I’ve cheated death more than once.
I suffered an injury at birth and got the gift of an intracranial shunt. Doctors told my dazed first-time parents – both younger at the time than I am today – that I’d be severely handicapped if I pulled through. I was in the hospital for a long time. Then, I got a staph infection. The shunt had to come out. And then – miraculously and still without any logical explanation nearly 30 years later, I got better. I no longer needed the shunt. I was healed. Today, all that remains is a small lump on the back of my skull, a tiny white scar on my belly, and, occasionally, a headache so severe that I’m almost driven to put an end to my misery.
Less than three years after I kissed my shunt goodbye, I cheated death again. I was in the basement of my grandparents’ house, where my grandfather kept a pinball machine and two classic arcade games that towered over me at the time. I don’t remember any of what happened, but as the story goes, I dragged a chair over to one of the arcade games, presumably to play, and knocked over a can of gasoline that my grandfather had brought into his house for some unfathomable reason. The fumes from the gasoline ran across the floor and straight to the furnace, where they ignited. My uncle was cooking steaks on the grill outside when he realized the house was on fire, ran inside, scooped me up and ran back out. The entire lower level of the house had to be rebuilt, but I came out of the incident unscathed, despite the fact that I had been mere feet away from the furnace when it burst into flames. The other notable survivor of the fire? My mother’s wedding dress, hermetically sealed inside a cardboard box in – you guessed it – the basement. The same dress I wore on my own wedding day four years ago.
Fast-forward another two years. Mom and her best friend took me to a pool with a high dive on a hot summer day. I was maybe 5 and had never been on a high dive before. I made the trek from our lounge chairs alone and climbed the huge ladder. When I reached the top rung, I called out to Mom and her friend on the opposite end of the pool. I hadn’t asked for permission to try out the high dive but figured that at that point, it was too late for anyone to stop me. I swayed back and forth as I raised my voice louder and louder to get Mom’s attention. The wet railings slipped through my tiny clenched fingers. As I fell backward into nothingness, time stood still, and I actually saw my mom’s visor fly off her head as she came towards me in a full sprint. Then, without warning, I hit the concrete back-first with a thwack! I could have broken my back or my neck or cracked my skull into a million little pieces. Instead, I just had the wind knocked out of me. After a few minutes, the lifeguard walked me over to a shaded table near the concession stand and brought me a lime sherbet Popsicle shaped like a frog and with gumballs for eyes. By the time I’d licked the Popsicle stick clean, I’d made a full recovery.
When I was 20, I drove from Chapel Hill to Clemson, South Carolina for a weekend-long soccer tournament. We played five or six games – I can’t remember for sure – in a 36-hour span. By Sunday night, I was drained. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it all the way back to Chapel Hill, so I stopped at John’s apartment at UNC-Charlotte, walked inside, and promptly went to sleep. The next day, Monday, my first class of the day was a creative writing class at 3:30. I slept in and left John’s apartment around noon, leaving plenty of time to get back for the class. It was sunny and warm for October. At 1:47 p.m., on a dangerous stretch of highway less than 60 miles from Chapel Hill, I veered off the road to the left and barreled into a speed limit sign in the middle of an enormous grassy median going around 65 miles per hour. The highway patrolman estimated I was asleep for about a quarter of a mile. If I hadn’t hit that speed limit sign, I wouldn’t have been jarred awake, and I would have likely continued veering off to the left and into oncoming traffic on another highway. I’m not a betting person, but I’m willing to bet my Honda Civic wouldn’t have fared too well, and I’d have fared even worse.
I’m feeling pretty lucky at the moment, and I haven’t even mentioned a few other exciting car accidents, or last year’s brief cancer scare, or my bad copy of the gene that causes infantile Batten disease – paired with my good copy, the difference between being a carrier and a victim, like my sister. My sister, Taylor, whose birth and infancy were all smooth sailing, who didn’t accidentally set her grandparents’ house on fire, who never plummeted from the top of a high dive or fell asleep at the wheel but who, unlike me, got two bad copies of the Batten disease gene. I’ve been granted my fair share of new leases on life, and every morning when I wake up, whether or not I’m looking forward to the particulars of my day, I’m just thankful for the day. And for as long as God thinks I should be here, I’ll keep fighting for Taylor – to help her cheat death, just this one time.