A Second Chance

June 5, 2017

The horror was over, but the torment was only beginning. Concepts like infinity are incomprehensible. Human consciousness is almost completely bound by experience, by the linear story of our lives, with a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s impossible for any human to truly understand constant, inescapable, and eternal torture. However, I was faced with that reality in the most horrifying way. In life, we are constantly growing, our minds developing, our situations evolving. Life’s only real certainty is that nothing is certain, and this is also one of life’s greatest comforts. No matter how terrible things are, how dark the road ahead, or how apocalyptic our situation may seem, we can always take comfort in the promise of linear uncertainty.


Nothing in life is forever.


What’s worse is how seldom we realize this fact, even I didn’t realize this until now. The most terrible thing about my epiphany was the realization that this comfort isn’t experienceable in death; at least not for me. I was to be haunted by the gravity of my actions for eternity. Not for a week. Not for a year. Not for a decade. Not for a lifetime. Not for a generation.


No, but for an ominously inescapable eternity.


The essence of comfort was unfathomable to me now, and how I longed for the uncertainty of life.


Four Days Ago


My legs dangled above my bedroom floor, squirming like two fish on a line, fighting with every ounce of energy to return to the water. The only difference was that the fish were fighting with a deep and ingrained will to survive; I had no such will. It’s a weird contradiction, the mind and the body. We are either in full control of the biological mechanisms of the body, while other times it seems to just do it’s own thing. My legs kicked and thrashed with the same will as those fish, but I was more than content with my situation. However, pain was excruciating. It felt as if every ligament in my neck began to snap like a guitar string.


I couldn’t breathe.


After what felt like forever, the pain seemed to give way to a beautiful comfort. The colors in my bedroom became vibrant and fluorescent, the sounds and smells of the environment seemed to be coated with sugar, I could taste death, and God was that sweet. In time, I felt faint enough to close my eyes and fall into a deep slumber.


My legs dangled above my bedroom floor, swaying peacefully like a flower in the summer breeze.


I opened my eyes and averted my gaze from the blinding white light that seemed to fill the reality in front of me. After a while, my eyes adjusted and I was able to look around comfortably. A white expanse surrounded me and a glowing radiance seemed to engulf my entire being; it was quite soothing. I shook myself fully awake and moved to a standing position. As I stood up, I caught a glimpse of my wrists.


I was shocked.


Where there were once satanic red canyons, there were only delicate scars. I reached up, touched my neck, and took what felt like a very deep breath; there was no pain. After determining I was surely dead, I decided to call my new home heaven. I took in another breath and felt the energy of life fill my lungs and finally understood what those hippies meant when they talked about prana. With each exhale, that same soothing feeling seemed to double. My mind was clear for once, and I felt as if I was finally in touch with my own thoughts. I wasn’t fighting with myself, there was no judgement.


There was only me.


As I attempted to adjust to the environment, I began to walk around a bit. The expanse of this white room seemed to go on forever until, smack. Putting my hands out, I felt that I had hit a wall.


“What the hell?” I asked no one in particular as I kicked it. However, what I bumped into wasn’t actually a wall, it was a door. When I kicked it, it swung right open. I took a couple steps forward into the room.


“Hello?” I called. Receiving no answer, I kept walking and discovered that I had entered an art gallery. The room was similar; same white walls, same beautiful comfort, only with art. I approached one of the pictures. It was framed elegantly in solid gold with a title card placed underneath it.


“Memory 1, by James Tanner,” I read aloud. That’s my name, James. I gazed upward and found that the photo was moving. It was my best friend Jon’s 15th birthday. We had spent the day playing paintball and then started up a fire. One of my favorite life events played out right in front of my eyes in vivid detail. I watched Jon and me sit around the glowing blaze, the sun dipping deeper and deeper behind the trees, until the only remnant of the day was the golden blanket which lay itself over the mountains in the distance. Neither of us really said anything, we were just there, at peace with ourselves and the world, happy to be in each other’s company. That was the last time I would ever be content in life.


I smiled.


I kept moving and spent a good amount of time at each memory station. There were hundreds of them hanging on the wall, some good, some bad, some arbitrary. I got to one of my more recent memories. It was the last time I would speak to my father. He would pass away later that night in a car accident, I was 17. We sat across from each other at the dinner table.


“Have you sent in the common app anywhere yet, James?” he inquired. I told him what wouldn’t shatter his heart into 1000 pieces.


“I’m having a really hard time weighing my options. I want to make the right decision, you know?”
“Sure, son.” The truth was I had no intention of sending in the application at all, at least not at the time. My father graduated from Harvard University in 1982 as a political science major. He went on to attend Law school and graduated just three years later. The thought of his own namesake not following in his footsteps and pursuing the college road might’ve been enough to send his heart into full arrest.


All too soon, I walked on to the next motion picture. It was that same night. My mom and I sat on her bed, wailing like bats out of hell. The pain we felt when my dad passed was enough to bring the world’s strongest man to his knees. How we made it through the night, I have no idea. All of a sudden, my figure began to fade out of the frame. This continued until it was just my mom, alone in her room unable to move, speak, or even cry. She looked like a zombie.


“What…?” I whispered. I ran to the next hanging memory only to find that the trend had continued. The memory of the time my cousin and I went to Florida and went surfing quickly rearranged itself into a photo of my cousin sitting in our hotel room all alone.


Each memory on the wall became a recreation of my unconscious. My first baseball game morphed into a scene of two depressed newlyweds sitting inside on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It was my parents. I then reached what seemed to be the last memory in the gallery, framed in the same elegant way as all the others. The title tag read, Without James. My eyes focused themselves on my mother, Jon, and my baby sister dressed in all black, weeping. Fast forward 10 years, they still haven’t stopped crying.


I had to get the hell out of that gallery.


I began to run around frantically, praying I would reach a door and return to my previous resting place and feel that same beautiful comfort. I finally found it and you better believe I burst out of that place like a jack-in-the-box. I jumped through the door and landed in a bed of freshly cut grass. I got up and was surprised to find out that was my escape route to a beautiful apple orchard. It was a crisp autumn evening and a golden light beamed across the expanse, intensifying the warmness of fall.


Breathtaking.


Just then, an older man wearing sandals, a robe, and a red baseball cap tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey, James,” he said kindly.


“Where am I?” I inquired, my eyes forming into curious slits.


“You’re in my apple orchard, can’t you tell?”


“Well, I could’ve guessed that, but where am I? I’m dead, aren’t I? What dimension is this? Is this heaven? Hell? I was just in a gallery and now somehow I’m here. Can you tell me what’s going on, please?”


“Jesus, man! Slow down. Now, I don’t know about any of that stuff, all I can tell you is this my apple orchard, sincerely. Here, let me show you around.”


I agreed. We began to stroll around, admiring the vibrancy of the apples, the vastness of the orchard, the glowing sunlight.


“Isn’t it something?” the man insisted. “Let me ask you something James, do all of these trees look separate to you?”


“Of course.”


“Well, you’re actually mistaken. I have to admit all the trees may look separate. You know, the way the sun strikes each tree's leaves is certainly different, they all feel warmth in a different way, some get more shade than others, the ones at the bottom of the hill are more hydrated than those on it. Pretty obvious. However, what you don’t see is how all of my trees are connected. Below, all of their roots are intertwined. They all get nutrients from the same soil, light from the same star.”


“Okay. What’s your point?” I interrupted.


“You see, these trees represent human consciousness. You and me, you and Jon, clearly extremely different people. I will never understand you, and you, never I. However, just because a tree doesn’t experience the sun in the same way as the other doesn’t mean they are different. All of these trees are the same tree, in a similar way, we are the same person. Each of us makes up a piece of the consciousness orchard.”


“Why are you telling me all this?”


“Because I Love You James, and this may be the only time I ever get to see you. You see, when someone takes their own life, their tree is removed from the orchard. You didn’t just take your life, you brought the happiness of everyone who was once closest to you along. You disrupt the balance. I usually don’t bring anyone out here, I just tend to the orchard, but I wanted to explain what was about to happen to you, and see you one last time before you have to go.”


Just then, I realized I wasn’t just talking to some random gardner.


It was my father.


“DAD!? What the hell? Wait! What’s going to happen to me? You’re scaring me,” I exclaimed.


“Yes son, I love you. I...”


Before he could finish, I collapsed and fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke, my hands and legs were tied. It was dark, and I was facing a T.V. The terrible motion pictures from the gallery played on the screen. The horror was over, but the torment was only beginning. Concepts like infinity are incomprehensible. Human consciousness is almost completely bound by experience, by the linear story of our lives, with a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s impossible for any human to truly understand constant, inescapable, and eternal torture. However, I was faced with that reality in the most horrifying way. In life, we are constantly growing, our minds developing, our situations evolving. Life’s only real certainty is that nothing is certain, and this is also one of life’s greatest comforts. No matter how terrible things are, how dark the road ahead, or how apocalyptic our situation may seem, we can always take comfort in the promise of linear uncertainty.
Nothing in life is forever.


What’s worse is how seldom we realize this fact, even I didn’t realize this until now. The most terrible thing about my epiphany was the realization that this comfort isn’t experienceable in death; at least not for me. I was to be haunted by the gravity of my actions for eternity. Not for a week. Not for a year. Not for a decade. Not for a lifetime. Not for a generation.


No, but for ominously inescapable eternity.


I watched my loved ones’ despair play out in wretched detail right before my eyes.


Just then, the world around me began to shake. The walls began to collapse and I began to hear a distant voice. The television screen in front of me began to turn into white noise and static. I once again collapsed.
“He’s waking up! He’s waking up!”


  I slowly blinked and saw a nurse run out of the room in my peripheral vision. I caught a glimpse of my wrists. I was shocked. Where there were once satanic red canyons, there were only delicate scars. I reached up, touched my neck, and took what felt like a very deep breath; there was no pain. Looking to my right, I saw my mother’s loving eyes, tearing with inextinguishable joy. I was terribly disoriented and nothing felt real. Was I still dead?


All of my confusion seemed to disintegrate when I heard my mom’s voice.


“I love you James, you have no idea how scared we all were.”


“I’m sorry,” I cried.


“It’s okay, my love, I’m just so happy to see you.” My mom has always had this unique ability to comfort me even in the most terrible situations. I was expecting rage, arguing, sobbing, but all she did was give me was her love. Still, all I could think to do was apologize. I kept saying sorry until it stopped making sense. Almost like when you say your name so many times that it starts to sound incorrect and you wonder why your entire life and identity is attached to this set of sounds and letters.


Weird.


Language is weird. Names are weird, but God, I had never been more appreciative of my ability to speak. My ability to truly feel the vibration of my vocal system. All of this philosophical joy, and the only thing I could get to come out of my mouth was sorry. I was truly appalled by my actions. Seeing my mom’s tears only solidified the idea that I would have created a living hell for each and every one of my loved ones, had I not been blessed enough to wake up. When a loved one dies, you are truly never the same. Even when you get past the depression stage of grieving, you’re nowhere near okay.


I knew this better than anybody.


Even after I “got over” the passing of my father, I was still essentially living on autopilot. I couldn’t feel any emotion towards anything, or anyone.


I was a zombie.


The fact that I thought me passing would have been any different for my loved ones was terrifying. I was so wrapped up in my own terrible thoughts and headspace that I almost lost complete touch with reality. I couldn’t get the perspective that what I had done would affect others in such a profound way. Being in that gallery truly gave me that outlook.


I still wasn’t exactly sure where I was or what was going on, so I forced myself to start saying something other than sorry. 


“How long was I out?” I inquired. Just as my mother was about to reply, a doctor came bursting through the door.


“Oh my god! You’re awake? Legally dead for 30 minutes and in a coma for four days, two hours and 26 minutes, to be exact. How are you feeling?”


“I’m alright, just a little confused,” I answered reluctantly. His enthusiasm was kind of puzzling to me. I was dead only a few moments ago, and now he wanted to have a party.


“Well, I’ll need to run a few tests, then we’ll transfer you up to the inpatient unit where you’ll stay for a few days to make sure you’re going to be safe. We’ll give your mom a list of therapists and treatment options moving forward.”


“Thank you,” I replied abruptly, and oddly sincerely. It was amazing to feel the warmth of others. To feel safe, protected, connected. The months before my attempt were filled with isolation. The only contact I really had with other people was when my mom was lecturing me about doing something with my life, or the occasional “Sup, faggot.” from some jerk in my English class. None of that mattered now. I felt an overwhelming sense of joy with every moment that passed.


“Would you guys mind if I got some rest? I’m still kind of tired and I just need some time to adjust.”


“Of course,” they replied in synchrony.


I laid my head on the powder white hospital pillow and fell asleep. In my dream I found myself in that same apple orchard as I had been in before. I stood still and gazed around at the beauty which surrounded me. My feet felt heavy on earth, so much so that they began to sink into it. Roots began to grow out of my heels and toes, reaching deep down into the soil, grounding me. I felt my roots begin to interact with those of the other trees in the orchard, intertwining, but respecting their space. A brilliant brown armor began to encompass my entire being, strengthening and growing thicker with each passing moment. My arms and the crown of my head began to bear branches, with delicate green leaves. They reached for the sky, catching the warmth of the radiating autumn sun.


I woke up and stretched my legs, appreciating the softness of the cotton sheets. My mom and little sister sat across from my bed; I was back where I was supposed to be. Alive, surrounded by love and joy, and encompassed by an unprecedented sense of thankfulness for my second chance at life. I was lucky, and I resolved to never lose sight of how lucky I was. I decided on that day to live my life with the same appreciation and groundedness I felt in the orchard, and four years later my happiness has only grown.






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