I remember I was next to the back fence when I almost died. I was in the back yard, doing nothing, wandering around scuffing my feet in the old leaves that were spilling off of the pile that I had put there the previous fall, and what was I thinking? Nothing cosmic enough for such an occasion. I was probably thinking about work without meaning to, or trying to figure out why Ellen was feeling however she was feeling, and then I found myself lying on the ground by the back fence, my face turned toward the house. My cheek felt ground into the dirt. I had no memory of getting there; I seemed to have fallen without knowing it. I wanted to feel my head to see what had hit me, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and besides I couldn’t move my arms or, it seemed, any part of myself except my eyes, maybe not even them, except I was focusing sharply on some grass stems inches from my nose and it had been several years since I could focus well on anything that close, and they looked peaceful and shimmering there in the shade with the pear tree behind them and the afternoon light glowing on the grass behind that, and while I watched, a big, gorgeous, iridescent bug came into my view and made its way over some leaves, a beetle all purple-green, “like a Japanese beetle” I thought but it wasn’t one and I knew that. I loved it for being there right then so I could see it, so shining and hard and changing colors as it moved, its clever legs clambering purposefully and smartly over the leaves, full of its own intelligence, and for an instant I saw just how smart that beetle was, smarter than I would ever have imagined, and how the beetle was living its own life walking over that grass and those fallen leaves, but also the grass and the leaves were living theirs, and even though they were not walking, their being exactly as they were, to be walked upon by that beetle, was every bit as purposeful and intelligent and complete as the beetle’s walking – and then I almost died.
That part I can’t remember. I want to say that my soul left the body and I could see myself lying there next to the fence and I felt the silver cord connecting my soul to my body get longer and longer and thinner and thinner, and say that I even saw Charlotte Carter from next door turn around from her lawnmowing and spy me lying there and run for the house to call 911 – and that then I went down a long tunnel, toward a light that pulled me towards it, and I saw the outlines of familiar figures in the hazy brightness ahead of me – and that then a voice told me I had to go back – but I don’t remember anything until I came to and it was like I was under some sort of white shelf, and it turned out to be the starched bosom of a nurse who moved away, revealing fluorescent tubes and acoustical tile and Ellen, and Ellen saw my eyes were open and started to cry. But just before she started to cry, in that instant, our eyes met and I realized she looked guilty. I saw it. And something else: she knew I saw. Maybe that was what she was really crying about. Guilty of what? For one second I was as smart as that purple-green beetle: she wanted out. And if I died, how clean an exit that would be for her. No guilt, no blame. She wouldn’t even have to move out, if she could pay the rent on the house. I was thinking about whether she could afford that when my vision started to repeat itself, the same scene behind itself, behind itself, and dwindling to a silver dot, and I seemed to back-dive off whatever I was lying on. Then it’s the middle of the night, I’m in a hospital room, somebody is breathing stertorously in the next bed behind a curtain, my brain feels like a horsehair sofa and my mouth tastes like I’ve eaten one.