I almost died. I would love to tell you what happened, but I don’t remember. My memory goes as far as waking up that morning and going to the shower. My next memory is three weeks later. I wasn’t in a coma or anything exciting like that. I just can’t remember. Supposedly I was in a lot of pain so I guess my mind simply blocked it out. I recovered well, faster than was expected. Out of the hospital in two months and walking on my own in three. They say I was in a car accident, a lorry ploughed into the bus I was on. I was the only person that survived.
For a while in school I was called the boy who lived. Though I had no arch enemies from my experience, unless you count those who had lost someone. It quickly petered out though, I didn’t really care what I was called. It made no real difference. Besides, the nickname was far too long to stick. At least, as one that’s used when trying to get my attention.
I don’t really know when I started to know when I would die. It just sort of occurred to me one day that I had a date and time stuck in my head for no apparent reason. Three days after I realised it was the date I would die. Then, it changed. At first I was concerned as the date came closer or further away, then I just started to live with it. I didn’t concern myself to much with the date. Usually it was a few years away. Sometimes I got flashes from people. What they were feeling, how they were doing. I don’t really attribute this to any magical or mystical being, rather, I just think I am more observant than those around me. A little tilt of the head, the slight movement of the lips and I can instantly tell how you feel. This doesn’t happen all the time. Only when I am not paying attention. Once I try to read people, it goes away.
I don’t interfere with people really. Not often. Occasionally if I get that someone’s really down, I try to say something, but really, what can you say to a stranger in the street? “Hey, I know you’re down, buck up, don’t kill yourself?” generally I don’t feel too bad about what happens to them. They are of no concern to me. Some of you may think it’s cold or heartless, but it’s neither, I am ambivalent. If I know I can help, I will. But otherwise, why bother? Most of the time it doesn’t work or people think I’m crazy.
There was only one time I felt bad about not stepping in.
Katrina Welts. She was the closest thing our school had to the popular girl. There were no groups of gorgeous, snide girls every one wanted to be or be with. There were no handsome, dumb jocks everyone feared and respected. But there was Katrina. She was kind to everyone, no matter who they were. She had a knack for spotting people who were down, she would always go and talk to them. Comfort them. If there was someone in tears, Katrina would be there. She had a magic touch. If you had no friends, a simple chat about homework with Katrina would lead to others talking to you. She had a kind of magnetism that rubbed off on people. If they were close to her, they seemed to take on some of her allure.
I was passing her in the corridors, trying to remember if I had any biology homework left to do when it hit me. Full force in the stomach. She was in agony. And I felt it. Burning though me, sapping my energy. Draining my will to continue. When I turned to call to her, she looked back. What I saw terrified me. There was something fundamentally wrong with her. She was damaged in ways I could never begin to comprehend. I stood, unable to move, to call out to her. By the time my brain kicked into gear again I had lost sight of her. I could have gone after her, I could have rang her house or left a note.
But I didn’t.
I pushed it away, rejected it from my mind.
I developed theories, they can never be proven, but it helps sometimes. All those times she reached out to people who were drowning, all those times she helped others, I think that maybe she too was reaching out. Looking for help. Hoping that rather than frantically clawing at her like a life preserver, that they would simply take her by the hand and together, they would go to safety. That it wasn’t just me who could have done something, could have stopped her.
Of course, there was shock around the school the next day. I tried to hide my guilt, luckily most thought I was just upset like them. They didn’t know that it was far worse. In time, everyone moved on, people stopped crying, her seat was filled by another student, her locker cleaned out and given to someone. They forgot. Maybe not completely, but I wouldn’t allow myself. Her parents and friends said they had no idea. That everything was fine until the morning she didn’t come down for breakfast. But that’s bullshit. There’s always a sign. Always an indication that something is wrong. I felt it, that day she looked at me. She was screaming and no one could hear her. No one but me. I have often thought of telling someone. What I did. But then, what would that accomplish. They wouldn’t understand. They would try to placate me by saying I couldn’t have known, that it wasn’t my fault, that nothing could have been done, that I simply imagined the whole thing later.
Sometimes I wonder if she did it voluntarily. If there was something there, something small and insidious, telling her to do it. Maybe a friend or relative. Maybe some fucked up cousin. Maybe it was unintentional and they will never know that they set her death in motion. We go through so many interactions with others that mean little to us, if we strained our minds to breaking we would probably never remember, but they on the other hand, will never forget it. Some off hand remark, a casual glance could set events we could never know in motion. How many people have been unintentionally saved from suicide, or death? That quick hug that’s given so freely, staying their hand later. That five minute conversation that stopped them getting hit by a car running a red light. Even a sincere smile of thanks or gratitude. Equally, there’s the reverse, people who talked to those in their last few hours of life struggle to remember something, anything they could have done to prevent it. Sometimes there was nothing. No way to avert the impending tragedy, but what about those that could have done something, noticed they were down and didn’t offer help, would they remember? People talk about how if they had said something, actually talked to them but would it have made a difference. Would our subconscious pipe up to correct us when we say “no, they were perfectly fine” would it remind us of the subtle cue’s that we didn’t pick up or ignored? Probably not. No one wants to hold themselves accountable. They blame themselves but do they think it was my hand that pulled the trigger, it was my hands twisting the rope, it was my hand reaching for the pills, the alcohol, the blade.
Those truly responsible, those who really push and push and push till something gives, rarely accept responsibility. Those who do it purposely with that goal in mind relish what they have done. They feel no shame or horror.
I like everyone else try to make excuses. It wouldn’t have made a difference. I couldn’t change it. But I know better. I could have done something. I should have done something. There’s no way to get the blood from my hands.
It mostly happens when I go for walks. I begin the train of thought that always leads to the same destination. There is no way of derailing it. It will promptly arrive with its cargo of guilt. Strangely, the walks clear my head. Oil the machinery, allow me to keep going without getting bogged down with too much thought. Each breeze against my face clears my head a little more, snagging some thought or idea with it and carrying it away. The countdown in my head is today’s date. A few minutes away. I know I could probably stop it, but how? If I change course and go home, perhaps a house fire kills me, if I continue, I could be mugged. If I go back, there could be a car crash, an explosion. There is any number of ways to die. It could be something simpler. My guilt over comes me and my brain stops, a congenital heart defect causes it to stop. An aneurism shuts down my brain, a clot stops my heart. I continue walking. They air is warm, the sun bright. A gentle breeze picks up some leaves and swirls them away. Releasing a deep breath, I continue to walk as the seconds count down.