(A Daily Prompt exercise for Blogging 101-Assignment 11)
Fair warning–this is an exercise for a blogging class and is not my usual fun stuff!
Sitting and staring in silence for twenty minutes has not led my brain to remember a time or place that I might have first realized that I wasn’t going to live forever. I suspect it was a lot earlier than my memory gives me credit for and it probably came softly and inevitably at a time I wasn’t even thinking about it.
I do remember once swimming in a cool mountain lake while camping with my family and slipping under the surface of the water only to find my feet tangled in long clumps of weeds reaching up from the sandy bottom. I remember swishing my legs violently to get free, looking up at the distorted sunshine and trying to find the face of anyone that might be searching for me. I felt that I might never reach the light again and I knew I was probably going to drown without anyone realizing.
But, I don’t think that was the first time I thought about not existing another second, or minute, or day. I wouldn’t have been so panicked and sad if I hadn’t ever known that it might be me last time on this Earth. I knew what was going to happen. I knew it was all going to be over and I wouldn’t smell the grass again or hear another song or see another airplane flying in the sky. It made me fight. The knowing made me fight and I got free. My body shot to the top of the water and I gulped as much fresh air as would fit in my lungs and I cried. My entire life had changed in a matter of seconds and I cried. My mom and dad sat in their lawn chairs near the fishing lines talking and enjoying the day and they never knew. I drifted to the shore, grabbed my towel and went to the camper to change. I never said a word and they still never knew.
There were a couple of times in my life that I know I should have died, but for some reason managed to go on another day. It’s amazing to me to think that I never realized that I was so close to death when I was actually in those moments. The awareness always came days or years after the fact, when something around me would trigger a memory and I would be transported to those times when I was so foolish and so, so lucky.
Some moments were complete accidents, like the time I was almost crushed by a large air conditioner that had been hanging in the living room window. It scared the shit out of me when it happened, but I didn’t feel the clutch of panic until a couple of nights later when my subconscious finally put the pieces together and jerked me out of a dead sleep with the knowledge that if I hadn’t moved at the exact time I did I would be gone. Forever. To say that was a long night was would be the understatement of the century.
As bad and frightening as those near death experiences were, I still remember a time when, not only I should have died, but my sister and all of my closest friends as well. Let’s just say we would have won a Darwin award if events had panned out the way they should have. We would have deserved the honor, too. It’s easy to laugh and shake my head while thinking about that time now (when I can forget the utter devastation our family and friends would have suffered), but boy, were we stupid, stupid kids.
It’s easy to find trouble when you’re bored and you have hours and hours of unstructured time in front of you. My friends and I had somehow managed to wander over (more like sprint on our bikes) to an old abandoned house near our neighborhood. The kind of house that had once been occupied by a very old woman but was now shuttered with boards and abandoned to its fate while surrounded by acres and acres of dry, brittle weeds and discarded rusty objects—stuff—things… It wasn’t enough to just make it to the house, we had to go inside. It was like a double dog dare just sitting there waiting for us to take it on. So we did. Did I mention we were stupid?
We found our way into the house by prying a few boards off of a small window away from the nearest road. We shimmied through the hole and into a small den and found ourselves standing upon mountains and mountains of furniture, clothes, baskets—anything you could possibly think of, just piled and forgotten. You couldn’t walk from one room to another without using both arms and legs to leverage yourself up and over the mess. Some of my friends had a very specific agenda in mind and began to trudge their way to the living room while the rest of us kind of looked around and wondered why the fuck we were even there.
It only took a few seconds to realize that it was pretty scary standing there by ourselves, so we followed everyone else to wherever they were going. And, joy of joys, it ended up being the basement. Now we were not only trespassing in a house that had more crap than the local junk yard but we were voluntarily entering the belly of the beast. Our nervous titters gently swept across the room as we huddled together and shuffled down the stairs. I can’t say that it wasn’t interesting to pick up a glass here or look at a picture there, but it was creepy and I was getting panicked.
Imagine my surprise when my friends called me over to a corner of a room that was fairly clean and livable. The stuff had been moved to the side and small little area had been cleared out to where you could actually see the floor. A can with cigarette butts lay nearby and a dresser sat next to the wall attached to a large mirror. I specifically remember a phone sitting on the top of that dresser along with several candles. It became apparent that someone had recently been in the house and that they were either still around or were going to be back soon. That was enough to make me want to leave immediately. I was pretty much the only one.
If only I could say that I was brave enough to just abandon everyone in the house and get the hell out. That would be a flat out lie, though. I didn’t want to leave my sister and I didn’t want to wait outside by myself. I swallowed my fear and casually explored the items that were strewn around the room. It seemed that it was getting darker inside and someone decided to light some candles. I must not have been too scared because it only took me a few seconds to get over my hesitation and start looting the place. Look at this thing over here. What is that thing? That’s cool. Let me have it. Our voices started getting louder and we began to feel more comfortable in our surroundings when (what the hell?) the phone started to ring.
Shit went flying out of everyone’s hands and we all instantly started run-climbing our way back out of the house. Whatever treasures I had managed to find were dropped to the floor and my only thought was getting the hell out. Blood was rushing through my ears so loudly that I could barely hear every one else gasping and laughing as they struggled up the stairs. A few friends were making fun of those of us that were going ape-shit and the others were pushing each other up and out the window. I got a nice cut on the back of my thigh but I managed to wiggle out pretty quickly and shuffle away from the house.
We all grabbed our bikes and rushed back towards home, all the while laughing and coming up with ideas of who could have possibly been on the phone. I was mad at myself for letting my sister be a part of that insanity and I was really afraid that my dad was going to find out and kick my ass. But, all in all, it ended as fairly harmless fun and it was probably the most daring thing I had ever done in my life up to that point. I quickly forgot how scared I had been and went on with my life.
This is where it gets tricky to remember. It wasn’t too long after that when I heard a story about a fire—a fire that had destroyed the same house we had been messing around in and exploring with lit candles. I was immediately transported to that moment the phone rang and everyone panicked and threw the things they had gathered from the house back into the various piles of garbage. I don’t know what had happened to the candles we had lit that day. Did they remain untouched and go out on their own? Did someone have the wherewithal to blow the candles out even while being spooked out of their minds? Those are questions that still go through my mind to this day. I personally think they were knocked over and snuffed out without catching anything on fire.
It’s been around thirty years since that day and I still have nightmares about it. I hear the phone ring and I can see the candles dump over and I see the random junk starting on fire. I see how the flames would have devoured that place in seconds and how we would have been trapped inside. The window to escape was directly upstairs over the wall that the dresser had been sitting against. The smoke would have overcome us and the flames would have eaten us. I don’t know why we came out unscathed and I am very thankful that we were. I never heard of anyone dying in that fire (remember that there were clear signs of someone having been there just recently) and I know that they were lucky to get out of there alive.
No, I don’t remember the first time I was faced with the idea of my own immortality and I have no problem not knowing that. Nowadays, there are far too many times I find myself worrying and reevaluating decisions I make because I am too busy coming up with various ways for that decision to go horribly wrong. I imagine that it was much more peaceful being unaware of the fact that I could die at any moment. I wish that I had the freedom to make choices without worrying about consequences and I wish that I could be silly and careless and the hell with what comes next. But that’s not me. I know that I will not be here forever and I want to make sure that I am able to last as long as I possibly can before I am no longer around to participate in this world.
(Okay, now I need a day at the spa and some hot chocolate. I’m cold all of a sudden…)
© DRB 2015