Note to the reader: This is the first chapter in a memoir that begins with what happened 24 years ago today.
Peter Sanford Kahrmann
“I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”
– Walt Whitman
I DON’T UNDERSTAND
I am bleeding to death. I am lying on the ground bleeding to death and I do not understand. I was not bothering anybody. I was just going to work, minding my own business. I was not doing anything wrong and now I am on the ground, blood pouring out of my head, dying.
I had a block and a half to go to pick up my cab when I hear the sound of keys behind me and a hand grabs my shoulder and a wild-eyed kid is pointing a gun at my head and saying, “Don’t fucking move.”
I say “I won’t” and look away because I do not want him thinking I will remember his face.
The gun is against my head now and somebody behind me is going through my pockets. I am 30 years old standing on Bergen Street in Brooklyn with a gun against my head and I am waiting for wild floating eyes to hit me on the head so he and the other guy can get a running head start. He does not hit me. He shoots.
I come to on the ground and feel nothing from the neck down. It feels like the top of my head is gone. I open my eyes and I am blind. I cannot see anything. No sight, no feeling from the neck down; I know I am going to die.
I see my daughter Jennifer’s upturned face listening to someone tell her Daddy’s dead and I think maybe if I stand up and die trying to get to the hospital she’ll know I didn’t give up. My seven-year-old angel will know I tried my best. I can leave her on a courage note that way – if I can only get up.
A dark damp blanket tightens around me and I think about how my father died when I was fifteen. I think if he can go from here to there, from life to death, maybe it is okay, maybe dying is not so bad. Now I feel less scared. Now I see smoky shapes and images that make no sense to me. I am bleeding to death on the ground and nothing makes sense.
The smoke clears and I realize I am on the sidewalk on my right side. I see a tree near me.
Now I am standing but I do not remember getting up. I lift my hand to my head and blood hits my hand before it gets there. I pull the sweatshirt from around my waist and press it against my head to stop the bleeding.