One of the most significant moments in my life, and there have been many, happened when I was just ten years old and it forever changed me.
I was a tomboy. I was a middle-child and often spent time with my older brother and his friends. I wanted to join the Boy Scouts…no dice. But I was a kick-ass Girl Scout for a while. I was athletic; I knew how to throw a spiral and catch one. I knew how to play third base in backyard baseball; I could hit the ball pretty far. My basketball skills left something to be desired. But I am vertically-challenged, so there’s that. And I loved my playful childhood, they were good times that we had.
Back in those days, before we had computers in every home, let alone tablets and smartphones…we would be kicked outside to play. We’d play red-light, green-light. We’d play manhunt (the cool way of saying hide-n-seek.) We’d romp through the woods, we’d make forts, play in treehouses, dangle on monkey-bars, or we’d ride our bicycles. And when the sun started to sink in the sky, our mothers would yell for us to come home. And we did, if we wanted to eat dinner. It was simple then. I grew up in a safe, small-town neighborhood, where everyone knew each other, and husked their corn out on the front stoop. I was lucky, very lucky.
One summer day, I was out with the boys, my friends, and they were riding their bicycles down the hill and over a ramp they fashioned out of a slab of wood and a cinderblock.
“You can’t do it, you’re a girl…”
Well…yes. You guessed it.
“Gimme your bike,” I said.
I got halfway up the hill, borrowing my friend’s brand-new, shining, black bicycle. Not a scratch on it. Yet. I made myself comfortable; I got myself set. I saw my target. I rolled back my shoulders. And I rode.
I can’t tell you the rest. There were sirens. An ambulance. A kind, older man in emergency gear, with a beard. An anxious mother across the street holding a lawn chair. And there was blood. A lot of blood.
“You’re lucky you landed the way that you did, young lady. And eighth of an inch, in either direction…well…I don’t know how you survived. You should’ve broken your neck, at a minimum.” I remember them saying that I was in shock. I had no idea what had happened, I couldn’t feel anything. I could barely see — my vision was clouded with purple splotches and fluttering white dots.
I remember asking my worried father if I was dead. Then I asked…if I was going to die.
“No,” he said. “Of course not.” Now, as a parent myself, I can’t fathom his worry and concern. It must have been torture. I’m so sorry Mom and Dad.
At the hospital, I remember my mother being in the room with me. Right there — so close — the whole time. If memory serves, she was actually holding my scalp together; the surgeon was short a nurse. So many stitches. Eight hours in the trauma center. I was awake and alert through all of it. I would catch the reflection of the injury on the shiny paper towel dispenser, and get weak. I stopped looking.
The wound was directly on the top of my head. Precisely in the middle, centered between the hard bones of my skull. I thought that it had to be a miracle. The odds were astounding. It must have been angels; carrying me gently to a landing that would keep me alive. I wondered what happened in those moments between my starting to ride, and me seeing the EMT (emergency medical technician). Why did I black out? Why didn’t I remember? Did God save me from the horror of memory? Did I die and come back? Did my neurons fire and misfire in such a way that my brain erased the memory? As I got older, I began reading the bible. Praying. I read about the brain, memory, neural pathways. Nice, light reading for an adolescent, and there was much that I didn’t absorb. And I didn’t really talk to people about that, it made them uncomfortable. But I had to know. I had to know why.
I modeled quite an attractive bandage over my mostly-hairless head, for a long time. A ten year old. At school. Most of the kids were fine, but I wasn’t immune to teasing. I heard “Frankenstein head” quite a bit. SO clever. I didn’t care. I was alive.
I had to scrub at the wounds and raw tissue on my arms, to prevent infections, and it was horrible and painful. But I did it, and I was glad to. I was alive.
I missed some fun pool parties. I had to wear a waterproof shower cap when I bathed. I suffered many inconveniences that are irrelevant now, but at the end of the day…I was alive.
For the most part, I haven’t really viewed my life in the same way since. From ten years old, I began questioning the nature of things. Were there angels? Were there miracles? Was there more? Was it our brains? What did our brains do? What is life, what is death? I was a teenaged philosopher. And somehow, some years later, I just knew. My thoughts and beliefs about life and death changed dramatically. I began referring to myself as spiritual, but not religious. I didn’t understand then, what I knew. But I do now.
This experience, this horrific bicycle accident that nearly cut my life short, changed me more than any other experience in my life. And surviving it, and fighting through the healing, accepting the scar tissue (I still have a small spot on my scalp where hair won’t grow)…has strengthened me and has added so much flavor and appreciation for every experience that came later. I survived that? I can do anything…
The phrase “life is short” became my mantra for a while. Looking back, I can see a string of events that led me here, to right now. And how in so many instances, I fought through the idea that I couldn’t or shouldn’t, and I just did. Doing it? No…did it. I can? No…I will. I don’t invite hardships, but I don’t run from challenge. Because I know what I’m made of, and what a blessing that is. The accident wasn’t joyful, not by any stretch of the imagination, but surviving and having another chance? Amazing. And sometimes I get caught up and forget that lesson I learned, all those years ago. I look back on that time, and I remember what I fought through. What I endured, how I dug in, and sped up my recovery by taking care of myself, even when it was painful.
What a great gift; what a perspective to have. No matter what comes up…I am alive. And I’m glad. Do I believe in angels, do I believe in magic? Well, I sure believe in something. I’m here.
Author’s Note: Helmet laws were introduced not long after that. And they exist for a very important reason. Accidents do happen. Encourage your children to play, enjoy the sun, chase and climb, and ride their bicycles. With the proper gear.
Get Stacie’s new book Ana J. Awakens HERE.