I died once.
Well, “died” is a dramatic and not at all factual way of putting it. I wasn’t declared clinically dead nor did I see some bright, brilliant light that beckoned me to the afterlife — and there definitely wasn’t anything akin to a scene out of ER or Grey’s Anatomy. What I actually did was cause myself to temporarily lose consciousness. But that’s getting ahead of the story, so let’s backtrack just a bit.
I wish I could say that I was your regular, happy-go-lucky kid, but that would be a lie. In fact, I was anything but. I caught on pretty early to one of the constant lessons learned on this mortal coil: Life isn’t fair. Though not technically a middle child (I have an older brother and am the first-born of a set of twins), I have always had what I consider middle child hangups. I found myself always questioning just how loved I was and trying to find my way in this world. I wasn’t the first-born son (that was my brother) nor was I the baby girl (that was my sister). I was the odd one out, the one who didn’t get everything brand new, the one who didn’t get something that was just for him. To put it another way, I didn’t feel that I was special.
To add to this feeling, I also inherited some of my family’s more awkward traits. For the most part, my family of five was a trim bunch, with nary a jiggle of fat or extended gut in sight. My mother was model slim and probably would’ve been one in another life. My father, let him tell it, was an athletic star in high school and managed to keep in shape throughout his 2os. Meanwhile, my brother was every bit as tall, lean and athletic as anyone could want a boy to be and my sister was prissy, fussy and fawned over. Then there was me. I wasn’t obese, especially not in the way kids are today, but to use a term that I truly hated as a kid, I was “husky.” My feet also grew at an exponential pace, causing me to reach the upper echelons of Payless’ inventory at a very early age. My proportions never quite matched up with the “ideal,” or at least not what you saw on TV or in the movies. Feeling that I didn’t measure up caused a shyness within me that usually left me sitting off somewhere in my own little fantasy world in which I was the Black Rambo (a weird childhood obsession that probably deserves its own post) or reading books or having conversations with adults that usually made them uncomfortable when I should’ve been outside making friends with the neighborhood kids. It’s an awkwardness that I still have yet to get over.
But back to my “dying.” So, sometime when I was four or five, I got it into my head that the world would be better without me. Actually, it was probably more selfish than that. I thought that if something serious happened to me, then maybe, just maybe, I could finally be the center of attention, even if that meant that I wasn’t around to enjoy it. So I waited until recess, when all the kids gathered in the gym getting ready to play kickball and I was sitting on the bench, once again waiting to be picked for a team. I don’t know where I heard that banging your head could cause death, but it was the option I took. I first lightly tapped the back of my head against the gymnasium’s brick wall. Then, when I felt little pain, I did it again, but slightly harder. I continued the process for Lord knows how long, but somehow my head banging went unnoticed. All I remember about the incident now is that my head began to feel really tender and sore in the spot I was repeatedly hitting against the wall. And then after one last knock of my noggin against the wall…darkness.
I like to imagine there was sheer panic and pandemonium during my blackout. Perhaps the teacher rushed into the principal’s office with my limp body in his arms as he shrieked for someone to call a doctor, or maybe my parents, upon hearing what had happened, broke down into tears and rushed to the school to check on their beloved child. Quite honestly, I have no idea what transpired. The only thing I remember is awakening in the backseat of our car with my dad at the wheel. He asked me if I wanted McDonald’s when he saw that I came to, to which I said yes (I did mention I was a chubby kid, right?). Outside of that, the incident was never brought up again, at least not that I can remember. All that effort and no ambulance ride? No blustery, tear-drenched kisses at the discovery of my well-being? No confession of how they’d been ignoring my specialness and would do so no longer? I felt cheated, or as cheated as any kid scarfing down a quarter-pounder (with cheese!) from Mickey D’s could feel.
Though there are still some underlying issues I have concerning confidence and self-esteem,¹ I can say that I’ve come a long way from that insecure kid wondering why no one loved me. I can also say that my “death” taught me something. Though they weren’t like the Cosbys (Cosbies? Cosbii?) or those other parents on TV, my folks loved me in their own special way and were willing to drop everything to come see about me when needed. I also grew older and discovered that what I perceived as favoritism or indifference was actually just living damn near poverty while raising three kids who are close in age coupled with an older brother who didn’t always know how to share.
Still, sometimes I come back to this moment, especially when life seems hard and I just want it all — the pain, the struggle, the hurt feelings, the bruised ego, all of it — to end. I revisit it and toy around with some of the darker, more permanent means to achieve that initial end. Then I remember the little things that happened after — my mom putting ice in a towel and placing it on the knot that formed on the back of my head, my dad checking in on me when he thought that I’d drifted off to sleep that night² — and the many experiences that I’ve been blessed to have since. That’s usually when I sigh, sit down on my couch and pour myself another drink, imagining that four- or five-year-old me probably would’ve liked a vodka tonic much more than that damn hamburger.