It was difficult not to panic, really. We were several kilometres away from the car, through hills and hummocks and light forest. My friend was not a big man, but I was fairly certain I couldn’t carry him the whole way. I began looking around for something with which I could lash together some boughs to make a travois. I figured I could use my (and his) shoelaces and strips from our shirts, etc., if I had to.
I was kneeling with one knee at either side of his head (but not in a naughty way. Sicko), making sure he didn’t move his head too much. Staring down at him, I sighed.
“Sometimes those are very difficult questions,” I said. “People struggle with their identities all the time. Sometimes for their whole lives.”
He closed his eyes. “My head *really* hurts,” he said.
“Well, that makes sense. Do you know what happened?” I asked.
“I was hoping you knew that.”
“I do. But I’m trying to assess how bad your concussion is.”
“Oh. I have a concussion, then?”
“Yes. You do.”
He tried nodding. I put my hand on his forehead and told him, “Please don’t move your head. I’m not sure if you have a neck injury.”
“A neck injury?!”
He opened his eyes. “You know, looking up at these trees, it reminds me of a poem I read once.”
“Was it the one by Robert Frost? About young boys climbing trees?”
“Or maybe,” he said, “it was Walt Whitman. How did you know that?”
“I’m terribly clever,” I replied. “Do you remember what happened?”
My friend glanced around, trying not to move his head. “My neck doesn’t hurt at all, you know,” he told me. “I think I can sit up.”
“I should get you to sign a waiver,” I said.
“Because all those people who broke their necks thought they were fine and then the people with them let them move, and SHABANG!” I shouted. “All busted up forever.”
“I see.” He stared up at the sky. After several minutes, he asked, “if I *have* hurt my neck, what can you do?”
“Well, I hadn’t really got that far. I suppose I’ll stabilise it as best I can with splints and fabric, and go for help.”
“I must be very lucky to know you,” he said.
“Oh, of course you are. But maybe,” I said, “maybe you actually *don’t* know me. Maybe I’m just a kind stranger who happened upon your nearly lifeless corpse in the woods.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. Then he closed his eyes again. “Do you know why I have such a bad headache?” he asked.
“A better question is, do you know why?”
“Did I…” he began, “have an accident?”
“Yes, you did!” I was very excited. I thought perhaps he was remembering something.
“I’m guessing, you know,” he said.
“It’s more likely than having been lured into the woods by a beautiful young woman who then hit me over the head with something very heavy, only to have her nurse me back to health.”
“There could have been two women,” I suggested. “The first one bludgeoned you, and then perhaps I happened by and took pity on you.”
He opened his eyes and stared up at me. “That’s ridiculous,” he said.
“It’s no more ridiculous than jumping out of a tree,” I said, somewhat insulted that he’d shot down my flawless theory.
He closed his eyes again. “People don’t jump out of trees,” he said, as he rubbed his temples.
“Careful,” I said. “You’re moving.”
“I think I’m okay to sit up,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t hurt my neck.”
“Yeah? How are you sure of that? What happened, anyway?”
“You know, that’s the strangest thing. I don’t remember.”
“Tell you what. I’m going to just wrap this sweater around your neck, okay? I want you to keep your neck as straight as you can.”
“That’s very kind of you,” he said. Then he looked at me quizzically. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Yes,” I said. “Do you know you?”
He furrowed his brow. “Well that’s odd, now. I couldn’t tell you my name. Huh.”
“Your name is D- W-,” I said. “You were named after your father, who is also D- W-, but they don’t call you junior. They call him D–, and you D-.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” he said. He began a slow attempt at sitting up. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I have such a bad headache.”
“That’s all right. It’s what happens when you jump out of trees.”
“What!?” he asked, shocked.
“Sometimes, when you jump 20 feet out of a tree, you end up hitting your head and getting a headache. Due to the concussion.”
“I guess that makes sense,” he said. He was sitting up, leaning against the selfsame tree he’d leapt from. “I can’t imagine why anyone would jump out of a tree. That’s ridiculous.”
“Maybe I lured you out into the woods, and then bludgeoned you.”
He glanced up at me. “That’s a more likely explanation. Who jumps out of trees?”
“Robert Frost might,” I said. “Or maybe Walt Whitman.”