So this is it! The emotions poured from their hiding places when the understanding cleared, when the very last trace of doubt flared in a desperate final grab for validation, and winked out. Gone like a wisp of smoke carried off in a wind gust all uncertainty I was dead. Up to then I'd resisted the suspicion I was experiencing something other than dream state, something substantive beyond the extended lucid yet intuitively illusory suspension of gravity, of consequence, of judgment.
Up to then the only misgiving to slip past my resistance arrived with the notion that whatever was happening was lasting overlong. This qualm, its visit itself lasting no longer than the flick of a nervous eyelid, had slithered into focus atop a sensation of drowning and awareness the accompanying panic was failing to wake me. In the next instant I grasped with startling clarity that indeed all bets were off, that my crisis certainly had gone on longer than it should, longer than a likely chance of instinctive wake-up rescue. My conceit of essential control took a nosedive.
The subsequent whirl was kaleidoscopic, presenting edges of unkind remembrances that revived accusing sorrows and anxieties, peered into stubborn denials. The most insidious were the ambivalent fragments, gentle laughter of someone forfeited, chirps of merry birds carrying a poignancy that mingles joy with memories cringing from tender moments botched. I was a helpless Scrooge on a vengeful, frenzied, endless Christmas Eve. Endless. It continues as I dictate this, and I presume it will do so until, if ever, my mind shuts down for good.
What enables my coherence here I credit to the advent of a new discernment, a subtler initiative that emerged in simple curiosity and enabled me to catch and hold glimpses of more affirming visions in the whirl, and with the hunger of a shrew I leaped upon this respite from the sodden dread, drawing nourishment from memories in particular of mutual curiosity--others drawn to me as I to them and grown with some to a welcome intimacy lasting long beyond its early passion. Short of deliverance, though, these euphoric promises were held in check by spores of ambiguity drifting in and out in celebration of my intrinsic frailties.
A counter-intuitive comfort arrived with the inversion of my panic in imagining this suspense would last forever, that I would be stuck reliving my life over and over eternally with no recourse except to pray the torturing sentience would end with blessed oblivion. The surprise came with understanding my sense of time itself was in fact a blessing, freeing me from the tyranny of expectations, freeing me from myself.
Abstraction then became and remains in charge, if only because cognition has commandeered all physical sensation. I've learned to shift my focus from the unfathomable pain my bursting lungs send shrieking constantly through my nerves. The pain has been here all along, and I can visit it at will but thus far have found scant need to do so, and then only as a touchstone to remind me of my situation. Ah, my situation! Trying to explain it to anyone who might read this, and first of all to myself, is the whole purpose of this exercise.
The “anyone who might read this” is for me a cosmic leap of faith. Not a blind one, I should add, as I have reached a level in my cerebral expansion to perceive evidence of what I shall call, for convenience, the Cloud. I'm aware that anyone who might be reading this, having read the previous sentence, is quite apt to abandon the piece with a figurative shake of head and a mental note to skip anything by the “author” hereafter. Yet, should you feel ambivalent kindly take heart from the writer who bounded over his or her intuitive chasm at this point, swallowing grave doubts and pushing ahead half-wittingly to allow my thoughts free passage regardless of the fierce questions that must have resisted each keystroke along the way.
My advantage in our collaboration is a sense of the forever. I became aware at some point this sensory illusion could vanish with no warning. A subjective soap bubble. But I've ridden it so long the cringing I felt initially has faded to irrelevancy along with some immediate questions and my struggle with physical pain. The notion my consciousness could end in an instant is itself an abstraction now, as it had been when I was too young to comprehend such an event. For the sake of this narrative I shall try to divide into two categories the many concepts that have evolved in my mind since what I shall regard simply as my death. I'll group these concepts into process and implications.
Process first, as no doubt you and anyone else reading this would like to know what in hell I'm talking about, what seems to be going on. My best guess is that I'm experiencing an extreme—perhaps ultimate--episode of what is known as tachypsychia, a word I learned in my army infantry training to mean the elongation of perception into increments that progress as in a film presentation of slow-motion animation or a slide show of sequential scenes. We trained to anticipate this phenomenon in combat or other high-adrenalin situations where the brain focuses so keenly on a threat to life all motion seems to disaggregate into components of the threat and our counter moves. These fragments unconsciously take instant unshakeable priority over every other physical and mental stimulus. The effect is to perceive that all action has slowed to where it seems as if it's taking forever. In my case by now I've come to accept there's no more “seems.” This presupposes the fantastic paradox of my mind continuing on, expanding into a timeless spectrum despite the body that houses it evincing zero vitality. I'm dead, in essence, and yet I live.
Curiosity occupies me now, to the exclusion of most anything else. So the musings I'm dictating here will be to frame questions that have taken form over what already seems to me an eternity.
It's obvious that whoever transcribed these thoughts (if in fact someone does) could not have done so synchronized with my thinking them. For one, it's taking me vastly longer subjectively to compose this narrative than would be reasonable for someone to sit at a keyboard and type what I'm thinking at the precise moment each word occurs. Objectively I'd be long dead physically before the first word appeared in the mind of the typist. This problem brings me back to my Cloud theory, that my thoughts are stored in some cosmic library where another mind—living or in a state such as mine—has access. The mind of a living person might reach something in this library in the form of an inspiration. Whoever typed these thoughts might say, in an interview or an explanatory note: “The words just came to me, sort of bubbled up from somewhere in my subconscious. All I had to do was keep my fingers on the keyboard, and the thing composed itself!”
What's needed is a way for anyone reading (or typing) this to gain a sense of authenticity, that what they perceive here is what I believe to be truthful. Not easy to do. My name's not useful. Too common, and with any significant detail I'd not be able to spare my daughter the embarrassment of notoriety (for her, though, I will say this: Sweetpea, I shall never forget the many times you saved my life testing those milkshakes for poison before handing them to me on our happy upriver weekend drives when you were my little girl).
My death is likely unverifiable, unless the body turns up some day. Presumably my automotive tomb rests on the bed of a very deep body of water, and the people who were pursuing me when I lost control on the curve are in no position to notify anyone but their employers.
I can summon the physical at will, experiencing it simultaneously with cerebral adventures far distant and along entire spectra of immediacy that include and extend from my awakening in the womb. Time is solely subjective, amorphous, an imaginary sequential measurement I apply here merely to shape my account. All is at once present. In fact it was this cacophony I found hardest to adjust to once I understood what had happened.
I thought at first it was my tinnitus, the interminable electric rasp of locusts I'd had singing constantly, insistently in my ears for most of my adult life, the fault, I suspect, of inadequate hearing protection in my army years. I'd learned to ignore it, would notice it only when I brought it to mind. I tried that trick this time—directing my attention elsewhere--half knowing it wouldn't work, that the rasping was something other than nerve endings in my ears. And soon I detected a new texture to the pressing noise, the edges of identifiable components—musical, verbal, conceptual—and almost immediately my conceit shifted from a sense that I was onto something to one of something being onto me. The voices and tonalities were interacting with my thoughts. The first of my countless bouts of posthumous insanity arrived almost simultaneously with this notion.
No part of it comforted or offered any nuance of encouragement. The voices harsh, the interweaving tones complicit, hovering, funereal, implications unmanageable. My mother's weakened voice, Where are you, Beebs? Please. Please come, Beebs. Hold my hand... My sin was helplessness, trapped in a jar, a classroom specimen. The regret eternal.
Unable to hide in denial from the scolding onslaught, which seemed inevitably to shatter my consciousness into atoms, I sensed rescue in a sustained shriek that emerged without prelude and grew relentlessly in volume to quickly override the hostile voices and their unsettling accompaniment. But before my gratitude was fully comprehended the cerebral scream blocked everything save itself.
The ever-recurring cycle of reproach smothered by infinite scream and back again continued to evolve, with the scream, which initially brought relief, becoming a pest and, worse, I felt, something of a crutch as my capacity to interact with the unfriendly barrage grew. I'd learned to parse out and focus on single hostile factions, in some instances feeling my rebuttals gaining weight, and then the interruption—the blip of cavernous doubt, and the pouncing scream. I had come to resent the scream more than the other, and this dynamic between the two continued to intensify, though with progressively dilating intervals, until a new sensibility appeared in what I see now was a transitory struggle.
It emerged as a smirk of double irony I sensed had been lurking in plain view a long while as recognition rose from nonverbal intuition with apparently no particular urgency. When at last it popped into focus the burst of clarity was seismic. Mortal laughter, were it possible, would have shattered glass. My fiery cognizance celebrated its enlightenment gleefully recalling the Bob Dylan tenet, those not busy being born are busy dying.