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My Reprieve

February 17, 2010

A while back I was at death’s door. I can barely remember and it hurts to try but there I was: stretched out on a hospital bed listening to some really bad news, about me. That moment and the weeks following it were awful.  Flowers.  Sad people. Pain.  Tears. Arguments.  Worry. When things were looking up again – as if I might remain in the country of life — I wrote a story about that time. Who wouldn’t?

I felt a bit haunted. The whole episode seemed surreal: played out under bad lighting and full of choppy dialogue. The people around me – family, doctors – seemed bereft of humor or imagination (who could blame them?), and I had no time to think or be clever. Had I really just been told I had a couple of years to live?  Who WROTE that stuff?

I had some things to work out.  I wrote about them, sent the piece to an online journal, and it was published.

Reading the essay now, I find it dated. I wince at the memory, and cringe at the prose. What punishment for someone who once brightly walked the halls of a hospital as a Candy Striper, to be forced to enact the classic hospital room scene. Not just to be there, but –- almost worse — to be rendered so wretchedly maudlin. Yet part of this dying business is that suddenly, someone less gifted seems to have taken over the script.

I finished the story and forgot about it.  Over time I forgot how miraculous it was that I had lived. I did what most people who take their lives for granted do:  I did not pay much attention. Anything beyond a private, fleeting mood of awe is difficult to sustain unless one lives among saints in a convent. Still my story, written in a moment of heat, was on the Internet with my name attached to it. Friends surfaced, and pled tearfully for one last audience. I wrote back, thanked them for asking, said I was fine; we had plenty of time to meet again, and how were they?  I don’t think they were disappointed, but the whole thing kind of threw them off.  They had their goodbye speeches all planned out.  What would we talk about now?

As for me I was thrilled to be alive, albeit fending off rumors to the contrary. No problem.  Except for a couple of weeks when it seemed to be happening every day, who in my position could complain? It happened I was also dating on the Internet, and looking for free-lance work.  What was a girl to do?  It takes a gimlet eye to spot a story within a story, I always say.

I hadn’t set out to be an unreliable narrator and I’m sure the doctor hadn’t either. Happily, things had turned out differently than either of us expected. I asked the editors to remove the story, but they wanted to keep it. I told them it was posing a curious problem: that I was alive, and people were thinking I was dead.  We came up with an epigraph that seemed to do the trick, so now instead of e-condolences I’m becoming everybody’s friend on Facebook.  In all this cheer I’ve more or less forgotten that not too long ago I was on the verge of dying. Other, funnier stories are eclipsing that one, and when I stop and think about it I’m amazed I got off so lucky.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. gloria permalink
    February 17, 2010 6:22 pm

    Nice to have you among the living and sharing your insights and prose with us!

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