(Please note a trigger warning for traumatic car accidents on this post and the poem itself.)
My poem “I Am Alive” about PTSD, alternate universes, and life/death, is out today in Strange Horizons! It will also be part of the November poetry podcast later this month. Special thank you to some of the people who helped me edit it from its earliest incarnation: J L, Toby MacNutt, and India Valentin.
Being published in Strange Horizons is being in a dream venue, for me. I’ve hoped to be published among favorite authors in one of my favorite magazines since I became serious about writing in 2012 — it is an incredible feeling to be here right now. I hope many more poems and pieces of fiction will join this first poem. Their editorial staff did amazing work to bring this poem to you. If you’ve ever wanted to submit and haven’t been sure — don’t self-reject. Go submit right now.
This poem is an interesting one to share because it is based partially on an autobiographical experience. In February of 2014, my wife and I left my in-law’s house to go buy a replacement headlight lightbulb that I needed before I would drive home later that day. It had been snowing a few days before, but the snow had turned into rain, thick, wet rain that coated the back roads into standing puddles. Driving around a sharp curve on the back country roads into town, I hit a puddle. The car fishtailed. Miraculously, instead of slamming into the stone wall a few feet from the driver’s side, we slid off the road, clipping an oak tree and skidding down a steep bank. The car stopped sideways, a few feet away from the frozen creek on the passenger’s side, and a four-foot sapling had stopped the frontward motion of the car. I don’t remember those things, though; I remember the car starting to spin and the world going black for a little while.
There is a story about the kindness of local strangers who stopped their van and helped us out of the snow, directed traffic around us until the police came, about the policewoman who helped us get safely out of the cold, of my in-laws who helped us get home in a rental car, the kindness of my family, who owned the car, in helping us replace the car. That story is not the story of this poem.
When I returned to myself, the car door-deep in the snowbank, my blood roaring in my ears and saw my wife sitting in the seat next to me held up by her seatbelt almost sideways, I knew I was dead. I knew I was dead with such certainty that everything I did in the hazy aftermath was about making sure my wife was not also dead. It took a while, until I was standing in the cold shivering, to realize as we slid through the snow back up to the road, that, no, my body was still moving, and so was I. I was alive.
Like a lot of people who experience these kinds of car accidents (it was not my first traumatic car accident), I ended up experiencing post-traumatic stress in the months following. As I replayed, over and over again, the roaring white deafness of adrenaline and the peculiar suspended feeling of waking up, especially as the accident severely increased my chronic pain, I struggled to understand that initial reaction, the certainty of my own death, and why, despite all odds, since we did walk away, why my mind returned over and over to the possibility I had not actually walked away at all. My flashbacks began to feel like some sort of twisted time travel, in which my mind returned to a place over and over again with no ability to change the outcome.
It’s a very special moment to be here, sharing this poem with you. In a neighboring timeline, I wasn’t here to write it.