That night, so soon before my 27th birthday, started much like any other – the only difference was that I died. Perhaps not physically, but brain death, never again to talk with my loved ones. I suppose that is death enough for me, if not for the doctors who kept me alive for several more days, alive until an infection ate my beautiful organs. I could not even help another unfortunate person, could not make a gift of my perfect kidneys, perfect liver. Could not give another young woman a chance at a life with my heart, only too recently beating so fiercely, so joyously. And I had dedicated my life to physically disabled people.
I was talking and laughing, I admit it. Glancing over my shoulder to grin at my friend. And when the light changed at the intersection of Highway 61, I stepped out into the street innocently, naively, trustingly.
I guess the driver didn’t notice the light had changed.
I remember the squeal of tires, jerking my head up into the light, smelling tar…Pain exploded, tearing into my arm, twisted horribly underneath me, and piercing into my skull. I saw him stagger out onto the street. Heard his drunken cry of horror. Then nothing…
The ambulance, sirens, faces fading in and out.
The hospital. My sister-in-law. “Oh, Martha, it’s you.” If I had known these would be my last words, I would have thought of something better to say, something to ease my family’s pain. “Tell Mom and Dad that I am going to a better place, that I love then,” Anything to bring them peace.
The hospital staff rushed me away. A nurse shoved a needle into my back. Blinding pain. I squeezed my eyes shut. Strange, I could still see. Was that me? A pale, porcelain alabaster glowing underneath abundant black hair. Gaunt features projecting strangely from underneath. There was no blood. I looked…beautiful, otherworldly, bathed in unrelenting brilliance from hospital lights.
I sense the passage of time. My mother’s sobs. My father’s grim face. My fiance’s glazed look. My brothers move in and out of the room. My sister, the doctor, comes in, how much later? She must have flown into town. She doesn’t cry.
“Why is she still hooked up to these machines?” she demands of the nurse. She knows that the essence of me, my soul, hangs on by a mere fragile thread. Tugging at the gossamer chain that binds me to this world. Dying, dead, but unable to die. Unable to be reborn.
My chart says that I am brain dead. It also says that I am drunk. In life I would have been amused that the doctors could not distinguish the two. My sister takes charge and finds the answers…A pentobarbital coma…drug-induced…for “brain rest.” Perhaps it has had enough rest because they have been trying to rid my body of it for days, to see if I am alive or dead. One last test. There is no blood flow to my brain.
Somehow I am still here, floating above my bed, now no more than a masked form under a white sheet. Everyone has gone home. I am profoundly alone.
The door opens quietly, and I see my sister, always so calm and collected, impervious to grief. She pulls the sheet back. Touches my cheek. She sits next to the bed and wets my cold hand with her tears.
I have been sensing the light, a presence, beckoning me to turn, but my sight remains with my family. Singing in a church. Beautiful music. Mournful cries, and…laughter? Children, unknowing, too young to understand. My Goddaughter…I was to be hte one to protect her if her mother couldn’t. This chubby baby that I had held in my arms under the baptismal water, cleansing away her original sin. The smiling giggling girl who had buried her face in my hair. I was glad that she was laughing now. As if she sensed my presence, her face swiftly sobered. She walked, as though unwilling, inexorably towardsthe long box, decorated with silk and velvet, which held my shell. “Marylee,” she whispered, an inaudible prayer. She touched her rosy lips to my lifeless cheek, but somehow I could feel it. Sense all the love and despair of my six-year-old charge.
I reached a spirit hand to wipe away the salty dew on her cheeks, and I knew, somehow, the presence behind me, the presence to which I would not…quite…yet…turn. It approved. I told her that I would always be with her. Never be more than a tear’s length, a prayer, away. Her sweet, heartwrenching smile as she looked up at me, then behind me.
I turned, finally, and allowed myself to be drawn backwards, embraced by purest love and warmth. A light that I had only glimpsed in life, a light in which I could bask forever.