Got a minute? Let's all have a seat, dim the lights, crack open a cold one, and listen to your Aunt Pearl tell the story she likes to call The Second Time I Almost Died.
This scar on my neck? Funny story, that. Well, not “funny” funny. "Weird" funny, actually.
It was 2001, maybe 2000. I had received a tax refund, enough money that I was going to the mall, going to buy a new outfit, a new pair of shoes. Heck, I was so rich I was even going to replace all my underwear.
It is as I am leaving the mall, leaving the parking lot, that I first notice it. Something about the sky. No, not the sky. Something about the light. The light seems sharper, somehow, outlined and distinct. The colors are too bright.
‘Flashback?’ I think. ‘Am I having a flashback?’
I don’t feel right.
The exit for Highway 100 is coming up, and I push the Hyundai to 60. The house is, perhaps, four miles away. I just need to get home, maybe lay down.
But what’s going on? The colors grow more and more vivid, and now my hands are starting to tingle, and what – what is going on with my peripheral vision? I stick my right arm out to my side, wiggle my fingers.
I can’t see them. I can’t see my wiggling fingers.
As a matter of fact, my line of vision is changing rapidly; and it is less than a mile later that I notice that my sight has been reduced to what amounts to the wearing of one of those cone-shaped collars they put on dogs to keep them from chewing themselves after surgery.
I shake my head vigorously. It is 2:00 in the afternoon, the sun is shining, the traffic is moving, and I am, apparently, having an issue.
That's not like me.
My line of vision is now less than the windshield. I blink hard. My arms are tingling, my hands numb. I feel dizzy.
I feel scared.
And I speak aloud: “What the hell is going on here?”
And a very low male voice comes from the backseat, as clear as any voice is in a small car, and says something I will never, ever forget.
“You are passing out very slowly. Get off the road NOW.”
I don’t think twice. I don't think at all. When very low, male voices speak to me in declarative sentences, I listen.
Get off the road NOW.
I crank the steering wheel, hard, to the right, cross blindly over two lanes of traffic, pull off on to a side road and into a Denny’s parking lot. I get out of my car, grabbing my purse, locking the car behind me.
All of this takes maybe 30 seconds; and by the time I cross the parking lot and open the external set of double doors, my vision is just a pinhole of light.
I open the next set of double doors and the hostess approaches me.
“Table for one?” she chirps.
The pinhole of light with the hostess’s face in it closes, and I am in the dark.
I am completely blind.
And I say what I always say just before I faint.
“Wait,” I say.
And when I come to, I am on the floor, surrounded by loose change; and whereas just moments ago I could not see but I could hear, now I cannot hear but I can see.
There is a crowd around me, all looking down, their faces a ring of varying expressions: I particularly remember a black man, his eyes the most perfect vision of compassion that I have ever seen.
‘Oh,’ I think. ‘Look how kind he is. Someone must be hurt.’
But it is me. I am the one who is hurt. I struggle to my feet, falling several times, hard, on my elbows, my knees. The man with the compassionate eyes offers his arm while the rest of the crowd watches.
The next thing I remember I am seated at the counter, shakily trying to drink the glass of ice water they insist I drink. After knocking the glass against my front teeth several times, I give up. Chipped teeth, I don’t need.
“Would you like some soup?” the manager of Denny’s asked me.
No, no, I’m fine.
“Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
No, no, I’m fine.
And then the manager watched me leave. The woman who walked in to the restaurant, fell heavily into the plastic bin collecting Coins for Jerry's Kids causing them to scatter across the lobby floor, the woman who appears to have had a seizure when she regained consciousness and is bleeding from her swollen, wounded neck says she doesn’t need an ambulance.
And that is good enough for him.
I get into my car, disoriented and bleeding.
I stay in my house that night, confused. It does not occur to me to pick up the telephone.
I regain enough of my mind to see a doctor the next day, and he puts me through a number of tests.
I’m a fainter.
And I have abnormal brain waves.
I paid for that information, you know.
Abnormal brain waves? I'm sure there are a number of people I know who would vouch for that. But that’s not really important, is it, the abnormal brain waves, the cut on my neck, the egg-sized lumps that ran along the back of my head from ear to ear? Those things are small potatoes when compared to what could have happened had I stayed on the freeway for just 30 seconds more, the damage my car would’ve caused doing 60 mph, had I not listened to the voice in the car.
So if anyone ever asks you - and they just might! - you tell them that Pearl knows how to take direction.
And then you ask them for her, because she wants to know...
Whose voice was that in the backseat?