Young and Stupid

2 min
at 11:43 PM

When I was 19, immortal and free of the need of my parent's permission, I jumped out of an airplane. My exit off the wing was perfect but I botched the landing and broke my leg. On the way to the hospital we celebrated with a special herb from Columbia my buddy and I had saved for the occasion. Arriving at the hospital serenely happy, I was immediately whisked into surgery and outfitted with a large, heavy cast. I still have three heavy screws in that leg.

You'd have thought I would learn something about risk, but I was 19. Living on a lake with a bunch of other rowdy kids, I promptly took our tiny sailboat out with my broken leg, an old broom for a paddle and no life jackets. If I had gone overboard, I would've sunk to the bottom like a Mafia hit.

A month after the parachuting accident on our way home late one night after some serious partying, my friend swerved to avoid a possum crossing the road. Of course no one was wearing a seat belt, as the car rolled three times. Chuck Berry was playing 'No Particular Place to Go' on the eight-track as we came to an abrupt end in a ditch, headlights shining up into the darkness, windshield gone, tires hung up on fenders.

We managed to extricate ourselves and limped to the hospital. My friend had broken his neck and I had a cracked sternum to add to that broken leg. As soon as my cast was off I bought a nice Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. No helmet! By the end of my 19th year I had been arrested and thrown into the Knox County Jail and tear-gassed at an anti-war rally in D.C.

I did survive that last teen year, but barely.

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For 45 years since then I've been free of major illness or injury, thanks in no small part to equal helpings of luck and adult common sense. But recently I took a serious fall while running and this week I had rotator cuff surgery. I have lost the use of my right arm for six weeks. It may never get back to normal. But I managed to survive young and stupid. I'm hoping older and wiser is just as forgiving.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

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