As time went on, he started to develop a sort of hard edge to his personality and our lives drifted apart. He remained very protective of his mother and eventually ended up moving to Lake Elsinore to be closer to her and his beloved grandmother. Danny was always quite the pool player and had built up a bit of a reputation at some of the lakeside watering holes. One night, after leaving his favorite tavern, he was struck by a drunk driver while attempting to cross the busy highway that encircled the lake. Although the physical damage to his body was minimal, his head hit the pavement, causing his brain to swell. The surgeons were able to save his life by boring two holes into his skull in order to relieve the pressure, but when the surgery was finished, he was in a coma. I went to visit him while he was in the hospital and when my aunt left the room, I asked his doctor what his prognosis was. The doctor took out his flashlight, pulled back Danny’s eyelid and flicked the light across his eyes. The doctor said, “Do you see how his pupils are not reacting to the light? That indicates that he is brain dead. Even if he does awaken from this coma, he will be a so-called vegetable for the rest of his life”. Although the physicians had tried to explain this diagnosis to my Aunt Wanda, she wasn’t buying it. She went to that hospital every day, sat next to his bed and spoke to her son for hours at a time as if he could hear every word she was saying. Six months later he opened his eyes, grabbed her hand and in a rough voice said “Mom”.
After he got out of the hospital, I went to visit him at his mother’s house. His speech was a little slow and his left side was pretty much paralyzed, but considering that the physicians had removed a large chunk of his brain, he seemed to be doing alright. The only problem was that he was extremely angry. You see, the accident hadn’t erased his memory and he knew that he would never again be the man he once was. This really seemed to be eating him up inside. I didn’t see him for quite a few years after that until one summer while visiting with my parents; I decided to take a ride out to the lake to check in on him. By then he was living in his own apartment next door to his mother’s house. I knocked on his door and when he answered the door, he had a puzzled look on his face. I rushed right in, gave him a big hug and told him to pack his stuff because I was taking him to see a blues show just like the ones he used to take me to in our younger days. After about thirty minutes of me telling him about the show and reminiscing about the good old days, he turned to me and said, “Who are you again?” At first I thought he was joking, but eventually I realized that the old man that showed up at his door looked nothing like the kid he had grown up with. I said “Hey it’s your cousin Wally. Don’t you remember me?” A gigantic smile appeared on his face. And he exclaimed, “WALLY!” We hugged like we had never hugged before. Before we headed out, he asked if we could stop by his favorite bar so he could introduce me to some of his friends. As we pulled up, I realized that this was the same establishment where years earlier, he had been run over while attempting to walk home. When we walked in, each person in the joint made it a point to personally greet us. I was surprised to discover that he had transformed from a man who incited fear when he walked into a bar to a beloved local character, the “One Armed Pool Shark of Lake Elsinore”. We went on to enjoy a great weekend together just like when we were kids and I came to the realization that he had truly come to terms with who he had become. A couple of months later I received a phone call from my brother informing me that Danny had been hit by another drunk driver in front of that exact same bar, but this time he didn’t survive. I guess he had finally figured out what it was that he was supposed to know in order to move on.
Listen dude, I’m not saying I understand the true nature of human existence, but I’m pretty sure we all have a few lessons to learn before we punch out.