Johnny Mustang The Adventure Begins

The Adventure Begins (Spirit Riding Free Series #1)
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Nuriootpa Library. Toowoomba City Library. Upper Hunter Library Network. Millicent Public Library. Double Bay Central Library. Open to the public Book English Show 0 more libraries Open to the public ; N Book English Show 0 more libraries The helicopter hovered 30 or 40 feet over the boat, mirroring its speed and trajectory, while both vehicles moved slowly forward.

Forward and right The whole procedure, from our vantage point, seemed seamless and routine. In a way, it was: After the agonized deliberation at the air station, the pilots exited off their GPS route into fairly manageable conditions around Inian Pass.

Ultimately, scooping Jon off the deck of the Mustang would resemble a standard exercise that the pilots drilled in their trainings. A few moments earlier, as the men scurried around Jon on his backboard, packaging and fastening him for the hoist, Jon worried that the second he got airborne he would start twirling uncontrollably, like the feathery end of a cat toy, and potentially thwack his head on the equipment on deck.

But now, he was levitating smoothly — a solitary, swaddled bale of a man, perfectly perpendicular to the ground. Dave and I watched it happen: our friend rising steadily away from us, improbably, to safety. As Jon floated higher, he could hear the Coast Guardsmen on the Mustang beneath him begin to cheer. He felt it was safe to open his eyes. When he did, he saw someone, hunched in the open cargo door of the helicopter, pointing a television camera at him.

Jon was rushed into surgery at the hospital in Sitka that evening. His spleen had been macerated into countless flecks. After awakening from surgery, Jon was disappointed that the doctors had swept those shards into a bag and thrown his spleen in the trash; he wanted to get a look at it, maybe even keep it preserved in a jar, alongside his cyborg-banana. He felt he would need to face conversations like these if he was going to be a doctor.

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I guess, logistically, we did. We had zero sense of accomplishment, or even agency. In our minds, all we did was avoid screwing up until the real help could arrive and save him. From the instant he willed himself out of the water, he felt all of us locking into that same seamless flow of order steadily displacing chaos that Dave and I only experienced once the Coast Guard arrived.

It was amazing to him how the three of us managed to generate solutions for each successive problem. The feeling of inevitability that day became only more pronounced for Jon as time passed and the entire story of our rescue receded into a prologue to the rest of his life. The surgery in Sitka was only the first of half a dozen, and it would take several years for him to regain 60 percent of the use of his arm, wrist and hand, as the nerves gradually regrew along his injured side. He could repair kayaks but needed help lifting them.

He was unable to wrestle the mattress corners into the fitted sheets when he made the beds. After that, he started working at a recording studio in Portland, just as he envisioned while stuck in the water, and he now runs his own audio-mastering company: Spleenless Mastering. Eventually Jon seemed to have recovered from the accident without any conspicuous disabilities. But his life has been quietly corroded by chronic pain and, almost equally, by the stresses of navigating the doctors, medications and their side effects to manage it.

About two years after the accident, he learned he had PTSD. It manifested as a kind of unbearable empathy for anyone who was suffering.

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He would hear interviews with natural-disaster victims or the homeless on NPR and have to pull his car over. There continued to be other tribulations, too — more mundane ones. A few times a year, he still rebreaks a rib out of nowhere; once or twice, Jon told me, all it has taken is an especially affectionate hug from his wife. Jon found early on that he could cordon off this suffering, both in his own mind and in conversation, by making jokes about the accident itself and sticking to the happy ending of our rescue, a trick that got much easier after the National Geographic show aired later that year.

The soundtrack was all heart-thwacking synth drums and shredding guitar. Initially, the schlockiness of the production felt like a blessing. The show depersonalized the accident, giving us all a shorthand to convey how dramatic that day had been, without confronting how destabilizing and senseless it might have felt. But we never realized the degree to which that kitschy shorthand started to obscure the real story — then, gradually, to replace it.

The morning after the accident, Dave and I traveled back to Dundas Bay to pack up our campsite and collect the kayaks we abandoned the previous evening. We were shuttled there from Gustavus by the same boat captain who dropped us off three days earlier, a forbiddingly taciturn commercial fisherman named Doug Ogilvy. He asked if we had waders. We did not. So Ogilvy put on his, climbed down the ladder and told Dave to get on his back. Then stoically, like an ox or an old-timey strongman hauling a safe, he trudged through the thigh-high water, dropped Dave on the gravel beach, then lurched back and hauled me the same way, as if I were a man-size infant in a papoose.

That is, he half-expected to find evidence that the accident had been fortuitous somehow, that there was a reason, or redemptive value, behind it. My mother had the same instinct when I called her the night before. On the phone I strained to emphasize for her — she was only two years into her cruelly premature widowhood, and I was new at being the overprotective son of a widow — that Jon was going to be all right, and that Dave and I were safe.

She told me that my dad must have been up there looking out for us somehow. I resented all the supernatural thinking. A tree fell in the woods. It might not have, but it did. As strange as it sounds, it was years before I realized that the tree could have hit me — and only after a friend pointed this out, as I told the story around a fire one night. And it was only a few weeks ago, while on the phone with Jon, that it occurred to me that the tree could have hit all three of us — we were standing in a single-file line, after all, waiting to cross the creek — and that we all might have wound up clobbered and scattered in that river, dying slowly and watching each other die.

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And so, the real meaning of the accident, if I felt compelled to find one, might be that it validated my most exaggerated fears. But instead, it somehow helped cleanse me of them. There was comfort for me in accepting the arbitrariness of what happened, in regarding it as a spasm of random damage in time and space that, just as randomly, a small number of human beings got the opportunity to repair. We were more capable than I had understood.

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We were also far more helpless. On the ride back to Gustavus with our gear, I pictured myself, again, as a small blip in empty space. The ride was rough and jumpy as Ogilvy impatiently pounded his boat through the last vestigial wave energy of the storm; Dave and I had to hold on, to plant ourselves on the bench behind him. But there was a moment when I felt so safe that I loosened my grip, leaned slightly into the motion of the boat, and, closing my eyes, felt myself lift off the seat.