John L.

When I was 17 years old, I was riding my bike to the library. A car failed to yield at a sign and hit me. I rolled onto the hood of the car and the driver hit the brakes, causing me to fly forward into the pavement. Before impact, I had perhaps a second or two where I knew I was going to be hit, but that there was nothing I could do about it. I told myself, ‘I am going to die now.’ I’d never felt such peace and contentment in my entire life. I felt fearless, emboldened, and infinitely happy. I am gay, so at that point in my young life (Indiana in the eighties) it wasn’t exactly an enlightened community. I was very isolated due to my sexuality and felt like I could never truly share myself as an entire person with anyone. To be flooded with a feeling of unconditional love, even for an instant, felt miraculous.

In addition to the sensation of total love, I experienced an improbable number of thoughts simultaneously, as if my brain was operating on many levels at once. I remember thinking about so many people in my life, how my mother was really going to miss me, and how happy I was that death was a happy experience.

Then the car hit me. I went skidding through puddles on the sidewalk. I remained conscious and even got up following the accident. At the time, I thought my arm was broken but that I was otherwise okay. Some kind folks on the corner saw the accident and assisted me. I think they were in their yard because they commented that they didn’t think the driver was going to stop, as she continued a ways down the street before reversing.

To be fair, the young woman who hit me was either 16 or 17 at the time, and was surely horrified by what just occurred.

Although I told the witnesses that I thought I could ride my bike back home, the bike was in worse shape than me at that moment. They brought me into their home to call my mother to pick me up.

I should mention here that I wasn’t wearing a bike helmet when the accident happened. Bike safety was a bit more casual in 1988 and we were not required to wear helmets.

The accident must have happened around 3:30 pm, because I’d gotten home from school and decided to return some library books before my father got home. We ate dinner around 4pm-4:30pm daily because my father got home from work around 4pm; and my mom would leave for her job around 5:30pm. I told my mom we could just go home and dad could take me to the emergency room when he got home. Again, at this point, I thought my arm was broken but the pain was manageable.

My dad got home from work and we told him what had happened. I cleaned up a little to go to the hospital. I had gravel caked into my body and lots of scrapes and cuts. As we were preparing to go to the hospital a terrible headache began. Pressure started building in my head, and in the approximate 15-minute drive to the hospital, the headache intensified with a level of pain that was unfamiliar to me. My medical charts call it a ‘subdural hematoma with loss of consciousness.’ I remember my father shaking me as we drove because I started passing out. By the time we got to the emergency room entrance, he pulled me out of the car and was dragging me to the entrance. I began vomiting everywhere. I remember trying to hit a trash can because I didn’t want someone to have to clean up my vomit.

Shortly after, I recall a nurse running out and saying, ‘Oh my God, he’s seizing!’ I had a grand mal seizure as a result of the brain injury. I want to be honest about this one part. I cannot say with certainty that I remember hearing the nurse say those words. I THINK I remember it, but it’s something I could have added to the story as something others told me that became my own memory. In any case, I had a seizure, and had surgery that night for the brain injury.

What I am clear about is that during that time of unconsciousness, I remember the most beautifully, vivid experience of being somewhere else. Of course, I always tried to measure the experience in terms of what was happening to me such as a serious brain injury, a seizure, etc. But I can go back to that place in my mind, and its vividness is like a safe space for me. The reason I am writing now, trying to explore the concept of what happened to me after all these years, is because that magical place won’t leave my mind. I’ve always thought about it over the years, returned to it in dreams, or when I’ve had a high fever with strep throat, it has returned with rich detail. But lately it won’t leave my mind’s eye.

Here is what I remember of this place. The place felt like its own, contained atmosphere, like it was a spot that was uniquely special. It felt as if I landed in the universe’s most perfect terrarium. It was like being inside a globe, but also somehow endless. It was magnificently green; the trees and grass a shade of green that I’ve never seen replicated. It was just such a vivid color, like everything coming into focus after putting on eyeglasses following many years of going without. There were streams. I remember sitting by a stream. All the sounds within this land were perfectly nuanced. The stream trickled in a way that ideal-sounding to the ear.

There were other people there, running around and playing. People were barefoot. In this location, I got the impression that the temperature was always the same; that it was impossible for people to feel cold or hot. I also had the impression that people just slept outside when they needed to sleep and that obtaining food really wasn’t a problem. People just ran around and played, and were very happy.

There were also beings there that were non-human. I’m not even sure why I know they were non-human, but we were co-existing with them. They were not hostile in any way, but I cannot say who or what they are. It’s like we were a community within a valley and without conflict of any type. There were no insects or anything that could make a person uncomfortable. I don’t know if this is heaven, paradise, or some version of it; but it was like a perfect Eden.

My mother passed away in 1995. She had a massive heart attack where she almost literally dropped dead. In various dreamscapes or fever dreams, I have seen her within this Eden. It was never a big or emotional reunion. It was just contentment and peace that we were in the same realm. Her presence there was very matter-of-fact.