I'd be safe and warm, If I was in L.A…. –Brian Wilson
Dreams of his crash won't pass, Or how they all adored him… -AFI
Kurt wasn't sure why, but he always remembered it as sounds. It was as though the visual memory was too intense, too much to bear and yet hazy at the same time. So he remembered the sounds: a screech, the shower of gravel against metal, followed by the sudden silence as the tires of his car swerved onto the shoulder and then ran out of road altogether, spinning in mid-air as his car went over the cliff, then the deafening bang when the ground claimed it once again. It was like having a recording in his mind.
These, the most memorable sounds from the accident, were accompanied by others, the sound of metal twisting and glass breaking as the car tumbled relentlessly down the cliff side, the ripping of his canvas convertible top against jagged rocks, and the second, even louder impact when his car finally came to rest. Almost 25 years later he still dreamt about the accident often and it was at this point that he was always jarred awake, sweating and shaken, as if the noise in his head had become too loud to sleep through or perhaps, it was a protective instinct, because the sounds that came after were so much worse.
It was an accident Kurt would have never survived if he hadn't somehow, in all the commotion, teleported from his car. It was the first and the last time he'd ever teleported intoxicated and the only time he'd ever bargained with God.
Almost 25 years ago
After refusing Charles' offer to stay in New York with him and Hank McCoy, Kurt had returned to Los Angeles. He had remained sober on the way to the airport, but after taking off and the flight attendants pushing rattling beverage carts through the aisle; it hadn't lasted. And now that he was back, absolutely nothing had changed. If anything, things were worse.
He'd been back three, no, four weeks (he wasn't exactly sure) when the phone rang. Kurt sat up, rubbing his eyes and realized he was not in his bed, but on the floor of his living room, still fully dressed. He got up quickly and staggered into the kitchen and slid the phone off the receiver.
It was his agent. He sounded angry. Apparently Kurt had missed an interview with "Entertainment" magazine while he was in New York, it had been rescheduled twice, and he was about to miss another one now.
"Would you get the hell out of the house and get over there for Chris'sakes, Kurt. " he said, "I'm getting really tired of this."
Kurt put down the phone after promising he would be there and went to the freezer to pour himself a glass of vodka while he got ready. He stood before the bathroom mirror staring at his reflection. He looked tired and he needed a haircut. He sighed realizing his glass was empty and returned to the kitchen to pour another.
The phone rang again and Kurt jumped. He clumsily pressed the receiver to his ear. His agent didn't even wait for him to speak.
"Goddamn it Kurt, what the hell are you doing?"
"I said I'd be right there," Kurt said irritably. He was confused. How fast did his agent expect him to get ready? He couldn't exactly teleport to his interview and he certainly couldn't teleport himself into a shower and fresh clothes.
"Right where? What are you talking about?"
"The interview," Kurt said, "I'm getting ready. I'm leaving in 5 minutes. Going to…" Kurt reached his hand up to the counter; for some reason he was sitting on his kitchen floor. He felt for the slip of paper where he'd written the address for the Entertainment interview and read it into the phone.
"Entertainment?" His agent shouted in surprise. "That was two days ago. You missed it."
Kurt blinked. Two days ago? He'd just walked into the kitchen a moment ago.
"Can we reschedule?" he asked sheepishly. Two days? But where had they gone? He looked up on the countertop across from him. He had a deal with the local liquor store. They delivered a case of vodka to his house every week and charged his credit card. He could see a newly delivered box sitting on the counter and three empty bottles beside it. Had that been where two days had gone?
"Forget it Kurt. Entertainment is done with you. Look, you have an interview with Variety today. They're an industry rag so they don't reschedule. You show or you get bumped. You have an hour to get there and a new movie to promote. Don't be late. Don't miss it. And Kurt?"
"Do your best to show up sober enough to give the interview in English this time. We're trying to make a good impression here."
The line clicked dead and Kurt spent several seconds staring at the phone before hurling it across the room. He heaved himself to his feet and spent the next twenty minutes angrily showering and tearing through his closet in an effort to make himself presentable to Variety where he would most certainly give an interview in English. When he was done he stopped in the kitchen.
His hands were shaking. He wasn't sure why it happened, but if he drank it stopped. He reasoned that he shouldn't be drinking and driving, but then again, how was he supposed to drive with his hands shaking like this? So the choice was obvious.
Kurt slammed the front door open and after a minute spent blinking in the bright sunlight, he hadn't been outside his house since his return from New York, he clumsily trotted down his front steps to his car, still cursing his agent. It wasn't fair that he had to do all these interviews. He didn't even want to make another movie so why did he have to keep promoting it? He tossed his new leather briefcase into the car and plopped down in the driver's seat. He liked carrying the briefcase; he thought it made him look like he had a lot going on in his life, so much that he needed a whole briefcase to carry it around in. The truth was Kurt had never put anything in it other than a bottle of vodka.
He had to concentrate hard on the road to keep the car from weaving and it worked best if he closed one eye. It didn't matter. He wasn't going to be late. He'd give Variety a good interview. His agent would stop pestering him finally. Things would get better. They had to.
Still. Two days? Had two days really gone by without him realizing it? How was that possible? What was he doing during all that time? Kurt had lost track of time before; there were evenings out he couldn't remember, times he woke up at home and wasn't sure how he'd gotten there and even times he'd woken up elsewhere and didn't remember leaving home. But two days…
Kurt looked up suddenly, realizing he wasn't paying attention to the road. Directly in front of him was a car, its grill glinting in the sunlight. It was too close and he was going too fast. In a sudden flash of inspiration and sacrifice, Kurt jerked the steering wheel hard to the left. He couldn't be responsible for an accident, not like this. There was a flare of gravel against the sides of his car as his tires skidded onto the shoulder and then nothing. He had chosen to swerve off the road on one of those winding cliff side vistas Los Angeles was known for and so after a moment of being airborne, his car hit the cliff side with a jarring crunch and began to roll, first end over end and then sideways.
The windows broke and within moments Kurt found himself trapped in a spinning whirlwind of glass shards, rocks, and twigs. He could hear the cloth top of his convertible tearing and it suddenly occurred to him that what he had done, driving off the road, had been a very very bad idea. He had to get out. But how?
They say at the moment before death a person sees their life flash before their eyes; their birth, their triumphs, their mistakes, the milestones that marked their existence before life is snuffed out all together. Kurt only saw his mistakes and that was how he knew he wasn't going to die. It also told him how he was going to live.
Clutching the steering wheel and shutting his eyes, for the first time since he moved to California, he began to pray.
"In the name of the Father, the Son," Kurt had to pause to spit dirt from his mouth, " and the Holy Spirit, please God don't let me die this way. If I live through this, I promise I'll change, I'll dedicate my life to you. Everything I do, I'll do in your name. I promise. Please."
He was repeating the words over and over for what seemed an impossible length of time, as though time itself had stopped and suddenly he knew he had the way out. With the car still spinning around him there was no way he could focus on a single spot outside so Kurt shut his eyes.
He hit the ground much the same way the car had, out of control, tumbling down hill, bouncing off rocks and trees as he went. He came to a stop a few feet above his car, breathing hard, hardly believing what had happened. He was alive. He shouldn't have been, but he was. Kurt had only a moment's view of the twisted wreckage of his red BMW ticking in the heat below him before it burst into flames.
The climb back up the hill was arduous. Kurt used rocks and tree limbs to pull himself slowly up until at last he reached the road. He expected to see cars whizzing by. He would flag one down; ask for help. There was no way he would get to his interview of course, but that didn't matter anymore. In those few seconds spent tumbling down the hillside, he had architected a new life for himself. Now, he just had to figure out what that meant.
But what he found when he reached the top was shocking. Traffic had stopped. Bits of metal and glass lay strew all over the road, surrounding the crumpled shells of half a dozen cars. Some were worse than others. The least damaged car merely had a crumpled fender, the worst lay upside down in the middle of the road in a puddle of water. Small fires burned here and there and everywhere people were yelling, bleeding, and running from car to car calling out names and speaking English too frantically for Kurt to translate.
For a moment he was frozen. How had this happened? He had avoided the accident. A car, with a gleaming silver grill; he had avoided it. He looked around, trying to remember exactly which car it was, was it here? In the wreckage around him? Had he caused an accident anyway, despite his efforts? But all he could remember was the flash of sunlight on silver and knowledge that he was too close.
There were no police cars or fire engines and Kurt realized that as long as it had seemed to take him to fall down and climb back up hardly any time had passed at all. He stood dazed at the edge of it, unable to take his eyes off it and yet unable to act. All this chaos and he had no idea if he was the cause of it or not.
A woman's screams finally snapped him out of his daze and Kurt turned to see a plump Hispanic woman standing next to the upside down car waving her arms. One of its wheels still spun lazily and the sight of the car's undercarriage seemed strange and exposed, almost indecent to Kurt as he walked towards it.
She was yelling in Spanish, which Kurt didn't speak very well, but he spoke Italian and the words she was saying were the same in both languages.
"My children! My baby!"
Kurt felt a chill creep over his entire body as he looked into the car. Lined up in the backseat were three tiny heads. Her children were still in the car. Instantly sober, Kurt broke into a run and slid to his knees in front of the car.
"I'm going to help," he told her in what he hoped passed for Spanish.
The windshield was broken and Kurt was fairly sure it was how the mother had gotten out, since it had already been pushed aside. As he crawled through, he realized that the puddle of what had looked like water was really gasoline. Kurt crawled quicker.
The eldest child was the easiest to free. Once Kurt had his seatbelt unbuckled he sprang into action on his own. Crawling along the inverted ceiling and out with little guidance. On the other side, Kurt had more problems. Her daughter was frightened and bit him twice before he could successfully unbuckle her seatbelt. She wouldn't crawl and kicked and screamed at him as he pulled her out through the windshield and dropped her in the arms of her tearful mother.
Kurt was too intent on his work to hear the sirens as fire trucks and ambulances arrived. He crawled back into the car a third time. The gasoline fumes were burning his eyes and nose. His clothes, already dirty and torn from his trip down and climb up, were nearly saturated. The baby was in a seat and the seat was belted into the car. Except for the fact that he was red faced from screaming and hanging upside down, he seemed fine.
"It's okay little one." Kurt said it in Italian figuring it was close enough to Spanish for a baby.
He fought with the seat belt, trying to free the seat from the car as the baby wailed and kicked him.
"Bitte, bitte," Kurt said, moving the tiny feet away his face. He didn't understand this seat. They didn't have baby seats like this in the circus when he'd grown up. He'd never seen anything like it. The seat belt ran around the back and through? Kurt clicked open the belt and tugged in a futile effort to free the baby seat, but it was wedged in. Maybe through the side? Kurt reached for one door handle and then the other, but neither would budge. They were too deformed for their hinges to work.
Someone tugged on his foot. Kurt turned back. There were firefighters at the scene now, appearing like astronauts in heavy coats, boots, and face masks. They motioned him forward.
Kurt shook his head and redoubled his efforts with the car seat. If only he could teleport again, he could teleport with the baby, seat and all. Concentrating as hard as he could Kurt tried. Nothing. He may have felt sober, but he obviously wasn't.
The firefighters were tugging on him again.
"Nein!" Kurt shouted back. "No. NO!"
He let go of the car seat for a moment and was nearly pulled from the car. Kurt quickly scrabbled forward. He thought of the woman outside the car, blood running from a cut on her forehead. "My children! My baby!" He'd gotten the children out. He could save them all. He just needed the one more. He could do this. He had to. He needed to.
Grabbing onto the baby seat once more, Kurt felt the firefighters grab onto his ankles again. This was getting ridiculous. He just needed more time to figure this out. Then he noticed the flames licking the outside window next to him and thought of his gasoline soaked clothes. He didn't have time. Grabbing the belt that held the kicking child in place, Kurt gave one final yank on the baby seat. To his surprise there was a click and the child tumbled forward, crying even more vigorously than before.
But he had been given a similar treatment and with a final firm tug, he was jerked from the car in a single fluid motion before he could grab hold of the squalling baby.
"I have to…" But Kurt didn't have time to finish his sentence. The instant he was pulled from the car he was wrapped in a thick blanket and suddenly he and his rescuers were flat on the ground, blown back by a force so strong it felt to Kurt like a wall of pure energy had hit them. He looked out from the blanket to see a small mushroom cloud of orange flame and black smoke rising from where the car had been. The car he had been in just moments before. The car with the woman's baby still trapped inside.
He'd had all the time in the world to save the little boy and he hadn't. The woman's screams, her half intelligible cries, "My baby, my baby is dead…" hardly registered. Kurt had had a chance to do good, to be good.
Hours later Kurt was still wrapped in the coarse fire blanket. He'd been led to a quiet place by the side of the road and left there to sit. Ironically it was only a few feet from where his own car had left the road and staring at the tire marks in the gravel Kurt saw his life flash before his eyes in a different way, not his past, but his future. He could stay in Los Angeles, fight with his agent, make his movie, drink in his house. Eventually it would all be over. He would die alone and unwanted like the freak he was. Kurt found himself wishing he'd never climbed back up.
His hands were shaking so badly by the time the police finally interviewed him that he kept trying to shove them in his pockets or make fists with them, but it didn't help. When they asked him where his car was, Kurt simply pointed down to his smoldering BMW. When the officer turned back to him with a look of surprise, Kurt explained "it's a convertible," and that seemed to answer everybody's question of how he'd gotten out. He was, after all, a well-known Hollywood stunt man. Even if he had only made one movie. And was actually supposed to be an actor. He didn't consider himself either.
It didn't matter. Kurt was counted as "automobile #7" in the accident, which was listed as having "no recognizable fault". It was simply an accident; a "terrible tragedy that claimed the life of a 2 year old boy" as they would say on the news that night. For once, his involvement was not reported.
An ambulance ride later, a baggy eyed ER doctor pronounced Kurt "a little banged up", but miraculously uninjured after his trip down the side of a mountain in a tumbling car. Before releasing Kurt he sent in a social worker who took one look him and at his shaking hands before spreading out a series of brochures for several "very nice exclusive, private, drug and alcohol detox facilities that cater to celebrities". Kurt smiled and fingering the gasoline stained card in his pocket for Charles Xavier - "Helping the Gifted Discover their Potential", he shook his head. He didn't need it. God was on his side now.
And he had a promise to keep.