James Gill Accident Stories

People want to hear about tragedy as long as they can accept the ending: death or triumph. Don't bother telling about anything else.

Sometimes I pull out my wallet, the same one I carried on that day, and show the crease where the tractor's steering wheel pinned it to the ground; then I tell them how it went through me first before the earth was able to stop it. Or I'll raise my shirt and show the thick scar where the doctors filled me with stainless steel. That's what people want.

But they can't know, even if I tell them: how every time I close my eyes at night, I see the tractor falling, the tonnage coming down hard, twisting and breaking me, my body no different than an animal lying run over on the highway; an inch's difference, and I too would be roadkill.

They can't know: six months after being released from doctor's care, when most people thought of me as a miracle, an inspiration, as evidence that God has a plan, my wife asked what I wanted for supper, and I answered that I'd rather have been killed, that there was no reason to live, and when she stared with dark empty eyes and said, "How can you look at me and say that," I threw a chair across the room.

They can't know: what it is for a wife to mourn the death of the husband she still lives with; what it is to spend two years trying to crawl out from under a tractor.

So when people ask, I tell them the first person I saw when the ambulance arrived on the scene was a fat reporter from the local newspaper, cameras dangling from his neck, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief, asking me, "How's it going today?" Or that I tried to stay conscious on the med-evac because it was my first helicopter ride, leaning up to look out the side window, seeing the fields and the river, then buildings growing closer and closer, until we landed on the roof of the hospital and I blacked out. I tell these things because they can never know how bright the sun shone in my eyes as I lay for hours bent in half under the tractor, or how I wanted a drink of water more than pain killers, or what it's like seeing your body disappear into the ground under a wall of metal, twisted in ways reserved only for corpses. And no matter how I try, I can't get the story right so that they understand. So I give a little laugh and say something about being one tough bastard and think, you ridiculous people, you will never know.

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