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It has been eight months since I fell out of a third-story window in what I thought would be a normal Saturday night. I have no recollection of that day and the four days after it. I didn’t even know I had been in an accident until the doctor asked me for the fourth time that day if I remembered what happened.
“An accident?” I was starting to memorize what they wanted me to say, reciting the appropriate thing to appease the concerned eyes that framed my vision. Through the haze of painkillers and the tube that wove its way between my teeth and into my throat I managed to choke out the question I feared the answer to most: “Did I hurt anyone?”
A normal Saturday night. The second Saturday night of the year. I had trudged home that morning with my shoes in hand, wincing as the sun’s rays winked at me, knowing that in the light of the moon I had indulged in the delicious pain of bad decisions.
When I had finally dragged myself out of bed for another “adventure,” as I liked to call it, it was 10 pm, and I had almost wiped my memory clean of the heaviness that weighed my skin down in the alcohol-saturated sallow of a Friday night. Almost.
When I came to, I held my throbbing head in my hands, crying to Sam Smith as I lay in a too-small hospital bed with a broken hip and no memory of how I had gotten myself there.
“I’m such a loser,” I sobbed.
The Summer from that night left me with the disturbing repercussions of falling 35 feet through a tree and smashing her head on the side of a building. I lay there with a bruised brain and a non-working esophagus and a fractured pelvis. Chest therapy everyday, twice a day, to make sure I could breathe properly.
I was immobile from the heavy incision in my stomach where they had sliced me open, taken out all my organs, and cleaned my insides in order to stop my fever from climbing.
Because my throat had forgotten how to swallow I couldn’t eat or drink anything or I would choke. No matter how hard I tried, cajoled, manipulated, no one would bring me a damn Naked Juice.
Last thing I remember were the flurry of thoughts running through my mind as I walked to the pre-game on that fateful Saturday night, my stomach sloshing with day-old liquor.
Briefly, I considered that that maybe I shouldn’t be drinking tonight. I dismissed the idea and walked into the room with my friends. I was pouring shots for myself while we stood mesmerized by Chris Brown’s dancing in the “Loyal” music video. I was laughing as we walk-danced to the party, knowing that it would be a great night.
I had gotten out of control to the point where people, my people, had given up on me. Outsiders, people that weren’t there, are quick to judge my friends for their absence on the night of my accident. But I had done that. Months of destroying their faith in me put them in a scenario where they were done making me their problem. I know that part of them saw this coming.
I was swept up in a dangerous cycle of getting too messed up, relaxing for a couple of weeks, then falling prey to the same pattern of groggy wake-ups in places I didn’t want to be next to people I didn’t want to be with. When I was in it, I thought it was part of the college experience. So much of the culture is based on making memories that you don’t remember, doing things that are out of character “for the story.” I felt invincible.
After my fall, I spent 54 days in the hospital, moving from acute services where I would do physical, occupational, and speech therapy every day for 6 hours to a sub-acute facility with less intensity. For seven weeks, I sported the neon-yellow of a hospital bracelet with FALL RISK stamped across it in bold lettering.
For awhile, I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere alone while there were inconsistencies in my balance and my walking was still so shaky. When I was in sub-acute, my room was directly next to the nurses’ station. I would sneakily go to the bathroom without calling for assistance, which was strictly against the rules. I know that they could see me, though. They would look at me as I sat down, out of breath, waving nonchalantly as if I had done nothing wrong. These little actions of defiance helped me feel in control of my own recovery; the nurses never told me to stop.
The world I had left behind hadn't stopped to wait for me. Every day, I would say I was going back to school in a week. I threw angry fits or talked about escaping. I needed to get out of there, out of the nightmare that dragged me into a rehab hospital where I couldn't even watch TV in my spare time because it was too much effort for my eyes.
I had developed a habit of turning my face upward and asking God, if He was really up there, if it was over yet. But I would wake up, and there I would be, still.
Now I see that I actually didn’t lose time, I fast-forwarded to a place where many people my age won’t reach for a few years. I want to take long walks in the sun and relish in my ability to take steps without holding onto anything or anyone. It’s only been eight months since my partying lifestyle ended, and I’ve already forgotten the appeal of that world.
One of the best things about falling out of a third-story window and surviving is getting to watch the shock on people’s faces when I tell them what happened. I smirk a little bit when I pull up my shirt to reveal the long scar that runs 4 inches down the middle of my stomach. It’s jagged and gross; there was no plastic surgeon around to stitch it up, making it looks like Dr. Frankenstein got scalpel-happy with the skin of my belly. I think it’s cool.
At the same time, a lot of people don’t believe me because my face is unmarred by the tree that caught me and mulch that cushioned my fall. I get to brag about the beauty of life, and when people somberly say, “Life’s too short,” I almost laugh because no one knows that better than I do.
Sometimes I trace my finger over the laceration in my head as a reminder of what could have been. My hair wasn’t shaved, my hip doesn’t hurt, I look pretty much exactly the same as I used to. But it’s me, and then some.
I am burdened and blessed with the gift of a do-over. I can’t afford recklessness now that I know what death tastes like. My recovery is not over yet. I may be physically healed, but I am now moving forward to uncovering who I am going to be, with a truer sense of the world than the Summer before the fall.
I get to use the life I’ve been granted to help others who may feel like they have lost themselves, too. I want to be a pillar of how bad it can be, and how beautiful it can get.