This One Time, 17

This one time I died for two months and then came back from the dead.

I really don’t know why people make such a big fuss about dying and coming back. It seriously happens all the time. The gates of the afterlife aren’t big iron doors guarded by flaming swords and three-headed dogs. There’s just a long dusty vestibule, one sleeping guard on duty who has never lifted an eyelid in known memory, and a huge revolving door you could ski through. Both ways.

There’s no exact scientific definition of death. There’s a continuum. There’s the flaky “heart stopped” death which can be fixed with a zap from a nine-volt battery. The heart and lungs combo are pretty important to maintaining life and consciousness, though. Sometime between two and thirty minutes (depending on refrigeration and induced low-oxygen-consumption states similar to hibernation) that lack of oxygen distribution network produces irreversible brain damage that can seriously degrade one’s quality of life, but frequently stops short of death. Then there’s brain death, wherein there’s no measured electrical activity in response to fundamental reflex tests and/or no measured blood flow in your noodle, but even that doesn’t count in the UK, and in the US the measurements have to be consistent (or consistently absent?) 24 hours apart to make sure the patient doesn’t just snap out of it. The Brits add brain-stem death, just to make sure all of your autonomous functions shut down unless you have machinery connected. Then there’s cell-death, which, as deaths go, is pretty damned thorough.

The definition of death that ordinary people use, however, is a lot simpler. Someone is dead to us when we are definite that they have gone away and are pretty sure they’re never coming back. The real problem there is the word “never”, because, you know, if you assume it’s an infinite universe out there, the extremely unlikely becomes inevitable the longer you wait.

When I died it was a bit more remarkable than your typical ER Code Blue. Well, maybe not when I died. When I came back.

When I died, a big rock came rolling down the hill and tagged the rear end of the car I was driving. I lost traction and bounced over a guard rail and … it was a pretty steep drop over about half a mile.

My SUV wadded itself up like aluminum foil. The cheap-ass plastic gas tank broke loose and doused everything. Probably the fumes were lit by my own damn cigarette, and this tiny blond-haired girl roasted to death trapped inside a crumpled steel box.

It was a tragic waste of a young, beautiful life. Everybody said so.

Except I woke up in a hospital three weeks after the wreck. I’d been picked up on the side of the highway by emergency services. Unconscious and unresponsive, broken bones all over the place, hair all singed off, second-degree burns, pretty much unrecognizable. Two days after that, though, someone found the car. With somebody in it. Who, considering the circumstances and all, matched my description well enough no one felt they had to check closer.

I woke up, but I was in no shape to speak. I don’t know whether I just didn’t remember who I was or it just didn’t really seem important enough to recall and answer questions through the haze of painkillers and everything. But it really did take nearly two months for me to recall and convey who I was and to try to get someone to call my parents.

I wasn’t there for the first couple of phone calls to my parents, but I was told there was a bit of confusion and awkwardness. In my absence I had been buried and all of my stuff had been given away. My boyfriend had moved on. I’d been unenrolled from MU. My Facebook page was now an endlessly scrolling memorial.

There were some tests to prove who I was. Fortunately I already had a ton of x-rays so doctors could look for signs of old breaks and compare them with my records. The x-ray of my face for the broken jaw matched up with dental records from when I got my braces off.

No one had any clue about who was cremated in my place. I don’t even remember getting into the car for the trip home for winter break, much less picking up a hitchhiker or giving someone else from school a lift. There were a couple of maybes in the nationwide missing persons list, but this country seems to take an interest in misplaced blond white chicks. None that would have been 100% mistakable for me.

Given how tough it is to define death, the undead thing is even more confusing. Was dead, now alive again, but missing a soul? I got nothing. All I know is that when my parents finally showed up and I saw their faces, Dad looked firmly unbelieving and Mom looked at me like I was some kind of monster. It wasn’t until I burst into tears that everything melted and they rushed to my side.

Am I undead or merely alive again? It all kind of depends on that soul question. Did I ever have one? Is it stuck somewhere in the afterlife? Maybe it’s imprisoned in the crushed cube that used to be my burned-out SUV and now I can live, infinitely extended, forever.

Do me a favor and perform your best evil laugh here. I was never good at it.


January 17, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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