May 27, 2024

Column: “That Got Me to Thinkin’…?” Brushes with Death


“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Brushes with Death” Chapter 48
By Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams

In my life there’s been a handful of times I’ve been a stone’s throw away from death as it was happening. It’s always a shock when you realize someone has lost their life so abruptly as you happen to be floating by.  You want to be respectful, but we all rubberneck—thinking, “There, but for the grace of God go I…”  It also always reminds me of the part of The Doors’ song “Peace Frog” where a poetic, spaced-out Jim waxes:

“Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding

Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind”

—referring to his own witnessing of a horrific road accident while riding in his boyhood family’s station wagon on a road trip. The following moments (I believe chronologically) occurred when I’d least expected them, but all left me with unsettling and lasting impressions.

The hippie my sisters and I stumbled across on a pathway while camping in ‘70’s Big Sur who had a self-inflicted gunshot wound under his leather vest (and later—his discarded rifle was located tossed or backfired into the nearby ivy).  We kids thought he was just passed out but since he was blocking the trail we went to get our dad who came and nudged him slightly with his toe and gave him a, “Hey, buddy…”—thereby exposing the oddly small bullet hole in his chest with the slight toe jostle.  The sheriff came and affirmed the suicide—the deceased’s cohorts down by the river painted a story of a distraught lover who’d had a falling out with his “old lady” after several bottles of cheap wine and there in the gravel and ruts lay the tragic result.

The African-American boy of about 12 leaving the convenience store on Delridge Way during an ‘80’s Friday rush hour that was struck by a speeding car as he hopped off the curb—blood flowing from his head onto the concrete under a jacket gently draped over him by onlookers by the time I had pulled over my work van and ran to the scene.  The gathering crowd, with their anger mounting, nearly turned on the hysterical woman that’d been driving the car as she ran in lunatic circles screaming uncontrollably—fortunately the police arrived promptly and restored order before the mob tuned ugly.

My Dad’s pre-cremation viewing (covered in a previous column so I won’t go on at length).  His blood had all but settled purple on the bottom half of his unembalmed cadaver.  I’ve been to other funerals where I knew the person, but have only seen one person that I have loved in life in this unearthly state—the others had all been “prepped” for viewing (also bizarre, but better).  I will likely take a pass on this odd tradition in the future.

The motorcyclist killed by a semi right at the start of 167 South as our family was returning from a trip to Bellingham.  His long, salt-and-pepper hair could be seen flowing out of the top of the yellow body bag like so much corn silk—my wife and I distracting our kids until we could clear our birdseye view.  I scoured the paper and found his name the next day, and then found and followed his and his wife’s Facebook pages for the next several days afterward out of both morbid curiosity and an odd sense of kinship, watching from a safe distance as they grieved.  I do not know exactly why.

The flatbed truck that bisected the cab of a mini truck that had rear ended it.  The bodies had been removed, but the blood trail on the outside of the passenger door and the complete piercing of the truck’s backrest betrayed at least two casualties—as well as the loaded ambulances that solemnly sat idly nearby.  The distraught truck driver, though blameless, removing his ball cap and wiping his whole face vigorously with his large right hand as he spoke to the patrolmen.  To this day I change lanes when I get behind one of those trucks, always gauging exactly where on my body they would’ve sliced me into two pieces as I roll around them.

The overdosed Latino male, rolled up in a carpet and stuffed into the trunk of his own car and left at our neighborhood’s community center (carefully backed in).  I came upon the scene while walking my dog just as they were crime-taping up the perimeter surrounding the car.  I guessed, and later it was found to be true, that it was an overdose—his fellow users probably not wanting all the questions associated with a call to and a visit from 911, so the sad abandonment became their macabre solution.

The multiple stabbing victim who pulled the limousine he was driving up to the back of an AutoZone and frantically pounded on the employee entrance for help (they called the cops and chose to not open the door).  He was bleeding out in an ambulance parked in back while the paramedics frantically fought to save him as I cruised around them and walked in for a check engine light analysis—the two clerks still visibly in shock and somewhat incredulous that I had unwittingly passed through the lapsed police barricade, unaware and unfettered.

To my count that’s seven—I’d be interested to hear a few of yours.  Having a 45-minute work commute and formerly working in the Seattle metro area explains some of the frequency, but who’s to say what’s normal for a guy my age?  Or in a lifetime?  Those numbers…I’d  be interested to know.