This story has been playing out in my head the past few weeks. I’d hoped to sit down and write a short story about it, but I can barely finish my basic responsibilities these days, rather than embarking on a new kind of writing. But still, I want to get it down before the thought has moved on forever (a vocational hazard, it seems) so here I am offering up something in its least evolved form…again.
What happened the night of May 23, 2014? Vernon was involved in a terrible accident, but he survived for a couple of years: yes, we know this. When Maki first wrote a letter to the other driver, he wrote: “The dad I knew died that night.” Ever since I read that, the concept has rattled around in my head as a possibility. What if he did die that night? Or next-best, what if it was a soul-changing, near-death experience that he was never able to communicate to us. I remember reading books, while Vernon was in his coma months, written by people who had died and come back, who had reached Heaven and returned to tell us how loving and beautiful it all was… written with the urgency of letting the rest of us in on the secret of the Whole Thing: life/death/earth/heaven/humans/consciousness/God/eternity/all-of-it. On Vernon’s awakening, I’d ask him really weird questions like: “Ok, did you talk to God? What did you see? What’s it like in Heaven? Is there a Heaven? What have we got wrong? What have we got right? Come on: give us a crumb…we’ve been waiting here!” And there was nothing but a crooked-eyed stare of pure bewilderment. Obviously, I was the crazy one.
But what if he DID die that night? That’s the story I want to try to tell. Here it goes:
God: Hello. You hit your head pretty hard there. Can you still feel it?
Vernon: Yes…I’m so embarrassed. Is it as bad as it looks from up here?
God: It’s bad…well, on earthly terms, it’s bad. But if you come with me, you’ll see its not so bad. The fact that you are still feeling it though…well, you are one of the rare ones.
Vernon: One of the rare ones? What do you mean?
God: Well, most people when they get this far…they don’t feel any pain. Are you sure you still feel it?
Vernon: Well, it doesn’t hurt that much, really. There just seems to be a lot of blood. But what hurts…you’ll think it is stupid, probably.
God: Would you be surprised to learn I don’t think anything is stupid?
Vernon: I just am so embarrassed. This isn’t how I meant to die. I mean…Alli hated the Vespa. She didn’t get on my case about it, but I could tell she was annoyed. And I loved it anyway. I couldn’t help it…it just was this dream machine for me. Something I always wanted to have. This symbol for my life. You wouldn’t understand…or well, actually now that I see you, I bet you would. But to die on it? To even get HURT on the thing is bad enough. I wish there was a way for her not to know. Ugh, and the kids.
God: It’s a little late for that, but we do have a few minutes. She doesn’t know yet, but will soon.
Vernon: A few minutes? Great…what can we do?
God: How’s that headache?
Vernon: What headache. I feel great. Wait! Does that mean I’m dead?
God: Well sort of, but not really. You are definitely dying. Here’s the thing: when most people get to this place, they feel ready. There is a reason it’s “YOUR time,” but sometimes people don’t want to. Take a look, do you want to enter into this place? The choice is yours.
Vernon: Wow! That is incredible. So. Much. Muchness…I don’t have words.
God: You don’t need them.
Vernon: But my family…I just hate to leave them like this.
God: Are you sure? You want to go back to them instead?
Vernon: I don’t even want to look at the goodness you have to offer because I am afraid I’ll forget my family.
God: You will never forget your family or your life.
Vernon: No offense, all I can think about is my family.
God: You can go back to them. You do have this choice. But you need to know that it won’t be like before. You are changed. They will be changed. You can return to them for a short while, but you will be in another form. This is part of the universal chemistry of things that I don’t think you want me to explain now. Are you sure that’s what you want? You may never hug your children again. You may never ever live in the same space as them. You’ll never make love to your wife or kiss her the way you used to. It will be very hard on your family, but it will strengthen them too. Are you sure this is what you want?
Vernon: But if I die now, what happens to them?
God: The family will have some time of shock and betrayal, but they will spring back. People have been leaving their families in death since the beginning of death. They will be hurt, and they will miss you, but they will spring back in ways that surprise them. Humans are great like that.
Vernon: Then…is it selfish to want to go back to them…even if things are different and hard?
God: Just by asking that, I think you know your answer. Do you have unfinished business?
Vernon: I don’t know. Maybe I do. I’m just not ready to leave them. Can I have another chance?
Ambulance sirens sound as the lights fade out. End of scene.
(I found this today as a saved image on Vernon’s computer.)