Once, when I was eleven, I was attempting to get air off a graded curb at the bottom of a steep hill on my wee department store BMX bike when I lost control and took a header into a fire hydrant. At least, that’s the event I’ve reconstructed from the fragments I actually remember from that afternoon, which include sitting covered in blood on the side of the road wondering what the hell I was doing there, getting asked a barrage of worried questions by my father, sitting in the backseat of his car wondering how I had got there, then the same barrage of questions from a doctor.
The whole experience was dreamlike and actually kind of wonderful. I was pretty damn frightened of death when I was eleven—I had a cousin who died in a motorcycle accident around then—and was generally a scrawny wuss terrified of pain. But neither pain nor fear comes into the memory at all. I was just sort of awed, wondering where my mind had been, where I had been, in those black spaces I couldn’t remember. It was like I had traveled through time.
I was probably reading Madeline L’Engle and CS Lewis and Jules Verne in those days, watching Back to the Future over and over on VHS like it was my job.
The other night, under dubious circumstances which shall not be discussed, I slammed my head quite forcefully against against a telephone pole and collapsed in the street. Or at least so I have been told, by bystanders who actually witnessed the event. All I remember is sitting up from the street mumbling, “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Didn’t go to the doctor this time. Should have, maybe. Stubborn.
It’s a fascinating thing, though, the fragility of consciousness. Being a sheltered, coddled, writerly recluse like I am, I probably don’t get enough reminders of it. I’ve been reading up on shamanism lately—on the magical origins of culture. Back then, it was exactly this sort of experience that might have been interpreted as a call to the shamanic vocation: a death or seeming death, followed by a return to life.
Not that I experienced any spirit visions while I was under. At least, not that I can remember. But that’s the point: I don’t know what happened during those blank spaces. Maybe I dreamed. Maybe I saw god. Apparently, during some of the time following my encounter with the fire hydrant, I actually appeared awake and alert, answering questions, moving under my own power. Was that really me? Or was it just my body, walking and talking without me in it?
Fun to think about.