I am one month away from the 30-year anniversary of a profoundly life-changing event. Something that not only affected me, but those around me as well. My closest friends and family. It changed who I was at a core level and in many ways, continues to reverberate through my life to this day. I expect it will for the rest of my life.
I have previously touched on this event. With this post, I am going to go into more detail about the experience. Some of this information I have heard from others, and I will share those moments as best I can. But most of this comes from my own memory of events. And given that it has been almost 30 years, some of those memories may be hazy. But trust me. Every word of this story is true.
Before the event: An undiagnosed disorder.
I was a pretty typical kid from a middle income family. Growing up in the suburbs, I enjoyed a life with little stress. I never wanted for anything, and my parents were both loving. As I reached my teenage years, I’d gotten unruly, as is typical for any teenager. But I faced an additional challenge that was improperly diagnosed in those days. ADHD.
For those familiar with the disorder, you know that someone afflicted, especially children, can have a difficult time. Many think, “Oh, the child can’t sit still or is easily distracted.” That may be true of some, but not of all. In fact, some people, as is the case with me, can become hyper-focused on one specific thing, tuning out everything around them in the process. And this is only a small element of how ADHD affects someone’s behaviors. Here is a very basic rundown of symptoms: https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/signs#1
The symptoms on that list are only surface level. The greater effects, especially on adults, can be things like difficulties in relationships and marriage, the inability to hold a job, criminal behavior, substance abuse, inappropriate social skills, eating disorders, etc. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adult-adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350878. It is treatable to a degree with medication. And you can learn and practice techniques to adapt and manage when you are older. But as a teenager and moving into early adulthood, I didn’t know much about it. I was just overall, not a nice person. I had a few good friends and didn’t care much for others. And my relationship with my parents was strained, to say the least.
I did show some of those negative behaviors also. I enjoyed drinking alcohol several years before I was of drinking age. And I cut classes in school and I got caught shoplifting. I started working as soon as I could and went through several different jobs. However, it was two of the biggest symptoms that led to the events of that night, March 27th, 1989. Impulsiveness and recklessness. On some subconscious level, I guess I thought I was immortal, or simply didn’t care. Well that night, I got a chance to test that belief.
Stockton: Someplace Special
It was a dark and stormy night. Ok, so maybe it was only half that. The storm had come through a few days earlier, leaving the ground soft and damp, probably one of the big reasons why I am still here and able to write this. It was dark, though the sky was clear. And my friends and I decided to go to the levee outside of town, build a campfire, drink some beers, and watch the stars.
The Delta river extends from the central valley of California out to the San Francisco bay area. It is wide, though not as wide as the Mississippi, and deep, and leads to the largest inland port in the country in my hometown of Stockton. Yes, that was our slogan up there: Someplace Special. Several years back, Forbes magazine called Stockton the worst city in America, not once, but two different years! Forbes can go to hell.
I loved my hometown and still do. Just about any city in America with a medium to large population has its share of crime. I know people who have had to deal with that in Stockton. I’m lucky that I never have. And for just about any type of cuisine you want, Stockton has a restaurant that’s one of the best. Maybe not Michelin level, but seriously delicious. Let me know if you want recommendations!
The tower on Correia Road.
Because of the Delta, Stockton is at risk of flooding, so there are high levees surrounding the river everywhere. On the outskirts of town, just off Eight Mile Road, is one such levee. Far enough away from town that the police wouldn’t come out and hassle you for drinking, but close enough to see the city lights.
Another feature of the river are the power poles spaced at intervals along the way. Because large cargo ships travel along the water to reach the inland port, these towers, built to carry the power lines from one side of the Delta to the other, need to be tall. Very tall. 160 feet tall. To put it in other terms, about the height of a 16-story building.
These towers do not look like your typical electrical tower, the ones you picture standing out in a field somewhere. No, these are about three feet square, shooting straight up into the sky. There are bars going up each side in a zig zag pattern, like a ladder, if all the rungs were angled back and forth rather than perfectly horizontal. They were built for climbing! At least, that’s what this 21-year-old with no fear of heights or death thought. Unfortunately, my best friend thought the same.
A race that cannot be won.
“Hey, I climbed part of that tower before.” Those were the words I said to my best friend that night as we sat around the campfire. There were five of us, and I wasn’t lying. I had once climbed up maybe 40-50 feet because I wanted to get a look at the city lights. And if you read my blog series about cabin life, you know I love to climb. By that age, however, I had stopped falling. Or so I thought.
I pointed off in the direction of the tower and my friend looked. “Really?” he asked.
“Yep”, I replied.
“Let’s go do it!”
“Naw, I’m not in the mood”, I said. I’d had a beer and I was enjoying the campfire. I didn’t feel like moving away from the heat to climb down the small slope to the tower.
“Well, I’m going to do it”, he said with determination, stood up, and started walking off in the direction of the tall structure. I watched him go for a moment before rising from my camping chair and calling out to him.
“Wait up, I’ll come too”, I said with resignation.
I caught up with him and together we reached the base of the tower. It was built on this cement stand, probably four feet high, and starting at about three feet up, there was screen wrapped around the tower extending another five feet higher, to keep people (like me) from climbing it. It was a pathetic barrier, as it was easy enough to slip between the “rungs” of the tower and climb up the interior. Which is exactly what we both did.
After moving high enough to pass the screen barrier, I climbed back to the outside of the tower, as it was crowded in the middle with the two of us. Together we climbed, my friend on the inside and me hanging onto the outside like some ant traveling up the tall stem of a sunflower.
We stopped at the 50-foot mark, which was indicated by several steel cables attached to the tower and stretching down to the ground below, anchoring the tall structure in place to keep it from swaying in the wind. There were more cables at the two-thirds mark and again at the top. We paused and looked out toward the city and the lights glowing there. I remember it being so beautiful in that cold and clear night air. After a few moments rest, my friend said, “Let’s go higher!” And who was I to say no. So on we went.
At some point, I glanced at my friend and we both got this competitive look in our eyes. Our climbing got a little faster as it slowly evolved into a race. I didn’t know what we were racing toward, or what the finish line was supposed to be. But I won the race to the top. And I won the race to the bottom.
Floating at the speed of 12,000 volts.
I was ahead by a few feet, when suddenly my friend stopped climbing. I came to a halt as well, looking at him. “Why did you stop?” I asked.
“Because we are at the top!”
I never looked up. That was my mistake. I am sure some of you are saying right now, “That was your mistake? Out of all the bad decisions you made that night, THAT was your mistake??” You’re right, of course. But in that moment and in my head, that was my mistake.
I looked up then. And mere feet away from my head were electrical power lines. Thick and dark, they looked no different from the stability cables that we passed on the way up. Except that these didn’t extend down, they extended horizontally, trailing away to get lost in the darkness.
I had two consecutive thoughts rush through my head at that point. The first was, “I need to get down now.” The second thought was much more confusing and terrifying. “Why am I not hanging on anymore?”
I was frozen in time and space, like when Wile E. Coyote runs off the edge of a cliff and hangs there suspended for a moment, realization slowly dawning, before plummeting in a puff of dirt. I was in the exact same position I had been a half second before, except now there were several feet of empty air between me and the tower.
You know that scene in Jurassic Park where the kid is climbing the electrical fence and the electricity gets turned on. Suddenly, he is thrown backwards off the fence. Yeah, well that was me. 12,000 volts of electricity arced out from the power line, striking me in my right arm and knocking me away from the tower. I never felt the electricity hit me. All I knew was that I was no longer attached to the tower and in my mind, everything froze. I screamed out, “Oh my god!” And then I fell.
While falling is an accurate description of what happened, it is not what I experienced. Our brains are powerful things and for me, time slowed down to a crawl. I floated down slowly, giving me all the time in the world to think about my life. It didn’t exactly flash before my eyes. I saw bits and pieces, memories of good times, nothing bad. I can’t tell you what I saw exactly. But something that stands out as half remembered is the song Jerusalem playing in my head. I no longer remember if it was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s version of an old hymn, or the song from Sinead O’Connor, I only remember the title now. Read into that what you will, it happened.
In my head, it took at least a minute for me to reach the ground, though in reality it was only two, maybe three seconds. Since then, I have spoken with other victims of near-death events and they have experienced the same time-slowing phenomenon. I was so high up, there was nothing but darkness below. I came to the understanding that I was going to die, and I accepted that. My last words spoken were, “I’m dead”, softly and calmly. And then blackness.
I can’t begin to tell you all the feelings that this brought to the surface again. My heart is pounding and I feel nauseated, just as I felt that night when I received the call about your fall, and my conversations with doctors at the two hospitals as they frantically worked on you. The worst night of my life.
You know, I’ve told a truncated version of this story so many times to so many people, I didn’t know if there was more depth I could bring to it. As I wrote this, I remembered additional things and I found that by the end, I was emotionally wrecked with remembering the anguish I put so many through, as well as recalling the love and support I received during this time. After writing part two, I had to call the best friend I mentioned, just to tell him I love him.
Fascinating Michael. Can’t wait for the rest of the story.
Thanks, I’m thrilled you found it interesting. This writing is new to me and I never know if my ideas will make good stories, or if their just entertaining for me. 🙂
O well thanks now I have to buy the book lol
My 2grandsons have adhd but one more then the other…they aren’t even teenagers but are on medication. They have exhibited lack of fear and impulsiveness. How can the teen years be salvaged for them with adhd? With meds should they be OK? Thanks.
I wish I had an answer for you, but the best I can say is really take the time to learn how it can affect behavior and adjust how you and other family members react to those behaviors. There are also good resources you can find online, but since I am not any kind of doctor, I really can’t give any advice. I didn’t live well with it, as you can see from my story, and it took a major traumatic event to change me. I’m not saying go whack your grandkids over the head!! But talking to teachers or educators with more understanding of the disorder would be helpful.
I wish you the best of luck.
Don’t know the final outcome of this story as to how badly you were hurt but I believe the soft ground you spoke of was actually Gods hands you landed in. He softened the blow so you didn’t die but hopefully learned something from the experience. May you continue to be in his care. Looking forward to reading…the rest of the story.
I have two grandsons with ADHD and one undiagnosed ADD.
Thankfully they have not done anything like that ( at least not that I’m aware of.
My son was diagnosed with ADD. Thankfully his Grade 1 teacher realized and had testing done. He was placed in Special Ed all the way to Gr.9 at which point he went into regular classes but was allowed to do exams in a smaller room so as to feel less stress. He graduated Gr.12. Went on to College and did a four yr. course in Parks and Forest. He found he was very good with computer skills. Today he has a good job, a loving wife and child.
You are truly remarkable and God had bigger and better plans for you. Spreading the word about ADHD or just spreading our love of Warm Lake, Time will only tell. I’m blessed for knowing you. Much love.
Thank you for the warm comment. The same could be said about you. I do feel blessed to still be enjoying life on this earth and the company of such wonderful people.
Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what
I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.
Do you have any points for beginner blog writers?
I’d genuinely appreciate it.
This design is steller! You definitely know how to
keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos,
I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job.
I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
I blog often and I truly appreciate your information. This article has really peaked my interest.
I am going to book mark your blog and keep checking
for new information about once a week. I subscribed to your RSS feed
I need to to thank you for this very good read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it.
I’ve got you bookmarked to look at new stuff you post…
Hey! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of
volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche.
Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a
Somebody essentially lend a hand to make severely posts I
might state. That is the very first time I frequented your
website page and thus far? I surprised with
the research you made to make this actual post amazing.
A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I do think that
you ought to publish more about this subject matter, it might not be a taboo subject but typically folks don’t talk about such issues.
To the next! Best wishes!!
Thank you. I think it’s important to discuss ADHD, as many people don’t really understand it and it is responsible for so many behaviors that get incorrectly attributed to other things.
Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this
site with us so I came to look it over. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this
to my followers! Superb blog and superb style and design.
Thank you so much!
I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it
for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to construct my own blog
and would like to know where u got this from.
It was my wonderful publishers who created the site!
Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your
content. Please let me know. Thank you
Absolutely! You are more than welcomed to share. 🙂