Saturday, May 24, 2014

Setting the Stage Part 2

This is Part 2 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.
Setting the Stage Part 1

As I got older and began to move through high school, I held on to my skeptical feelings of religion.  I didn’t trust it, but I did begin to build a respect towards religion.  I respected anything that could unite so many people and motivate them to action.  I was also at a point that I understood that I was gay, and I knew that religion, or at least religion as I was aware of it, didn’t like me.  I reasoned that, if there was a God and that God would condemn me for being gay after that same God placed those feelings inside of me, God had a twisted sense of humor and wasn’t anything that I wanted anything to do with, even if He did exist.  I use the male pronoun here intentionally.  My mind, at this point, had never conceived of anything other than a traditional male image of God, and, I saw that image as judgmental and condemning.  

Throughout most of high school, I was pretty much an outcast.  Finally, towards the end of my junior year, I did actually begin to make a few friends.  I started hanging out with people outside of school, and, about this same time, I began drinking and smoking cigarettes as well.  Having spent so much of my life going home alone to reading science fiction paperbacks, watching Star Trek, and collecting comic books, I was eager for any kind of mainstream acceptance. 

Another big event happened for me at the end of my junior year as well.  One of the graduating seniors had spent the last year working as a writer for the newspaper in the small town where my high school was located.  He was headed off to California to attend college, and he had recommended me to be his replacement.  The job didn’t pay a lot, but my parents were willing to supplement my income so that I could quit the job that I had been working at Wendy’s in order to take a job, an actual job, as a paid writer.  I had a weekly column and a couple of other pieces that I regularly contributed to the paper, and I also had opportunity to write an occasional feature news piece here and there.

I was on top of the world.  I was actually making friends, and someone was willing to give me real money to write.  Could life actually get any better than that?

My junior year ended, and I was excited to spend the summer focusing on my new job and developing myself as a writer.  On the first day of my summer vacation after my junior year, I was sent to interview the father of one of my classmates.  He was a member of the village council, and he had been selected as the newspaper’s Citizen of the Week, which was one of the weekly pieces that I was responsible for writing.  The interview went great, but I forgot the newspaper’s camera as I was leaving their house.  I always took the camera with me because I needed to take a headshot of the person to use with the article, but I had set it aside and failed to notice it when I left.  I realized quickly what I had done, and turned around to head back. 

After I had retrieved the camera from his home, I headed back to the office.  The only way that I know this is because this is what people have told me.  I honestly, to this day, do not recall leaving his home the second time.  On the drive back to the office, as I was crossing the major highway that runs through the small town, I pulled out in front of a full-size pick up truck and was broadsided. 

My car following the accident
The truck that I pulled out in front of

A closer view of the damage

I don’t remember the accident.  I’m told that the first people on the scene were picking pieces of glass out of my tongue to keep me from swallowing them.  Many of the first responders didn’t think I would make it.  Prior to the accident, my last conscious memory is of the inside of the large wooden door of the home of the council member that I interviewed.  My next conscious thought was of waking up in an ambulance and being held down while my clothing was cut away.  I remember a few fleeting seconds of consciousness in the ER, and then, it’s blank again until I woke up in my hospital room and being in incredible pain.  My injuries consisted of a fractured rib, a punctured lung, a bruised liver, and a concussion.  The concussion prevented them from being able to administer any pain meds, and I was in extreme pain.  Being gay and growing up in a small town, I contemplated suicide many times growing up, but this was the only time in my life that I remember physical pain so great that I just wanted to die so it would end.  The right side of my face was covered with blood.  My parents later told me that, when they first saw me, they thought that my right hear had been severed.

I would spend most of my summer healing from the accident.  It also cost me a trip to Paris with my school’s French Club that summer.  I was no longer able to go on because I was still in the hospital when the trip was scheduled to leave.  I still haven’t made it to Paris, but I will make that happen some day.

Following the accident, multiple people told me that I should have died.  The passenger side of the car was impacted so hard that, sitting on the driver’s side, I could have easily placed an arm on each arm rest.  I’m so thankful that I didn’t have a passenger that day.  They would have surely died.  This moment was pivotal for me because, having been through something that people were repeatedly telling me should have killed me but didn’t, it made me being to wrestle with the question of, “Is there a reason that I didn’t die?”  Although, it didn’t prompt any immediate change in my actions or beliefs, this question would begin to eat at me over the next few years.

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

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