The first time I almost died (that I know of) was the day I graduated from high school. My family never made much fuss over cultural rituals, so my sister and I and two girl friends went to a river-rafting event that morning. How we ever got to the launch site and into the water with so little preparation (life vests but no paddles!), I’ll attribute to being teenagers. At eighteen, I was a married woman; I’m sure I thought that meant I was finally grown-up, and thus invincible.
Less than 1000 yards down the river, our unmanaged rafts were swept under a fallen tree sticking out over the river. We were raked off. I was trapped for a minute under the tree branches. I thought, “I’m going to die; my husband’s going to be furious.” We pulled one another out of the river and hitchhiked to graduation. The ceremony was anti-climatic.
Ten years later, I had two suicidal summers. I consider surviving those depressions a much slimmer escape, requiring far more internal fortitude than climbing out of the raging frigid river. There was no one else in that deep death-wish lake to pull me out, no husband waiting. Mostly, I wrote myself free.
I feel that I, and everyone I know, cheats death every time one of our vehicles has one of those near-misses that come far too often. Our adrenaline tells us so, and we are all so sweet to everyone for a few days afterward. Before I gave up my motorcycle, I didn’t see a stop sign. The car with the right of way came fast and just kissed the back rack on my bike with its front fender. I understand why people believe in guardian angels.
Sixteen years ago, I was diagnosed with polymyositis, a rare muscle disease. Untreated, this disease eats up muscle tissue, including internal muscles, like the heart. My doctor said “before prednisone, people always died within five years.” Yay, prednisone! So, I owe death, and modern medicine, ten-plus years. That karmic debt is an awesome thing to live with. What can I do with all these years, each day, that I live beyond my natural lifespan?
A couple years ago, coming in from mowing, I didn’t quite make it up our hill on my riding mower. I backed down to give it a second run. The mower was in neutral rather than in gear, so it picked up speed too fast. Out of control, racing backward. Down in the field, I jammed on the brakes and the mower reared up in a backwards wheelie. Threw me off onto my back, the vented hood straight overhead, falling toward me. I kicked both feet out, against the back of the seat and tipped the whole thing back onto its wheels. Again, I was alive, my debts multiplied.