What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been… August 26, 2010Posted by Matt in personal stories.
Tags: beebe, car accident, family, friends, head injury, high school, humility
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Fifteen years ago I almost died.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this past weekend marked the anniversary of my near-death experience, that day in my life in which I faced down the reaper. As I mentioned earlier this week, we were involved in a traffic accident last Saturday. Later that day we talked to our parents to let them know we were fine and mom told us, by an interesting coincidence, it was the fifteenth anniversary of the life-altering event that came to be known in our family as “The Wreck.”
It was August of 1995, the first day of school. I was a dashing, 17 year old high school senior, a football player and the frontrunner to be valedictorian of the class of 1996. The prior year I posted the highest ACT score of anyone in my class (32) and was looking to take the test again as a senior just for fun (nerdy, I know) to see if I could ace it. My sights were set on attending Vanderbilt once I left the hallowed halls of Beebe High School and then settling into a probable career in math and science. Needless to say, I was a little full of myself.
But, just when you are expecting a fastball down the middle, life has a funny way of throwing a curve. Whether it is divine providence, a convergence of random variables or, as the great prophet Dylan might say, “A simple twist of fate,” things never seem to go as planned.
Note: I have no recollection of that day, nor for that matter, of much of the years surrounding it, so this narrative is built entirely upon the various versions of the story that I’ve heard over the years.
Like many teenagers, I had a close circle of friends in high school, but probably unlike many others, we had a self-given name, the Turkey Mountain Posse. This group designation came from the area where our gang spent many of our weekends, an off-the-grid camping spot at the end of a barely cleared path just off Turkey Mountain road. Our Posse consisted of a bunch of small town, Arkansas country boys who liked country music, pickup trucks and played football together for the mighty Beebe Badgers. We were quite a crew and did pretty much everything together.
On that fateful day, some of us made the decision to drive over to a nearby town and watch a preseason scrimmage game between one of our conference rivals, Vilonia, and Harding Academy. We loaded into two trucks for the short trip, with four people in my parents’ 1985 4-Runner and the others in a second vehicle behind us, and took off, whooping and hollering like small town 17 year olds do.
There is a small community between Beebe and Vilonia, a country crossroads of sorts, going by the name El Paso. At that time, there was a two-way stop at the one major intersection in El Paso and we were cruising down Highway 64, the road not burdened with a stop sign at the crossroads. As the story goes, we were blasting Hank Williams Jr. (“A Country Boy Can Survive,” to be exact) with the windows down and excitement in the air when the unthinkable happened. Memories turn fuzzy at this point and nobody is quite sure what happened next. Did we see the semi truck blow the stop sign? Did we have any opportunity to react? Nobody knows for sure. All that they remember, at least from what I’ve heard, is “A Country Boy Can Survive,” and the sinking feeling that I was dead. According to them, one of the strangest things about the situation was that, with the exception of an ear that had to be put back together surgically, there was nothing visibly wrong with me, but it was obvious that my condition was serious.
Directly behind us were our other friends, one of whom happened to have an ancient (but, at that time, state-of-the-art), brick-sized cell phone that he used to call for help and to let my parents know what happened. By another stroke of something, whether luck or providence, a doctor who was also heading to the game happened by and told the emergency personnel to rush me to a hospital in Little Rock, rather than closer ones in Conway or Searcy, where they would be more capable of handling my injuries.
For the next week I laid in a purgatory coma, hovering somewhere between life and death in ICU with my friends and family always close by, hanging on every word regarding my condition. The diagnosis: massive head injuries. The prognosis: iffy.
At some point I finally regained consciousness, though I’ve been told that for days afterwards I would sleep as much as 20 hours per day. Following this great awakening, I moved into inpatient rehab, where I spent the next several weeks undergoing speech, occupational, and physical therapy, relearning how to do many of the things I had done without thinking over the previous 17 years. If you’ve ever been in a rehabilitation hospital, you know that the vast majority of residents are elderly, so as the exception I garnered a good bit of special attention from the staff.
Eventually, probably some two months or so after the accident, I was able to rejoin my classmates full time. My football career was obviously over and I dropped a few spots in the class rankings, but I was back to stay. Uncertainty regarding life and the severe learning disability that immediately follows a head injury caused me to abandon my Vanderbilt dream and instead accept a full scholarship at Harding (which I summarily lost, mostly due to the failings of my damaged brain). The losses hurt, but I eventually understood that those things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Relationships, with family, friends, and a higher power, are what truly give life meaning. With the realization that my brain will never work the way it once did, I learned humility.
A few years ago, if someone asked me whether or not I wished things had turned out differently, I would have replied with a definite yes, of course I wished I could have avoided this event. Now, I think I see things differently, maybe a little more maturely. It is part of who I am. If it wasn’t for the wreck, I probably would not have met my wife or have my kids. I may not have the sense of humility that I do now and I may not appreciate life and the people around me as much as I do.
Cheering On the Red Knights! February 27, 2009Posted by Matt in basketball.
Tags: basketball, Bishop Byrne, high school, Memphis, state championship
I just wanted to take a moment to give a big Words of Wisdom shout-out to my good friend Chance, the assistant coach for the Bishop Byrne Lady Red Knights high school basket ball team. This evening they will face off against local rival Lausanne (the defending champs) for the Division 2-A State Championship in Nashville. I wish we could be there, but I’ll be cheering them on from here in Memphis and checking the score as I can.
Let’s Go Lady Red Knights!
The Prank Seemed Great at the Time September 26, 2006Posted by Matt in Uncategorized.
Tags: beebe, high school, prank
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Originally Posted 9/26/06
I said in my last entry that I was going to spend some time over the next few weeks reminiscing about high school, so mark this as post #1 in that new series:
Best (and Worst) Prank to be Involved In:
When I was a Senior in high school, we faked a school shooting.
Now mind you, this was before that kind of thing was happening around the country – except for maybe in some inner city schools. But in 1996, in rural Arkansas, nobody even thought this kind of thing was possible.
In our school, there were two classrooms separated only by a large thick curtain – one class was Mr. Ward’s World History and the other was Ms. Wallace’s English. We enjoyed picking on them both a lot the entire year, but we decided to aim this joke at her.
Those of us that were in athletics, went and lifted the starter pistol from the field house to do the deed. We then picked two other guys – one of them a guy who we all thought was borderline psycho (James) and just on the edge of going off and the other could be one of the most obnoxious people in the whole school (Aaron).
Some of us involved were in the class where the action took place and the rest of us were next door, crowded by the curtain listening…
As best as I can remember, James said something just really stupid and then Aaron started picking at him. And he picked at him and picked at him over and over through the class and Ms. Wallace was getting angry and telling him to cool it. But they ignored her and soon argument escalated into a shouting match with Aaron ending with “What are you gonna do about it?!”
It was then that James pulled out the pistol for the whole class to see before blasting off a round right at Aaron’s chest. Aaron collapsed and everyone screamed – except of course for us, we were rolling on the ground laughing.
The principal was down there in no time. Mr. Ward burst through the curtain. The hallway was filled with teachers and students trying to see what was going on.
I think they finally collared four guys for being involved in it – the two who pulled it off and two more in the class that admitted to taking the starter pistol. If that happened today, all of these guys would have surely been sitting at the police station and probably expelled with only a month or so left in their senior years. As it was, they all got licks (ha!) and were sent on their way with a stern warning.
Of course a few short years later, when kids really started shooting each other at school, the whole joke wasn’t nearly as funny as it was then, but it will still be one of those memories that I carry around for good.
Bonked on the Head – 11 Years Later August 21, 2006Posted by Matt in Uncategorized.
Tags: beebe, head injury, high school
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Originally Posted 8/21/06
I was trying to decide what to write about today when I realized what time of the month it is. Lately, as we’ve been planning our 10 year class reunion, there’s been a lot of reminiscing about our good ‘ol days at Beebe High, so bear with me for a little bit.
In August of ’95 I was getting ready to start my Senior year back in the “Dream Hometown.” I was a smart, relatively athletic, popular kid that cruised through my classes with a bit of arrogance toward the others around me. Like most teenagers, I was not always a very nice guy, but the world revolved around me so it didn’t really matter.
Then, on the first day of that school year, my outlook on life was forever changed.
That evening, myself and three friends loaded up in my ugly yellow 1985 Toyota 4-Runner to go see a high school scrimmage game between one of our conference opponents (Vilonia) and the school where my girlfriend at the time was cheerleading (Harding Academy). It was a short drive through some rural Arkansas country – past Turkey “Mountain” where our crew liked to hang out – when our trip abruptly ended in the metropolis of ElPaso…
There is only one intersection in the El Paso community – Highways 5 and 31 – and, at that time, it consisted of a two-way stop. When driving down highway 31, which we were doing, you didn’t have to stop.
So there we were, a bunch of guys from a little country town, listening Hank Williams Jr. and singing outloud with a mouthful of Levi Garrett without a care in the world.
Nobody (especially me) has a clear memory of what happens next – what we do know was told to us later by other friends that were driving behind us. For some reason, this was the day that the driver of a big, 18-wheeler truck decided to run through the lone El Paso stop sign. My truck was crushed like an aluminum can in the accident.
People who arrived at the scene described the scene to the four of us involved later. Two of the guys, Brian and Steven, were up and walking around – I believe one of them had to have a few stitches. Joey had some major facial injuries that had to be fixed with surgery (and the poor guy wasn’t all that good-looking to begin with). I was left slumped in the front seat of the truck, unconscious, where the roof was smashed in on my head.
Fortunately, there was a doctor – who was also going to the game – in one of the cars behind us that stopped to help until the ambulances arrived. If it wasn’t for his help, I probably wouldn’t be writing this for you today – he explained the severity of my injuries to the emergency personnel who then rushed me to Baptist hospital in Little Rock for the best care possible in the fight for my life.
I’m told that the waiting room was packed full of people that night waiting to hear news of my condition and I’ve also been told that the initial prognosis was not good. Because I was not wearing a seatbelt, I avoided suffering a broken neck, but the head injuries were serious enough to be life-threatening. After a week of living in the ICU deep in a coma, in which I said some things that people will never let me forget, I started to come around.
Once I was awake, the rehab began. At the age of 17, I was having to relearn everything – from how to walk to doing simple math. I was moved to a hospital that specialized in rehabilitation – where I was by far the youngest patient – and that was where I spent most of the next month of my life. I don’t remember a lot of the months that I spent in both in-patient and out-patient at this hospital. There are memory flashes of walking, with help, through the parking lot, of doing little puzzle games like the ones we give to Rachel, and of the loving support from friends and family. I remember listening to the Beebe football games on the radio and hearing Russ Lindsey talk about me being in the hospital. I remember the terrible hospital food (I lost 20 lbs in a month) and my eagerness to get back to normal.
The next few years were a time of major adjustments for me. I was able to finish high school on time, but I dropped from first in the class rankings to third. My athletic career was over because of a complete lack of coordination (walking a straight line was tough enough!). My capacity for remembering was nearly nonexistent, and it has only really begun to improve in the last three or four years. All of sudden, after years of breezing through classes, school and learning had become difficult for me. I was forced to learn to study and, even then, my grades were not near the perfect A’s I had made before with little effort. My self-confidence went from arrogance to nearly nothing. The lack of confidence and diminished ability brought on numerous bouts of depression and subsequent apathy to everything.
Though times were tough for a while, it all eventually faded away. While I have recovered over the years, I’ll never be back to where I once was – and that’s ok. For years, it was hard to for me to understand why this had happened – I blamed God and everyone else for my problems, but then something happened and I’m not sure what it was.
As I reflected on my experiences, I began to realize just how important they were for me to become the person I am today and the person that I will be in the future. Even if I could change it, I don’t think I would go back in time and decide to stay home from that ill-fated trip. If anything, my struggles in the years after the accident helped me to realize the importance of relying on others and on God.
And the Band Played On… May 6, 2006Posted by Matt in Reminiscence.
Tags: band, Bush, Everclear, high school, May Day, Nirvana
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Originally posted 5/6/06
Given the time of year it is, the other day I was doing a bit of reminiscing about May Day at Beebe High School – particularly about a certain band that performed there ten years ago.
Being a lover of all kinds of music, one of the things I most wanted to accomplish in my young life was to play in a band – and possibly even play in front of people. Well, during the spring of ’96 – my senior year – that dream was finally realized. A good month or so before that special day four of us – Michael, Andy, Dustin, and I – decided that we were finally going to do it – we were going to perform in front of the entire high school.
We ran into a few problems at first, namely Dustin was the only one of the four of us with much musical talent at all. Andy, who had played drums in the school band through about 9th grade or so, borrowed a drum set from someone, I did a crash course in bass guitar, and Michael bravely took on the singing duties, despite his obvious lack of ability. The weeks leading up to our big performance was one of the most fun times I had during all of my high school years. We tons of practice hours during that time, rehearsing the few songs we could actually play well enough that we wouldn’t feel to embarassed to do in front of a few hundred of our peers, until we finally felt confident enough to step out on that gym floor…
As people filed into the gym that day, we opened with a little instrumental section of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today,” which amounted to Dustin noodling around on his guitar while the rest of us tried to make it look like we knew what we were doing. Once everyone got seated, the grand show began…
We played three songs that day – the only three we really felt comfortable enough to play in public – Everclear’s “Santa Monica”, Nirvana’s “About a Girl”, and ended with Bush’s “Little Things.” At the time everything seemed great, it’s really not until we watched the video later that we realized just how bad we sounded. But that really didn’t matter because we had finally done something that we had talked about for years – we started a little band and got to play in front of people.
To this day, when I’m around Andy we still joke about this and talk about how much fun we had during those weeks leading up to the “concert.” It’s one of those things I won’t forget…