We all have the things -- those things -- that haunt our memories. That shaped us and made us and tore us to pieces, sometimes literally, that left us the men and women we are sitting here, looking at these screens.
For decades, my ghost had haunted me. A dark, stark memory. Bright as the sun. As soul-sucking as a black hole. A frozen movie, each frame crystalline, a solid entity on permanent replay.
The thing I did.
The thing I did to everyone.
And I lived with that thing for almost 29 years. A whirlwind of a girl in a state of permanent panic. A runaway from today. A tornado that refused to touch down, because to touch down would be to see it again. And again. And again. And to be trapped in it.
What I didn't realize was that refusing to touch down was what gave it its life. The trap was the spiral. The swirling tornado.
Once it hits the Earth, it loses its fury. It wrecks its havoc. But then, then... it disappears. It spins itself out.
Looking the thing in the eye. Stopping and staring and screaming.
You take its power back.
You know. You see. You forgive the little you. The storm swirls. But then, quiet.
And for the first time in your life, you are a grown woman, alive, thriving, and looking at the ghost of your life and wondering how you managed to be such a firecracker while living inside that tornado.
And amazed at the delicious, contended stillness that exists when it finally, finally dies.
No one around you can understand, the purgatory you put yourself in. Because you were a too-smart-kid, who believed *that thing* happened because of *you*. Who was determined to carry the weight of the world, crumbling and seething. Not at those who blamed themselves. No. What did they do? You did this, child.
And forever is a long, long time.
Blame circled upon blame. Fault upon fault. Until the humans could no longer stand the weight of their own reasoning. The things they did. The things they did not do. The simple truth was nothing any of them saw. Parts moved around parts. Matter slipped past matter. Atoms and electrons bound, tearing apart the bonds of others.
A child stood, screaming, her body in parts. She saw her shadow, and saw it was different, and knew enough at seven to keep facing forward. Whatever lay behind was a thing she would not want to see.
I remember that moment. Looking down and seeing my hairless shadow, freezing cold on a hot July day, July 8, 1984. Feeling my blood pour over my body and knowing even in that moment of shock that to turn around... No. Stop here, let them help you. You did this, laying down in that go-cart, letting your hair get caught... But don't, for the love of God, look at it. Look down. Look at that shadow.
To this day, I see it every time I pass that street. My blad, scalp-less shadow, stark in the noon-day sun.
I am older today than everyone who was there. (Except maybe one, but I don't know...)
I am sure in that moment, none of them believed that would be the case.
I was sure, in those first minutes, that I was dying. A stark moment in anyone's life. I'm not even sure I knew what dying meant. But I thought it was happening to me. But I asked my mother.
I saw something of my reflection in her glasses. Her hair. Her aqua shirt. It said "Chic." My blue and pink striped shirt, which was cut off me and gone forever. Riding in the van. Stopping at the toll and my father telling them about us. We raced on. At the hospital, I remember a cooler. I remember a needle in my thigh. I remember my head being wrapped.
I remember an ambulance.
I remember the faces of doctors hovering over me once I got to Philadelphia. The hospital there. Where I would spend weeks. I remember hallucinating. I remember waking up so very, very thirsty and sucking on lemon swabs.
I remember my nurse, Judy. I remember the gifts. I remember the burn of the stitches being pulled from my ankle, where they took a vein.
But those were in later weeks. Weeks where I watched Mary Lou Retton in the Olympics from a couch. I imagined a doctor pulling an IV out of my arm, but we were in a trailer in my grandmother's driveway, in my mind. Whatever they gave me made me unable to tell real from dream.
My friends in college never learned what happened to me until I tried a whippit.
Nitrus Oxide. The same feeling that you feel slipping under anesthesia.
I huffed a whipped cream can at a party at Yale. I started sobbing.
I learned I probably had already had way stronger drugs than any of my friends would ever play with. So I was never even curious. Anything they tried I was sure, after that whipped cream, was not going to be a fun thing.
Those kinds of things are only fun when you don't need them.
Dan took one of Phatiwe's Percocets once. She thought he was in pain. He thought it was fun. She didn't really get why that was.
And so it goes.
It has been ten years, a little more, since the first time I was brave enough to write about this.
It's graphic. It's raw. It's a first draft that was written in a little bit of a haze. But I guess that kind of thing is hard to edit.
It was published by the school magazine in 2002. You can read it here.
I confess, I didn't read it again.
I'm pretty sure I know what it says.