Sunday, August 23, 2009

Girlfriend in a Coma, I Know. I Know.

I am driving with my mother the first time it happens. We are eating hot apple pies from the McDonalds drive-thru when the logging truck crashes through the passenger side window sending us tumbling like a cyclone of twisted screeching metal, turning over and over again with the spinning shards of glass and hamburger wrappers and cassette tapes and little coins from the ashtray, until we land hard at the base of a ravine in the bottom of a dry creek bed. I reach up but my arms do not move. A sticky wetness fills my eyes all warm and stinging and I blink just enough to see an ant crawl across a stone and then I am dead.
I am ten years old.
The second time I am leaping off rocks. There at my secret swimming hole down at George Roger’s park along the muddy banks of the Willamette. My grandmother’s cottage just a quick two minute bike ride away where I used to trick or treat the gingerbread houses along the lane leading down to the water and now my body is being pulled under by an eddy and I am screaming and gulping white bubbles and drowning and I can see a light above, dancing like gas in the heat but then I am dead.
This time I am twelve.
After Columbine it happens every night for a month. I am in front of the class at the chalkboard when the first gunshots echo from the cafeteria and I throw a chair through the window crashing the glass so that all the students could escape and then I run out into the hallway and come face to face with the gunman. He is a different boy each time, his face always changing, wrapped in a hood or black stocking cap. I know him, the boy from remedial reading or the one from wood shop. I say his name loudly and then the gunpowder stench fills my nostrils and there is hot steel in my throat and I see the back of my head splattered against the wall and then I am dead.
I am twenty-nine.
I have always dreamed my own death: Falling from the airplane crashing through the sky, chased by monsters my feet stuck in the sand, the downed electrical wire writhing like a snake I take in my hands like a magical flute. There is a jolt, a brace of impact, and then black. I am dead, and there is nothing.
Today it happened again.
I am squatting on the outer stairwell on the side of the library of my new school when the earthquake hits. The men unloading the bus throw their cigarettes on the ground and brace for impact. The woman in black umbrella visor wrapped like a Bedouin stops her cart full of flattened cardboard boxes and stands still. The building guards washing their hands from the garden hose put up their arms like gymnasts balancing on beams.
This is not a dream. No, the earth shaking violently around me is real. The tops of buildings sway back and forth gently as if tree branches in a lulling wind. Car alarms sound. Landscapes become blurry. I half expect the asphalt road to split in two seams right under my feet, and I reach to brace myself but my hands can take hold of nothing. The space around me closes in and I hold my breath until it stops.
The following morning I am sitting in the living room with Xi’an and Rebekah. We have skipped church again, playing hooky and rolling play-doh into long noodle strips we pretend to bake in the oven instead. They know nothing of the three earthquakes that have struck since my arrival this week and have only vague recollections of sitting in a hotel room during the typhoon unable to leave the east coast because the train tracks had been washed out. No. We just sit and do crafts instead. I cut out paper dolls and dresses and color them with markers. We lay a blanket in the middle of the floor and drink tea from cups. I play with them all day. Through bike rides out in the sticky humidity and into the pool after lunch with life jackets and goggles, then games of Jenga and floor puzzles and an evening walk through the park with camera and juice. Just me and my girls. My mind numb. My body's sense flat and dull. My hands have stopped shaking finally. I notice this as I tuck them in at night. Good thing. My heart has long ago stopped racing but I'm still scared to death to close my eyes. Other than that… sure, I’m glad to be back.

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