The air was hot, and dry, with a burning white sky ablaze from the sun. There was no wind. It was so utterly unmoving that the scene was completely silent, like being in the movie theater when the sound suddenly snaps off and the picture continues in the dark, silent cave. “Have I suddenly gone deaf?” I thought, and I looked around to see if anything was moving – a branch, a lizard, a bird – something I might be able to hear.
The young woman wore full native dress. A skirt that went all the way to the ground, a long sleeve shirt with the sleeve bottoms rolled to reveal inches and inches of bracelets. Her waist-length braid had been bound with a thin leather strap. She turned to glance at me when I approached the edge, briefly, then looked back down. She did not say a word. She did not say hello, which I thought was odd, because almost everyone says hello to a four-year-old child, especially one who is approaching the edge of the Grand Canyon.
She sat very near the edge. But she wasn’t sitting, actually, she crouched, as if it wer the most relaxed position in the world, and she wove her basket. I watched the quickness of her hands, young hands, and I thought she might be very young despite the baby beside her. A papoose. I was proud of myself for knowing the word for an Indian* baby who was bound up in a beautifully adorned little cocoon. The baby was wide awake, but utterly silent, his calm black eyes focused far away.
I thought they must be miserably hot. In my 1960 shorts and sleeveless blouse, I couldn’t imagine how they seemed so——————
My foot slipped. At first there was just the scrape of my saddle shoe’s heel against the dry dirt. Then the grate of my calf. I felt the skin rub away and felt the first tiny droplets of blood rise to the surface. But after that I was in free fall. My feet flew out from under me and I was face to face with the hot white sky, falling, and falling.
My back hit first. I felt the sensation, the pain I suppose I would call it, for less than a second. It was like the wind being knocked out of you, except I knew that it was not the wind. I was instantly surrounded by the blackest darkest night, but within the black, an ocean of spark-like bursts flew from my body in all directions at once. I died.
I lay in bed for a long time before I believed that I could breathe.
I have died many times in my dreams. This was the first.
*The term “Native American” was not in widespread use at this time.
Graphic by Scott Snibbe
3 Replies to “The First Time I Died”
The Himalayan sages would find this to be a significant story!
Is this an actual dream you had or are you telling the story about a dream as if you had had it?
Someone once said that every dream comes in 3 successive forms.
First, there is the dream itself which is only known within the moment of dreaming, when the dreamer is asleep.
Then there is the dream recollected for the first time. That invasion of fractured mages and feelings in scattered like blossoming flowers throughout your conscious mind. This is when the dreamer first awakes and realises that their senses were dreaming.
Thirdly, lastly is the account of the dream. The version you write down or tell to another.
In the recounting of the dream, language structures the experience of the dream so that it can be easily relayed and comprehended.
I think it’s useful to know which stage of the dream that you’re in.
Thank you for your very thoughtful response. This was an actual dream I had — at the age of 4 or 5!