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SkyNet

Editor: In the “Terminator” movies, an incredibly complex computer system called SkyNet becomes “self-aware.” On August 29th of 1997,  it launches U.S. nuclear warheads at foreign targets in an effort to generate global war and destroy all humankind.

Wow, 1997? asks Screen Five. Look how closely that movie and your story match up – the same year, and just one day apart!

Editor: In Orange County Register newspaper accounts, an incredibly simple computer fixer called Blackie loses self-awareness on August 28th of 1997. He launches his naked forehead at a foreign car’s windshield, generating local myths and almost destroying himself.

Take it from here, suggests One. Tell ’em about The Accident.

Pedaling a bicycle from my Costa Mesa home to my job a few miles away in Huntington Beach, I lament the loss of my helmet, stolen one week earlier.

California lives up to its cereal bowl status, says Three. Land of flakes and nuts.

In the fast-rising morning heat, it’s nice not to wear the helmet as I ride hard through the traffic. I see my company’s building and start to swing across the six-lane highway, knowing I’ll be on Wycliffe grounds in just six good seconds.

But those seconds aren’t so good, are they? asks Two, knowing the answer.

My eyes open to an Earth-tone ceiling overhead. At the murmur of familiar voices, I try to look around but cannot move my head. Guessing, I tentatively call out, “Steve?”

A disembodied voice replies, “Blackie?” Shock is woven in that one word. Pandemonium erupts, though I’m unable to see its instigators. Cheers, praise, prayers easily fill what must be a tiny space. The joyous face of friend Steve does, indeed, burst into view above me.

“Steve,” I quietly ask, “would you please ask the others to leave the room? I think I’m late for work.”

Wild laughter, hand slaps and a shout of, “He’s still got it, even after this!”

Even after what? queries Four.

Steve’s face is troubled. “Don’t you know where you are?” Closing his eyes a moment, he slowly says, “You’re in UCI Medical – a trauma center. Some kid doing 64 in a white Tercel hit you on your bike.”

Three pipes in, Remember that car commercial? People singing, “Toyota, I love what you do for me.” Boy, that’s SO over!

“Why are my eyes all that I can move?”

Somebody unseen cries softly. Steve looks away, blinking heavily. “Truth is, Blackie, doctors said even if you lived – they declared you dead three times, but a friend of yours, Pastor Roger, talked his way into the emergency room and begged God to restore you – you’d be a –

Quadriplegic? bristles Six. Not on my watch!

The Accident is retold.  The hard-hit bicycle is bent to the shape of the car. The back of my unhelmeted head smashes through the windshield’s left side. I miss the 17-year-old Pakistani driver and land in the passenger seat.

Only for a moment, adds Five. Then brakes kick in. Slingshot-style, you smash back through the right shield. You travel 28 feet on your face, burning the skin and shattering the bones. Really, what isn’t bruised, burned, broken, shattered in your body is … very little.

Three medical teams, two paramedics and a –

Partridge in a pear tree, sings Three.

– police officer have declared me dead. Not yet! On the third day, the trauma center discharges me. Mystified doctors comment on the miracle. More will come, including cancellation of nine months of reconstructive facial plastic surgery.

Blackie CPMI’m home when my 6’6” friend knocks on the front door. With a smile as big as he is, Andy says, “One day you’ll get out of that special chair. (I’m strapped into a Continuous-Passive Motion machine – CPM – that moves my limbs for me 14 hours a day for months). Then we’ll teach you to use those legs again.”

Later, Amiable Andy helps me amble, wrapping several huge bedsheets around my chest and holding me upright while we daily lurch, stumble, pitch and wobble, trying our very best to negotiate the neighborhood.

Three laughs, says, Master and marionette.

Surgeries pass. Pain stays. I learn to read, slowly. I use silverware, poorly. I write once more, haltingly.

Don’t forget the six of us! chimes Four. This is when you discover your ADHD and understand us – the screens! – because a psychologist diagnoses your restlessness and distractibility.

Six mocks, Not real flattering to hear you tell doctors you’re going nuts in this CPM, your mind racing while your body wastes away!

Just three drawbacks remain to be conquered.

Your gyroscope is shot, boss! offers One woozily. You don’t talk in circles, but you sure walk in them! We hurl our cerebral Oreos with your balance sickness.

Vertigo, corrects Three. And that wobble disappears a little more with each chiropractic visit to Dr. Joseph Targonski.

The second is what doctors term “emotional incontinence.” Due to the traumatic brain injury (TBI), I have great difficulty controlling my responses. When something strikes me as even mildly sad or touching, I weep easily and uncontrollably.  So embarrassing.

Three can’t resist. Cried a million tears about it, eh?

The last difficulty is my … my …

Short-term memory damage, whispers Two.

Like the day I introduce myself to another counselor at youth camp three times. Like being unable to recall what I did a few hours earlier. Like forgetting why I walk into the next room.

Six swats me playfully. That’s just age, old boy!

Five affirms me. Your long-term memory is laserlike. Know you’d rather trade long for short – it’s a humiliating condition. But this is how you hold on to your childhood and to Big Blackie (next-oldest brother Jeff, who passed in 2000).

mysteryThink of it this way, encourages Four. Friends tell the same jokes and you laugh wildly. For real. Movies you saw a week ago end differently than you guess. You re-read the book but never know its villain. And –

And, interrupts Six with a joke, sleeping with your beautiful brown-eyed bride is like bedding a different woman every night! Morally!

The screens are right, of course. Their varied perspectives get me through my TBI fears … my walk (like I’ve had too many beers) … my too-soon-to-show tears. After all, my daily four-mile walks defy dark predictions of being a quadriplegic. I deal with every challenge as it arrives. My continued goal is developing adaptations that ensure none of those challenges become a barrier. I maintain full-time employment, volunteer extensively and enjoy family and friends.

Above all, I am determined. Granted, it’s all taking a while to overcome. But as surely as the humans believe they’ll one day retrieve Earth from the powerful Terminators, I fully believe …

I’ll be back.

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Postscript – How do Blackwells respond to tragic events? Wonder no more. When news of my hospitalization reached family members, next-youngest brother Ted immediately e-mailed me. Through the help of friends typing for me, we had this collection of laugh- and love-filled “threads” …

Ted: Heard the accident was bad.

Blackie: Yes, a bit worse than what Mom told you guys. I didn’t fall off my bike and a car didn’t just “brush” me.

Ted: Gotcha. Still, I’m surprised a little Toyota did so much damage. Our pretty neighbor, Barbie Bell, always thought your face could stop a train.

Blackie: Ohhh, nice shot, you dog.

Ted: Why did doctors waste so much valuable time running brain scans? Why not look for something they could find?

Blackie: Ouch!

Ted: When you got hit, what the last thing that went through your mind?

Blackie: Don’t really know.

Ted: I do. Your buns.

To learn more (the EASY way) about brain injury …

Maybe I’ll learn to play piano, eh?

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