There was a time in my early twenties when I was convinced I was dying. There were unexplained bouts of dizziness while walking the dog, cruel pounding headaches in the middle of the night, and flashing lights in my head. I visited specialists, wore wired goggles, and stared at holographs and blobs of light. I was sealed inside an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tube, with my eyes closed as I listened to the rattling, pinging sound like the creaking metal-fatigue groans of an antique submarine.
Before my final appointment with the specialist, I took my clothes to the laundromat. As though they might contain some clue to my immediate future, I read the horoscope in the West Ender, scanned the shared accommodation ads, examined the lost cat posters, and perused a National Geographic magazine. In the magazine, there were pictures of naked bushmen and an article about the Butterfly Effect. An idea began swimming around like a big fish in the pools of my consciousness. The idea was that somehow there is a vast intelligence behind things, something that connects all things — tornadoes and oranges, the Great Lakes and broken umbrellas.
When I was eight or nine, Sheila McNulty dared me to eat seven green potato chips. My reward was that she would let me watch her pee plus give me her dog-eared copy of Asterix. That night, I lay in bed wondering how long the poison would take before reaching my brain, whether it would be sudden like rattlesnake venom or little-by-little like the cells that ate my mother. During the nights, I laid in the dark muttering prayers and waiting for the angels or the mermaids to come and fetch me away to travel down a long tunnel of light. During the days, I drank every glass of lemonade as though it might be my last and paid special attention to the taste of blackberries warmed by the sun.
Years and years later, wandering through the streets the morning before picking-up my negative medical test results, I remember thinking how wonderful it seemed that all these people should just be busily getting on with their lives — drinking coffee at outdoor tables, planning future vacations, eating plums, balancing babies on their hips, etc.
I remember thinking, “I don’t want to leave this behind. Not any of it.” Every ordinary action, like changing a light bulb and scooping dog poop into a plastic bag, seemed filled with significance. I felt empowered by a feeling of vibrant charge.
I’ve spent a long time trying to get that feeling back.