“Near Death Experience” by Andrew Evans, page 2

        I was pissed. I was thirteen years old and that meant I was dying way too soon. “No way!” my mind protested. Early death by way of boyhood backyard hijinks was far too ignoble. I felt cheated big time—the same as when you dump all your Halloween candy out on the table and begin comparing and trading. Somehow, my siblings always had half a dozen king-size Snickers, while my pile was all Neccos, Bit-O-Honeys, and nickels.
         I only started breathing after a full minute of being furious—at my brother, at God, at ziplining and all the stupid nickel-givers in our neighborhood. Minutes of angry near-death passed until my angelic mother lifted me from the ground and raised me from the almost-dead, checking all my bruised bones and gazing into my pupils for signs of a concussion.
         Actually, my first concussion came a year later, on a camping trip in West Virginia, when my older brother insisted I leap from a huge mossy boulder and across a rushing stream. He pointed out a nearby landing pad—a small, wet rock mid-stream. I resisted, whined, and contemplated, then slipped feet first, like a cartoon. Then I fell into the water and slammed the back of my head against the boulder. What I thought was a dark tunnel with a bright white light at the end of it, beckoning—well, that was a concussion.
         By the time I was old enough to drive, I had learned a thing or two about death (also, never to jump when my brother said jump). One’s life could finish at any moment—just like some slow-moving Euro film where the white inscription “Fin” rolls up onto the screen way too soon—in the midst of underdeveloped narrative and unresolved conflict. When “Fin” appears, there is nothing you can do except groan loudly and hit eject.
         I saw my first dead person at age eighteen, except that I suspect it was several dead people as their collective bodies had been divvied up into several Tupperware boxes. I had gone to college to study art but my friend was in nursing and snuck me into her anatomy lab on a Friday afternoon, “because it’s so cool!”
         Standing over a half-dissected cadaver made me feel queasy, not cool—this was long before cadavers had upstaged all the leading roles on network television. I felt no scientific intrigue or a desire to decipher criminal intent. Staring at a grey, disembodied human heart sitting at the bottom of a Tupperware bowl and lolling about in milky formaldehyde—I felt both wistful and traumatized. I imagined that same heart beating inside of someone for eighty-plus years and how it warmed a chest that once held grandchildren and powered lawnmowers and ran marathons—that’s when I realized I was crying just a little, though I blamed the nose-burning stench of formaldehyde.
         Now, in addition to ziplines and extension cords, I also avoid Tupperware.
         I saw my first un-butchered dead person in a country where they speak Russian and drink so much vodka they pass out, which is not so much a problem unless they do it outside and the temperature is twenty-five degrees below zero—which it often is. On a snowy January morning, I noticed an old alcoholic babushka wrapped in a frosty shawl, slumped over on a park bench. I stepped close enough to discover that she had frozen to death in the night. I was maybe a yard away—from death. Her skin was blue, her nose was white, her lips unmoving and calm. Lively Russian people bundled up in fox fur tiptoed past the icy corpse, pretending it away.
         “Leave her alone,” they shouted, “It doesn’t concern you. She brought it on herself. She’s happy now.” The morning passersby even chuckled to themselves.
         “Unlucky,” is the word they used too often, as if the opposite of luck was death. The man who stumbled in front of the tram—he was just unlucky. The girl who got hit in the face by a firecracker at the parade; very unlucky—she had been so pretty before. The 17-year old soldier who got shot in the spine “as a joke” by his commander? Bad luck.
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