Times I Nearly Died, non-fiction by Murray Dunlap

When I was born, with High­line Mem­brane Dis­ease. The doc­tors gave me even odds. My father was out hunt­ing, drunk.

When Scar­let Fever found me.

When the old dude who lived next door’s tree house gave way to one hun­dred feet of tree limbs, hit­ting and falling, then hit­ting again. My tor­so tan­gled in the rope swing, dan­gling six feet above the hard, root-filled dirt.

When my father took me hunt­ing, drunk, and shot a hole through the hood of our truck. When my father took me anywhere.

When my broth­er threw a brick at my head in ambush. His aim was very good.

When I learned to dri­ve. When I learned to drink. When I learned to com­bine them.

When I intro­duced my girl­friend to my father. When my father met her moth­er. When my father mar­ried her moth­er. When that girl said, “Let’s keep dating.”

When I was jog­ging, then hit by a car, and my body flipped up onto the hood. My face pressed to the glass, inch­es from the driver’s face. When the dri­ver slammed on the brakes, cat­a­pult­ing me off the hood and into the street. I nev­er found my radio.

When I learned my col­lege dor­mi­to­ry would be coed. When I looked in the mir­ror, naked, and thought about what that meant.

When the red­neck shot me with a blow-gun and all I could think of was poi­son. When my moth­er arrived at the hos­pi­tal with her shirt on back­wards and inside out. When we got home and a man I didn’t know sat at the kitchen table, smok­ing cigarettes.

When my broth­er mar­ried and moved away. When he and his wife let me hold their first-born child.

When the boat ran in reverse, and no one knew it but me, waltz­ing with pro­peller blades in six feet of water.

When I free climbed a 100 foot pitch, in hik­ing boots, because I couldn’t lis­ten to that girl say one more word.

When I climbed the Grand Teton, and the rope wasn’t long enough. I start­ed up the pitch, not yet on Belay, with 5,000 feet of expo­sure. When the guide final­ly made the top, clipped in, and turned around smil­ing. He laughed. My fin­ger­tips bled.

When I quit climbing.

When I quit that girl.

When I for­gave my dying alco­holic father, and he looked at me and asked, “For what?” When, at the funer­al, my father’s best friend squint­ed and asked me, “Why couldn’t you have been a team play­er?” and I smelled whiskey on his breath.

When I asked the new girl to mar­ry me, guess­ing I had even odds.

When she said “Of course.” Fran­tic, I asked, “Does that mean yes?”

When she said, “Yes. That means yes.”

When we drank a few bot­tles of wine, after the mar­riage, and we dis­cussed mov­ing to Mobile.

When she said, “Well, we both have par­ents there.” When I said, “and the ocean and the Bay is so close.” I looked at our dog and asked, “What do you think, girl? Should we move?” When she, of course, said nothing.

In the morn­ing, I want­ed to take all our recy­cling to the cen­ter so there would be room for that evening’s guests.

I made it exact­ly one half mile before I eased through a green light and a man on the right side of the inter­sec­tion decid­ed he could make it if he gunned it. So he made it up to 40mph before he hit me. When it was a sol­id hit, push­ing me into the next lane and get­ting hit by an SUV, mind­ing its own business.

The worst part is that I knew the peo­ple in the SUV and worse still was hav­ing known their eldest son, who killed him­self. I thought about it for months after­wards, “Why them, and for God’s sake, why me?”

They are the nicest peo­ple, and I nev­er even remem­ber hit­ting the brakes. In fact, I don’t remem­ber a soli­tary thing. Every­thing I know has been told to me. Some­times, when I look at the pic­tures, some­one with car-knowl­edge will be sure to say, “No way any­one sur­vived that wreck!” I sheep­ish­ly raise my hand and tell them, “Well I did.”

When then they say, “You are one lucky motherfucker.”

I try to think of that state­ment when I’m either get­ting in or out of the wheel­chair and not feel­ing very lucky.

So after that I was told the old high school was keep­ing my job secure for me. My wife had start­ed her fundrais­ing job for the school while I was recovering.

When I felt like a char­i­ty case.

When I went to ther­a­py 5 days a week and tried to get myself bet­ter. When it was no use. When I decid­ed I should try myself.

So I thought as an act of inde­pen­dence, I should clean myself up with­out help. I got my hands clean and was wash­ing my face before I fell. I had got­ten blur­ry vision in the wreck which was wors­ened by the soap get­ting in my eyes.

When I got dizzy and fell. I tried to stop my fall by grab­bing a hand tow­el. It slowed me down but then my weight kicked in and the tow­el bar came fly­ing out of the wall.

When I hit the floor, butt–first. When I real­ized I was okay and grabbed the side of the counter-top. When I pulled myself up to a stand­ing posi­tion and grabbed the now fall­en hand tow­el to wipe my face. When I real­ized how far back the wheel­chair had become and knew I couldn’t make it.

When I got myself back down on the floor and crawled to the wheelchair.

When I thought, as I was pulling myself up to the seat, “Why is my life like this?”

When I decid­ed, “Back to therapy.”

Then I thought about Shane. He had been my best friend. Shane, as usu­al, was out kayak­ing. It was a freak acci­dent. He just want­ed to shake the leaves out of his hair.

So Shane, like always, wig­gled his hips and flipped the kayak over. So far, so good. Then when he had fin­ished an under­wa­ter shake and tried to flip back to the sur­face, he real­ized that his kayak was stuck between a fall­en tree and a rock.

When he couldn’t get the rest of the turn done. He stared up at the sur­face and tried every­thing he could think of. But he was where he was and not able to get the kayak free, he final­ly couldn’t stand it and took a breath.

What that real­ly meant was suck­ing a large amount of water into his lungs. I’m sure that at that moment, he thought about his wife Ali­son and if she would be okay? Then he drowned.

When Ali­son told me the news.

When my broth­er told me that the name of his lit­tle girl, who was in my arms, was Alli­son. I smiled and looked up and said “All right Shane, she is fine. Don’t need to wor­ry about her.”

When­ev­er I see Alli­son and she smiles and says, “Hi Uncle Mur­ray, let’s have some fun!”

When, on some days, it brings tears to my eyes.

When on most days, it makes me smile.

Mur­ray Dunlap’s
fic­tion has appeared in the Vir­ginia Quar­ter­ly Review, Post Road, Night Train, New Delta Review, Red Moun­tain Review, Silent Voic­es and Smoke­long Quar­ter­ly and oth­ers. His sto­ries have been twice nom­i­nat­ed to the Push­cart Prize and to Best New Amer­i­can Voic­es, and his first book, Alaba­ma, was a final­ist for the Mau­rice Prize in Fic­tion. After very near­ly being killed in a ter­ri­ble car wreck, the writer uses this site to vent: http://​www​.mur​ray​dun​lap​.com/.

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14 Responses to Times I Nearly Died, non-fiction by Murray Dunlap

  1. Julie Musil says:

    All I can say is WOW.

  2. Ellen says:

    YOU have a pow­er­ful, amaz­ing voice…keep at it! Your work is fas­ci­nat­ing; You have such a strong spir­it! I have had a few close calls, stopped count­ing after 9, but noth­ing com­pared to you~ xXx

  3. woo! Thank you all!

  4. Added some mean­ing to my day. Thanks!

  5. Stephanie Watson says:

    Pow­er­ful read! made me smile and made me teary. can't wait to get my signed copy!

  6. To all who have left com­ments, thank you! It means quite a bit to hear all of this! I only hope I can remain a good writer. Got­ta fix my vision first!

  7. Paige Russell says:

    I didn't know about your acci­dent. Thanks for giv­ing me that link. I spent a lot this morn­ing read­ing some of your writ­ing. This one and Alaba­ma are my favorites, at least from the sto­ries I've read so far. I have laughed and got­ten teary eyed read­ing your stories.

  8. Wendi Berry says:

    Won­der­ful writ­ing. Thank you!

  9. Abbyell says:

    I stum­bled across your writ­ing and then your blog quite by acci­dent today at work. I had no idea of your acci­dent-what an unbe­liev­able sto­ry. You are an incred­i­ble writer. I have so enjoyed read­ing all of your short sto­ries that I could find online-espe­cial­ly this one:) Keep up the high spir­its-Shea (Schin­del­er) Sadler

  10. Murray Dunlap says:

    My thanks to all! I didn't know if this one worked, so I've very relieved!

  11. Dave Clapper says:

    So glad this found a good home.

  12. jennifer myers says:

    i love this piece! non-fic­tion suits you!

  13. Sue says:


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