Image Credit: Harry Georgeson
I see stars when I move my head quickly. Dropped on my head as a baby, two car crashes, the blow in football, an occasional punch in the temple from father. When he beat me, it was for my own good. So, when he told me to take the last tram down the mountain making sure my sister got down safely, I did.
Squaw Valley, California, was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics and one of North America’s most popular ski resorts. The owner, Alex Cushing, paired with Walt Disney to create the opening ceremony. After worry there wouldn’t be enough snow, a week before the games began, a huge storm dumped so much snow, they were in danger of being canceled. At the end of the opening ceremonies, the sun broke through, a roar went up from the crowd, 2,000 Disney doves were released towards the heavens, and the snow stopped.
Eighteen years later another storm arrived at Squaw. A late snowfall made for some great late season skiing and during spring break my family and I went to Lake Tahoe for our last ski trip of the season. Somehow skiing emerged as one of the few things my disjointed and dysfunctional family liked to do together.
When storms whip the Sierra Nevada they can throw a strong wind down from the mountain peaks passing through Shirley Canyon into Squaw Valley. The old timers call this western wind the ‘Shirley Zephyr.’ The Shirley Zephyr became gale-force winds on the afternoon of April 15, 1978.
The winds kicked up towards the end of the day and after some core warming hot chocolate and French fries with my younger sister, we walked to the aerial tram with some birthday revelers and their limo driver, to ride down the mountain, as instructed by father. We would take the last tram down from High Camp at 8200ft, to Base Camp, 2000ft lower, and meet our parents and youngest sister. This ride would be more than an E-Ticket at Disneyland. You needed to be an adult to exit.
I board the tram with my sister which is at about one-third its capacity. Most skiers had called it a day because of the heavy snow and wind. I stand just behind the door, my sister just behind me, as we look out the windows, down the mountain, both of us tired from a full day of skiing, cheeks flushed from the elements. As we start down the mountain, the snow is so heavy, my head spinning and swaying free from my body.
The car starts swinging pretty good from the wind, while twisting slightly. Starting to feel uneasy, I look at the operator. He looks concerned, if not scared. Nearing Tower Two, I notice an Indian couple, just to my right, tighten their grips on the overhead straps they are holding. The operator now begins to slow the car, so we will not bang into the tower as we approach it.
“Yea Haw, Ride um Cowboy,” someone yells as the first big gust of wind hits the tram and rocks it enough so we all have to take an extra step to regain balance. Everyone smiles, laughing nervously, but most go to the edge of the car to grab a handrail or something to hold on to. Some passengers are dressed only in street clothes, having gone up on the tram for the view, to eat at the restaurant, or celebrate a birthday with friends at the lounge at High Camp. Soon it is not possible to stand without holding on to something.
As the operator reaches for the button to stop the car completely, a huge gust hit us, lifts the car, twisting it at the same time, causing it to dislodge from its support cables. Unmoored from the outside cable of the two-cable support system, the cart plummets towards the ground 150 feet below.
The car free falls halfway, slamming us against the ceiling before the remaining cable tightens, bouncing us back up toward the sky, like it’s been fired from a sling shot. The outside cable, free of its load, jumps over the top of Tower 2, comes loose of its moorings, and crashes toward the ground colliding violently with the tram car as it shoots skyward. When the outside cable hits the roof of the car, there is a huge bang, crushing the roof, blowing out the doors and windows, sucking out the man standing right in front of me, then slicing through the car like a bandsaw through a tin can. We yo-yo up and down one more time.
Pinned to the floor of the tram, bodies on top of me, my head battered. My body is twisted and hurting. It’s snowing. It’s windy. I think I am still alive. I reach my right arm back as far as I can between the bodies, skis, poles and other unidentifiable matter, searching for my little sister. My face is pressed to the floor of the tram, making it hard to talk, or move, but I feel what I think is her hair, I call out and my legs sense her body heave, up and down, with her crying. The screaming and crying is loud. Drowning out the gusts of wind and the swirling snow.
The warm wet sensation on the back of my head and the moaning from those lying on top of me, confirms that I am alive. Blood runs from the nose, mouth, and ears of the Indian man whose face lies just a ski boot away from mine. Pinned beneath the cable, he screams, “Please somebody help me. Please somebody help me.” Over and over. I can only look on in shock, unable to help even myself, but close enough to smell his blood.
I push my head through body parts to free it enough to look around, the rest on my body pinned firmly to the floor. Sliding my face along the icy floor, I peer over the edge, seeing we are not on the ground, but dangling, midway. Suspended, as if inside a freshly shaken snow globe. Only one of the three cables remain in its proper operating position.
The 17-ton cable pinned a dozen passengers to the car’s floor. The guide cable is roughly the diameter of a baseball, and those trapped beneath it are caught, as if snapped upon by a giant mouse trap. Some struck mid-body, others have an arm, leg, or other body part crushed beneath the cable. They cry loudly in pain. I want to look away, but my body is pinned in such a way I can only look on helplessly.
A woman clings to the leg of a man dressed only in jeans and a jean jacket, her body hanging half-way out of the car. With his one free arm he grabs her, and I manage to get a hold of a piece of her jacket, and she is pulled back into the car.
The first thing the operator yells is, “The worst is over! Help will be on the way! Stay calm!” He is barely heard over the screaming and crying. He works his way free first, then begins to clear metal, Plexiglas, and other debris off JeanJacket, so he can stand up.
The two men begin trying to free people. Nobody can move. Many are trapped under the cable only inches away from me. My sister and I are trapped in the small space between where the doors used to be, and the cable. The crying gets louder. The Indian man continues screaming, “Please somebody help me.” I cannot reach him to offer any bit of comfort, but only watch what I fear to be his slow death, my head pinned staring straight at him.
The Indian man’s wife becomes more hysterical. He screams one more time, “Somebody help me,” and starts hemorrhaging from the nose and mouth. JeanJacket sticks his fingers in the man’s airway, clearing it of blood, inches from my face.
“You’ve got to hang on,” he yells, clearing his airway again, blood gurgling from his throat.
I hear his last breath. I feel it. Taste it.
“My husband’s not moving. My husband’s not moving.”
JeanJacket grabs her by both arms, “Your husband’s grave.”
She reaches out to comfort her husband one last time and realizing he is dead, kisses him gently, slowly removing his scarf and gloves. She wraps the scarf around JeanJacket in an act of kindness and grief, and hands him the gloves to wear, so he may help others. I watch, feeling a piece of my heart has frozen, as my sister cries out loud—for dad, for mom, for God, but all she has is me. I work my arm back enough to squeeze her arm to remind her I am there to take care of her. And I hope I can.
Crushed by the debris, bodies, and helplessness, I tell my sister to remove the glove from my right hand. I call JeanJacket to reach over the bodies, take it from her, take the glove from my left hand and remove my hat.
“Give em to the Limo driver.”
He pulls off my hat.
“You alright?” He asks, as the freezing air hits the open wound on the back of my head.
“I’m fine,” I lie with the exasperation of not being able to do anything to help.
There is a lot of yelling and screaming. It looks like a bomb exploded. People are in pain, scared, and dying. The bodies, metal, wood, plexi-glass, skis and other debris are entwined, impaled, twisted, broken, lodged, and stuck in positions only high-speed impact can create. Moving debris to free one person means someone else bending or twisting or a bent ski snapping on someone’s head. The operator and JeanJacket throw skis, poles and other debris over the side of the car. I watch my brand new Hexel Spectralite skis with Solomen 727 bindings, bought with money from my first job, go over. They are held up briefly by the strong gusts of wind, almost gracefully, before disappearing completely in the soft snow far below us.
The two men pry open the evacuation compartment, but the part of the cabin where the winch was supposed to be attached is completely gone. All of the equipment is smashed, along with the radio, but they are able to get a metal cable out.
We are stuck in the most remote section of the mountain. Under a sharply pointed ridge separating Shirley Canyon and expert ski terrain called Broken Arrow. It will be impossible to reach by Snowcats or snowmobiles. Snowfall is at least two inches per hour. Winds gusting at 100mph. Temperatures dropping.
Help arrives. Hearing voices below, the operator shouts, “We have no winch. No radio. Many casualties. Several trapped under the guide cable.”
The operator and JeanJacket lower the small cable salvaged from the excavation compartment to the ground where the men below attach a nylon climbing rope. Pulling the climbing rope back up, wrapping it over an overhead bar that remained attached to the upper part of the cabin, and then letting the rope back down to the ground, they establish our first connection to safety.
I remain trapped. A front row seat at ankle level. A spectator to the rescue efforts, facing those trapped by the cable. The feeling has left my hands up to the second knuckle as frostbite creeps up my limbs. No snow accumulates, due to the howling wind, but I feel my wound is frozen and ice is forming on my head.
A patrolman ties the rope around a make-shift harness and they begin pulling him up, hand over hand. Three men manage to get the first rescuer up after some exhausting work. The men straining heavily, trying to keep their footing on the icy car floor. I move my battered head back and forth to keep it from sticking to the frozen floor.
After catching their breath, the men haul up a second patrolman. The operator calls him “Jim” when he arrives. From the moment he enters, he takes command and is in control. He looks back at the operator calmly and says, “We have work to do.”
Jim stands as a man who trained his whole life to respond to a disaster. This one, both different, and larger, than the ones in the training exercises. He notes the calm, those in shock, the hysterical, the uninjured, the injured, and the dead, then radios to maintenance for blankets, ropes, and a come-along (a hand operated winch). The blizzard intensifies, the wind grows sharper, the sky darkens, and temperatures drop sharply. The car is making a lot of noise and clutching my sister’s arm, I can see Jim fears, like the rest of us, it may fall. Always check the pilot.
“Send up somebody who knows about rigging and a doctor. There are people in shock, badly injured, suffering from frostbite, and three dead,” Jim radios to the ground responders. He tries to smile at me with optimism, but learning two others are now dead, I do my best to return the hope, glad my sister is still pinned in a way she cannot see what I can.
I strain my neck to look up through the swirling snow as my head throbs. At first, I think I am hallucinating. Seeing how difficult it was to haul the first patrolman up into the tram, another rescuer decides to climb up the service ladder on Tower Two. The man attaches a safety sling securing himself and straddles the haul cable, and I see him far above us shimmying down the cable towards the car, hand over hand. And once above us, he climbs down, coming in through the tram roof.
Towerclimber looks surprised by the carnage and affected by all of the crying and wailing. I look surprised someone has balls big enough to do what he just did. He shakes off some snow and calls for a hoist and chains. Once he has rope, he starts establishing a complex system of ropes and climbing belays, with the help of local mountaineers on the ground, capable of extracting survivors and safely lowering them to the ground.
An ice layer has formed on my head, like a football helmet and just as hard. Now I cannot feel my hands or feet. My head aches. It throbs with the aliveness of my impending death. The screams get louder and those on the other side of the car begin saying the Lord’s Prayer, while another group sings, “Jesus Loves Me.” The dead not part of this choir. The wind and snow continue to howl their own tune. It is all so fucking loud.
Rescue workers continue unraveling the puzzle of human suffering, debris, and death. A doctor is pulled up. Once in the car, he makes a quick assessment of all the injuries. The doctor sets some serious injuries and treats others, but can’t use any IV solutions, they are frozen. He tries freeing up a small girl, maybe half my sister’s age, but it is all a complicated puzzle. Ski equipment is unexplainably tangled with bodies, clothing, human limbs and wreckage.
Towerclimber goes to work trying to free those trapped beneath the cable after setting up the complex system of ropes that would be used to lower the living and dead from the tram car. He has his come-along and chains, pulled up into the car with blankets and flashlights. He runs the chains over a bar that had been part of the roof, finding small openings next to those trapped beneath the cable to slip another chain under, attaching the two, with the hand winch in between.
Since the first responders arrived there has been a continuous effort to clear debris and untangle the mess inside what is left of the dangling tram car. An hour or more after they arrived I have enough bodies and debris off me I can turn to see my sister for the first time. I had only felt her heart beat and breathing against my legs until now. I hug her hard with my one free arm and blue hand. I look her straight in the eyes, “Don’t worry, we’re gonna make it,” I say, trying my best to believe it too. I smile at her, unblinkingly and with confidence.
Proper triage dictates the removal of the most injured first, but the weight of the cable makes that impossible. The emergency responders turn their attention to removing those unfettered by the cable. The evacuation order will be— seriously injured (not trapped under the cable), children, women, men, and lastly, the dead. They work with a sense of urgency knowing the car can fall at any minute, and we all would die.
Approximately one hour and 45 minutes after the accident, the first passenger is lowered to safety and whisked away to the Gold Coast mid-mountain lodge, which was transformed into a makeshift field hospital.
Eventually my sister and I are free from the puzzle created by humans thrown about like rag dolls, skis and poles, and the debris caused by the accident. She is silently given a number by the responders indicating when she will go down. She has a couple of people in front of her. Looking her in the eyes, I try to be dad, mom, God, and anybody else who might bring her comfort, but I am just a fifteen-year-old boy, only a year older than her, trying to be a man. “You go down first. I’ll be right behind you. Look, some people are already on the ground. Don’t worry. I’ll get you to the bottom. I promise.” And I kissed the tears on her cheek, fighting back my own.
When free, I touch the Indian woman on the shoulder as she sits vigil next to her dead husband. She nods to me silently, knowing we shared the end of his life. I reach down to touch him, gently, to comfort him somehow in death, in a way I could not do while he still breathed. I feel so fucking helpless.
When it is her turn, my sister sits on the T-bar and rescuers put a belt around her waist. She is crying and scared. I check the zipper on her already zipped up baby blue down ski parka, pull down her purple hat, smoothing her shoulder length brown hair as I do, then kiss the salty tears on her cheek. I grab her purple gloves with my blue hands, “It’ll be alright. I’ll be down soon. Don’t worry. Hold on tight!” I watch her decent to the ground. Peering over the edge, I give her the thumbs up, knowing one of us will live. Closer to completing my task.
I lie to the responders telling them I am older than my fifteen years. Moving from the “Children” to “Men” category, hoping to be one of the last down. I want to somehow help someone in a way I could not help the Indian man. Then I move to the other side of the car where the carnage has been much less drastic. People huddle in groups trying to stay warm. The Lord’s Prayer and “Jesus Loves Me,” on repeat. It offers me a headache and no solace.
Except for the Indian man, I realize my brain is not registering faces. I don’t know what any of these people look like. I can only identify them from their brightly colored ski clothing. My brain does not want to know another face that may soon face death. It is too frozen to even see stars when I move my head.
Towerclimber continues to work the come-along enabling him to bend the cable just enough to free human parts or get boots off and slide legs out from underneath the cable.
He and the first patrolman up, just hang on the winch, cranking on the come-along with all their strength. They can hardly move it, more like bending it. They move the winch along a bar on the ceiling of the tram to wherever it is needed. It is exhausting work. I try and stay warm, my hands tucked into my ski pants.
I watch the work of the rescuers lowering survivors and those in grave condition fighting for their lives, looking on helplessly. Time passes slowly. The wind howls and the snow continues to fall. As the last woman is lowered to safety, I admit to myself, being a virgin, to die now, would mean to never experience the pleasure of a woman. More helplessness, as I try to hide in the back, hoping to be the last one down to somehow make up for being unable to help the dying.
Hours pass. The slow process of lowering each survivor creeps along and the rescue team works to free the dead. Finally, it is obvious the 4 or 5 men left are twice my age, and it is my turn to be lowered to the ground. Part of me doesn’t want to go. I don’t want to die, but I am acutely aware everything will be much different in my life once on the ground.
I slide across the bottom of the icy car towards the ledge I was stuck looking over earlier. I sit on the T-bar on the bottom of the tramcar and they fasten a belt around my waist and the bar.
“Don’t look at the ground,” Jim says. It is hard not to. I see people and a giant bonfire far below. I hug the bar. They push me out of the car, so they can begin to lower me down and the wind slams the bar into the bottom of the car jarring me and scaring the rescuers.
“Yeah,” I lie. I couldn’t be more scared. I was almost knocked off this tiny bar I am sitting on 80 feet in the air. I try not to look down as they begin to lower me, which is not smooth and steady, as it is by hand, but stops and starts of various lengths. I am hit by one of those triple-digit gusts of wind that starts me spinning in a circle as I descend. I hug the cold metal bar with everything I have and stare into the distance, trying not to look down, spinning in circles, as the wind whistles around my frozen head.
On the ground, they tell me I to let go, but I don’t. I hold tight.
“It’s OK, you’re safe. On the ground now.”
They pry my arms open and help me up to my feet. We walk through the debris thrown from the car, now covered in snow, towards a fire. I stand at the fire to warm up and people around me move as if in a dream. They ask if I am “all right.” And “all right,” being a relative term, I guess I am. They hand me two candy bars. I open one and take a bite. Food never tasted like that. I enjoy those Snickers. I eat them real slow, in a faraway place, all by myself.
Once on the ground it isn’t over yet. Because no snowmobiles or Snowcats can get to the area beneath the tram, I now have to hike a couple of football fields up the very steep Broken Arrow Ridge to the Gold Coast mid-mountain lodge, which is transformed into a makeshift field hospital. Rescue workers walk on each side of me along a trail lit by flares, a guide rope aiding your path. Although lit, I can’t see the top through the still heavy snow fall and heavy gusts. The wind making it hard to breathe.
“Don’t let go of the rope,” they tell me, but I cannot feel my hands or feet. “Just put one foot in front of the other,” they say with encouragement, but I sink to my waist, sometimes my armpits, with each step in the deep snow.
My body is so dehydrated and tired from trying to stay warm I have nothing left. But once I start, I get a second wind. I am glad to be on the fucking ground and need to make sure my sister is safe and get her safely to the bottom of the mountain. That is my job.
It is a long hike. I don’t know how long it takes. But eventually my frozen head sees two big headlights on the top of the ridge. A Snowcat. I pick up the pace, still sinking deeply into the snow with every step. I get to the snow cat and am helped into the passenger’s seat, a blanket wrapped around me. The driver heads to the Gold Coast restaurant, patting me on the shoulder with reassurance.
I get out of the Snowcat and start walking to the lodge with the help of a rescuer. Just inside the door, my sister comes running to me, crying. Hugging her as she sobs, her body heaving up and down. She wants to say something but can’t. She just gasps for air. I swallow more fear and pain and fight back tears. I am not going to cry in front of her. “Told you it’d be alright. We’d make it,” I say, trying my best to convince myself I believe it too.
There is a quick check here by medical personnel to see if I need immediate medical attention. I tell them where I am and what day it is. Noticing my head wound is still frozen, they assure me it will be properly cleaned and dressed at Base Lodge. They give us some cookies and a cup of orange juice. The cookies dry, in my dehydrated mouth – the juice, tarter and sweeter than usual. I could have drunk a gallon. They massage my hands, but I cannot feel it.
“You ready to go down now? We have more medical staff below and your family will be relieved to see you. We’ll load you in the Gondola.”
I freeze as my sister starts sobbing loudly. Are they kidding? After dangling for hours in the air, they want us to take another aerial lift supported and propelled by cables from above. Fuck me. I am scared.
“We’re ready,” I lie, hugging my sister and whispering in her ear it would be alright. “Don’t worry, it’s ok.”
We walk from the restaurant’s temporary triage center to where the Gondola boards. A car pulls up and they open the door. I take my sister’s hand, and enter the 4-person car, taking the seat looking down the mountain, directing her to sit across from me, knowing she will see less and have to stare at me. I take both of her gloved hands.
The car begins to move. Clearing the station, we are rocked by the wind, surrounded by snow. I tighten my grip on my sister’s gloves and ask if she remembers the time we were 3 and 4 years old and she was mad at me for taking her doll and sat on top of me, banging my head on the floor of the basement in our house on Long Island. She smiles through tears as I keep going. I don’t know if I take a breath or even blink. I am too scared myself. But I won’t let her know it.
But she stops me.
“We . . . We . . . We saw people die john e,” she stutters, cutting me off, tears rolling down her face, the car rocking from side to side in the wind as I hold her gloves tight.
“Yes, we did. How are you feeling?” I ask, swallowing hard as tears well in my eyes and I tilt my head back slightly, so they won’t run down my cheeks.
“No, your body,” clearing my throat to get rid of the lump, as I speak louder to drown out the wind and swirling snow.
“I’m cold and sore. How many died?’
“Three, maybe four. Can you feel your feet?” The tears like two five-gallon buckets about to overflow, and I fight them back. Afraid if they start, they won’t stop.
“Not really,” She says.
“I feel so bad for the Indian woman,” my sister says crying. “She looked so lost. She came over and sat with me, asking if I was alright while I waited for you at Gold Coast. I think she thought I was crying ‘cause I was scared, but I was crying for her. It is so sad.”
I clench my teeth and my lips tremble uncontrollably. The tears well in my eyes until I can’t see. It’s like being under water. I hold my breath. Swallowing to keep it all in.
And we arrive.
The door to the Gondola opens and my promise comes true, we did make it to the bottom. A rescuer reaches a hand in to help my sister out, while another offers me help. I take a deep breath. We are whisked to the makeshift field hospital inside the lodge. People are racing around everywhere, and it is bright and loud. I move, dream-like, somewhere between this reality and the reality up in the Tram car. A hyper awareness from seeing more than your body, mind, and psyche can bare. Sights, smells, sounds, and feelings, all overwhelm.
My sister and I are seated at tables next to one another, each with a doctor, as my father runs up crying and hysterical, followed by medical personnel with oxygen and a defibrillator, fearing he will have a heart attack.
And in that moment, there is no baseball star, no role model, no hero. There is no fucking Santa Claus, Superman lost his cape, and someone pulled the mask off of the Lone Ranger. I swallow hard, sending the fear, anger and fifteen years of naive hope, deep into the recesses of my colon. Because, even though he abused me, never told me he loved me, and nothing I did was ever good enough, I had still believed in him. Even loved him. Now I hate every inch of his being.
He grabs my sister and hugs her, both of them crying, as my mother grabs me, and my youngest sister takes my left leg and holds on. I stare without expression forward. The room swirls around me as if a separate movie.
My parents switch, my father hugging me as I go limp and look blankly over his shoulder. I hate him with every cell in my body. I held it together. I didn’t cry. I brought my sister back safely. I wasn’t a pussy. I swallowed my fear. Deep down in a place it could fester. For the good of my sister and the people around me. I was a man. I stayed up in that fucking tram until the end, letting others go ahead to insure their safety, while every second thinking it would fall to the ground. I stared death in the eyes and didn’t blink. You never really know how you will react until it happens, then you find out what you are made of. But father was a paper tiger—a phony, a fraud. He was the pussy he was always worried I would be. A shift had occurred.
“How do you feel,” the doctor asks as they take my vitals.
“Looks like you have a pretty good bump on the back of your head,” the doctor says, after scanning my body and finding the cut, lump, and dried blood. We need to clean that up for you.” And they begin carefully picking out the dried blood, cleaning and bandaging my wound.
Turning to my still weeping father the doctor says, “Your son is probably in shock and there is a chance he suffered a concussion with that blow to the head. He is probably alright for tonight but keep an eye on him. Where do you live?”
“Marin—San Rafael,” father whimpers.
“The hospitals here are packed. Stay here tonight. Drive home in the morning. And go to your local hospital right away. Make sure they check his head. It’s very important. And try and calm yourself down, pull yourself together sir, your children are alive.”
“OK. Thank you doctor,” father said, and he seemed so small to me. Like a basketball someone had let the air out of.
A woman runs up to me asking about the parents of the young girl. She describes their features and clothes. I don’t remember any faces. Only the Indian man’s.
“They are ok. On their way down.”
“Thank you,” she says, taking my hands. “God Bless you.”
As she leaves to talk to other survivors, I flash back to the tram and see the ski clothes she described. The man was dead under the cable, one of the original three, his wife, also under the cable, not doing well, and fighting to stay alive.
I grab the plastic bin next to the make-shift examination table and start heaving into the bucket. Nothing comes up. Not even the fear. Realizing I gave false hope and misinformation, I am filled with sadness and despair.
“Let’s go,” I say, taking charge, putting down the bucket, ready to lead my family out of here and away from this mess. I begin walking toward the exit, father, mother, and sisters falling in line behind me as I march forward. Opening the door, I am blinded by TV lights and flashes from cameras. Microphones are pushed in my face.
Are you a survivor? Are you a survivor? Are you a survivor? Coming from everyone. Coming from everywhere. I blaze a trail through the lights, cameras, and action. I push every TV camera, microphone, and camera out of my face, out of the way, as I move forward.
I arrive at the car, the rest of the family close behind. Father unlocks the car and we get in our familiar seats—Mother in the passenger’s seat, my fellow tram rider behind her, my youngest sister in the middle, and me behind father. I reach across and take my sister’s hand, the little one in the middle, hugging us both. Nobody says a word as we drive to the hotel. There is no room in the car for words. It is too full of fear, death, and loss.
I am a survivor.
We check into a hotel room close to Squaw. We will not drive home tonight. It is well after midnight now. I am exhausted. I take off my new Scott ski boots. My feet are numb from frostbite. I lie down on a bed fully clothed, without a word. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Except the Indian man. When I close my eyes, I see his face. His words ring through my head—Please somebody help me, Please somebody help me, Please somebody help me.
I am sorry I could not help you.
I am afraid to sleep. Fearing I may fall out of bed. My head is throbbing so bad, I think it might explode. I just want my mind to slow down a bit. To let me rest. To stop the noise. The Indian man, the woman blessing me for false information, the Lord’s prayer, the Jesus Loves me bullshit—Please, just make it stop.
The feeling is starting to return in my hands and feet, but there remains a deadness to them. Like they don’t belong to me. My stomach is a giant knot. Whatever fear I swallowed wasn’t going anywhere.
And when I think my sisters in the room are asleep, they come. Just one or two at first. Gently rolling down my cheek. Then more. Many more. I weep quietly for several hours, for the end of my innocence, the fall of my father from paradise, and the man one foot from me, I could not help.
John Bovio is a convicted International drug smuggler who is banned from 14 countries. He graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago with a BFA in Painting and Performance Art, and later did graduate work in Performance Art there before his studies were interrupted by his extradition to Sweden. Upon his return, he did graduate work at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets. John Bovio holds an honorary degree from the School of Hard Knocks and remains more infamous than famous.