First Breath After Death
I open my eyes and awake from a near comatose sleep. I attempt to inhale, and am greeted by a thick coating of mucus covering my throat. My breathe is caught escaping down my throat, and I erupt into a series of coughs and gasps. To my left and my right are cool metal railings, underneath a clean white sheet. I have a tray in front of me, some mashed potatoes sit neatly next to a row of string beans, carrots, and bread. Hospital food. It’s no matter, my appetite is long gone now.
The machine to my right beeps monotonously, a never ending representation of the current status of my life. At the moment, I am only represented by a near constant repetition:
My eyes and ears are still somewhat sound, and for that I am eternally grateful. I can see the outline of my wife curled up in the chair next to my bed.
I had heard her take my son into the next room, only about an hour before. I heard her carefully explain what would inevitably happen in the next few days. Daddy is very sick, she had said. The doctors and their medicine had done all they could. They managed to shrink one of the tumors in daddy’s throat, but they can’t get to the second one. He’s going to die, she said to him.
He hadn’t cried, my brave little boy. I could hear that much. He was nine years old, and he asked his mother whether Daddy would be around for his 10th birthday. He was turning double digits, you see. It was a big deal. My wife’s voice cracked as she told him Daddy wouldn’t make it.
They rejoin the room, and I smile at my son. Nine years old, and so much to prepare for. He would never have the stereotypical catch with Dad. He would never search the stands for his proud father, beaming down and cheering him on. There would be no ice cream after the game, no Sunday morning fishing trips.
So many things he would need to learn and do on his own, things his father would never teach him. I feel a tear drop down my cheek, as the machine’s incessant beeping slows down.
“Ma’am, now would be the time.” The nurse says to my wife, who chokes out a sob.
She tosses her smooth red hair to the side and drapes herself over me, murmuring ‘I love yous’ and splattering my face with kisses as I feel her cool tears brush against my own.
My little boy is next. He takes my hand and looks into my eyes for a moment, as if searching for a shred of consciousness. He whispers, “Bye Daddy,” before they turn and walk out of the room.
I was confused, you see. I felt fine when they pushed the white sheet over my face. I laughed, I yelled, I cried out for the nurses to take notice.
“I’m okay!” I yelled. “Come back!”
I was left alone in the room, with that sheet covering my face as I heard the sobs from the hallway. “Time of death: 10:17 PM.”
They can’t hear you. a voice responded. And the lights went out.
They say that there’s a blinding white light, at that moment. That first breathe after death. For me, it was more like an illumination.
I was sitting. My lungs were clear, my breathing was free, and I was sitting up. I stand, and amazing at the feeling of my own strength returned. In front of me was a white light casting a shadow of a figure that spoke.
It opened its eyes, and my world turned on itself.
I’m standing in a hospital, though the scene is a bit different. He’s so small, I say to myself as I look down at the baby boy held like a precious diamond wrapped in my arms. His big, bright blue eyes are wide open, anxiously surverying the scenery as he stretches and squirms. His eyes lock with mine, and I swear I see him smile, if only for a moment. The world turns, and I’m gone.
I’m on my mother’s porch, and I stand tall, strong, and proud. The year is 1985, and muscles course up and down my young body as I lift the military cap from my head and ring the doorbell. The heavy wooden door opens, though the screen remains shut. A concerned young face peaks her head out uncertainly, only to be moved aside by another. Her hair has grayed around the edges, and she uses a cain to prop open the door as she leans forward. Her eyes squint and readjust uncertainly. She laughs, and she throws open the door to pull me anxiously inside.
I blink, and I am standing at the top of the altar, my best friends by my side. The year is 1980, the day is a beautiful fifth of October. My friends crackle like hynenas, joking and slapping me on the back. I oblige them with a smile, but my eyes remain fixed forward. There is an angel that strides effortlessly down the aisle, and I wonder how they can’t see. Her dark black hair covers one eye as the other stares straight ahead, sparkling in the bright sunlight with a smile meant only for me.
I step foward, and I’m standing in the center of my bedroom. A pristine Tuxedo clads my gangly high school frame as I peer into the mirror, inspecting my hair anxiously as I adjust and readjust my tie. It’s prom night, 1970. My mother’s reflection soon joins mine in the mirror. The look on her face is a cocktail of sadness and glee, topped off with pure pride. A tear drops from the corner of her eye, which she quickly brushes aside as she pats me on my hand and turns me around.
I open my eyes, and I’m standing in the middle of a crowded mall. My father has my hand in his, bearing his usual death grip as he attempts to pull me onto the escalator. I’m terrified of those things, and I beg him not to make me as he moves forward onto the first step. In seconds he is several feet above me, ascending to the second floor. I yell and I shout for him to come back, but he can’t hear me over the cacophony of voices around us. I want to cry, but my world vanishes before a tear can fall to the floor.
I’m in my bed, with my covers pulled tenaciously to my chin. My mother and father are on either side, with tired smiles on their faces as they whisper calming words. I tell them I’m afraid to sleep, there’s monsters in my dreams. My mother pauses, then smiles as she looks into my eyes and says:
“Don’t be afraid to sleep, sweetheart. And don’t be afraid of your dreams. Fear never having any dreams at all.”