Friday, May 6, 2016

The People I Knew: A Crash in Phoenix

It was morning in Phoenix and I was ready! It had been five months since I worked a national race and it was finally here! The weather was great and as I drove to the track on the extreme north side of Phoenix hot air balloons filled the tranquil sky. After a smooth day of practice on Friday it was time to finally get at it and flag racing but before racing could commence the morning warmup sessions had to take place. Morning warmup, as the flagman, isn’t my favorite part of the day because it’s just another round of normal practice, but sometimes within the normal comes the unforgettable.

                Driving home from a presentation last night I was still thinking about the events that occurred in Phoenix just five days ago. It’s amazing how fast things can change, but it’s also within the slow changes that things can, well, change. What do I mean? I’ve been reflective since last Saturday and thinking about the people I knew but no longer know. The people I worked with, the people I went to school with. I thought back to my first job and the lady that understood me and I had a great time working with, and my third job and the countless people that I worked with at the video game store. All of them were in or about to go to college and they all had dreams of the future. Whatever happened to them?

                Right before the first session rolled off I took my first office selfie of the year and the smile, oh that smile, there is no duplicating the smile I have as my Kansas above all other Kansases is about to be enjoyed. The first session went and came in and the second group went out and not halfway through a call came on the radio that the red flag needed to be displayed. When a red is called questions aren’t asked because this means there’s a serious situation and the session must be stopped immediately. I reached for the red not knowing where or why we were going red but with a feverish flair I flew the red in the air and the session stopped.

                My long drive continued on and I thought about the people I only worked with a time or two, and I thought of all the instructors I worked with at the Derek Daly Academy in Vegas. This isn’t something I think of all that often as it’s actually overwhelming to think of all the people I knew because, even though I often appeared aloof or unfriendly, I did actually care but it was so hard to show because I went to work to work and chit chatting wasn’t something I could do. To be honest I took offense to this when my coworkers would try and talk with me at the videogame store because I thought they were being disrespectful by not talking about work. Oh, how little I knew then.

                This red flag stared to become eerie. The ambulance rolled to the furthest point away from me but there was no chatter on the radio. Typically they’ll be an update of some sort but the radio net was clear. I looked over at the scene as I now knew by where the ambulance had parked but I couldn’t make out where a kart, if any was. The medics got out and went two separate ways. This was now most odd because I couldn’t even see a kart and the medics were going to what I had to assume were two different people. “What happened?” I said aloud to only myself. It was obvious we weren’t restarting anytime soon so I ventured towards the scene to assess how long we would be red.

                I’ve never been good at letting people around me know what they mean to me, but in my mind now is forever and there’s no real need because things will never change. I thought that way in school at my first, second, and every job thereafter. As I drove past Rolla I thought back to the tellers I worked with at the bank and the manager that hired me. I remembered that I found that manager’s obituary a couple years ago as she had died young because of cancer. She motivated me and she congratulated me each time I set a new record for amount of customers served through the drive through and yet I never once reciprocated any sign of, well, anything.

                When I got near the far side of the track I could see that both medics were now at a kart that was well off the track, but there were two officials standing near the edge of the track and as I started up the track, which was slightly banked, I could see that another person was on the ground. One kart, two injuries? Then, as I got closer, I could see that the person on the ground was wearing the same shirt I was. It was a fellow official and as I got even closer I then saw who it was. It was Scott; one of my biggest cheerleaders, a member of The Consortium that’s going to plan the destination(s) of the final leg of The Aspie Traveler, and one of the more interesting persons I have ever met and now he was lying on the ground motionless. I feared the worst and turned away.

                The nighttime drive was dragging on and I couldn’t shake that moment when I realized who it was on the ground. This isn’t to say I’d have had a different reaction if it were someone else, but it’s just that I have talked with Scott in length about life, travel, and most of all the autism spectrum. This got me thinking about other people I’ve known that I’ve really talked to. A fellow teller at the bank that worked in the other sensory deprivement chamber (the branch was being rebuilt so the drive thru were two separate huts about 8 feet by three feet wide) would often call and we’d talk about pretty much anything. The 5 o’clock hour was usually dead so she’d call and talk about her daughter, or angry customers she had. I didn’t so much talk but just listened but I had no customers and it beat being bored and at the time I wasn’t that interested it what she had to say, but now I wonder how her story turned out. The thing is I don’t even remember her name even though I worked alongside her for so long. How bad is that?

                I got halfway back to the finish line and emotions started to creep in. If I were to get through the day I’d have to distance myself from them, compartmentalize and deal with them later. However, I decided to go back to make sure my worst fear weren’t justified so I turned around and slowly proceeded back. And I do mean slowly because by the time I got back the other medic had installed an IV which led me to believe my worst fears weren’t true and then I saw Scott open his eyes. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief but I made sure to keep my distance. The race director, another official, and the medic were there and I kept a safe distance away and it was obvious Scott was badly injured, but when he managed to get his cell phone he started texting and someone asked, “Would you like me to do it, Scott?” Scott responded with a dry, “Nah, I got it.”

                The lights of the metro area of Saint Louis was now approaching as the clock was almost at midnight. It was going be coming up on six days since the crash, but the emotions are still just as thick now as they were as I first saw Scott open his eyes. We, well, I go through my days taking everything for granted. Maybe most people do, maybe if everyone realized the frailty of everything life would be too difficult. When I go through phases of wonder and sadness of the past my body tries to compensate by taking in the moment of now. But how can I do this? How can I fully let people around me know what they mean when expressing emotions is so difficult? Some misguided experts have said, “People on the autism spectrum have no emotions, have no empathy, and simply don’t care,” but if you could’ve felt my concern in the moments of this crash you’d know they’d be false. If you knew how I’m driven to tears on wondering what happened to the people I knew you’d know they be false. It’s awful knowing I’m lacking in the ability of expressing things in the now only to be regretful after the fact, but this is the maze that Asperger’s creates and getting out of the maze and finding the way to express things isn’t easy.

                People tried to cheer Scott up but Scott was rather open about his injuries and wasn’t in the cheering up mood. Also, serious attention was being given to the driver that was also involved in this incident. As for what happened, I don’t know, I didn’t see it, but as the transport ambulances arrived I thought of telling Scott, “good luck” or, “best wishes” but nothing sounded right so I stayed afar watching silently.

                When I got to my exit to return home my phone buzzed. It was Scott responded to a text as I had, well, I didn’t exactly ask him how he was doing because I knew it wasn’t good and there’s a long road to recovery ahead, but he responded with the same positive attitude I’ve always seen him have. The fact that the text came right as I was thinking all these other thoughts was downright uncanny, but it was somewhat of a relief to know my friend was still him; slightly broken but still him.

                The rest of the race weekend went off without any other major hitches, well, nothing the likes that was seen in what was supposed to be a normal warmup. It was eerie just how fast an incident like that is forgotten in the heat, well, in the cold and rain (I couldn’t believe it was Phoenix!) of battle, but the saying “the show must go on” actually was experienced. With each down time I wondered how he was doing and I did a text from Scott stating that, “I will live” and then there were a bunch of emojis so I figured the pain medication must’ve been doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing but then the next race would start and I’d go right back into being hyper-focused at the matter at hand.

                Life is odd. One minute you’re surrounded by people you think will be there forever and then a job changes, or you move, and slowly the people that were a part of your daily life are gone. People come, people go, and maybe for most this is normal and isn’t a major occurrence the same as if in a television show the cast of extras in the background were to suddenly be changed. However, even though I don’t show it and I do everything I can to deny it the people around me whether it’s the major characters or the extras in the background mean a lot to me and maybe more so than to what would be considered a “normal” person. I can’t state it, I can’t express it, but I do really care about those around me and it’s more than just the fear of change. I once again went back to all the people I knew and wish I could just have one more conversation, maybe attempt to chit-chat, and experience their existence one more time. This is a thought I never truly had until this week, but after bearing witness to the aftermath of such a serious incident life seems more precious and those around me don’t seem invincible.

                When the race weekend was all said and done and the final checkereds flew over the field I was spent. I’m typically this way after a race weekend but I had been forcibly denying my body any allowance on feeling. At the track I thought of those misguided experts and I thought, “If they only knew!” I had done what I thought was impossible and made it through the weekend with my emotions intact and I knew why those misguided experts would come to their conclusions. For me to operate I have to deny myself the emotions or I’ll become over encompassed by them. The solution to this is to deny the feeling of them which when I got back to the hotel room the emotions hit.

                As I pulled into my parking spot at home and stared across the field that’s adjacent to it I tried to think of a balance I could have but balance isn’t my strong suit as I’m either all in or all out. I’m either stoic or emotional and it isn’t until after the fact, or well after the fact, that I show emotion. I must try though, and this blog post, in a way, is that attempt. I don’t know exactly how to say, “get better soon” when the injuries of Scott’s have so many broken bones, and while I know I can’t go back and have a conversation with Carol at the bowling alley, or Mike at the videogame store, or the nameless teller at the bank, I know I can await the next time Scott and I are at the finish line talking about the previous race and maybe even a little bit of chit-chatting as we await the next race in the sport we love.

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