And here's a cruel truth: the more accurate thing is that I kept sort of remembering without end. My brain persisted - as any bodily organ would - in trying to heal what was in effect a bruise. The bruise was the memory. And to remain what I thought of as human, I had to keep fighting against my basic, animal, healing response. That's what the first day was like. The sensation I was fighting is maybe close to denial. But it's not exactly denial.
My fear now is that all of this sounds over-aestheticized, and vague. There were times when the size of what had happened felt like a kind of nauseated grin: I'd done something this incalculably big, and here I was, still alive. I was okay. I'd hit a girl with my car, but the way the world worked I wasn't in jail, I wasn't hurt; I was free to indulge in a movie. It was this thought that made me leave the movie before it ended. The part of the brain that isn't automatic is an imagining machine, feeling all possibilities of feeling: it keeps pushing its way into this marshy, pleasant terrain. You struggle against that push, and start to feel your stomach protest. It's not so much even a type of consciousness as it is a circumstance, into which you pass by slow degrees. I've never seen this sufficiently examined. It mutates into a less-unreal reality that still seems different, somehow, than being fully present. Self-hate is rarely unconditional. I don't pretend it's all right that I felt even half-okay.
At home in bed that first night I had patchy, mundane dreams about normal things.
It would be nobler and less uncomfortable to write that I tossed sleeplessly. Or that I woke with a scooped-out pain in my gut. Or that I sat down in my underwear at my desk that had moonlight on it and I had the terrible sense one gets, after something irrevocable, of being in the wrong place - of having awakened into a new and cramped world. (This is the sense I would have, on many nights, later.) I ended up scouring through details of the day: those EMS guys talking about cardiac arrest, about loss of blood, about not liking her chances. I homed in on that word - "chances," with its promise of upside - and not on how the paramedic's voice had tightened, the odds seizing his throat.
So few of our days contain actions that are irrevocable. Our lives are designed not to allow for anything irrevocable. The school part of our lives continues to be the school part for eighteen years, the work parts stay the work parts, and if we're lucky nothing disarranges them; the small inconsistencies get buried under talk, explanations, rescheduling. If everything couldn't continue as planned, no real plans could be made. But the breakfasts and TV afternoons and band practices of teenaged life had been disrupted by something irrevocable, and I was new to it. And how did I handle this? What I want to write is that I lay there until morning, with tear-stained eyes, a tear-stained pillow, a tear-stained life. What can one do with levels of gloom and guilt, fear and disbelief, of bewilderment above one's capacity to register?
I slept soundly.
Excerpted from Half a Life by Darin Strauss. Copyright © 2010 by Darin Strauss. Excerpted by permission of McSweeneys Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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