A Walk In The Woods
Setting: High School auditorium, speaker's dais and lectern on a stage. Lights up to large waves of applause and hooting from the audience. Enter Dennis. He is average in many ways. He could be described as "handsome" or "attractive", except for the fact that he has no face. His face is now one large mass of scar tissue. There is a small opening where his mouth used to be, making his speech constrained and hard to understand. His eyes have been covered over by scars. He walks with assistance from his cane. He steps confidently to the microphone.
Dennis: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Wow! What a reception! Thank you! Thank you! I want... (applause finally dies down) I want to start by thanking the Student Council and Principal Ferguson for bringing me here to speak at your fabulous school today. Since my horrible accident, much has happened to me, and much needs to be said; so I am always greatful for the opportunity to share my story with high school students and their teachers.
I hope that, when I've finished today, you will be better able to understand people like me who, through no fault of their own, have been affected by AIDS. It is true that we are a small community of people, but leading health officials and zookeepers estimate that roughly 1 in 250,000 Americans have AIDS. I am hoping that my story will inspire you, humour you and maybe teach you a little bit about what it means to be alive, and I certainly hope none of you ever has to both be alive and suffer with AIDS. For the truth is that AIDS is truly a horrible problem; AIDS, or, as the medical community refers to it: Animal Inflicted Disfigurement Syndrome, can completely destroy your life. I'm here to say to you, that it has destroyed mine.
I know what you're thinking, "That's not what a famous motivational speaker is supposed to say!" and you're right, but I haven't finished: (said with growing righteous defiance) Animal Inflicted Disfigurement Syndrome did destroy my life... as... I... knew... it... but my life had to be destroyed, as a Certified Public Accountant I was a little boy lost in a world of indulgent tax codes and illicit forms. AIDS destroyed that person, but it created something so much better. Me!! (applause from crowd)
As I tour the country, I am fond of telling people that, first, I lost my face, then, I had to face what I lost, then and only then, could I show my face in public. (again, indignant pride rising in his voice) I am here today to speak out for greater recognition of AIDS victims in our society; to shout from this stage that we are no different from those among us who happen to be non-animal-inflicted-disfigured. I stand here to bravely show my face in this public place and say to you: look at me! Look at me! Look at me in my AIDS face! The pity or shame you feel toward me is your pity or shame in looking at yourself. Look at me and feel the pride that I feel in my beautiful misshapen flesh! (Wild applause)
Thank you! Thank you! Now I... (applause fades out) Now I must begin my story here today, by taking you back to what happened that horrible day 18 months ago, when my life would be destroyed so that it could be rebuilt. I'm sure many of are familiar with my story from my bestselling autobiography, "A Man With A Name Without A Face", (applause) or from the made-for-TV movie, "Defacing Dennis", (applause) that premiered last fall, or from the National Geographic documentary about the attack, "When Animals Attack Your Face", (applause) or from my album of activist songs, "Dennis: Songs for AIDS Victims", (loud applause) which won the Grammy for Best Album By A Horribly Disfigured Artist Or Group, narrowly besting a field which included both Motley Crue's and Def Leppard's comeback albums, and three new offerings from Tom Waits, or from my record seventeen appearances on Oprah (wild applause), but I feel I should always relate the story wherever I go; for, there is power in its telling. Power in its message. Power in its words; a power that may awaken something new in any of you that hears it.
So I must tell it; though it is quite painful for me to do so. If I can convince even one of you here today to confront some horrible pain in your life, be it a disagreement with your teacher, arguing with your parents, or a wild animal eating your face, then my time here today will be truly worth the $10,000 I was paid for speaking to you.
It all started on a beautiful spring Saturday and something as simple as a walk in the woods. The weather had recently turned warm, and I decided to pack a light lunch and walk on the path behind my house which wends its way for five miles through pristine wilderness. I remember seeing a few people on the path, coming out of the forest, just as I was entering. One of them may have muttered something about some growling he had heard. I ignored his faint warning. I knew those woods well. I had walked that path so many times before.
Approximately one mile into the woods, as I was eating one of the tuna fish sandwiches I had brought along, I got the sensation of being watched. I turned around once or twice, but it was while doing these gyrations that I was hit powerfully from behind. My head must have hit a rock or something, because the next thing I remembered I was being dragged along the forest floor by some very powerful animal who had buried its teeth deep into my eye sockets. I awoke screaming in agony. No longer able to see, I did not know what had me. The pain was too great, when I thrashed about the animal dropped me, then immedaitely began to sink its teeth into my neck. I passed out.
Zoologists are in general agreement that passing out saved my life. The animal that attacked me would certainly have crushed my windpipe to stop my breathing if I hadn't gone limp. When I woke up the seond time the animal was chewing on my face. I distinctly remember my eyebrows and forehead being lifted up and away from my skull, the warm flow of blood pooling inside the two holes where my nose used to be. I remember the horrible cracking, popping sound as the animal tore away at my lower jaw. The searing pain of ear cartilage being forcibly ripped off the side of my head.
I passed out from the pain and the blood-loss, but I remember telling myself, even as I lay there, blinded, face chewed off, blood issuing from my head like a bizarre flesh fountain, passing back and forth between traumatic consciousness and the sticky fingers of death... (voice cracking) that I must not give up, that I COULD NOT let this wild animal beat me! (Applause) I knew then what I know now: that this creature could take my face, but he couldn't take my heart! (Applause) At least not my metaphorical heart, for I knew it would be a small matter for the animal to crack open my rib cage with its powerful teeth and eat my actual heart as it sat feebly straining in my chest. I did not know, until after my third coma and ultimate recovery, what happened next except that I woke up in an intensive care unit at the nearest hospital big enough to deal with my type of injuries.
Apparantly, as I lay dying, a game warden, on his day off, happened to walk near where I was being devoured. Hearing the animal's loud gnawing sounds, he walked off the path, and, upon discovering me there with my face removed from my skull, proceeded to vomit profusely and defecate in his shorts. These brave actions by the warden, a Mexican-Swedish immigrant named Jesus Christianson, accomplished what I'm sure must have been their goal, or at least the goal that Jesus must have intended them to have before he passed out in a growing pool of his own vomit and feces: the animal quickly turned its attention to Jesus.
I cannot think of enough ways to express my gratitude to that man. I say to you today, in all humility, that Jesus was my personal savior before he was eaten alive. I feel it is appropriate, since Jesus literally donated 99 percent of himself to save me, that I am devoting nearly all of that remaining one percent of my film, television and book revenues, after taxes, to a foundation I have set up in his name; a foundation that will help other capable Mexican-Swedish immigrant boys - and girls! - become game wardens. (Loud applause)
After three lengthy comas, and seventy-one painful operations during which pieces of skin from my bottom were grafted to my face, I emerged from the hospital a new man, with a butt for a face and a story for... the... world! (Wild applause)
Now, you may all think I'm being coy with you today. I know that you have read in my book, or seen in the film or documentary, or heard on my album, or saw during one of my now-record seventeen appearances on Oprah - take that Tom Cruise! - (applause) that the animal that attacked me was a cougar. A big one. Larger and more ferocious than an average-cougar. After hikers discovered the newly-sated cat lying besides the remnants of Jesus, game wardens tranquilized the animal and took it to a local zoo for examination. I'm sure those game wardens would have been in shock to recognize that one of their colleagues had been devoured by the cougar, but there was little of Jesus left to recognize, except maybe a half-chewed lung, a collection of broken bones, and some hiking boots. I, miracuously and thanks to Jesus's brave sacrifice, was still alive.
What you may not remember, what may have beeen lost in all the press hype about my comas and surgeries, is that the same cougar that attacked me is still alive! (slight gasps from the audience) Apparantly, sometime during the four hours between my first coma and my second, I muttered to a nurse to "save the animal". This so moved state game officials that they put off plans to euthanize the cougar.
What you also don't know is that this same cougar is not only alive, but also with us here today! Bring'em out boys! (More shocked gasps as a large cage is wheeled onstage. It is completely covered in a large decorative cloth.) Would you like to see him? Now, one thing before I have the boys take off the cover, you must all promise to remain calm in the presence of Kipper, that's what I call him now. Kipper is especially sensitive to screaching or yelling sounds and has been known to attack randomly in noisy situations. Sound good? (general murmuring of agreement from the audience) Alright! Let's remove the cover, boys! (dramatic music and circus lighting effects) Ladies and gentleman, behold, this is the cougar that ate Jesus! This is the cougar that ate my face! (loud screams and fearful mutterings as the cloth is removed to show an empty cage). Now is that a beautiful creature? I say to you... (one of the cage movers whispers in a hole where Dennis's ear used to be) Oh... oh... dear.... ummmm... this is most unusual but we must remember that Kipper (louder screams from audience as it becomes obvious that Kipper is now roving among the seats, loud sounds of commotion and panic, followed by the pained and piercing shriek of a teenage girl) Go limp! Go limp, dear! Now! He might only eat your face... we'll get someone there to help you right away! (another piercing and pained shriek) Was that the same girl? Umm, if it wasn't, you go limp too! Ahhh... this... (lights begin to fade, screams and panic continues unabated) Uhhh.. I will be signing my book in the lobby for a small fee after my talk today. I hope some of you are able to stick around and take advantage of that unique opportunity. (lights out, screams continue)