The First Time I Almost Died: Part Two

L-R: My brother Roland, Earl, me

L-R: My brother Roland, Earl, me about the age I was shot

Dizzy and exhausted and so far from home, I questioned how I could possibly make it in my condition. In reality, I was no more than a mile and a half or so from my beloved Seabury Rd house (as the crow flies) at this point, but the road ahead seemed bleak and daunting. We traveled the path from whence we came, we three boys. Down the tracks, in and out of tree lines, and back to Cherry Hill Rd. Normally, we might have traveled Cherry Hill Rd to Round Rd to Seamon Ave to avoid rival neighborhood groups within some of the other courts. I hesitate to call them gangs though previous run-ins did produced physical confrontation.

I could feel the exposed flesh, resulting from the stranger’s yanked arrow, sticking to my shirt. Blood ran down my back soaking both shirt and shorts. I was light-headed. My footfalls turned to foot-drags along the concrete and asphalt and knees gave way to rubbery behavior. One of my arms hung around Keith’s neck for added support but walking was laborious. I stopped. Out of breath I told the two, “I can’t make it.”

Stupefied, Tony stopped and stared but Keith began to chuckle.  The chuckle turned to laughter. My best friend laughed at the moment of my potential expiration. I did not understand it and found it quite off-putting. His laughter suggested that he thought I was being dramatic. I was known for dramatic behavior as a child but I had just been shot in the back with an arrow and losing blood by the second. The joke was lost on me. Our relationship was never the same after and explains why I had little remorse for breaking a Budweiser bottle over his head in a fight just a year later. The friendship ended there.

I sat curbside, unable to go on. The boys sat next to me. Tony offered to run to my house to alert my mother while Keith stood watch. It seemed the best idea and only option at this point. “What’s wrong with him?” a voice rang from a car stopped in the middle of the street. “He got shot with an arrow,” was the response. “Get in,” said my good Samaritan.

The Samaritan leaned over the passenger seat and pushed open the door. The car was clean, smelled clean. It was an older model but you could tell that he took pride in his ride. Beads hung from the rear view mirror and you could smell an air-freshener though it wasn’t visible. “We gonna get yo mutha,” the two boys yelled, and off they dashed. I looked up at the Samaritan and recognized him immediately. It was one of the maintenance workers from my housing complex.

Train tracks near Cherry Hill

Train tracks near Cherry Hill

By now I was seeing stars and little birdies like when someone was clobbered in the head on the Saturday morning cartoons. I was so overcome with relief that I made an effort to lean back and rest my head. “Don’t lean back,” snapped the Samaritan as he extended his arm. Not interested in having me stain his car interior with my blood, the Samaritan pushed me forward to where my head rested on the front console. The incredulity of it all must have been evident in my reaction because I detected a slight trace of shame on the Samaritan’s face.

He tells me, “Let’s get you to the hospital.” We continued down the road. There needn’t be much communication or coordination because I knew exactly where we were going. The South Baltimore Hospital was just a stone’s throw away, in Cherry Hill, on the banks of the Patapsco river. Indeed, I had been a frequent flyer at the emergency room there. This would make my 3rd of 4th visit.

The Samaritan consigned me to the emergency room staff and my mother joined shortly after. I don’t think I ever thanked him properly.

The doctors and nurses looked on in amazement. A few recognized me from prior visits. I was asked how the arrow was removed and I explained what the stranger had done. The doctor said it was a stupid act. Said the stranger should have left the arrow in. “You’re a lucky little boy,” he said to me. He explained to my mother that my shoulder-blade likely saved my life. A couple of inches to the left or a couple of inches downward and the arrow would have gone straight through me, likely skewering a vital organ. I remember overhearing someone, perhaps a family member or family friend, say to my mother, “That boy won’t live to see 21.”

The emergency room staff busied themselves with closing the gaping wound in my back.

I’d see the Samaritan in the neighborhood from time to time and he’d give me that “I saved your raggedy-ass little life” look. I’d return it with a “hope I didn’t stain your car seat” stare. My softened eyes meant to intenerate the display of boyish machismo. It was as much gratitude as an 8 year-old boy could muster I suppose.

The harrowing experienced turned out to be just another patch up job for little Joey Lee. I was no stranger to stitched up skin. But from that moment on, I often marveled at the fragility of the human body. The human spirit is as strong as any form of matter on earth.  The human body, however, is but a bag of twigs and cooked pasta when matched against steel, mountains, trees, or trains. But the shoulder-blade of an 8-year-old boy… It can fuck with an arrow, though, can’t it?

If you missed part one of my memoir, The Making of a Miscreant, you can read it here.

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4 thoughts on “The First Time I Almost Died: Part Two

  1. Otherwise, tough shoulder blade or not, I don’t think I’d be meeting you for lunch Wednesday. Great photo of you and your brother and friend from The Day, too, sir. 🙂

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