There is an anniversary that I celebrate silently every year. It’s funny, it happens to be on the same week as my birthday, which is a day I never celebrate. That’s because my birthday means nothing to me, but this day, this day means so much more.
You see, my birthday was just the day I was born. No big deal, I don’t even remember it. But September 22nd, that’s the big day. That’s the day that for some reason, I didn’t die. Spoiler alert.
You see, 8 years ago to this day, I got hit by a bull. Yup. A bull. A big, angry bull.
Now let me explain how this all happened. First off, I come from pretty strong Portuguese background (I’m first generation Canadian), and my parents are from a tiny little island in Portugal, named Terceira.
On this island, there is a huge summer festival, were every village has their own dedicated festival which last about a week.
A big highlight for me as a kid was attending the “Touradas á Corda” which loosely translated is “Bullfight on a Rope”. I can’t begin to tell you how much cool I feel that it loses in the translation.
Basically, it’s like a much safer version of the very famous Running of the Bulls in Spain. What happens here is, four bulls arrive in the village for the Tourada, but only one is released at a time. Also, it’s tied to a rope. A rope that 8-10 men are in charge of controlling, to keep the bull from hitting or killing anyone, or just running away I guess.
Now, just because these guys have a rope, doesn’t mean the bull doesn’t still hit people. Because it hits people, a lot of people every year get hit. There are also deaths due to this. This is a very dumb tradition, which will always cause dumb arrogant men to put them self in danger. So stupid.
I began running on the street with the bulls when I was thirteen. As stupid as it was, I felt great about it. I felt like a man. A dumb man, but a man none the less. If there is one obvious right of passage on the island, this is is.
Fast forward 10 years, and I find myself in the lovely little town of Dundalk, Ontario. I’m sitting by my car, which is parked in this field with a hundred or so other cars. The smell of bbq and the sound of happy portuguese music fills the air. I’m here with some friends, and we are super excited.
I had only recently (2003) found out that there are cultural festivals here in Ontario, were they have the same style bullfight on a rope. I was so excited. I was also so dumb. I had been running with bulls for 10 years, and felt pretty confident that I could continue to do it with the same stellar results!
Now, this felt very different from what I was used to back on the island. Back there, you run on the street, and have a lot of ways to exit a sticky situation, and have the option to distance yourself from the bull enough that you are never really in danger. This was the opposite. We were stuck in a big cage with a bull. They fence off an area of the field, and throw some haystacks in to give you something to jump on to get away.
Also, being on a grass turf give the bull a much bigger advantage. I had a feeling I shouldn’t go in today, but I wasn’t going to chicken out in front of my then girlfriend and two friends who came. I gotta tell ya, I do not miss the young ego-filled Helder Brum at all. He got me into a lot of trouble. I give my girlfriend a kiss, and head in. She grabs a front row seat on the bleachers lining the field.
I’ll quickly explain how this whole thing works. Four bulls arrive, but only one is out at a time. They keep that bull out for about half an hour, then send it back in, and bring out the next. There are young, brave, dumb men there with makeshift capes that they use to play with and tease the bull. It sounds silly, but it’s actually pretty cool.
First bull comes out. Dud. He trots around, barely noticing anybody around him. He does a lap or two, never making a run at anyone. Second bull comes out. Same deal. I realized at this point that these bulls were not going to be pure bred bulls I was used to. Those bulls back home are beautiful. These felt there was two guys in a bull costume, and they were still working out the kinks of how to look mad.
Third bull comes out, and I start to let me guard down. I saw a guy run right by it, and touched it horns, and the bull barely blinked. “I guess these guys have no killer instinct” I thought. A few minutes later I find myself on a haystack with another guy, with the bull right under us. The guy on the haystack with me is literally throwing handfuls of straw in the bulls face, and I think the bull thought it was pretty.
I am getting bored, and decide to hop down and try to make a run by the bull. I get down from the haystack, and quickly realize I’ve made the biggest mistake in my life. I look back, see the bull. I looked at his face, he woke up. It was like he was sleep walking until this point, but now he’s awake, and he’s mad. At me.
Years of running with bulls has taught me that you never run in a straight line when getting away from a bull. You want to make a fast turn, and jump on to something. All I gotta do is make a quick right, hit that fence that’s 8 feet away, and I’m good. Hey, maybe I’ll even make the video! (They record these things, and people buy the tapes, people like my parents) Quick right, jump on that fence, no problem. Just don’t panic.
I panicked. I just started running. In a straight line. On grass. It was long before I could hear heavy hooves tearing up the dirt behind me. Then I actually felt his breath, on my legs. Through my track pants I felt his hot, angry breath. Fuck. He hit me, and then the world started to spin, I was in the air, with no control of how my body was moving through space.
Then the weirdest thing happened. Everything paused, like in the movies. Everything paused for a few seconds, and I was looking at the grass, it was inches away from my face. This was very concerning, because I was hyper aware of the fact that my feet were sticking straight up in the air.
Shit, I’m gonna land on my head. Fuck. This is so stupid. For those few paused seconds, so many thoughts ran through my head. I feared that I was going to break my neck, paralyze myself or even die. I was also very aware of the fact that my girlfriend had a front row seat to this, we were almost right in front of her when this happened. I felt horrible that she had to see this. I also thought about my parents who were on vacation back in Portugal, and would be coming back in a few days to this mess I had made.
Then, like I had taken my finger off the pause button, we go back into real time. SMASH! BOOF! UNNHG! What the.. fuck.. am I alri.. I’m ok. I think I’m ok. I get up right away, and walk away, surrounded by a swarm of people making sure I was alright.
I leave the caged area and head to my car. I need a beer and a cigarette, now. My hands are shaking, and I think I might be in a bit of shock. I realize I’m out of smokes, so I head over to the coffee truck on site to buy some. A nice man comes up to me to ask if I’m ok. He says his wife took a picture of me, and wanted to show it to me.
He runs off to get her camera, comes back to show me the photo. But first he asks me if I’m sure I want to see it. I thought that this was strange, I just got gored by a beast, what harm is this photo going to do?
Then I looked at the picture, and my instant confusion made his hesitation to show me make sense. How is that me? Where is my head? How is that guy alive? Am I dead? Is this shitty heaven? It was at this moment that I realized, I can not be killed.
Before getting back in the car to go home (I didn’t drive), my buddy went to go get the business card from the people filming the event. A few months later I go and by the VHS copy of this bullfight. Guys, guess what? I made the video. In fact, I even made the cover. Pretty cool. I mentioned to the lady I was the guy in the picture, and she was shocked to see me speaking so clearly. She actually said “Wow, that must have been very embarrassing.” Thanks.
Oh and the next morning, I was a mess. My face had swollen up to look a lot like Rocky’s face after the first movie. My body was a wreck too, I could barely move without wincing in pain, and I had two HUGE bruises on my hip and shoulder, which i never understood until I watch the video ( I got kicked, hard)
I ended up making a special Christmas video, and used it as a stocking stuffer for a select few of my friends that holiday season. For the first time ever, I’ll be sharing it with everyone. (note: I used to sometimes ask to be introduced on stage as the winner of a Mr.Portugal contest, from 1986, it was a dumb inside joke, but that explains the title of the video. )
(1:36 for super slow motion action!)
So remember, every September 22nd, you can also celebrate the day I didn’t die an embarrassing death. Or don’t, whatevs.
That will be the last time I tell that story for a long time, or maybe ever now that it’s on here. Hope you guys enjoyed it. Also, don’t tell or show this to my parents, they’ll have a heart attack.