Wednesday, February 24, 2010


You ever had a mouthful of fear?  I am not talking about your brother
yelling "boo" on your way to bed when you were four years old.  I am
referring to "this is the moment I die" fear.  Piss-in-your-pants, fight-or-
flight, life-flashes-before-your-eyes fear.  Made from concentrate. 

My first dose came when I was about 20.  My friend Kevin and I were students
at the University of Delaware.   

I was going home one weekend.  He needed a ride.  We both lived near Dover.  Fair enough.

Weekend goes by.  It is Sunday night and it is time to head back to
school.  It was winter and we were driving north in my trustworthy Chevy Cavalier.  I remember feeling that ping of dread caused by the thought of Monday morning classes; they were only a couple hours away.  Back to the grind.

One of my favorite things to do is to drive at night.  I love cutting the
dark with car headlights and watching shadows as decent tunes crank out of the radio.  It's a great feeling. I tend to forget about everything going on, just the feel of the tires rolling underneath me.

We took a shortcut through Middletown.  It was a good ride, checking
out the old part of town, passing the cemetery, making each other laugh.  There was no other traffic on the road.
We were just about to merge on Road 896.  We had to cross the old
railroad tracks  headed out of town and then it was a straight shot to campus.  As we drove over the tracks I began to think about the paper I had to write and the exam I had to study for. 

Then the moment happened.

Kevin looked left and his look of disinterest suddenly became one of panic.
His face contorted into sheer terror.  As it started to register within
me that something was amiss, he let out this primal scream and fear
streaked through me.

He screamed the word "Train."

The scream extended into blood-curdling madness and a pin prick that
began at the base of my skull rushed to every cell in my body as I
watched  Kevin contort into a straight stiff plank against my car's passenger door.
I turned just in time to see the train's engine bearing down on us.  Its huge single light filled the interior.  Twenty tons of metal were ready to melt into us and this was it.  This was our moment of truth.  We were going to die.

I remember the bitter taste of adrenaline in my mouth and fire
burned through my blood.  There was an intense ringing in my ears
and my bones fused into one.  No talking our way out
of this one.  No do-over. No timeout can be called.  My last thought was, "How did I let this happen?"
The train passed right through us and my Chevy was still driving north
as I merged onto 896.
I slowly realized that there was no train.  It was an 18 wheeled truck on the road that paralleled the train tracks.  For some unknown reason Kevin had mistaken the truck for a freight train on the rails and his reaction had sold me on the idea lock, stock, and barrel.

Everything went totally silent. 

The truck that used to be a death train innocently and innocuously continued north past us. 
I cannot remember the rest of the ride back to school.  I cannot remember what was said.  I am certain at some point we laughed about it but memory fails me.  I can say that at that moment I felt as if death was immiment.  That was the first time that death became a reality for me.  I am mortal.  Life is finite.

Kevin and I are still best friends and every once in a while when we are together one of us will look at the other and say that one word, that single syllable.  It has a completely different meaning to us.


  1. Your near death incident reminded me of one I had. I was 18 years old. I was in the Army. I and five of my fellow soldiers and buddies were making the 8 hour drive from Chester, PA to Ft. Devens, Mass. It was late at night. We were on the Connecticut Turnpike. All of us.....yes, ALL OF US were ASLEEP including the driver of the car, Richard Kley (I will always remember his name.)

    I was sitting in the back of the car on the right side with my friend Bob Mc. (who lives outside of Georgetown, DE now) and another young man whose name I can't remember now but he was married to a former Miss Pennsylvania which impressed us all mightily.) Something caused me to wake up and I realized we were on the grass median strip, our car hurtling at 70 MPH at the concrete wall of the tunnel entrance. I don't know what possessed me but I yelled at the top of my lungs "KLEY!" He woke up as well as everyone else in the car. Richard swerved onto the highway, and just missed hitting the wall. Instead we entered the tunnel like a bullet in the night. None of us said anything. We were wide awake when we arrived at Ft. Devens about two hours later at 4 am. We all know we got a "pass" that night.

    To this day I don't know why I woke up but if I hadn't, we all probably would have been a headline the next day. Either my guardian angel was riding with us or I was the guardian angel. I don't know. Whatever it was, it wasn't our time.