Lost Time

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.


  1. When my son Jake was in first grade, he fell out of an apple tree on a field trip. I drove to school (another parent had brought him from the orchard back to school) and took him to the doctor’s office. For a couple hours, he was stuck in a loop. He’s ask “What happened to me?” and I’d say, “You fell out of a tree.” Then he’d reply “Oh yes, the apple tree.” I can’t remember the next few Q and A replies, but about 3 minutes would pass and he’d ask the exact same series of questions again. It was like being stuck outside the Twilight Zone, being able to see him on the inside of it. He has no real memory left of that day, although I used to ask him what he could recall.

    My sister had a severe memory loss brought on by stress and grief, after our older sister died. She was at work and lost her temper in a meeting. She has no recollection of what happened after that, but found herself sitting in a doctor’s office, breathing into a paperbag. She has no memory or recollection of what took place over the period of an hour and twenty minutes (this was over ten years ago) and has never retrieved those memories. She did talk to friends and co-workers and it sounds like she had the same mental loop that my son had. She would ask “Is my sister dead?” get some answers, and then start the cycle over again.

    I guess our brains protect us from pain and shock, although I’d prefer to think we’re off tripping the light fantastic, or perhaps treading that border land between here and there.

  2. The mind is a fascinating thing. I have a friend who was in a serious car accident years ago and was in a coma for a while. His girlfriend died in the accident. He has no memory of the two weeks or so leading up to the accident, nor can he remember anything from the two months following the accident. He developed post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he knows he doesn’t have actual memories of the accident, but his mind has pieced together what happened from what people told him, and he’ll have ‘flashbacks’ in which he relives the accident.

    On a less serious note, I always think of this commercial when someone says they’ve hit their head:


    1. Something like that kind of happened to me with the fire hydrant… I had to tell the story so many times to different people I sort of talked myself into remembering it.

      And yeah, I had the loop Q&A thing too, according to my dad. What blows my mind about it is that something that messed up can just go away after a couple of days and I’m the same person I was.

      Interesting that both Becky’s friend and Maggie’s sister had grief for another person’s death associated with the memory loss. My cousin’s death was purely tangential—it happened around the same time, and it certainly messed me up emotionally, but I doubt I was thinking about it at all as I was flying towards the fire hydrant.

  3. Yaiga.
    Enjoyed the ruminations, and shamanic call notwithstanding, glad to hear you’re okay.

    On a tangential note–
    I’m sure I have some of the details wrong, but I think Oliver Sacks may document a story where a man suffered from severe amnesia brought on by a head injury near-death experience–he left his wife, his job and moved across the country. Ten years later he was in a similar line of work, married to a similar woman, and had even moved into a similar house.
    Reborn as his old himself, as it were.

    Oh and watch out for those telephone poles, you hear?

    1. Heh. Dude, I think I’ve seen that story on The Young and the Restless.

      No more telephone poles for me. As my dad says, “Your brain is your meal ticket. Wear a helmet.”

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