Based upon our long, circuitous phone conversation, I knew something profound and fantastical was happening inside Peter Eichenberger’s brain. “I’ve been seeing these wormlike jets of pure gold powder and powdered tourmaline arcing across the sky toward me,” he said. “Beautiful jets of trans-physical unalloyed human connections. It’s incredible.”
It was a month after Peter had dumped his beloved antique British bicycle on Bickett Boulevard and sustained a brain injury that required him to be trepannedthe millennia-old practice of drilling into the skull for medical and spiritual reasonsin order to relieve the swelling. The procedure tuned Peter into a higher frequency, and he was eager to share the phenomenal discoveries he had made. A few days later, when I knocked on his door, a Styrofoam head wearing a brown short-cropped wig peeked through the opening; I could hear Peter giggling somewhere in the shadows.
As a young practitioner of Gonzo journalism, I was immediately taken with Peter’s brilliantly weird, full-bore delivery. It was underscored with scholarly confidence and the wisdom gained from multiple near-death and out-of-mind experiences. “I’d either been trepanned or I’d been attacked by some bitchy Shetland pony,” joked Peter as we looked around the house for the light that would give proper visual relief to the scar upon his skull. “I just didn’t know.”
Several hours later, we parted ways and agreed that a series of madcap adventuresaided by our press badgesshould ensue. There was our tour of Raleigh’s hidden waterways and the attempted crashing of Stanley Cup playoffs without the proper credentials. And, of course, there was paintball warfare against young Christian teenagers.
Peter showed up wearing a long black duster and a red mullet wig he lovingly referred to as Ronnie Dobbs, all accessorized with a black steel World War I helmet. As the air horn blew to signal the start of the match, I heard his wild banshee war cry rise up. He charged headlong into the fray. Then, whap: as quickly as it had begun, it was done. An orange paint splatter decorated his mullet. Peter was not finished. “I withdrew from the field of combat,” he later wrote. “‘Intifada,’ I screamed, nailing as many of my teammates as I could with what remained in the hopper.”
There were, of course, many more serious dispatches by Peter. I’ve lived in North Carolina only five years, so I missed a lot of them. Reading back through them now, I’m struck by his unique and lyrical approachand the expectation that not everyone would be able to keep up. He wrote with wit, humor and an understanding of both the burden of our shared, delicate existence and those forces acting against it. An hour after our paintball adventure, Peter suffered a seizure as we waited in line at the gas station. It was a terrifying experience, but later he joked about it. “Sorry you had to watch me do the kickin’ chicken back there,” he said.
A similar seizure ended Peter’s life last week, on Thanksgiving morning. The same brain injury that allowed him to open wide the doors of his perception and bear witness to our sacred connections also ended up killing him. Peter learnedhell, lovedto live with the risk because he so thoroughly enjoyed the ride.