I stood above the body and screamed for help. It happened on my watch. I knew it would. I had predicted this event to my best friend, whose body I was staring at. Now, the moment had come.
I screamed again, even louder. My voice amplified and echoed within the concrete walls of the racquetball court until finally it found an escape out of the roofless area at the back. When help arrived at the back door of the court, I ran and delivered my message that I’d memorized from childhood. Suddenly, Lonn came back into his body and stood ten feet away, looking at me, and demanding my explanation, “What the hell’s going on…”
Before Lonn Allen Corley could finish his sentence his body went limp again. I ran to grab him before he collapsed and hit the hard cement floor –as he did the first time. I screamed for help. I cried for help.
My mind was racing. What’s taking the paramedics so long? I again rehearsed what to say as soon as the emergency personnel arrived. I didn’t want to get it wrong, as I knew it might truly save my best friend’s life. Has long does it take for them to get here? I wondered while cradling my friend’s colorless body.
The metal door slammed into the cement and it rang throughout the racquetball court. Finally, they’re here I said within myself. Immediately I started yelling the exact cause of the problem. The EMT in charge must not have heard what I had just said, when he asked me if Lonn was on speed or something else. I cursed and said, “You’re not listening. He’s not on drugs he’s got a heart condition!”
I recited Lonn’s four congenital heart problems that he had since birth. The EMT supervisor and I were now tracking better and proceeded to help Lonn, while concurrently talking with me, his fellow co-workers and also to a Doctor at the hospital via his black handheld radio. I used medical terms and jargons to describe the issue when he ultimately prompted, “How do you know all this?” I told you, I screamed, “I AM HIS BEST FRIEND.”
This shouldn’t be taken lightly as I’ve known Lonn since he was five. He lived down the alley between our houses and there wasn’t anything I didn’t know about Lonn, or he about me. I remember being told of Lonn’s condition not only by my parents but his too. Lonn wasn’t allowed to run. He did so of course, but never very much, because he would always turn a purplish blue.
I called his fingernails “roundies” because they were weirdly shaped like a sphere. It wasn’t until much later did I learn that club nails were also a condition of his body not getting proper circulation. It wasn’t just me who knew of Lonn’s condition because you couldn’t miss the gigantic track when he took his shirt off. There was an oblong scar that went from above his heart all the way down to the base of his rib cage and traveled around his right side and then went all the way around up his back mirroring the front.
If you faced Lonn, or if he was walking away, the huge continuous scar had the same arc sweeping from the top to the bottom side. Questions were always asked, so we made up stories that he’d been in a huge knife fight and got cut. Even parents, who’d ask the same questions as their kids, got the message “We” didn’t want to talk about it. After all, it was Lonn’s business, but as his best friend it was mine too.
We were soul brothers. We both knew it. We were actually brothers. Not by blood but by spirit.
We talked nonstop, sometimes on the phone, but almost always in-person. We did everything together. And now, just past Lonn’s twenty first birthday, my best friend laid on the cement floor while numerous paramedics dressed in camel and black tried frantically to get his heart beating.
A needle was rapidly thrust in his left arm trying to draw some blood, and out it came, in the most unnatural color of India ink black. The EMT rapidly talked of the black blood over his radio to the Doctor. “You’ve got to get his heart pumping,” shouted the Doctor which played like stereo coming from four different receivers carried by each individual on the medical response team. We’re in trouble, I thought.
I am crying while typing this narrative because I would do anything to save my best friend. I would give my life for him and he knew it. A shot of adrenalin was administered and Lonn’s heart responded by beating. I could see it both in his chest and also in the mobile heart monitor that had been set up.
In an instant, Lonn’s body was carried out on a plastic stretcher connected with endless wires and tubes destined for the next place –the hospital. It’s ironic that the community hospital was less than a half-mile away with several large barriers preventing direct access; two wire fences, a wall of oleanders and several sets of railroad tracks. I seriously thought of carrying Lonn, on my back, across all these obstacles instead of waiting for the paramedics to arrive. I still wonder if this alternative would have saved precious time.
From the cluster of cement racquetball courts, the paramedic’s vehicle drove across a baseball diamond, down several sidewalks, inched over a cement-parking curb into a parking lot with spinning red lights and the siren blaring. I was running at full speed, not far behind, until I took a more direct route to the hospital. I was glad, but also very mad, that I beat them there. Again, I thought, what is taking them so long?
Winded, I stood at the emergency entrance to the hospital waiting for the EMTs to arrive and open their back doors. As soon as they did, I stood by the stretcher’s side until wheels appeared from beneath and Lonn was racing off down the hall. I attempted to follow until someone grabbed me and held me back. It wasn’t a mean act; I couldn’t go where Lonn was going.
I had tried to stay calm during the event, as I told myself I would do, and to some extent I had managed this herculean feat. I walked into the men’s restroom, letting it all out as I fell to my knees before the sink area and screamed for God to hear my prayer. Prayer is a personal act, which is usually offered solemnly. Mine was anything but silent or quiet.
I still feel the intensity and the emotion that I needed for God to hear me. I felt separated from my best friend. I wasn’t about to be quiet about it. I needed my prayer to be heard. I have no idea how loud I was speaking, but I do know that other men joined me on their knees on the restroom floor. I heard a small chorus of “Amen” when I finished.
I’ve always felt a super spiritual connection. It’s hard to describe. I’m still asked what I believe and what I don’t, and frankly it doesn’t matter. I’m fortunate to know that we have help. I have asked and I have received it.
I didn’t want to play racquetball with Lonn in the first place. It was his idea and he was stubbornly insistent. In actuality, we never played a game. We had hit the ball in the court a couple of times before my whole world came apart.
Lonn did die. It wasn’t right away, but when he was released from the hospital, he wasn’t the same. He barely remembered me. He knew his parents weren’t talking to me but he didn’t know why. I was being blamed for the incident.
All this didn’t matter, as Lonn would sneak over to my house anyway. Lonn’s parents couldn’t keep him from slipping out. They tried to contain him but they couldn’t do it. I know it was very uncomfortable for them to walk down and retrieve Lonn like the lost child that he was.
Lonn was my first best friend. There isn’t a mountain that I wouldn’t have climbed for him. My relationship wasn’t complicated with responsibilities or duties. It was never a have to; we just agreed to be ourselves.