The endless drone of the heart monitor chased me down the endless corridor until it faded into the darkness. A light and soothing “whoosh” sound filled my ears as I catapulted through space, surprisingly unconcerned with my circumstances. I opened my eyes for a moment, knowing the place I would land would likely be a crowded arena of fire and brimstone, but the bright light ahead caused me to reconsider.
At last the tunnel faded. I awoke laying on my back, gazing upward into, well, more bright light but with the feel of soft grass under me and a warming sensation running from my head to my toes. Soft harp music was playing in my ears to a chorus of heavenly voices.
“Oh shit, I’m dead aren’t I?”
I sat up, expecting to feel sore from whatever strange fall I just experienced, but every one of my movements was accompanied by a string of goose bumps. It was quite lovely. They seemed to be shooting rays of euphoria throughout my body – a dopamine high of some sort. I suddenly felt elated; ecstatic even. It threw me off in a wonderful way. I glanced down at myself, expecting to see some sort of glow or bright shimmering diamonds shooting for my skin. Nothing. But if my body ever became truly be jeweled, I was quite certain this is what it would feel like.
There wasn’t much around me – it appeared the green grass stretched for miles, but it was hard to tell with the layer of fog just few hundred yards out. No one else was there – maybe my dream was coming true. Perhaps I would get to live eternally without being surrounded by annoying fucking people.
Just as I was starting to get used to the idea, a figure appeared in the fog, walking toward me. I stared in wonder as he approached me and gazed down upon my face. He shined brighter than the sun and wore nothing but white – just like every angelic picture ever drawn. I guess heaven isn’t known for its creativity.
The angel towered over me and I began to pick up on the details of his person – burly, chiseled arms, a strong jaw but probing thoughtful eyes, and a codpiece that took me much by surprise. It appeared Angels got a little more than wings for every ding-ding. The pleasure I felt in his presence seemed amplified 1000 times and I found myself eternally grateful to be a woman with certain important organs tucked away out of sight.
“What do you want?” the Angel said quietly.
I was so entranced by his hotness it was hard to concentrate. I finally procured a coy smile. “What are you offering, baby?”
He hardly flinched, much to my disappointment, but instead repeated himself, this time seeming to attempt to put more meaning into the question.
“What do you want?”
I peered up at him sardonically, only mildly bothered that he wasn’t interested in my clear come-on. “I’m confused, what do you mean? What do I want now? What I do want generally?”
His expression didn’t change but he repeated the question yet again.
“Look, um…Hercules – can I call you Hercules?” No response, just more staring (staring I would’ve appreciated under normal circumstances…) “You’re gonna have to be more specific.”
I was starting to get irritated. Is irritation allowed in heaven? It didn’t really matter because, well, the irritation felt good. Everything felt good.
Again, he asked the exact same question but, once again, emphasized a different word. This had to be a joke. I huffed, stubbornly crossing my arms over my chest. “I want a stiff drink. Can you give me one of those?”
He suddenly began to fade. I felt myself being sucked backward, back into the tunnel. This is it. I pissed him off. Now I’m going to hell for real. There probably aren’t any codpieces in hell.
It felt like being sucked into a vacuum too small for my size. Barrelling backward through the tunnel didn’t hurt but it felt incredibly strange, like my body was suddenly contorting in brand new ways.
Everything went black.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
I opened my eyes to find the far less peaceful view of a hospital room in front of me. Shit. I’m alive again. I survived some kind of messed up near-death experience. This only happens to people with some kind of ‘mission’. I’m probably supposed to save a puppy dog or the the first female U.S. President or something and, knowing me, I’ll totally screw fate by getting distracted by a candy bar.
My body immediately felt pain. Gone was the euphoria, the tingly sensations, the codpiece… I sunk quickly into a depressed state pissed off that I had somehow managed to come back to a place that felt nothing like bliss. My arms hurt, my legs hurt, my entire body felt heavy but worst of all, my brain felt like it had been crammed back into a 2 x 2″ space; not at all free like it had been just moments before. It fucking sucked.
I looked to my left and realized there was a nurse there staring at me in shock, defibrillators hanging loosely from her fingers. Then I realized there were a few other people in the room too – another nurse or two and a white-coated doctor – all with the same look of bewilderment on their faces. I glanced down at my body in panic.
Had I interrupted them during organ-harvesting?
Nope, everything appeared to be in place. I couldn’t really see anything wrong with me at all, actually. I wasn’t even sure why I was in the hospital.
I lay back on my pillow, eight pairs of eyes still staring me down incredulously. It didn’t improve my mood.
“Look guys, I know you just saved my life, but I don’t have all day here.”
That seemed to shake a few giggles loose.
“Sorry, Ms. Andrews, we didn’t expect you to wake up. I guess we’re all a little baffled.”
“I’m happy to die again if it will make this whole moment less awkward,” I flatlined. The nurses jumped into action taking vital signs and asking me questions about who I was, where I lived, what year it was etc. I answered them all wrong just to piss everyone off. Apparently they’d gotten used to my snark because they determined this was a sign I was on the mend.
Two weeks and a blood transfusion later, I was back home, resting in my recliner with a beer in hand watching Tom & Jerry. It felt just a little bit better to be home but the ache of the missing light of that heavenly place was still starkly present.
“Babe, I’m running out for some chicken wings – you want some?” Andy slapped his pot belly noisily as he awaited my response.
“Seriously? I just got back from the hospital. I don’t think chicken wings are on the menu for me at the moment.”
“And beer is?”
I pursed my lips. “Beer is always on the menu. Just like blood and air. Unfortunately.”
He pecked me on the head and headed out the door. I sunk further into my chair feeling a little distorted and lost; it had been an insane three weeks.
My visit to the hospital had started out entirely routine. I was doubled over with stomach pain, dry heaving my way around the apartment and screaming in agony.
Andy finally slithered in from work and drove me straight to the hospital. One burst appendix and subsequent blood clot later, bang! I was like new.
Except not. At all. My side still hurt, I was weak from laying in that ridiculous hospital bed for a week and I couldn’t even remember what normal life was like after that sinfully vivid near-death experience. I’d shaken it off as a trauma-inspired hallucination, but it still haunted me. For whatever reason I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering back there – not that it was the worst hallucination I’d ever had. Actually, it was easily the best – far better than my hallucination about dancing with the drunk elephants on Dumbo (stay away from that one; you won’t sleep for a week) – but it was disconcerting. It left me with this weird awkward feeling. not only was I in sanely depressed to be in this sad Diprete world, but I felt Like I should suddenly appreciate my life. Or do something good for the world.
That shit never worked for me.
So I just let it gnaw away at me, hoping one day they’d invent a surgery to take away unwanted memories. A little Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for near-death experiences.
I pulled myself up from the recliner and moseyed over to the fridge. Nothing decent to eat, as usual. Andy had to be the worst caretaker alive. Not that I was in a position to be picky.
I grabbed my keys and hopped in the car. I wasn’t supposed to drive with painkillers in my system but I was over sitting around the apartment like a fat lazy pile of crap. I had to get out for my own sanity.
The road wobbled a little as I drove but I was quite proud of my ability to stay between the lines. I was pretty sure I had the upper hand over drunk Emma.
I was pulling up to the stop sign just before the grocery store when, out of nowhere, a scraggly man in a white gown jumped in front of my car. I screamed and hit the breaks, stopping just inches from him. He slammed his fists on my car and I could swear to God Almighty he mouthed “Emma!” His hairy ghoulish face had urgency and “escaped mental patient” written all over it. I could’ve sworn my heart stopped as I reached to the door handle to secure the locks. I glanced down to make sure they were secure and when my eyes went back to the hood of my car, the man was gone.
Fuck! What the hell!
What bullshit – whoever that man was, he was terrifying, coming and going in an instant. My heart was pounding right out of my chest. Suddenly I had a host of angry drivers backed up behind me so I hit the gas and sped around the corner to the grocery store.
It’s the pain medicine, Emma. It’s just the pain medicine.
I hobbled in the front doors and headed straight for the fresh produce, my eyes darting around in paranoia. If my mind was going to throw anymore fake scary men in front of me, I wanted to see it coming. I rushed around gathering vegetables and fruits – hardly paying attention to what I was putting in my cart – suddenly anxious to get back to the comfort of my apartment. My apartment. Yeah. Boring and stale? Sure. But no crazed maniacs had jumped out of the closet yet.
I sped home in record time, relieved to have avoided any further strange encounters. I threw the groceries on the counter, snuggled up under my blanket on the recliner, and flipped on the news. It may have seemed strange that talk of wars, murders, and fallen politicians would comfort me, but for some reason I’d always felt that as long as hideous shit was being rained upon someone else, it meant there was less shit available for me.
The anchor droned on about a search for a missing child the next town over and I began to doze. Just before I dropped off into dreamland, something in the background caught my eye. I lazily followed a shadow behind the blonde blue-eyed anchor. The camera angle zoomed in behind her to a busy school where the missing girl had last been seen. My entire body contorted in shock when that same crazy man in the white gown turned to the camera – this time with a shorter girl with two braids next to him. I swear upon the body of my douchebag grandfather, they both mouthed my name – the girl seemed to be having second thoughts about something, but the man was just as menacing before. I yelped just before the camera panned to another section of the school. When it came back to the anchor, of course, they were gone.
“Goddamnit, piece of shit, motherfucker….!” I threw the remote at the screen and danced around, throwing my blankets and pillows to the floor and stomping on them as if they were teeming with ants. The creepiness of the situation was making my skin crawl and I started turning in circles like a dog chasing its tail, trying to make sure no one or no other thing was sneaking up on me.
Andy burst through the door in the midst of my insanity, arms full of hot wings and face layered with shock and concern.
“Babe…” I stopped and stared at him, a feeling of calm finally taking hold. He didn’t seem to know what to say so he just stared. I stared back. Then my eyes fell to the chicken wings.
I grabbed the bag from his hands, threw the container to the table and dove in. I didn’t even care that they were too spicy for me, they were comforting. Normal. Understood.
“Hey, leave some for me!” Andy shoved me out of the way, digging both his mucky hands into my feast and pulling a couple handfuls of meat onto a plate. I stumbled over to the sink and washed myself off – hey, I may have been behaving like a rabid dog but I still had a sense of hygiene. Andy glared at me as he nibbled at the last ten wings he’d managed to salvage.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He growled. “You’ve lost your mind.”
I wiped my mouth with a towel and nodded. “Yeah? So?”
He huffed and started digging through the grocery bags I brought home. He pulled out an onion, a chunk of ginger, a jalapeño, two mangos, a stalk of bak choy, and a grapefruit. He eyed me suspiciously.
“Babe, you don’t even like grapefruit.”
I stared blankly, my mind in a fog. Every purchase choice I’d made had made perfect sense at the time but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.
“I’m gonna go lie down.”