When a pistachio gets lodged in your throat there’s not much time to think.
So I have learned.
Yesterday, as I am prone to do, I stopped on my way to my cabin to grab myself a little snack for the last 15 minutes of windshield time.
Leaving the gas station with a little bag of pistachios and a soda I turned my car around and headed north as I have done countless number of times over the past decade since we purchased The Northern Lights Lodge.
Mile after mile I barely paid much attention to the scenery passing before me. I’ve seen it all before.
I suspect hundreds of times over the past ten years. The KOA campground. The now shuttered Turks Supper Club. The Wayside Bar and Grill. The turn-off to Nelson Lake.
The cemetery right before coming up on the Sawmill and the choice between proceeding further north on Highway 63 or turning right on “OO” near Vortanz Lumber.
Yesterday, I choose to continue north another mile or so before turning off onto Northern Lights Road and then turning into the driveway that leads to my cabin.
As I have done over and over again I anticipate the final few seconds until my bunkhouse comes into full view, followed by my cabin and the water of Pacwawong Springs immediately over the rise.
I turned off the car. Chewing the last of my pistachios. Opened the door.
And, I couldn’t breathe.
This was not the air being knocked out of me.
This was me literally not having any air to breathe.
I tried to breathe. All I got was a horrific sound from my body that I knew wasn’t natural.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t panicking despite my admonition to myself not to panic.
I was at the place I love the most to be and at that moment it was likely to be the place someone would find me alone and dead.
From a pistachio.
I briefly thought about running to my neighbor’s house some 50 yards away and then decided I might run out of air before I got there not to mention the fact he might not actually be there at all.
I grabbed my car keys, thinking I might run into the cabin and grab water and swallow it down. But, as I lunged out of the car with my keys I glimpsed my face in the side view mirror.
A mixture of purple and blue is not a color I have ever associated with my skin tone.
My knees crumbled at about this point. Panic had now turned to fear.
And, fear turned to desperation.
For the first time in my life that I can remember I had absolutely no idea about what to do to make it better.
The sheer weight of my powerlessness drove me further to my knees.
I could feel myself losing my consciousness.
I would be lying if I told you that at that moment my life flashed before my eyes.
What did, however, flash in front of me was my $200 Craigslist rowboat not 20 feet in front of me.
For whatever reason I thought, “Maybe if fling myself over the side of the transom I will dislodge it.”
As I crawled, ran and panicked my way to the boat I stood up – the horrible sound of my own choking to death loud in my ears – and I came up upon the back of the boat.
I stopped. There in the middle of the boat was a puddle of rain water, sprinkled with leaves and branches and Lord knows what else.
“Maybe I should drink that?”
Before I could answer my own question I literally threw myself down on the back of the boat.
I did it again.
And then, gloriously, something.
I. Could. Breathe!
I didn’t move for whatever amount of time it was because I just needed to let the air rush into my lungs, but in controlled little bursts. I didn’t know whether what had gotten between my mouth and my lungs was gone completely and I wasn’t ready to declare victory.
Finally, convinced I was not dead yet, I literally fell down.
As I shared with my wife today when we got home I have never come this close, consciously, to death.
I suspect there have been times when such close calls may have happened and I was not aware of them, or I dismissed the proximity and possibility of my own demise.
Not this time.
I saw it in my own face. In my own eyes.
I spent almost an hour on the wet ground behind my lifesaving crappy aluminum rowboat.
Too tired to get up. Too fearful that my legs wouldn’t hold me if I tried to get up.
Grateful that I was struggling with the choices of standing versus sitting.
Since yesterday I have been attempting to come to terms with all of it. I didn’t sleep well last night.
My mind has been distracted all day and even now as I write this I am determined to find whether or not I should have had an epiphany of some kind that has yet to come to me.
I wasn’t ready to die yesterday. And, a split second before a pistachio took my breath away I have spent nearly zero-time planning to do so until I am 100 years old.
Frankly, I’d prefer it just happen without me knowing it. I don’t need a glorious death. I would prefer it simply be anonymous and without drama.
To be honest, I’m not inclined to dwell on the end of my life. I’ve got too much of it left to live to wonder when it will ultimately end.
Too many things to do. This week alone my wife and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. My Daughter turns 14 and my Dude turns 16 this week. I have the Ryder Cup to work at for Spare Key. The Packers have a Bye week. And, wouldn’t you know it, the guy who sold me my hot tub finally got the damn thing to work right!
My vision of my demise is not clear in my head. But, I have always hoped it would not be in some embarrassing way – like on an escalator – or choking to death on a pistachio.
I beat the pistachio yesterday.
You can bet what I am staying away from for the next 47 years!