Jennifer took the second-to-last Dum Dum lollipop in the bag, root beer, leaving me the lime green one. Lime was my least favorite but I didn’t say anything. I pretended to flick open a lighter and held that invisible flame to the end of my lollipop. Jennifer did the same, exhaling around the side just like teenagers did with real cigarettes. We wanted to be older that badly.
Like all the other fourth grade girls we knew, she and I exaggerated. When we walked we went on for miles. When we were thirsty we drank gallons. So of course she said that her older sister Mary Beth would die if she found out that we were not only listening to her records but had also finished the candy. Happy to be playing in Jennifer’s basement, dying was the last thing on my mind.
Jennifer and I danced, whirling around as we sang, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine.” Suddenly the round green lollipop I was sucking on separated from its cardboard stick. It hurtled to the back of my throat and lodged in my windpipe.
I couldn’t breathe.
My arms flailed as I tried to inhale, make a sound, get Jennifer’s attention. Still, no breath.
Quickly my body slid into a state I’d never experienced. The music played on and Jennifer danced on, completely oblivious. That abstract concept, time, lost meaning as I looked around me. Everywhere there were details I’d never noticed. The texture of the cement block walls, the colors in a blanket tossed over a worn couch, the beauty of my friend. It was all tender perfection.
A kind of knowing completely filled me. Even as my awareness expanded my vision dimmed. The room began to darken. Without making any choice at all I loosened my hold on living. It felt easy, right, and wonderfully peaceful. Just past letting go, I knew a sort of bliss. The body slackening toward the floor no longer seemed like my own.
The last image flickering in my consciousness was my mother’s face. That glimpse activated something I couldn’t explain. Although my mind no longer seemed connected to my limbs, a sensation of strength came into my legs. Instead of dropping to the floor, those legs churned up the stairs as if powered by an engine I didn’t drive. I was outside myself, watching as I wavered at the top step, nearly falling backwards.
Jennifer’s mother appeared just past the door. She took a look at my blue face and bulging eyes. In one swoop she turned me upside down, smacking my upper back hard and repeatedly.
The lime green Dum Dum rolled across the floor.
There were no words for that moment, although I was bursting with emotion. So, like any other fourth grade girl, I said dramatically, “Wait till Mary Beth finds out.”
Jennifer’s mother told me to be more careful about dancing with candy in my mouth. Jennifer put another record on. What had been an ordinary day continued, though I’d seen the veil between worlds.
I never told anyone the last thing I glimpsed back in that basement. Unable to breathe, I saw my mother already grieving my death. No exaggeration, that moment woke me to the rest of my life.