Fourth book in progress
MY TOP TEN ACCIDENTS & OTHER SKELETONS FROM THE CLOSET
Two Excerpt From Top Ten Accidents
CHELSEA and THE BUM LEG below
FROM TOP 10 ACCIDENTS & OTHER SHORT WORKS (In Progress)
ODE TO CHELSEA (For the love of a dog)
© By Sandy Garnett, April 2001
Chelsea had been walking slowly lately. This bedrock of love that had graced my family’s household for fifteen years had grown tired in her long life, and we had all begun to see the signs warily, nervously for the past several years. Her sight was nearly gone and she couldn’t hear anymore. She responded mainly to the vibrations in the floor, and she would look up as though in recognition when I would enter the room, a warm acknowledgement to me, whether or not she could see which one of her family members I was. She knew me when I got close to her. She could feel that I was me and my two brothers were my brothers and my father was my father and my mother was her best friend.
I was sixteen when I returned home after school to find the runt of the litter scurrying around, all excited to discover a new creature to play with. In my adolescent haze, rebellious and hardening as I struggled to carve out a formative identity for myself, I was completely disarmed, breathless, the child again I wanted to be, smitten by a little puppy I had secretly wished for so many years. She lay supine and content in my left hand as I studied this tiny being, less than a foot long, completely trusting, smiling with the belief that life makes so mesmerizing. Chelsea was my first love, my immediate companion, an instant sister that we boys came to realize as our own.
The last day we spent some quality time together was on Saturday, while my parents were away watching my youngest brother play lacrosse at college. My mother left a message at my house asking if I would visit Chelsea, a message that had become the norm my brother’s freshman year as my parents chased his game schedule around the Eastern seaboard every weekend. I entered my old home, bringing with me the easy knowledge that regardless of human presence I would enjoy the company of the family member whose influence had become so powerful in her quiet presence. As always, I said hello, a hands and knees affair, letting Chelsea know I was there, I cared about her and I would be around this afternoon. There we sat, she in her bed and I in my father’s worn chair, painting watercolors while Tiger Woods made his move to take the lead on Augusta’s back nine. Chelsea vomited and was noticeably restless, which alarmed me, peculiar for a dog that had no trouble sleeping twenty hours a day.
When the evening arrived I took Chelsea in my arms, walked her out in the early spring dusk, and placed her gently on the greening grass. Her hind legs wobbled cautiously, and she seemed disoriented. She naturally struck a priceless Chelsea pose for me, stoically facing the soft, cool wind, blinking flirty eyelashes as the breeze swirled the fuzz of her curly white Bichon hair and flapped her ears slightly. This was a vision that had made me happy and peaceful and grounded and alive a thousand times before over the years, my time with Chelsea, a walk in the family temple, sharing a moment with my sister. We gave each other a kiss good night and I drove home, thinking about the life we had spent together.
Chelsea’s birth softened the men in our family. We were weaned on the old Southerners who moved North mentality of second generation Connecticut folks; a hardheaded, softhearted steak and potatoes methodology emanated from my father’s wise and charming simplicity. Work hard, play hard, be loyal always to your family and friends, be wary of things you don’t know in your gut to be true and time tested. With three sons in the family, there was little room for dialogue that did not concern the fundamentals of living life to its fullest the manly way; family pride, business, sports and other forms of gentlemanly recreation. My mother’s power as matriarch stabilized with angelic resilience the gladiator climate that relentlessly assaulted her sublime femininity and tireless sensibility. With endless cascades of biting wit and comedic timing, often directed at the four boys that constituted her domain, she seamlessly infused an artsy, third generation New Yorker gaze on the absurdity of suburban life with a deep fascination and tolerance for all things new and exciting. My parents’ ability to traverse seismic contrasts in style never escaped me even at a young age; with the choice of dog breed, for example. I was shocked to first see my father, a powerful, sometimes intimidating presence, rolling around on the carpet with a biscuit in his mouth pining for the fleeting affections of a petite Bichon Frise.
Needless to say I never expected a little dog in our house. We four boys, my father leading the way, marched and banged around as this was the way men naturally operate. I soon found myself prancing and dancing a bit for fear of stepping on Chelsea amidst the ironclad machismo that constitutes budding young sons in healthy strong households. Sitting around the den, we would bellow boisterously at one another, forecasting the next athletic events that would test the limits of our male capacities. My mother put up with all the testosterone by laughing at us, but Chelsea, my mother’s partner in crime, would not ever blink. Without fail, over the course of a three hour football game, all the boys in the family would get on the floor and do human tricks for Chelsea in order to outwit her court and steal her attention for a brief moment. If I pleased her, she would feign a kiss; if she refused to engage, I would return to my seat a temporarily beaten young man, repelling the cheerful snickers of my brothers who knew they could do better. She loved the drama of it all and played the part like the china doll that she was. So did we.
My mother’s black humor propelled the dark streak in Chelsea. In her prolific prime, she would run several spools of toilet paper upstairs and down in a youthful display of mischievous glee. A true Houdini at one with her craft, Chelsea the consummate professional and flawless performer would never be caught in the act, regardless of hundreds of yards of circumstantial evidence that would inevitably lead to the foot of her bed and corner of her mouth on occasion. The scolding she received was more an enthusiastic roast, and her ears would perk up to absorb the compliments of her lovely misdemeanors that delighted us with every broad stroke of her immense genius to slay us effortlessly.
On Monday Chelsea was taken to see the vet, and spent the night in an oxygen tent to stabilize her blood pressure. Matt and I gathered at the house and we sat for dinner, talking about the family members who weren’t able to be with us. My youngest brother was at school and therefore unavailable to entertain and exhaust us with the beauty of youth that has kept our family young and my parents tired. Chelsea’s presence was powerfully absent, and I missed the tags jingling on her collar as she would mingle with our legs and feet. Dinner was light as it could be, although the news was growing bleak. The clinic wanted to check her throat the next day to determine if an obstruction was hampering her food consumption. The vet had assured my mother that Chelsea was comfortable and would have a good sleep.
Yesterday I was on the phone with a collector when the call came in. “Sandy... they had to put Chelsea down,” Matthew said solemnly. I got off the phone and sat for awhile. The flickering reality of Chelsea dying suddenly began to haunt me like the members in my family who had passed away, there in spirit but never again in the luxury of touch or new shared experiences. On the way home I struggled to recall life before Chelsea, before I had become a man, before I had become myself.
Matthew had been home before me to comfort my mother and had cleared out Chelsea’s things. He had taken her bed, her food and biscuits, skin pills, toiletries. She was above dog toys; as one of the ladies of the house, we were her playthings. Dangling on the door frame in plain view hung Chelsea’s red leash, a symbol I had long foregone with great pride when I had taught her as a puppy to come when I called her. My mother preferred the leash, five times a day, a routine that constituted the beginning and end of her day, fifteen years of living. “Her leash,” my mother said painfully through my eyes the way a mother knows when one of her children is trying to conceal something. Matt came in and removed the leash that had hung forever, eliminating another remnant that sears memory in grief.
“I’ve had so much sadness,” my mother cried, missing Chelsea and everyone else she loved who had also died, as mourning goes. “Chelsea was there with me through all the rough spots. That damn dog was my best friend... she never took anything from me. She just gave and gave.” I felt the same way, of course. How else could I feel? “People say the most stupid things,” my mother spoke quietly as her words drifted through the empty house, “Chelsea never said stupid things.”
Today my parents went to another lacrosse game. I had some things to retrieve from my parents’ house, and wanted the warmth I feel when I visit the place that my parents grew most of me up in. As I opened the door I felt the involuntary rush that meant I was home. For a fleeting moment I felt the spark of life that would always flicker in me, an unconditional joy and love, a moment of peace between two creatures, outside the pale of my daily struggles as a professional artist, a moment to play like a child again, a constant mirror reflection of my most unselfish and poignant self, a ray of hope peering through stormy days and painful moments, time with the only sister a house full of boys had ever known, a kiss from my sister Chelsea. Her heart could melt a thousand men. She was my best friend too.
The Bum Leg (Preface)
I like to make people laugh with the stories of my self-inflicted injuries and accidents. I come from a fairly robust, athletic family, and I was taught at an early age that scars are badges of courage, memories to be celebrated. When I would bang myself up as a little boy I would go to my dad and he would either congratulate me for my new injury or wave me away for making a big deal out of nothing. I remember going up to him with a new cut and he would say, “That little thing? That’s nothing! Look at this scar! The whole skin on my knee ripped away!" Or, “That’s nothing! I’ve got metal pins in my ankle! Or, “That’s nothing compared to the ten stitches I got in my elbow from that car door!” If his stories weren’t good enough he’d bring in family members whose stories were more ghastly than his own. “What about my brother? The day he got his braces off he took a slapshot in the head and lost eight of his front teeth!” Before helmets were cool, that is. This was one of his favorites and he'd bellow it loudly, just like that at me when I was four years old, trying to imagine 8 teeth smashed out of my head by a hockey puck, realizing that my little boo-boo was just that and I ought to stop crying about it. Sometimes my father would recount another one of his favorite projectile injuries. "And what about my sister, when Uncle George teed off, the ball duck-hooked and knocked your Aunt Sally out... 37 stitches in her forehead!" Ouch.
I try to walk through life with an eye on good posture, balance, field vision, so as not to find myself the unlucky target of other less coordinated human beings, like the majority of horrendous drivers who clog the streets and cause all kinds of accidents. But there are calculated risks as well, particularly if one is inclined to pursue athletic endeavors, where the odds of injuries increase dramatically. The whole idea of strapping two splinters to your feet and careening down a mountain at full speed, for example, is infinitely more challenging, thrilling and for that matter dangerous than walking down Main Street.
One of my most recent top ten injuries, which prompted this story, is illuminated in the below email thread between my sailing team and me the morning after I fell through the bow hatch during a race that we happened to win. My right leg did not win in the exchange.
email thread through the day
6:45 am Captain Alex to Sandy
How's the leg?
7:15am Matt to Sandy
Sandman - you OK?
Sandy to Matt 7:30am
much better thanks shining star number one
Nick and Clute (not present for race)
Sandy to Clute 7:45am
Subject: Re: Wed nite sailing
I took the jib down and when moving nimbly aft my right leg went through the hatch and I smashed my thigh very hard full body weight full speed. My body smashed against the hatch door, my face plastered to the deck of the boat. My right side went numb as I stared at my right hand and could not feel my fingers. I dragged my body aft quietly and in shocking pain, licked my wounds silently. I made a recovery to finish the race, although my leg was getting useless, like getting off the dock and getting in the car to go to the bar to celebrate our first win of the season. My leg did not work so I had to lift her into the car with two arms, which took minutes to achieve. Then at the bar I was seated on a tall stool... Alex noticed that I had passed out and was sweating profusely... they asked what was wrong, I woke up and said ‘mild shock’... then went out again. They dragged me to a booth, Matt got a fifty pound bag of ice to put on my thigh, which was so big it looked like I was icing my genitals. I had three glasses of water, felt much better, drove home, sleep, better today. Very unusual Clute, you would have loved it. The bartender thought I was drunk but I’d had 2 beers all night... first time I’ve passed out since Hamilton Grateful Dead Show, 1991 (faceplanted in gravel at a gas station, total dehydration after not eating or drinking anything all day, dancing all night - totally sober for 3 years when this happened).
Sandy took a huge digger down the open hatch and jacked his thigh. After a cocktail at the bar, his eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out - twice. To us mortals, the pain would have put us in the hospital for a week - Sandy shrugged it off as we iced it and wiped the sweat beads from his body. Oh yeah, we got the gun and as far as we can tell - first.
(More on the passing out).
I (apparently) was telling the most boring story Sandy has ever heard. So much so that his eyes rolled back and then his head onto the bar, where the two waitresses and bartender were talking. It was pretty funny because at first the waitress thought Sandy was making some sort of strange pick up manuever and then they all decided that he must be completely drunk. So I sat him up by the scruff of his neck and asked the crew, “Hey what do I do with this?” After he came to Meese responded quickly that we were taking him to the hospital but he couldn’t stand up and then broke out into a deep sweat. Fortunately the drunk at the end of the bar advised us that he had ripped tendons and the blood was going to his brain. So then the four of us all proceeded to rub, poke and prod
Sandy’s inner thigh and ask the age old question, “Does it hurt?”
Wednesday Night ---- Always a memory
Love it. That will become a classic story of the Star. Never seen Sandy so grey and slimy as when Alex was holding him up by the collar at the bar, obviously out cold, and saying “Uh, guys, a little help, here?”
Phil Meese to Sandy
You okay? How is the leg today? Much Pain?
Sandy to Meese
totally mobile with a slight gimp no pain unless using leg.
Sandy again to team
I vaguely recall my head snapping down, then a hand came from behind and lifted my head like a rag doll. This prompted involuntary opening of my eyes... it felt like I was hyperventilating under a sheet of sweat. My crew was asking me stupid questions like, “Are you okay? I tried to play it cool, but I was out of my gourd, so I stammered, “Mild shock...” a fairly accurate assessment before passing out again. I was seated at the edge of a bar stool because my leg wouldn’t work and I think the blood flow restricted, this paired with intense pain and dehydration led me to temporarily lose consciousness. Gee I’m glad my crew was there to snap me out of it. That would have sucked if you guys had split and left me on the floor in a puddle of my own urine and sweat, a broken down sailor lost at the River Cat...
June 4 Email Update to Team
This is a week later, a mean 7 incher, plus an accompanying one on the inside. The knee went from a melon to a baseball and then I realized that the knee struck the hatch and the leg ‘SLID’ down until impacting the below hatch burn... the knee got it as good. Although I run 15 miles a week this digger would have sidelined a pro athlete for a couple weeks no question, screw the age of the player even though I heal slower than a 22 year old.
Did you guys win? Somebody crackberry me please tonight.