This Is What It's Like to Die
The air turned quick. You might think it’s stupid to ride a hog in the pitch black night air of the mountains, and you’re probably right, but we don’t ride because that’s the easy way. You can smell it before it comes: ozone, crisp and clean. We were right in the ass of the Appalachian Mountains, between Alabama and Tennessee, nowhere to pull off for miles. Just J and BB were up ahead, and I was bringing up the rear with Little Teddy Ruxpin. The rain hit hard. Semis flicked on their blinkers in the right lanes. I could feel one coming up on me more than I could see it. I couldn’t see anything, but I could feel it bearing down. First the smell of ozone, then the rain, then the semi behind and right, then the blow like being hit by a train, which is how Daredevil went years before.
It was fast, then it was done, and I was riding into a bright tunnel, even though there are no tunnels on this stretch of I-59. I opened up Betty’s throttle and she roared. Others joined me, some I recognized and some I didn’t. It was like Bike Week without the gawkers. It was Bike Life. Little Teddy Ruxpin pulled up next to me and grinned. This was it. Daredevil almost nicked me on his way by, jerking his whole hog up into a wheelie that should have been impossible while flipping me the bird. I flipped the bird back, crying and laughing.
I’ve been dreaming for a while when I realize everything makes sense. I drove the car to the store. I bought butter and sugar and chocolate chips. My daughter called. I recognized her voice. I knew who she was. We talked while I got the cookies in the oven. Kirby was coming. I was making cookies for my granddaughter, a granddaughter I knew and loved, using hands that were steady enough to make cookies. I try to hold the scene.
The doorbell rings. Outside, it’s so bright it’s white. Kirby runs to meet me. I wrap her in my arms.
Vick was putting the needle in my arm, then boom, I was here instead. No longer on the bathroom floor with the door locked, but in this roller coaster that keeps going down down down down. I am flying through Hell, even though I never believed in it. I never did anything all that terrible—beat up my brother a few times when we were kids, lied here and there, stole a few packs of cigarettes before they started keeping them behind the counter. Nothing that bad. I’m on my way down down down, faster and faster and everything is so dark with an eerie orange glow around my body. I’m sitting in what feels like a roller coaster car, or maybe that’s what the soul imagines for a body that no longer exists.
However this works, I know that when I stop, it’ll be over. So I grit my imaginary teeth and try to keep my imaginary stomach from hurling. Hell is hell, but it’s better than the nothing of death.
Float, play, dive, eat fish, yum yum. Hear boat, dive. Hear boat, swim, swim, swim. Boat coming, cannot hear brothersisters, dive more, thumping, crumpling, pain pain pain, dark.
Sun shine, happy place, water so blue, blue, blue, somersault, happy hands. Air smell good, everyone dive, play happy time, lots of fish, fish taste so good, so fish, no metal tinge meat. Brothersisters so happy, before bad dream. No bad smell now, everything beautiful.
I know he’s come to kill me. I hear him knocking, but I don’t answer. I’m in bed, sick again, so often so sick. He lets himself in. He has another bag of oranges he says he brought for me, but I can see in his eyes why he’s here. There is no way around the mess of my life, the mess of death. I have taken out restraining orders. I have moved and turned off the phone. He always finds me, and no one will stop him, not in this town of 10,000 where his grandfather is the mayor. He wishes to own me completely. He thinks he will.
I make it clear that he cannot own me, despite what he may desire, what he may do to me. I strain my weak body onto my elbows, sit as straight as the illness will allow. I tell him I never loved him, I never will. His eyelids blink like shutters. When I see his eyes again, they are the familiar cold nothing of his rage. We’ve been here before, in this living room, him putting the knife in my hand, guiding my fist to my throat, telling me, do it. You have nothing, are nothing, no one loves you, go ahead and die.
Today he skips the formality. He no longer needs to pretend this is something I want for myself, something I’ll do for him. He’ll do it, and he knows. “You bitch!” he snarls, then his whole weight is on me, his fingers around my throat. I look directly into his eyes. I smile. I can’t breathe, but it doesn’t matter, all that matters is that he knows what I know, that he is not winning. He cannot own me, however close he’s come, no matter what he does now.
All rights reserved to Harmony Neal.