Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pinball Wizard

by Amanda Earl

My death date was supposed to be November 11, 2009, but at the eleventh hour, a life-saving surgery changed that. This means that I now experience a kind of doubling. The first me is the one who almost died, who felt dead, in between my hallucinatory nightmares when I was sedated and on pain meds in ICU. I experienced blank moments that felt very much like the oblivion of my nightmare scenario of what death must be like. In some ways it feels like I left that person on the operating table. I have feelings of grief from time to time for my life before, before I felt so close to death, but I also have feelings of joy. In some ways, I lost my innocence then, that feeling that death was a long way a way. The point that we can die at any moment has been brought home to me.

The second me is the one who is alive now, Amanda 2.0. As the alive-despite-all-the-odds version of me I am constantly stunned, stopped in my tracks by this fact. I experience time differently and I walk around constantly humbled by the fact that I should be dead but  for the skill of some amazing surgeons and their team and the hope and love of my husband, dear friends and family. It's weird, I tell you, very weird.

I can be in the middle of eating one of my husband's delicious breakfasts and suddenly feel ecstatic over dipping my bread into the perfect sunny side up egg he has made for me. That gorgeous combination of butter, egg and bread, all mixed together. I can be walking along outside in the middle of a rainstorm and all of a sudden feel intense joy for the pain of the hard rain pelting me on the cheeks, for the deluge that is drenching my body. I want to scream from every rooftop. I am alive, I am alive! 

This time for me feels like the moment in the pinball game when you get an extra ball. It's exciting, it's a gift, but you know it won't last forever. It's your last chance to enjoy yourself in the game. You either approach it very carefully, taking no risks, or you go wild, since it's all bonus, time you weren't expected to have. And you hope for the multi-ball, but more often than not you get only a few minutes of glory to make your mark.

Knowing how much of my current life I would be missing if I had died in 2009 brings me to tears often. Not just for the good experiences, but for the calm too and even for some of the bad ones. Even pain reminds me I am still here. If I had died, I would have missed all of this:

midnight muffins;

exquisite dinners & coffee chats with dear friends;

my husband's marathon cum sessions;

creating whacky vispo, giving my imagination free reign;

slaving over the blank page, the moment when characters begin to write themselves;

reading my poetry and erotic fiction to attentive audiences;

walks in the fresh green lilac scented air after a rain;

my husband's homemade bread (but please make brioche, darling);

the lithe beautiful bodies of young lovers in my bed (the last one, a young Haitian gospel singer with the voice of an angel & the body of an athlete);

exotic taste combos, such as lapsang & lavender,  spinach & kippers;

being able to say and write anything I damn well please;

gorgeous frilly frocks, especially the  new red and white Flapper style dress;

orgasms from the fingers and lips of my husband, from my own hand & my Hitachi magic wand;

the texture of cadmium red and marine blue acrylic paint over surfaces;

eating french fries out of a bag from a chip truck while walking in the fine misty rain of a late autumn afternoon;

live concerts by my favourite singer, Ron Sexsmith;

Guinness and Scotch (in wee doses, mind you);

gifts of exotic tea & homemade blueberry freezer jam from a dear friend;

hearing great writers such as Colm Toibin & Etger Keret at the Ottawa International Writers Festival read from their works;

being clear headed to face each day, being able to move without aid, being able to walk for long stretches of time, floating on my back in the pool;

the feel of velvet, silk, metal, sand, brick, limestone, cobblestone;

the taste of caramel, coconut gelato, peanut sauce, fresh tomatoes, lobster dripping with garlic butter; black olives, profiteroles full of cream; 

my husband's sunday morning crepe, raspberry, sausage concoction;

podcasts & shows on CBC Radio & NPR;

finding silver spoons & odd items that elicit stories, poems, ideas for novels while wandering outside in construction zones;

plaid pj bottoms & fleecy soft sweaters;

endless cups of strong coffee at our dining room table;

cold early mornings out walking when no one is about, my toque down over my eyes, my red & black plaid lumber jacket Misty keeping me warm;

tiny colourful cups of espresso at my favourite café & all the beautiful lanky young café patrons;

the first glimpse of crocuses in the early spring followed by tulips, daffodils, irises, peonies, tiger lilies, roses, autumn leaves;

the bloom of hoar frost on the windows of my apartment;

the feeling of being inside a snowglobe during a blizzard, the snow all around;

the touch of a hand on my bare shoulder, the feel of a hot firm cockhead in my mouth, licking, stroking, caressing a man from head to toe, lying with him afterwards, while we listen to John Coltrane, Nina Simone…

I came so close. I came so close not only to death but also to having a serious long term health crisis. Instead of that, I bounced back very quickly. Yet I still remember that looming figure in my delusion, the tread of his foot on the stairs leading down to the dark cobweb covered room where I lay helpless and immobile, the gauze curtain dividing us, his hand outstretched. I wanted to take his hand; I didn't want to take his hand. And then the voice, the low commanding voice that said "Silence."  

I live my life with integrity, fervour & love. I am so very grateful to be here.


  1. Hi Amanda

    Isn't it something that this version of life is reserved for those who have came so close? We cherish every experience, infusing all shades of life with the rosy color of experience nearly lost. We don't complain so much, do we? Not about the small shit anyway. And most of it is small shit. I see people creating drama over the silliest things. It's just challenge and that's life.

    And-BTW- I do most of the cooking too!

    We're grateful you're here too, Amanda. We never would have 'met', if not for science.

    1. thanks, Daddy X. before my health crisis, since about my mid 30s, i was cherishing life pretty well, but the near death stuff amped that up a lot. i bet you're a great cook :)

  2. And we would never have had the chance to read your intensely beautiful and striking account. Not to mention all the other writing you've done since 2009.

    I had the fear of fast-approaching death in 2009, but only briefly. By the time I had the very basic surgery I'd been assured that the cancer was only minor and didn't worry much. But even that much gives one a new relationship with mortality. It's very strange, though, to realize that living at this very time makes medical outcomes so very different from what they were at any other time ion history, and in the future they';ll be different from now. The accident of being born into a certain era, quirk of fate over which we have no power at all.

  3. thanks for your kind words, Sacchi. glad your cancer scare was only a scare. we are fortunate to live in an era where these medical miracles occur. apparently the ventilator i was on didn't even exist ten years before, so i wouldn't have made it.

  4. OMG, Amanda. I'll join the chorus of those who are glad you were saved. I hope you have many years left. (You too, Sacchi.)

    1. thanks, Jean. my surgeon gave me a long warranty.

  5. Astonishingly beautiful, Amanda,

    Your encounter with death has been, in some sense, a great gift.

    A gift to us, too.

    Thank you!

    1. thanks, Lisabet. it was a tough experience, but in some ways, yes, a gift. thanks for your kind words.


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