I’ve almost-died three times – that I can recollect.
The first time I was still an infant in diapers, just a few months old.
I spent much of my childhood on my grandparents’ farm. They had a vineyard and a huge vine shade all around the front of the house. Before the first grapes were fully ripe, the elders would start prepping barrels and grinders for the coming harvest.
One day in the high heat of summer, everybody had left somewhere to do field work. They’d left me in the care of my great-grandfather.
The family had put up a few wine barrels to be cleaned under the yard vine hugging the house. My great-grandfather was filling them with water from a hose.
Somehow my perambulator ended up parked right next to a barrel that was being filled. The water flowed in. The barrel filled up. The water started flowing over the edge – right into my bowl-like, impermeable, rain-proof stroller.
And yes, my divine person was present – asleep – in said stroller. My godly respite quickly turned into an unplanned swimming lesson.
Let this sink in.
Drowning inside your own waterproof perambulator. In the high heat of summer. Miles away from the nearest pond and the nearest cloud. At the safest place imaginable – your grandparents’ home.
Can death get any more ridiculous than this? Can life get more absurd?
I’m skeptical that it can, but I like a challenge.
Next family member who tried to take me out was my grandmother.
I was still less than a year old when she dropped me head first on the sharp edge of a raw brick wall.
You might think this explains a lot, and it well might.
But here’s the fun part. The doctors decided it would be a good idea to put my skull back together without a painkiller, let alone a sedative.
I don’t remember if I was awake or in shock when I got dropped and on the way to the hospital.
But I sure as hell snapped out of it when the doctor started gluing my cracked head. How I must have screamed.
Because, you know, babies and toddlers don’t remember and what not.
Well, that’s the very first memory of my life – child torture and excruciating pain being inflicted on my unsuspecting person. That image of the doctor leaning over me is carved into my memory like it was yesterday. Moses can go pound sand with his stone tablets.
Be reminded of this joyous episode next time you feel like complaining about your life. I couldn’t complain. I could only scream, and I took advantage of the opportunity.
By the time I graduated from kindergarten at about 7, I had the distinct suspicion that my parents were absolutely klueless about how to raise kids (they were). And probably so were most other parents (they are).
I’m don’t know if those early experiences were among the motives, but I went on a long road of experimentation, one of whose goals was to gain my independence from parental control. And I did. That’s also how Blood in the Game was born.
So the third time I almost-died, there was no familial involvement. If anything, I was barely able to scrounge together (borrow) the money to make it happen from my parents.
I must have been in my early twenties already. I was on a beach in Croatia, working to improve my swimming skills. Alone.
While I normally swam like a rock, that day I had decided to demonstrate my prowess while a giant cruise ship was coasting by. I don’t know if it was the size of Queen Mary II or Queen Mary 17. Suffice it to say, it was larger than many small mountains.
I remember few details, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t drowning until that thing decided to stop. Big ocean liners make big waves – this much is obvious. Imagine what happens when they pull the parking break.
I was paying attention, so I did expect a jolt or two. Instead, I ended up in something like a centrifuge of giant waves that only pulled me closer to the cruise ship.
Some minutes passed and I wasn’t making any progress towards the beach. If anything, I was making regress – in the direction of death by drowning.
The lo-awarenes narrative says you should believe in yourself and you can overcome anything, blah-blah-blah. Let me tell you something about that. From deadly experience.
Semantic delusions don’t float. You can believe whatever you want and still drown like a cockroach.
If anything, by the time I made the move that saved me I was almost certain I was going to die.
And it didn’t make the least bit of difference. Because I was decided to do everything I can to prevent it anyway.
The way I saw it, the situation was pretty simple:
- I was minutes away from ded.
- I’d better use those minutes as best I can to prevent being ded within said minutes.
And – yeah – all that hogwash about your life running before your mind’s eyes is rubbish too.
Young as I was, I had put myself through a lot of craziness already, but I had no ragrets.
I did think of my family and how hurt they’d be if I died. But my only real concern was this – how pathetic it would be to have died in a freak accident off a crowded beach in Croatia. While doing nothing even borderline exciting.
I was about to have a boring frivolous death. That shit could only stand over my dead body. Literally, as the case might have been.
Yep, and I smiled at these thoughts while I finding myself minutes away from a gruesome death. Only the bottomless sky stared back at me. If I wasn’t swallowing enough water already, I would have laughed for real.
What saved me that day wasn’t belief or any other species of semantics. It was my composure and the fact that I wasn’t afraid of dying. At least not afraid at the panic level that many people “believing in themselves” would have experienced.
Despite struggling to stay above water, I had kept calm and paid attention. At that point, I figured my best chance was to get help from people on the beach. And there were good reasons I hadn’t tried that earlier. The odds of it working out were less than favorable, shall we say.
Almost as soon as my ordeal had started, I had been pulled in far from anyone who was insane enough to wade in farther than the sandy shallows.
The beach was packed with people, mostly families, but there was no lifeguard. And people were all desperately far away. The beach was loud as hell that time of day – the perfect setup to get ignored and ded.
Lucky for me, there was a stocky guy with his kids by the water. After a minute or two, he saw my waving and yelling for help. He jumped in and pulled me out.
As soon as I could catch a breath, I realized he looked like he competed on World’s Strongest Man contests.
“How are you”, he asked unhurriedly as we were walking out of the water shoulder-to-shoulder.
His accent seemed Finnish, maybe Estonian.
“Swallowed a bit of water”, said I cold-bloodedly.
“That’s always a problem”, shrugged he.
I had to make an effort not to laugh. I don’t remember if I succeeded.
I thanked him heartily, shook his hand and we parted ways.
Here’s the lesson from all this.
Know who you are, what you are about, what you want from yourself and this life.
Accept your imminent departure.
Then believe whatever the hell you like. Or, better, don’t.
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