Dead Woman Walking

Megan J. Miller, columnist and co-editor-in-chief. Film taken by Bailey Seal.

It’s a cold January afternoon. Mist rolls into the space beneath the mesa where I live. Zombie weather, some might say. Fitting considering that I almost died the day before.

I remember everything: the paralyzing dread as I watched the vehicle tire bear down on me, the feeling of my spine folding in two, the absolute belief that in less than five hours I’d be dead by internal bleeding.

But I didn’t die. And by some miraculous twist of fate, I didn’t end up paralyzed.

What I did do, though, is put my mother through hell.

I hope one day she’ll forgive me for that.

It’s the middle of March. I’m watching the sun shipwreck on the horizon. My friend prances along the shore, kicking up sand into the breeze. It’s warm. Radiant. The entire beach is on fire, consumed by hues of orange.

I can’t run yet – doctor’s orders – but I can watch.

My brain likes to overthink the details. What if the tire had chosen to run me over just a few inches to the left, where my ribcage houses my fragile heart? What if I hadn’t made it to the New Year, as I’d convinced myself in the emergency room? What if I’m just a dead woman walking?

What if, what if, what if.

Never a good question for my brain – but it asks anyway.

Post-traumatic stress is funny like that.

It’s a warm August evening. My feet are planted onto the pavement like I can’t bear to be any farther away from the earth than I have to. The amber streetlight above casts long shadows. Condensation glistens on a cracked window, through which a pair of luminous green eyes gleams.

“Say it back.”

It takes me a moment. I choke, I swallow, and then I say: “I love you too.”

Why does the truth feel like a lie?

It’s been eight months and part of me thinks I should have had it all figured out by now. I’ve stared death in the face. I should know more than anyone to tell the ones I love that I love them, and to let go of the things that don’t serve me.

But I’m only 22. I never asked for this.

Part of me is still lying mangled in that desert on New Year’s Eve. Have I truly learned nothing since then?

This is getting old.

It’s a crisp October morning. Birds are harmonizing outside my window, nestled into shades of brown and gold. The height of fall, a time I should feel most alive, and yet I’ve never felt more like a ghost.

It’s now been 10 months.

I should have found a way to not freeze up when someone tells me I’ve lost weight. I should have found a way to not see demon eyes in every set of headlights, or clench my fists every time I have to slide under my car to change the oil.

Posts on Instagram tote how beautiful the healing journey can be. Not for me, though.

It’s ugly and horrendous. I’ve never wanted to throw my fists through a mirror so badly in my life for all the lies it has told me.

There are some things I try to forget, but never can. I thought if I worked myself to the bone, there would be no skin left that remembers the feeling of that coarse desert sand.

But the reflection remembers.

I think I’ve been running against the doctor’s orders.

It’s a frigid December night. For the first time in a long time, the street is quiet. Red and green lights twinkle through the shutters, titillating like stars in the night sky tapestry. I can’t hear the road from here. The silence sounds like peace.

There is a hand on my back, soft fingertips brushing against my raised spine. I imagine it’s like touching a rag doll. Fabric thinned, seams unraveled – you’d best be gentle or mere gravity might pull me apart.

In this newfound stillness, I realize I’ve spent the last year expecting myself to come undone that I’ve been ignoring all the times where my bones remained strong.

I’ve been clinging too tightly to my pride, just like my mother always warned me not to do. These cold fingers can clasp like a vice around a dying ideal better than anything.

Would you believe me if I told you it’s just rigor mortis setting in?

It’s almost been a year. Perhaps, though, there is no grand revelation at the end of this journey. Knocking on death’s door can’t teach me anything that the simple act of living can’t teach anyone else.

Resolve steady and shoulders squared, I face my reflection and I muster the courage to ask: why do we need to have everything figured out?

Isn’t it enough that we survived?

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Megan J. Miller is a senior studying journalism and documentary film. When she isn't writing, you can find her working on her '95 Bronco, exploring new hiking trails, or scouring the thrift stores for the best vintage finds.