary beads to my forehead, whispered something in Latin, and made the sign of the cross on my face.

There it was.  I was officially pronounced dead and sent on my way.

Soon after, I was wheeled into the operating room. I remember now hearing someone speak about harvesting my organs, and that they had to hurry.

Seconds later, I can remember hearing someone screaming, “We got a bleeder.”

Now here I am.

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I’m waking up in this body that’s hog-tied to a hospital bed; no more staring down from the ceiling with a bright light behind me. It was now shining in my face until I saw the doctor’s face grinning at me like a jackass.  After he moved the light away, I thought that he looked a lot like the Cheshire Cat in the Alice in Wonderland story.

This guy looked like he was Asian. He wore thick, gold-rimmed glasses and a doctor’s operating skull cap and a gown. He had pulled his mask down before leaning over to say something to me.  He was missing a few bottom teeth, and his breath smelled like fish. I pushed him out of my face, and when I did, the tubes and lines pulled against me, holding me back. I think he could tell I didn’t like him.

The doctor told me that I had been pronounced DOA. I had been given the last rites by a Catholic priest.  He said that because I was listed as an organ donor on my license, they tried to save some of my body parts.  When they cut my spleen to remove it, blood started spurting everywhere, announcing that I was alive. I guess the spurting blood meant my heart was still beating.

It was six days after the accident that I awoke. My brother Gary, Dad, and Stepmother came in to see me.  I didn’t know them.  I didn’t remember anything but the walk down the tunnel, then the helicopter ride, and the trip through the ER.  My brother Gary had called them, and they had driven from Jacksonville to see me. I had been unconscious for six days, and woke up with amnesia. They showed me a picture of my wife Bonnie and my stepsister Debbie. I had to ask which one was Bonnie.  I was relieved at their answer. “That worked out pretty well,” I thought.  My wife Bonnie is a lot prettier than my stepsister.

I had tubes and needles protruding from every orifice in body, my eyes were swollen almost shut, and my jaw was dislocated.  I had bitten my tongue almost in two. I had an incision up and down my stomach 15 inches long, stitches in my head, on my chest, and on my tongue. I had broken 5 ribs, and a couple went through my lungs. That’s why when the EMTs tried to give me oxygen, I just blew up like a balloon.  When they checked my heart, they didn’t get a response.

Now, everyone was asking me what happened.  “Wait, why were they asking me?” All I can remember is walking toward a light in the tunnel, and everything that has happened since then. When I started telling everybody about that, they just looked at me like I was crazy.

The Asian Doctor came up to me and told me that I had no insurance. He said, “You’ve been here 6 days, now you’re awake, now you leave.”  A few minutes later they put me in a wheel chair and pushed me to the curb.  A tag was still wired to my big toe. It read, “DOA Organ Donor.”

Since then, it’s been a long journey.  Getting back physically was hard enough, but the mental part, “Did I really see this or hear that?”  Or to look everyone in the face and wonder if I knew them or not. “Will you be there to speak for me or against me?”  It took a while to regain my memories. I had to work on it while pretending that I already had.

Now that I am near the end of my road, and I think about that meeting I got coming up, I wonder, “Do I remember everything?”

I spend my free time now trying to remember my life’s events.  I write them down as I go.  I hope that I don’t overlook anything serious, because the next time I’m standing at the table in front of the “Big Guy,” I want to make sure that I’m able to tell my side of it.