Fifteen years ago, my whole life changed.
April 22, 1990 was the 20th anniversary of Earth Day and a big group of us from Antioch had gone to New York City to partake of the festivities on Sunday, and then shut down the stock exchange on Monday.
The Stock Exchange action was monumental. Fires in the streets, mass arrests ... a day long action with thousands of Greens and anarchists from around the country. Monday evening, the Antioch folks met up to decide: do we head back to Ohio tonight, or stick around in New York til morning. I had a class on Tuesday that I didn’t want to miss (geez, what a dork), so I voted to leave that night. Majority ruled, and we headed back to Ohio.
There were various cars and two college vans – twelve seaters, each filled to capacity. We split the vans up: one smoking and one non-smoking. Guess which one I rode in?
John drove us out of the city, and then settled in to sleep. Then Todd took over. I rode shotgun the entire time. The night wore on – I kicked my shoes off, settled in. Liora lay down on the floor between my seat and the driver’s seat. Sometime early in the morning, we switched drivers again – John, fresh from sleep was at the wheel, once again. Me, I hadn’t slept, and as we entered Ohio and the sun began to rise, I started to drift off.
I woke up when we started to swerve. I had an eerie and immediate sense that something was horribly wrong. We were turning, and we seemed to be cutting the turn too sharp. I saw we were headed straight to the grassy median, and I screamed “Cover your eyes! Cover your eyes!” and threw my hands up over my face (then, as now, I’ve always worn lots of big rings, so I gave myself a heckuva shiner in the process). We dove off the side of the road and began to roll ... once, twice ... some of the survivors say as many as four times – I was really never sure. We stopped (and landed upright, thanks to the recent rains – the grass was muddy and the wheels finally stuck), and I turned to look at John. He was slumped over the wheel, and there was blood everywhere. Liora was still between us, and she wasn’t moving. Everything was in slow motion – and in black and white, as well. I turned to my door, and it was stuck shut. So in my stocking feet I kicked and kicked and kicked some more until I bent that fucker in half and got myself out.
I started walking along the median, in a daze. Other drivers had stopped, and were running toward us. I remember a middle aged white man running toward me, waving his arms, yelling for me to stop moving, to sit down. In that moment I didn’t even really comprehend why, but I saw my friend Bobby laying in the grass, so I walked to a spot near him and grabbed a seat.
No one else got out. I could see that the rear doors were bent shut – the frame of the van had compressed – and I guess I got up to see if I could rip those doors apart as well. One of the people who had stopped refused to let me go – told me to let the paramedics deal with it – and man was I pissed.
They split the twelve of us between three hospitals – six of us to one, five of us to another, and Liora got CareFlighted somewhere else. I remember I was already on a stretcher by the time the helicopter landed, and they covered my face with a sheet, which made me very nervous. I thought, at the time, that there were two helicopters; I realize now that what I heard was the one helicopter landing, and then taking off again a short while later.
I was processed through some podunk hospital in rural Ohio ... A couple of stitches in my head, an x-ray or two, a bunch of glass in my hands ... I remember they wanted to release me, but I still couldn’t move my thumb, so I refused to sign the release form and made them look at me. They pulled out a piece of glass the size of a crystal you’d wear around your neck ... yeesh. Then, one by one, they herded us into this little room where they lowered their eyes and told us each that John had died.
We were Antiochians through the whole thing ... when the Priest came to sit with us, I chased him away (when he first approached me, I spat “Look, I’m Jewish, OK?” He replied that he was there for all faiths, blah blah blah, and I replied that I was not in the mood for a theological debate at that moment). When they brought us all Cokes, we took a vote and refused them because of Apartheid. When they brought us all baloney sandwiches, only Bobby would eat them because everyone else was a vegetarian.
And as the day turned to night, people were sent from the college to drive us back. We arrived, and everyone was in shock. For those not familiar with Antioch, it’s a small fucking college – a couple hundred students, and half of them are off doing internships at any given time. In a community that size, everyone was affected. No one was spared.
* * * * *
So that’s what happened on that day. What happened inside of me is a much larger question.
I was 19 years old. A little punk rocker. Gonna go out and change the world. Something in me changed on that April morning. I got the fight knocked out of me.
It was maybe not so tangible at first ... as a matter of fact, I guess I went through PTSD for the first six months or so afterward – there are huge gaps in my memory from that time – events, people, all forgotten. And other things, like the fact that that’s when I started having night terrors.
It’s funny. That accident changed me in such tangible ways, and yet I feel ill-equipped to explain them. My life now is still divided into “Before” and “After,” much as it was then. Nothing has ever felt quite the same. I doubt it ever will.
Anyway, I felt strongly that I wanted to mark this anniversary, remember this day, and I suppose I’ve done the best thing that I could do, which is to share the story.