The first time you die, almost always, you get a feeling in the pit of your stomach, as though someone’s taken the bottom out. It feels like it does when an airplane is landing with you inside, as though all the strings of muscle and tendon holding your insides in place are being strummed by someone’s thumb.
Some people never get the falling feeling; Anderson was one of these.
It was cold, the day he did it. If you asked him what the weather was like, he wouldn’t remember. That’s how it’s designed—you get one thing to remember when you die, and that’s it. You can try for two, but it’d be like looking for the queen in an ant colony—they’ll do all they can to keep her from you. Those are the rules.
Anderson wasn’t very old. Sometimes they aren’t. I guess it depends on your definition of old, which, like so many things, is completely relative. Anderson was twenty five.
He wasn’t distinctive. He brooded. He had a moustache with a soul patch underneath his lip that he thought made him look smarter.
The day he did it, he was wearing a blue button-down shirt with a collar that itched. He was driving his smallish car on the highway; he was going to visit Elisa—he was going to propose.
He’d spent months visiting every jeweler in the city, searching for the right ring, the right diamond, the right cut, so that when he found the right girl, he’d be ready.
When he asked Elisa, the diamond representative on the second floor of Tiffany’s, to model a princess cut for him, he knew. He knew when her eye caught a reflection of the prisms from the stone, when she smiled without showing any of her teeth, when their hands brushed as she handed him the ring for a closer look.
“Aren’t you about to propose?” she whispered to him when he asked her for a date.
“No,” he said.
“Then why are you buying a ring?”
“Just in case.”
“In case what?”
“Just…,” he said, “Please. Please, let me call you.”
She wrote her number on a white card with a raised Tiffany’s stamp, and placed it in a turquoise box.
“Don’t you dare call me if you’re taken,” she said, and left the showroom floor.
He called her the next day and awkwardly, painfully explained himself to her answering machine. A few days later, on a Wednesday, she called him back.
“So, uh, Anderson. Buying engagement rings for no one? Pretty interesting. I guess I’m intrigued. You have my number.”
The day he did it, Anderson was driving across the George Washington Bridge, driving to tell Elisa that she had the power to make him the happiest man alive. The minute it happened, Elisa was having a manicure on West 46th and shuddered so hard she knocked over three little bottles of polish. She said later that it was because she’d known—that she’d felt it happen. The real reason was because the air conditioning unit was blowing cool air right onto the back of her neck.
Anderson didn’t feel much pain.
He saw the lights burst red from the car in front of him, and felt the break against his foot, and heard the tires scream. He saw his hands covered in chips of glass, and he couldn’t lift his left leg. Then he couldn’t move his right leg. Then he couldn’t move at all.
He thought that because he couldn’t move his body, he would probably die or live wishing he were dead. He thought about the ice cream his dad bought him at the county fair, and how it melted all over his sticky hands. He thought about his first kiss, his first fuck, the first time he made love to a girl. Susan. He thought of her name. He thought about the first time he ever failed—on a calculus exam in college—and the times that followed—at work, at paying the rent. He thought about the taste of cherries, the smell of the Pine Solvent his mother cleaned their floors with, how it felt to dive into the ocean. The way his hands sweat in a baseball glove. The smell of Elisa’s perfume. The ring in the glove compartment.
Then, in one brilliant flash, he forgot all of those things.
He doesn’t remember the wreck, or the paramedics, or the way Elisa snuck into the hospital room that was for immediate family only. He remembers only the seat belt, tight around his waist, squeezing, squeezing like a boa constrictor. That was his one thing.