Saturday, May 31, 2014

How, not if

In the middle of Monterey County, somewhere between King City and Greenfield, when the person riding next to you asks how it's a gift, shouldn't you have an answer? A short, neat answer? How exactly my brain injury became a gift...

It's clear to me, in dozens of ways. But on a bike I'm no more articulate on the subject than in writing.


It wasn't really the moment of impact where things started to shift. It was one of the moments after that, when we were already out of the car. (People, listen up! Bad idea! Stay in the car!) It came after crawling over the barbed wire with my animal fear. The moment of viewing the scene. Taking in what had just happened.

A road in the middle of nowhere. Not a road of character, but one whose sole purpose is getting from point A to point B. A haze of dust and ruined vehicles. The air blowing, full of sand. Chaos. Cars backed up for miles. A freeway without motion, a tarmac. A canvas for something surreal.

This is what they talk about. It must happen all the time. Everything in the world comes to this.

I stand there in a sandy field, holding paper towels against my face, feeling unsafe despite the barbed wire. Would it hold up to a careening vehicle? Is this whole scene just a set-up for the real accident about to happen? A state trooper talking to people on the shoulder.

This is how people die. It keeps coming back, this thought. It won't be shaken. This is how we die. In banal, uncaring circumstances. Surrounded by strangers, far from anyone we love. We die for no good reason. In ways that we would never choose. For ourselves, for anyone.

The person I'm riding with says quietly that this happened to his sister. He's looking straight ahead.

We cause the accidents too. We build the cars, the roads. We drive long distances, have faith in our own reflexes and coordination. We know it gets windy in this spot and visibility can go to zero and we don't put up a sign. We keep going when we can't see and then it's too late. We don't stop in time.

Afterward, we tell ourselves we'll remember. Keep this scene in mind. Live as if each moment is precious and love is all that matters. We get home and make a will. Write down where to put the ashes. Which poem to read. The one that says to focus not on the physical reality of death but instead on sensations of wind and light and rain. Of looking at the stars and knowing they are real.

In practice it's impossible. This is what it looks like and you don't want that.

Also, the world tries to make us small. The other day I lost patience wrangling over visa paperwork. Trying to activate a credit card. Left a cell phone on a bus, had to go through the whole routine of getting it back. Around other humans, what I have to focus on is making small talk and taking care not to step on anyone's feelings. These things are important.

And yet.

Now I am motivated to die slowly, as gracefully as possible. The love my parents poured into me, resist it all coming to nothing in the middle of nowhere. Tap into that music.

The cop and the tow truck driver who scrape the pieces off the road like hyenas, stand them up. Where possible, choose smaller roads of character. Track the passage time according to the Milky Way and bird migrations.

Figure out how to live.

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