High Stakes

Ed had been in a bad auto accident.  More precisely he’d been hit when he was crossing Beretania Street near Ward Avenue.  It was just after Labor Day last year.  Now, here at the beginning of March, he’d finally been released from the Rehab Hospital of the Pacific.

“Yup,” he said, raising his beer to me, “I’m out, and I’m not dead yet.”

I laughed.  “Ed, you are one lucky dude,” I said.  “You actually were dead, right, when they came on the scene?”

“That’s right, Lanning.  I was gone.  But the EMTs used the defibrillator on me.  Shocked me right back into life.”

“God, man,” I said.  “I cannot imagine that.  Being dead and then being alive again.  Did you see any of that light at the end of the tunnel thing, or your dead relatives welcoming you to the other side.”

“No, none of that.  But I did see JoJo.”

“JoJo your dog?”

“Yeah, it was unreal.  He was standing there waiting for me, wagging his tail, all happy.  I think he wanted to play fetch.”

“That’s interesting,” I said.  “But none of your other animals.”

“Nope,” Ed said, sipping on his beer.  “I’ve had so many animals over my lifetime.  Lots of dogs, too.  But Jojo was always the most loyal. You know how hard it is to find that kind of loyalty? It was great, man.”

“Right, right,” I said.  “I remember he was really special that way.”

“Yeah, I really miss him sometimes.”

Ed got all glum looking.  I wanted to change the topic and cheer him up.

“Any good looking nurses in the course of your journey back from the edge?”

Ed laughed.  “Back from the edge?  Lanning, I went full over the edge.  I mean I dove right into the grave.  I was this close to you guys all throwing dirt on my coffin.”

I changed course again.

“So what are your plans?” I said.

“Ah, my boss said I can take all the time I want.  I’m still working on my legs.  They just don’t work quite right.”

“But you’re looking great.  Like Billy Crystal said in that Fernando Lamas bit on SNL, it’s better to look good than to feel good, right?”

“Yeah right,” said Ed.  “Let me tell you, man.  I couldn’t walk, use my arms, eat, speak, write, talk.  I couldn’t do shit.  I was like a vegetable.  I had to learn everything all over again.  It was like I was a little kid, a baby, just starting out.  And all of it hurt.  Dude, it hurt so much.  I would much rather have felt good.  Looking good is for shit.  Pain is pain.  I was in so much pain some days I thought I really was going to die.”

“Well, at least you have a lot of money to look forward to.”

He turned his beer bottle in a slow circle on the bar.  I sat there waiting.

“Yeah, no, I don’t think so.  As long as his insurance ends up covering all my expenses I’m good.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said.  “You could clean up with a good lawyer.  I’ve got a cousin who does personal injury.  You want to talk to her.”

He looked at me.  “Nah, nah.  I’m just going to let it slide.  Seo and I used to be good friends.”

“Seo?” I said.

Ed and Seo had become good friends in college.  Ed and I had grown up together, and we’d both actually ended up majoring in English.  But he joined a frat, and that’s where he met Seo.  Ed and I kind of stayed in touch, but not like when we were kids.  He and Seo became best friends.  Practically inseparable.  Then I heard Seo got married.  Apparently that’s when he and Ed drifted apart.  I guess he got too wrapped up in married life.

“Yeah,” said Ed, “Seo was my friend.  I won’t sue him.”

“What?  You mean it was Seo who hit you?  What the hell are the chances of that happening?”

Ed gave me an odd look.  “That’s the real shittiest part of the whole thing,” he said.  “That it would be Seo.”  He looked at me.  “But it’s no coincidence.”

I looked at him, processed this.  “You’re kidding me.  You mean you think Seo actually wanted to hit you?”

The front door of the bar swung open.  Ed raised his arm.  “Carole!” he called out to the woman who’d just come in.

The woman smiled, came over, and put her arm around his shoulder, hugging him.  Then they kissed.  How romantic.

“Lanning,” said Ed, coming up for air, “this is Carole.”

We shook hands, said it was nice to meet each other.

“Gotta go to the ladies’ room,” she said.  “Order me a beer, honey.”

“Sure,” said Ed.  They kissed again.  Geez.

“Wow, Ed, she’s a good-looking woman.”

“Um, don’t I know it.  I paid a high price for her, but believe me, she’s worth all of it.”

“High price?” I asked, wondering what he meant.

“All the pain, the surgery, the rehab.  If it hadn’t been for her, knowing she was there, knowing she’d be there if I pulled through.  Man, it was like a reward.  I don’t know how I could have pulled through without her.”

“So recovering from the accident is some kind of price you paid for her?”

Ed laughed, slapped me on the back.  “Lanning, Carole’s Seo’s wife.  Their divorce came through.  I won, man.  In the end I won.”

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