I got punched in the face the other night. Long story. It didn’t knock me down, but I was out on my feet. Hurt my pride more than anything. Thankfully, in the parallel universe of prison, standing up for oneself supersedes wins and losses and after spending so many years in a cage, I’ve at least got the standing up part down pat.
But in the groggy aftermath of the fight, as I lay in my bunk with a vicious headache and a wet rag attempting to staunch the blood flow, it occurred to me that I had probably just suffered yet another concussion.
I’m paranoid about my brain. I’ve been that way since I started writing books. Any minor lapse of memory is immediately suspected as a precursor for dementia. I mourn the loss of brain cells I once squandered sucking on crack pipes and water bongs and I even meditate in the neuroplastical hope of rejuvenating gray matter. I’d take three broken legs over another concussion at this stage.
Head-shots, like felony arrests, have been a recurring theme over the first couple semesters of my life. When I was five years old, I had to be stitched up after running full speed into a wall in our apartment. Then there were seven years of head-on collisions in Pop Warner football, then juvenile hall lumps, prison yard lumps, a metal bar stool across the head in my mid-30s… But the most memorable concussion of my crash test dummy life was the car wreck that preceded the above photo. That’s not Frankenstein up there, that’s me. And those are 70 staples in my head.
Luckily there were no other cars involved. The roads were slick, my tires were bald, and my Pathfinder hydroplaned, flipped, and crashed through a fence, smacking an oak tree. The metal roof collapsed on my head.
I awoke two days later in the ICU of Sacred Heart Hospital. The neurosurgeon told my mom that I could be deaf, blind, slow, or paralyzed post-surgery, but that my brain was swelling and if he didn’t operate immediately, I would die.
That was 14 years ago and much has happened since: heartbreaks, hair loss, addiction, a lengthy prison sentence, and yes, more concussions. But in the midst of all this dreariness, something transformative has also occurred… books! And with these books, discipline, honor, maturity. I think even the most skeptical reader would concede that a brain-damaged, crackhead, ADHD high school dropout summoning the concentration to write full-length novels longhand is pretty unusual, if not miraculous. Sometimes I wonder if that near-fatal head injury back in 2002 caused some undeveloped part of my brain to light up and assist me in becoming a normal, fully functioning human being.
My third novel, On the Shoulders of Giants, is now available on Amazon. If you read it, you’ll find a character with a scar very similar to my own. This was done not only in adherence to the author’s axiom write what you know, but also as a tribute to my lifelong, toxic love affair with blunt force trauma and banging my head against things.
[This post originally appeared on malcolmivey.com in 2016.]