Uppermost House: Down over the banking

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

I meant to hit the brakes, not the gas,” the lady from Massachusetts said to me as soon as we all realized I wasn’t dead.

New Year’s morning and my friend Sara and I stepped politely off the trail in our cross-country skis to let a cavalcade of snowmobiles pass by. The first one went by sedately and then were heard an engine rev up and we looked toward the strident whine and there was the next machine, its skis cranked hard left but not turning, skidding sideways toward us and gathering speed. Time didn’t magically slow down so we could weigh our options and make clever decisions followed by deft and acrobatic movements that would save our lives; no, no, no, the sled just plowed toward us and then everything yard-saled down over the banking and into the trees amidst a cacophony of engine growl and exhaust stench and tree branches snapping and human limbs flailing and ski poles flying and snow shoving itself up nostrils.

I landed on my back and worried about Sara. One moment she was smiling next to me in the sun and the next moment she wasn’t — and she sure wasn’t next to me now, down in the deep snow in the trees with the 500 pound snowmobile and the broke-off branches and the plastic machine parts and everything all twisted and bent oddly and some of the things in great pain.

I heard voices. Lots of voices. Shouting voices. And I didn’t move. Then, I sensed someone and felt hands gently cradling my head and fingertips working down and palpating my cervical spine and I opened my eyes into Sara’s eyes and she was fine and I was so relieved and then she asked me Are you okay? and I said I don’t know.

For the next several minutes, there was a hive of activity, most of which I couldn’t see because it was all happening back up on the trail. As Sara worked her way down me checking for broken things I took a mental body-part inventory and got pretty optimistic and when I heard a man close-by in the underbrush talking quickly to someone on a cell phone and saying, We’re gonna need an ambulance, I turned and looked at him and said, No, I think I’m okay, and he said, Really? and I said, Really! And then Sara said, Can you wiggle your toes? And yes I could, and my fingers too, and there was no crunchiness in my bones and no pools of blood and I knew my zip code, so I reached out my hands and suddenly there were other hands everywhere and I was levitating and then I was standing back on the trail with all my pieces in the right places, although some of the pieces hurt a lot.

Thus oriented among the gathered crowd, I asked, Where is the driver? and people pointed and I hobbled around the snowmobile that had slammed me and I walked up to the lady from Massachusetts and she was shaking and her eyes were all red and watery with regret and she kept whimpering, I meant to hit the brakes and I just wrapped her up in my arms and held her head and said, I’m going to be okay and then I squeezed her until I felt some of the fear squish out. She kept whispering in my ear, I’m so sorry and I kept saying, I’m going to be fine and finally she said, Can you talk to Abby?

Abby was about 10 and had been on the back of the sled at the moment of impact and was now just standing there, a puddle of utter afraidness and uncertainty. I knelt down and hugged her and held her shoulders and said, Are you okay? and she sniffled and said, I want to go home, and the tears were just pouring down her red cheeks and I had a moment of clarity just then and deftly reassured her: No, Abby, you should go out and enjoy the day! It’s just like when you bring a bomb on an airplane; there’s no way that someone else has a bomb, too. You won’t run over another middle-aged man today, I guarantee it. Go have fun! Although it made the statistical point, upon reflection, I wonder if perhaps that wasn’t quite the best analogy.

Anyway, the funny part is that the skis I had been using I had borrowed from Sara’s boyfriend, Don, and now they were a bit splintered. But Dawn from Massachusetts had graciously promised to replace them immediately. So I’m home that evening trying to feel better, with my badly bruised and swollen right calf propped up on a chair and my neck as stiff as if someone had driven a length of rebar down each carotid artery and my dear wife waiting on me hand and foot, and I get this text from Sara and all it says is, Don wants to know if you’d like to borrow his car… and see what happens.

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