“Hey, Ya” — I Remember the Day that I Died

Here we are again, though this time we were in my world. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh years ago opened their quaint music venues in Marin, both serving food and drink, inviting acts both professionals and amateurs to play. I’ve been to both Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael and Sweetwater in Mill Valley many times over; and have even seen Phil Lesh within arms length of me playing with his friends. On this particular night, a friend of mine was playing up on stage at Sweetwater, starting his set with “Hey Ya”. Coincidentally, for weeks, Outkast had played in my head, like a loop…

“My baby don’t mess around
Because she loves me so
And this I know for sure…”

While he was strumming and singing, my mind flashed back to another time and another place. I dream of it often; or perhaps they are more like nightmares. When my eyes opened…

All of a sudden it was 7:28 AM, 12/22/08.

Do you remember
The 22nd of December?
When life sealed your fate?

I was frightened and it was bitter cold on this morning when I was supposed to be at the office. Instead, the sounds of cars and trucks and busses were whizzing by, as I laid motionless on the corner of North, Milwaukee, and Damen Avenues. A man with gentle eyes, a kind smile and reassuring voice was commanding me with questions, bringing me back to life. I’ll never forget his face, I thought to myself. In the years since, I cannot remember what he looked like save for the gentle eyes, kind smile and reassuring voice.

“Focus upon my voice…”

Where was I again?
What was I doing here?
What had just happened?

“Do you feel the cold against your face?
Can you blink your eyes?
What about crinkling your nose?
How about a smile?”

“Yes, I do.” I said to no one in particular in my head. I nodded ever so slightly.

“Good, you can feel your neck?”

He walked me the entire length of my body. When he instructed me to, then and only then, did I wiggle my toes. And for the first time, I smiled. I was not paralyzed.

All of a sudden, I remembered what had happened. Goodness, though I had on man-UGGS, jeans and a Mountain Hardware winter parka, it was cold! Zero degrees outside confirmed by the temperature gauge above the bank across the intersection from my motionless body. A middle-aged woman was hysterically crying above me. Another was directing traffic. “She was beautiful! I’m talking about that Yankee Rose!” (Why was David Lee Roth in my head? “And she looks wild! wiiiild!!”) Six corners in Chicago, especially this particular corner, was always extremely busy. The holiday season couldn’t cut into its ebb and flow.

Just moments before, I was walking up Milwaukee Avenue, like I did every weekday morning, to catch the Blue Line train at the Damen stop. Like every other morning, the shops and restaurants were about to come alive, the pigeons would be fed by the homeless man caring for them, and people would be either waiting for the bus heading into the Loop or walking in my direction to catch the train. Instead of crossing the intersection where Milwaukee and Damen met, because it was a diagonal heading northwest, I turned left onto Damen itself, walking a few paces before starting my jaywalk to cross the street at the point where the entrance to the el platform stood. With my parka firmly covering my head which I turned enough to note the red light keeping the cars stopped, waiting in a line stretching back to underneath the el tracks. I crossed the first row of cars, confirming the light was red; and had almost finished crossing the second row of cars at which point, I noticed that the light had already turned green. I bolted to beat the oncoming traffic, not realizing that there was a car driving 30 mph onto the turn lane also trying to beat the oncoming traffic. I only noticed her for a split nanosecond, not enough time to physically make any adjustments, her eyes scared and as wide-open as mine. My legs buckled as I smashed onto the hood of the car eventually crashing against her windshield before I was hurtled about thirty feet into the intersection.

From the realization to when I was getting hit to the moment I blacked out, that nanosecond in my head turned into an eternity of love. My life flashed before my eyes, ever so slowly, like a series of Polaroid pictures. “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.” Everyone that I ever loved and/or who had loved me back appeared in focus, one after another. Each picture lingered like a memory that would never be forgotten. I asked God to let me live. And I promised Him a few things in return. I promised I would tell the people I love, that I loved them. I promised that I would show the people that I love, how much I loved them. I promised to be present in the lives of my family and my friends and all those around me. I promised I would try to become the best version of me, providing a vehicle for others to be the best versions of themselves. I promised to embrace every moment of all the moments that would encompass my second chance. I promised I would help others. I promised I would be there for others. I promised I would be ME.

Those thoughts must have taken a nanosecond. Maybe less, though I felt I lived an eternity in that time, and that I would keep coming back to it when needed, to remind me of the promises that I made.

These thoughts must also have taken a nanosecond, for I was back at Sweetwater in Mill Valley, CA. My friend was still singing. And so was Andre 3000.

“Thank God for Mom & Dad
For sticking to together
Like we don’t know how.
Hey ya!”


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