I have the strangest taste in my mouth, watching my image wake up in a hospital bed following a dream sequence, the gown loose against my back, the plastic bracelet on my right wrist, light and tickly, irritatingly loose, the weird sensation of a cheek made tight with surgical tape and gauze.
I had a flashback to the accident while walking to my friend’s house, shopping, or just wandering down the road aimlessly, I couldn’t be sure. The sign asking for information from anyone who had seen the accident surreal by the McDonalds on Brompton Road – did the driver come forward? Why didn’t the driver visit me in the hospital? Hot anger filled me as I crossed the street to the McDonald’s side, walking carefully, waiting for the lights – I never used to do that, I used to step into the street like I was immortal, bragging to my friends that cars would never hit me, sure of my invincibility. Now I walk on the car side of the pavement with my friends, stopping them from stepping into the street, putting my arm out to stop them from crossing at a red man unless there are definitely no cars anywhere in sight.
A flash, image of a the blinding speed of the car as my body jumped, legs tucked in, hip touching the hood, hand protecting my eye automatically, slamming into the windshield, then nothing. Nothing more than a tease, memory flooding back for a dream-like moment before disappearing like a will-o-the-wisp, never to return again, at least until now.
It’s way too late to be up now. I know I’ll be suffering when the kids wake up tomorrow morning and jump on me. But that strange taste, unlike anything else I have ever experienced, stale and clean, dry and bitter-sweet, yet completely tasteless, the ghost of a memory of a sensation stale on my tongue, not unlike my breath tastes after eating too many late-night nasty pretzels. Salt. Saline. The plasma machine pumping my blood out of my body, through a plasma-filtering machine and back in again through a too-big needle, my arm sore, machine beeping as the needle moves, causing pain and aching around the open wound. Boring TV in an awkward place, crick in my neck, all for $50, so broke in university.
But the taste, the movie ‘I fought the Law’, with my famous alter-ego Keifer Sutherland, so cool, name almost as weird as mine, smiling for real at the movie. But that scene, cheesy horse-hair floating slowly, dream-like, then him waking in the hospital, sitting up, brother asleep in the chair by his bed covered in coats, to stand in front of the mirror and stare at his own face, like I did.
I can feel the memory of that moment of lucidity, when I first woke up for real after the coma. That strange dream I can’t remember, that week I lost so long ago, more than a decade. But the movie sequence, my alter-ego waking up, scares me with the memory of a taste in my mouth, the feeling of plastic on my wrist, the flimsy hospital gown, bare back cold against the room air from the uncomfortably damp sweaty bed, kissing hands goodbye, a bad trip.
Maybe that’s why drugs never really did much for me. Maybe that’s why alcohol is so boring, a slowdown instead of a detachment. My body remembers the pain which it shut my brain down from. To protect me, so the doctor said, what an amazing engine this body is. People can die from pain, supposedly, again according to the doctor. Your body knows what level of pain you can sustain while still remaining alive and chooses to block out conscious thought when the body is in too much pain. Your conscious mind will try to escape the pain through death, maybe. I don’t know why, but supposedly your body does escape the pain by turning the conscious mind off. So I was running on my subconscious the entire time. That whole week I lost. I don’t remember really kissing girls’ hands as I said goodbye, or telling the nurse to ‘fuck off’ when she came to help me get out of bed the first time I wanted to go pee after being in that coma for three days.
For years I thought those were the first words out of my mouth after nearly dying, after touching that final frontier most of us do not get a second chance from. I want to state right here that I do not remember what happened, but I am pretty sure there was no blinding light. Do not expect me to wax lyrical about angels in heaven, being enveloped in some warm fuzzy feeling. I was in black sleep, and that is all I seem to remember. Except at times like this, when a flash comes back. Not of some near-death experience, but of a real taste, bringing back even more real memories, sensations, tastes, smells, emotions, like the smell of your mother’s perfume can bring you back to a moment of your childhood, but this is someone else’s life I am remembering. Someone else, my subconscious maybe, was in charge for a week, and I kind of want that week back.
I know what the doctor said about the pain. I’m not really keen on feeling the pain now, as I know my body remembers it all too well. But at the same time, I want to know what happened during that week. Not outside my body – that I know from stories friends and family told me. I want to know what was going on inside. What I was running on. It feels like there are two me inside of me, both of whom have existed since the beginning, only one of which is truly strong – the me that carried my body and self through that week of agony, the days in coma, the waking hours spent in the hospital that are blotted out from my memory entirely.
Although I do not want to feel the pain, cannot imagine how bad the pain would be, I miss that week, Sunday to Monday, that I lost because I did not watch where I was going, too busy lighting a cigarette which I thought made me look cool, which looked really cool in the movie reel running through my head, helping me get from day to day, narrated by yours truly, 18 and immortal, until I looked up from the momentary blindness of the lighter flash in the dusky early evening to see the car. But I cannot remember that bit. Or the rest. Just the taste in my mouth, the fear of remembering too much mixed with the excitement in my chest, the quick-beating heart of getting back what I had lost, as if all of my last 12 years I have been waiting for this moment, to remember what I had lost, to go through the agony of getting hit by that car, jumping at the last moment, tucking my legs in and covering my face with my right hand, hip brushing the hood, body sliding up the car, facing meeting the windscreen, the crushing sound in slow motion of my face caving the shatter-proof glass in towards the driver, someone else’s face behind the screen, someone I don’t know, I’m sure terrified, shocked by my oncoming body, the clear horrible reality of killing someone while driving, something I have tasted too many times in the fast-forward part of my brain while driving tired but never really experienced in life from that side of the windscreen, must have shut my eyes. Then the car brakes hard, tires screeching. I roll off of the hood, bruising my left arm and leg in a perfect line as my body bounces off the broken remnants of the windscreen frame, body flying back across the opposite lane’s turning space, head meeting tarmac at speed before my body has a chance to land, a loud crack then darkness. Waking up a week later at home, 9:30am, I’m late for class!
I jump up and start my usual panic rush to get dressed, to get ready for school, only to have my younger brother Michael come in looking very concerned and a bit bemused, “You don’t have school.”
“What?! It’s Monday isn’t it?”
“Yes, but you were hit by a car a week ago, don’t you remember?”
His voice is gentle and concerned, but no longer amused. His movements are meant to be placating, as if I am a rabid dog, once loved but now possibly dangerously mad. I see a bandage on my hand, surgical tape holding hospital gauze to my hand and wrist, something tight on my face. I walk in a fearful daze to the full length mirror across from my brother’s room, there I am, gauze taped across my right cheek, covering almost the entire cheek from under my right eye.
I peel back the gauze, my brother making some noise to warn me. But I’m in my own world now, some twilight zone I have woken up in, seemingly having gone to bed on Sunday, a Sunday afternoon I distinctly remember spending at my friend Kristina Halmo’s house, watching movies, Aladdin I think, for the 30th time – I’ve memorised almost all of Robin Williams’ lines. I remember walking home.
And that was last night, because today is Monday, right?
No, today is Monday, 7 days later.
7 days. Lost.
Bandages across my hand and face.
Aching joints. That’s normal. That’s Lyme disease reminding me I am mortal, isn’t it?
But my left arm and leg are so sore. And it’s the skin, not the joints that ache most now. That’s not Lyme disease, that’s something else. I pull up my sleeve to look at my arm. There is a long purple bruise down my left arm, starting just below my shoulder and running diagonally down towards my bicep, as if I’d taken a baseball bat blow to my arm. The same again on my leg, same angle, same colour. Bruises which never really went away in my mind, even as they faded from my body. They, for some reason, were more real than the cuts on my face, which I still cannot accept from one night’s sleep. But I did not bruise myself while sleeping, could not explain such blatant skin and muscle damage. A smaller bandage on my arm peels away to reveal some scratches. My face has these scratches too. Glass cuts. My wrist as well. They match. I could see myself tucking into receiving a rugby tackle, jumping illegally but naturally into the impact, letting my body loosen into the hard car, absorbing the whiplash with my hip and shoulder, then blackness, nothing.
Surreal visits from teachers and friends, well-wishers visiting me as I convalesce at home. All so real, but not, at the same time. All the time asking myself what happened.
All the time asking myself what happened.
What about the guy/girl who hit me?
The police told my father it was a fatal accident when he came looking for me that night. What did that feel like, to come across the place in the road where you know your son crossed every evening coming back home from his friend’s house, only to find a blood splatter, broken glass, flashing sirens. Greeted by the remnants of a clearly horrific accident, no sign of your son, having the police tell you your son is dead, for you know this was his accident, that he must have been hit, because he was too late for anything else – no phone call, he was never this late. How does that feel?
I am a father now, and I can only imagine the abject misery that thought, those words coming from the policeman’s mouth, must have driven into my father’s heart. And now, only now, can I imagine what he must have gone through. With my daughter sleeping soundly in the other room, I can hear her breathing softly in her sleep even as I write this, I can only imagine the absolute emptiness that must have come through those words, echoing in the empty space in his soul where I once breathed. Then to find I am alive, revived by the medics by whatever means they have, in hospital.
7 days. Lost.
My computer teacher bringing me homework I will never do, talking about passing me on tests I will never take, it’s too late to go back and try to pass my final semester in my senior year at high school.
Everyone is so nice. I want to cry every time someone comes around and tells me how they visited me in hospital. I want to cry now, and thank them for caring about me – people I never really knew in the first place because I was so wrapped up in my own little world.
Maybe this is why nothing really scares me. All of the anger and rage, all of those horribly angry violent people I have had the misfortune of coming across in my life, all of the miserable people I have been personally close to. Their anger does not frighten me, but my own anger does. My own self-righteousness is my own worst enemy. I know my own weakness for ranting against the status quo, but it beats losing control. Why saying that matters here and now, I don’t know, but it is right, and I will write.
A girlfriend I never knew I had, tells me of how she came to see me in hospital, how we built up a relationship I don’t remember. Her running off, two-timing me with some other girl and a boy who was thrown out of school for drugs, or cheating, or both, I don’t care.
Being a little celebrity when I finally return, a month later (out of pure boredom – there’s only so much sitting around at home a person can do before going crazy, and wandering the streets or shopping for groceries also loses its charm after a while).
Writing an article in the school newspaper about the accident – ‘Hi, we want to write an article about you,’ Can I write it? ‘yeah sure.’
A hug from some girl who would not have looked at me twice in a previous life, but this was a new life, a totally new beginning in a world that was no longer the same, no longer tasted the same.
And still I go back to that week. I wrote a poem a few days after I woke up at home, a week after I got hit. I have it still, somewhere, in its original form. If I find it, I’ll put it back up on the wall where it has been everywhere I’ve lived since I was hit.
I received Pearl Jam ‘Ten’ from my sister only days after the accident – a late birthday present from her.
Lying on my back in my room, my feet a level up on the split floor, my stereo blasting out Pearl Jam’s perfect accompaniment to my confused new split-life, reality and dream mixed, “Oh, she walks slowly, cross the young man’s room”, Jeremy would run through my head – no wonder I named so many characters in later stories Jeremy, or did I write those before? I do not know. Who cares anyway?
And ‘I’m still alive’, which I would shout along with Pearl Jam, screaming it out at the top of my lungs, my big ‘fuck you’ to the world that tried to annihilate me, wipe me off of the face of the earth once and for all. ‘You can hit me with a car, but I’ll still keep coming.’ The image of me as the terminator making me giggle – still my mother’s son, still crazy as ever! J
What made me think that? The taste of the hospital smell, that image from the movie, all circling back again, making me wonder why I write all of this.
Just pure thoughts on paper, no editing, just babble, will anyone read this, does it really fucking matter, isn’t this just for me…I don’t know.
Where did all of this come from?
A movie, unfinished, TV now black, not teasing me with images of my alter-ego in a hospital gown as I wore, same plastic arm bracelet, staring into the mirror, about to realise some deep meaning in all of his experiences, a happy ending which never happens in real life, because real life just goes on to the next episode, the next day, the next scene.
I have no conclusions to draw from this, am still searching for that lost week, the pain that went with it, the memories that were fed into the dream-like state I woke from so much later.
I thought the first words out of my mouth were, “fuck off”. I was even proud of this, not for abusing a helping hand, or a caring nurse, but for the fact that it proved one thing I thought of myself – that I will not, in fact cannot accept a helping hand when I am really down. I know this is because I am afraid that if I don’t get up by myself, physically and emotionally, then I will come to get lazy and rely on that helping hand when I next fall over, if it isn’t there at that time I will not be able to pick myself up.
But the truth was very different. I was in a coma for three days, with my father watching over me – he would not leave the room. People came and went, but he stayed there throughout, wishing I would wake up, hoping against hope that I would come to, be my usually obnoxiously hyper and over emotionally righteous normal self.
Three days went by with no luck, the doctors not helping much. But on that third day, my father had my sister on the phone, and told her that he thought I was not waking up because he and I did not have such a good relationship, that he knew she and I were close, that maybe I would wake up if she spoke to me (my sister, Ruthie, was in the states in University at the time, so she could not be there with me, in England). So he put the phone to my ear, she said, “I love you,” and I said, “I love you” and woke up.
That is the truth, plain and simple.
Love saved me. Family saved me.
The world is a good and beautiful place, or can be, if we make it that way.
I was up and about from then on, healing fast, and out of the hospital in less than a week, able to go home Sunday night and wake up Monday morning in my own bed, thoroughly confused, not remembering the hospital at all.
I look at my life now, and wonder how much of it was born that morning I woke up in the twilight zone. I have the most amazing daughter in the world – a real angel to be added to the pantheon of angels who look over me in my blessed life, my mother, my sister, my daughter, my friends, my partner, all of them there for me when I need them, seemingly stepping out of the woodwork just when I need them the most.
Sure I have been alone at times, alone with the pain and the misery that is this thing we call ‘The Real World’, which I think is really just a poor excuse to go ahead and treat each other like shit, which everyone seems to end up doing in one way or another, whether at home, or at work, or anywhere in between.
We build these worlds of distraction around us to make us forget how miserable we all really are.
But what we should really be doing is remembering why we are here – those of us who do not spend every minute of every day suffering the most horrific of realities, wondering where the next breath or morsel of food will come from, wondering whether we will be alive tomorrow, or even in the next hour, whether the bomb will drop on our house tonight, instead of down the street, our children’s only crime being born in the wrong country, all for money, oil, power, hatred, ignorance, pick your evil impulse, it’s all greed and stupidity.
And we sit here, self-satisfied, those of us busy destroying ourselves in our self-delusional pain, pretending to know what true depression is, the fact that it is a luxury of the comfortably shameless. The truly shameless who could be, should be spending our lives helping others instead of stamping on them at work, to make our own way easier, to secure our own little empire, our own patch of power, struggling up the ladder to that next rung that really does not matter because even the people at the top are owned by someone, whether it is the board or the shareholders no one is truly free while in the middle of this life we call ‘civilisation’.
But it could be different. I tasted death at least once, and I can tell you it could all be worthwhile, better, a better place to live.
We could do it, together.
I am no angel, I climb the ladder, albeit I like to think without selling all of my soul to the green demon. I do it because I have to support my family. (I would rather make money by writing, but that is just a dream for now.)
My dog twitches in his dreams, scratching the wooden floor, reminding me that I am just me, slightly overweight, definitely over-tired, waxing lyrical about making the world a better place when I cannot even manage to balance my own bank account.
But it could happen. We could turn this world around. One person at a time. We could make this a better place.
It would be nice to think we could start from the top. Have the first people turned being the richest, the billionaires, who have so much ability to do good in this world, to feed the hungry by helping them grow their own food, ridding the world of hatred and murderous ignorance by building schools in all countries to teach freedom of thought, not religious dogma (including America).
With a few billion, we stop the tens of thousands of children from starving to death in Africa every week.
With a few more billion, we could find the cure to so many of the diseases which the western world doesn’t see as important, because it only really effects the truly destitute, who have no voice anyway.
With a few more billion, we could wipe out homelessness, country by country.
So why not? Why has no one started on this track? I cannot believe that no one in a position of power has thought of this already. This cannot be a new thought
Oh what a wonderful place this world would be if those who had the power in their hands right now to make a real difference actually did just that – made a positive difference.
This is Single Father signing off…Tweet