An old injury has come back to haunt me, a shadow of its old self. When I lower my head (to read a letter or check out the latest stain on the rug), it doesn’t want to come up again. An act of will has to step in and lend a hand to what should be a reflex action. My head comes up slowly in ripples of pain.
Forty years ago I knew this ex-Marine who used to sit in a second-story window and with a pellet gun maim squirrels that scurried across the back lawn of his Palo Alto home. One night at a party I told him what I thought of his squirrel-maiming pastime, and he said, “What are you going to do about it?” So I pushed him backwards over a chair.
He was a tournament wrestler and a football lineman, and he came up off the floor and threw his shoulder into my mid-section. He ran me across the room into the wall and knocked the wind out of me, and before I could get it back he had me on the floor with my head in a scissor lock. I could hear things snapping and cracking.
For weeks afterward I couldn’t move my head without daggers of pain shooting through my neck.
Twenty years ago that pain came back with a new twist to it, so that if I tried to stand up, I collapsed – each and every time. My friends carried me in to a neurosurgeon who told me after a twenty minute examination that if I wasn’t operated on immediately, I’d be permanently paralyzed down my left side within six months, and it so happened that he had an opening that very afternoon. “Get me out of here,” I said. “I’ll opt for spontaneous healing.”
The world is full of squirrel maimers, and this business with my neck is one of many scars I carry from pushing them backwards over chairs.
Ever since I tore up the high-school soccer field on my Harley at the age of 17, I’ve been known as a trouble maker.