“I’m going to get some beer,” I said as I crushed my can and tossed it in the grass. My old “friends” barely noticed.
I intended to get beer and return to the party, but it did cross my mind to just continue down the highway, past the liquor store near the county line, and head to the bar in Mandan. There were four or five cigarettes left in the pack in my breast pocket, and I reached for them.
It was a momentary lapse of attention for sure, the kind of thing that can happen to any one of us, any day. I missed a stop sign while my attention was on the smokes in my pocket. My truck sailed into the intersection at sixty miles per hour and I had just enough time to turn my head and face the glare of lights from an oncoming truck, a double brilliant blast from four headlights, shining right in the window of my pickup.
The collision was an explosion of blinding silence, so deafening that nothing more would register on the auditory scale. My truck collapsed-in on itself as it lifted up in the air and began to roll to the right. Without a seatbelt, I was weightless in the cab until the truck contacted the ground, at which point it began to roll violently back the other way. I was thrown back as the roll reversed, just in time as it turns out, because the roof collapsed right after, splashing a flood of safety glass all over the inside of the cab.
The truck rolled back one full revolution and I was thrown out just past the top of the arc, flung forward like a line-drive from a trebuchet. My body collided with the window frame as I exited the truck and there was a searing explosion of pain.
Then, for just one moment, there was something. I can’t really explain it. It was one of those things where a smell triggers a memory to a time and a place in your life… a feeling of happiness and nostalgia. I had that for just a moment… I smelled a laundromat. Or laundry or something, but to me, it was distinctly a laundromat, like the one my mother and I used to frequent when I was five. Overrun with working-class families with kids as wild as I was, the King-Koin Laundrette smelled like hot lint and spray starch. I always got a pop and some Boston Baked Beans for a treat when we were at the laundromat.
I smelled it right before I died.
Everything went white and blinding as I was thrown into the air, spread-eagle and traveling forward, just ten feet off the pavement. My body came down from that shallow ballistic arc in the standing position and just as my feet touched the ground, my body collided with a derelict metal fence or sign post of some type, embedding the post lengthwise into my body, entering in my groin and creating a crushing ribcage injury as it exited through my left shoulder. The sign post arrested my forward momentum and I spun in a pirouette around the post, leaving my body hanging there, facing the wreck. That’s exactly how it looked when you watched it from a distance.
When you watched it from a distance. Like I just had.
My body was broken and hanging, impaled on a signpost on the side of the highway, but I was standing there, looking at it. I had just been in a kinetically devastating truck accident and my body was on the side of the road in a configuration that no human body could ever survive. And yet, I was still standing here, looking at myself.
After the cacophony of the collision, it was distinctly quiet — both truck engines had been rendered non-functional. The dust from the collision settled in the beam from my truck’s remaining unbroken headlight. The only noise was the sound of KFYR, still playing from the radio in the dash. The truck driver who hit me looked like he was a little dazed and had yet to come around.
I walked closer for a better look and leaned over my body, looked into my face. It was my face. It was me. My mouth was opening and closing, like I was trying to say something, but nothing seemed to be coming out. I leaned closer, straining to listen, to hear what my other self was saying.
“I can’t breathe,” I said.
And right after that, the light went out of my eyes. It’s a moment that hunters witness in wildlife, but that very few have witnessed in humans — the moment of death. Soldiers have seen it, murderers have seen it, but this time, I saw it, and it was me.
“I must be dead,” I thought. This was one of those moments that happen in the movies or in your favorite novel, where the person who just died doesn’t understand it yet. I’ve just started to travel outside my body, and any moment, Burgess Meredith is gonna show up with directions to follow him to my own personal hell.
I turned and began to walk up the highway in the direction of the other truck just as the other driver began to wake up. He climbed out of his truck as I walked by, looked at me for one long moment, and then looked over at the other me, impaled on the sign post.
“Did he see me?” I wondered. He had looked right at me, like he could see me. Was I dead?
I continued walking up the highway. Other vehicles were pulling over by this time, some to gawk, some to render aid. I walked past a man in a baseball cap who was just getting out of his truck with a first aid kit.
“Hey, what happened up there?” he asked.
I looked at him. He was looking right at me.
“I think somebody died,” I said, and walked into the night.