Although I occasionally worked breakfast or lunch in the main restaurant area, I usually worked late shift at the Enterprise Lounge, so I was on a late-night schedule that summer, no question. That was part of what was so weird about the first day of my Enlightening.
It was a Wednesday morning. I woke up much earlier than usual that day, and I was actually feeling great. I had gone to bed quite early, the night before. I showered and got dressed and it was still only 6:15 a.m. The past few mornings prior, I’d probably slept in until almost noon.
I decided to take advantage of my uncharacteristically early start and take a nice bicycle ride. I bought the bike about 2 weeks before, and I was enthusiastic when I brought it home, but until that morning it had been sitting, unused, in the corner of the garage.
I would have still been in bed sleeping for probably another six hours, had I gone out with Ronny and Keith to the Cubs/Phillies game the night before, as I had planned on doing. I know they ended up going to a bar after the game, and they didn’t get home until almost 3 a.m. I didn’t feel well, though, beforehand. Mostly I just felt completely exhausted, and I could barely even get out of bed in the middle of the afternoon, which was bizarre. I was just too wiped out to make it to the game. So, knowing that Bryce was a huge Phillies fan, I let him go, instead of me. Passing up good seats to a ballgame was highly unusual on my part, to say the least.
That was the night that Ronny got hit in the arm by a foul ball, dropped his hot dog on his shirt, and spilled some beer on a girl named Ashley, all in the same pitch. I remember seeing the stitch marks from the ball, on his arm, more than a week afterward– so you can imagine how hard the ball hit him. Still, he recovered in time to immediately chug the rest of his beer, which got a big laugh from the people in that section; or so I was told, anyway, by Ronny, who has been known to embellish just a bit.
That foul ball even made it onto TV, which I saw because I had recorded the game. The only thing they really showed on TV, though, was about six seconds of the big burly guy who ended up with the ball, after it had ricocheted off Ronny’s arm. He held the mustard-streaked ball high above his head in one hand, and paraded down the aisle, in triumph, like he was on tour with Lord Stanley’s Cup itself. With his other hand, he vigorously high-fived every single person that passed by. The TV missed the part, just seconds earlier, where he out-wrestled an elderly man for the ball, and spewed the man’s nachos all over the aisle in the process, according to my friends.
If you looked carefully, or paused the recording, you could find Ronny in the background, with a garish mustard stain on his sky blue shirt. He was about eight rows behind the burly guy, apologizing to Ashley for spilling beer on her. Eventually he got her cell phone number, too. All in all, that had to be one of the more eventful foul balls I’ve ever heard of. Ronny ended up paying for the dry cleaning, and he and Ashley even went out on a few dates after that.
On their third date, they went to a party, where Ronny met his future wife, Eva. She was a friend of Ashley’s sister. Ronny always says that if that foul ball had gone a few inches one way or another, he’d probably still be single. The Cubs ended up winning the game in eleven innings, and I know I missed out on a great time overall, but I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t change what happened, for anything in the world– or the universe, for that matter.
I didn’t have a car of my own, at that time, or much money to speak of, either. My father paid for the new bicycle, which was much appreciated. There was a nice little lake just outside of town called Baxter Lake, and I’d wanted to ride out there, ever since I moved into Walter’s house. So I was specifically thinking of riding out to the lake, when I got the bike. However, as I left the driveway early that Wednesday morning, I turned left instead of right, and headed off in the opposite direction. I didn’t even think about it at the time. I just did it.
It seemed like I was going about my normal life, but it’s obvious to me now that I was already being interacted with. I never specifically asked Merle about it, but I’ve always assumed that’s how it happened. It doesn’t bother me, either. I can understand why they did it. I sure don’t doubt that they had the ability, either. They could probably do that as easily as I could sweep crumbs off a table.
It was relatively quiet at that early hour, and not many people were out yet. There were only a few cars and trucks on the road, and a siren was faintly wailing somewhere off in the distance. After riding on the road for a while, I came across a bike path, and I followed it. Eventually, the path curved away from the road and into a forested area, and the sounds of the street soon faded away completely.
Robins were chirping to each other, in their quirky, rhythmic way, across the grassy clearings at the forest edges. Grasshoppers darted all over the place, and squirrels crashed through the underbrush, as I rolled past. The muffled, soothing drone of a jet wafted and waned across the rustling leaves of the forest canopy, while the gears of my bicycle clicked and whirred, reassuringly, beneath me.
So it was nice, in an almost hypnotic sort of way. I was just thinking about how beautiful it all was, when suddenly it occurred to me that I had forgotten to head down to the lake. And I didn’t care, at that point.
I continued cruising down the path, when it slowly dawned on me that I was hearing a new and different sound. It seemed to be wafting down towards me from out of the sky, or perhaps from the trees. It was a sort of droning, low buzzing sound, like a very deep musical note, almost. Although it seemed subtle, and it took a while for me to notice, it was actually fairly loud, in retrospect. As soon as it entered into my consciousness that I was hearing the sound, it stopped completely. I momentarily wondered if it might be some sort of bird I had never heard before, like some type of large goose or something, flying overhead.
As I was pondering the situation, I rounded a bend in the trail and came to a spot where there was a decent-sized clearing on the left side. It was a pretty little meadow, maybe a few acres in size. Off on that side of the bike path was a water fountain, like they often have in forest preserves, and standing alongside the fountain were four people. Or rather it was one man standing out in front, looking towards me, and the other three people- women apparently- standing off to the other side, looking out at some deer that were across the meadow and near the forest’s edge, not far from the river.
The man was maybe 6’3” tall, with bright blonde hair. He was dressed in a “Miami Heat” t-shirt, red basketball pants, and orange and black basketball shoes. It looked like he was ready for a game, or a run, or something. The three women were all wearing white hoodies, which seemed unusual, right off the bat. It was fairly warm out, even at that early hour, but they still all had their hoods up.
When they turned towards me, I could see that one woman was a blonde, one a redhead, and the other had black hair. I remember thinking that they must all be into sports, because each hoodie had a different sports logo on the front; one was an “L.A. Galaxy”, one was a “New York Giants”, and one was a “Dallas Stars”, I recall. They all had similar whitish jogging-type pants, which looked like simple cotton pants, with maybe some pin striping in black or grey. I noticed that they all had very similar black and white athletic-type shoes, also.
All in all, their outfits were so similar that I thought they might have been teammates on some kind of sports team, or something. And maybe the tall man was their coach, or something, since it seemed like all four were probably together. I noticed that one of the women was holding a wooden hiking staff, which was a little weird, I thought.
Right then, as I approached the group, my bike started getting very hard to pedal, like it was freezing up on me. I had to hop off my bike, maybe 20 yards from the group, because I couldn’t get the pedals to even move at all.
At that point, the man in the Miami Heat shirt totally surprised me when he called out to me. “Excuse me! Mr. Sylvanewski!”
Now, as far as I could tell, I had never seen this guy before in my life. So I found it pretty startling when he sort of came out of nowhere and called my name. At first I didn’t say anything, and I just stood there, straddling my bike.
“Mr Kenneth Sylvanewski!” the man said, and took a few steps towards me.
Suddenly I realized I was sort of vulnerable, out alone in the forest with a bike I can’t pedal, and four people who could be ready to roll me, or whatever. I pictured myself getting pummeled by the lady with the wooden staff. And I felt especially uneasy about the one with the black hair. But there was something about the man that was non-threatening, right off the bat. His friends were now paying attention to me, but they were still standing off in the background, observing. If they were going to roll me, they were taking their time about it.
So I just said, “Yes”, and hopped off my bike, as he continued to approach. Most people call me “Ken”, or “Kenny”, so I figured whoever this guy was, he didn’t know me very well.
“We are friends of the man whose life you saved, from the car.”
Well, that was a big surprise! I had been fairly successfully trying to put that whole episode out of my mind, lately, and now this guy I’d never even seen before comes up out of nowhere, and mentions it.
It was about six and a half years prior, in December of my freshman year of high school. I was walking along a sidewalk in the early evening, just outside the downtown area of Rundle Heights, when a car jumped the curb behind me. Actually, the driver had accelerated, and not used the brake, as the police found out when they looked at the car’s computer, afterwards. The driver claimed that he hit the brake, not the accelerator, but the police thought that he may have briefly passed out from some prescription medication he had taken before he left his condo that evening. The whole thing was a horrible mess, really.
I heard the car thump as it crossed over the curb. When I turned to look, it was quickly bearing down on me, along with a few other people also on the sidewalk. I shouted out a warning to the others and dove out of the way, back towards the street, as the car, now completely up on the sidewalk, hurtled past. As I dove, there was another man right there, walking along the sidewalk and also in the path of the car, so I instinctively grabbed him and pulled him along with me. We both tumbled into the gutter area of the street and ended up in a cold, salty puddle. The car must have missed us by less than a foot.
The car did hit two people, and it continued on, taking out half the front stairs and awning of an apartment building. One young lady didn’t make it, and passed away before she even made it to the hospital. I got lucky. And so did the guy I grabbed, because he definitely would have gotten smacked, too.
I stuck around for at least an hour, afterwards. It was a gruesome scene, with blood on the sidewalk, and the nightmarish, flashing strobe lights of squad cars and ambulances harshly illuminating the scene. The driver of the car was crying and wailing, hysterically, as the police put handcuffs on him. I spent some time talking to the detective about exactly what I saw, and what I thought happened. I think I was half in shock the entire time, myself.
My new acquaintance, who I had just tackled into the gutter, answered some questions from the detective, as well. I remember that the man thanked me, profusely, and told me how much he appreciated my “selfless behavior”. I told him anybody would have done the same thing, and I apologized for getting his nice camel hair coat wet. He said that he didn’t care about the coat getting a little wet, and that he was just glad to be alive.
The strange thing was that, just as I was wondering what was up, exactly, with this guy in the camel hair coat, he seemed to just disappear into the night air. One of the investigators wanted to ask him a few more questions, and he was gone. Nobody had seen him leave. As it turned out, he apparently gave the first police officer a fake name. I thought I might see him around the neighborhood sometime, but I never saw him again.
A couple months afterward, one of the police officers told me I probably would have gotten some sort of public Citizen Award for saving this guy’s life, but since he gave a false name and nobody knew who he really was, that part of the story would have been a little embarrassing for the department. As it was, there were some articles in a few newspapers, and I got a nice letter from the Police Chief, personally thanking me.
But otherwise, my rescue of the mysterious man in the camel hair coat became just a funny joke for my friends. They had their own theories about it, like maybe I saved some sort of international terrorist, who was on the lam with a fake identity, and the driver was really a secret agent who was trying to take him out, and I ruined the whole thing. They made up all kinds of crackpot theories like that.
It’s funny that, as it turned out, the actual truth was a whole lot stranger than anything my friends came up with. To this day, I wouldn’t doubt that more of my friends believe the made up story about the international terrorist, than believe the real story.
Anyhow, I hadn’t heard anything about the accident for quite some time. So I was pretty shocked when this guy by the fountain called out my name and then mentioned the man I had rescued that night.
Goczeski, Kevin, The Enlightening.