The day the Angel of Death passed me over

19 August 2003 began like any other day. I woke up at the cruel and unusual hour of 6:30, which ought to be illegal, to catch the bus on time for my awesome temp job at a bank. There was a permanent position coming up, which I planned to apply for and probably could’ve gotten.

Though I could’ve taken two buses to work, I liked the 15-minute walk. Part of it went through a kind of sketchy area, but I never had any run-ins with the wrong kind of people.

At about 8:00, while I was crossing the street after getting off my bus, the light changed and a black 2004 Chrysler immediately began driving. My elderly assailant didn’t brake after I was bumped up onto the hood of her car. She didn’t brake when I tumbled into the road. She continued driving as though I weren’t underneath her car.

I truly believed I was about to die at the age of 23, and all these thoughts began rattling around in my brain like crazed pinballs. It was terrifying.

And then the Angel of Death passed me over.

My right leg’s final act as my dominant leg was stopping that vehicle of doom from going any farther. Had my legs not become pinned underneath the back driver’s side wheel, Mrs. V. would’ve kept on driving. It’s a miracle only my right leg broke. The right rolled on top of the left and protected it.

As soon as I realised I wasn’t dead, the most intense physical pain of my life hit me, and I began screaming over and over again, at the top of my lungs, “Help me, God!” I couldn’t feel my legs, and was terrified I’d been paralysed. My shoes had flown off, and my stomach and abdomen were being burnt.

A group of people ran across the street to help me. Some of them, including a fireman, tried to lift the car off me, but didn’t succeed. A bespectacled African-American woman in green scrubs, whose name I never got, held my hand, prayed with me, and kept talking to me to try to calm me down. I wish I could find her and thank her.

I was pinned underneath that Chrysler for 15-20 minutes, fully conscious. When the ambulance finally arrived, I remembered a story my summer school chemistry teacher told about a guy who was stuck between a subway and a wall. Her colleagues got into a big debate over whether he’d explode or implode when he was freed. In terror, I asked, “I’m not gonna explode or implode, am I?” before the car was lifted off.

It was such a relief to wiggle my toes. That meant I wasn’t paralysed. Then I began to sit up to check if my back were broken, only to be pushed down. As I was loaded onto the stretcher, I said, “I have to be at work by 8:30.”

I couldn’t walk for eleven months, and had seven surgeries between August 2003–September 2009, four leg and three plastic (to remove the burn scars). I also needed two root canals. Some of the chickenpox scars on my lower left arm were torn clear off.

I believe down to the very core of my soul my uncle was watching over me. There’s no rational explanation for why I wasn’t killed and got off with “only” a shattered tibia and fibula, second- and first-degree burns, and a bunch of gashes, scrapes, and bruises.

Had this happened 50-60 years ago, I would’ve been an amputee.

Had I died on 19 August, I would’ve shared my Jahrzeit (death anniversary) with Groucho Marx and Blaise Pascal.

A taller, thinner person might’ve been crushed or thrown. My (mostly) Southern Italian body type saved my life. I had less distance to fall (at slightly over 5’1.5″ in bare feet), and more flesh to cushion the impact.

My mission in this incarnation wasn’t over yet. It wasn’t time for Archangel Michael to carry me off to the other world. To quote the famous prayer in The Phantom Carriage:

“Gud, låt min själ få komma till mognad innan den skall skördas!”
(“God, let my soul come to maturity before being harvested!”)

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave songs

To mark DDAD 2019, I decided to showcase ten of my favourite songs. One of the many reasons I’ve been a Duranie for almost eight and a half years is because of the wonderful lyrics. So many of their songs are like poetry.

1: “The Seventh Stranger,” last track on Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983). Where to start! Every line is like pure poetry. I’ve used the line “like splinters of ice” in my own writing, and titled a chapter “Trading in His Shelter for Danger.”

2: “Secret Oktober,” B-side of “Union of the Snake” (1983). It’s like an avant-garde, surrealistic poem. I really want to use some of the lines as part of chapter titles.

3: “My Antarctica,” sixth track on Liberty (1991). While Liberty is one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard (even worse than Extra Texture), this is one of two standout gems. So romantic! I titled one chapter “Heat Beneath His Winter.”

4: “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” third track on Rio (1982). It’s so beautiful and romantic. I have a chapter entitled “Lonely in Their Nightmares,” and called the first part of a book “Angry in His Nightmare.”

5: “Perfect Day,” third track on Thank You (1995), an album of covers. This was originally a Lou Reed song, and one of the album’s standouts. It reached #28 in the U.K. Lou said, “I think Duran Duran’s version of ‘Perfect Day’ is possibly the best rerecording of a song of mine. I’m not sure that I sang it as well as Simon sang it. I think he sings it better than I. If I could’ve sung it the way he did, I would’ve. It wasn’t from lack of trying.”

6: “To the Shore,” fourth track on their eponymous début (1981). More beautiful surrealistic poetry! It’s a shame this lovely song was left off the U.S. repackaging of their first album, replaced with the single “Is There Something I Should Know?”

7: “Out of My Mind,” fourth track on Medazzaland (1997). The video is so deliciously macabre, making the lyrics even better and taking them in such a wonderfully dark direction. It reached #21 in the U.K. and #14 in Italy.

8: “Beautiful Colours,” recorded 2005 but not officially released on an album or as a single. I love the line “Life isn’t standard-issue, it’s customised.” I’ve used riffs on that line a number of times in my writing.

9: “Palomino,” seventh track on Big Thing (1988). Absolutely gorgeous, lush poetry!

10: “Come Undone,” sixth track on The Wedding Album (1993). Officially, it’s their second eponymous album, but just about everyone calls it The Wedding Album because of the cover art with photos of the bandmembers’ parents’ weddings. The song reached #2 in Canada, #6 in Italy, #7 in the U.S., #9 in Ireland, #13 in the U.K., #16 in New Zealand, #19 in Finland and Australia, and #42 in Belgium and Germany.

This was the song that flipped the switch and made me a Duranie on Valentine’s Day 2011. Someone named it as one of their most romantic songs, and I looked up the video and ended up watching it over and over. This song made me come undone!

WeWriWa—How it should’ve ended

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, which released 17 July, on my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary. Once I’ve earned enough money from sales, I’ll use some of it to make donations to the National Hemophilia Foundation and the National Hemophilia Federation, in memory of Aleksey.

This will be the last sample I’ll share from this book for awhile. These are the final lines, from the second section of the short Epilogue. Like the end of the main text of my magnum opus Cinnimin, it’s also based on the wording of Deuteronomy 34, the final chapter of the Torah. Those final paragraphs always give me goosebumps.

The time had come for Aleksey to die.  He was one hundred years old at the time of his death, his eyesight undimmed, his mind as sharp as ever, his intellect unabated, his overwhelming sense of compassion as strong as it’d been throughout his whole life.  He and his belovèd Arkadiya breathed their last breaths together, holding hands.  Just as Arkadiya had always promised, she’d made it to one hundred seven to ensure Aleksey survived a full century.

The Imperial Family bewailed their passing for forty days and forty nights, in keeping with Russian Orthodox tradition, unable to believe the couple who’d led their empire for so many decades was suddenly no more.

The period of mourning for Aleksey and Arkadiya came to an end.  Following the period of mourning, Yarik was coronated.  Now Yarik was filled with the spirit of wisdom and compassion, because of the lifelong example he’d gotten from his parents; and since he was cut from the same cloth as his father, the people of Russia heeded him and did as he said.

Never again did there arise a leader like Tsar Aleksey II, called Tsar Aleksey the Savior, who was the most compassionate, intelligent, humane, enlightened Tsar who ever lived; lived through ten decades of history; survived longer than any other hemophiliac; who was snatched from certain Death the month before his fourteenth birthday by a last-minute miracle; and who demonstrated a powerful harnessing of might and compassion before all the peoples of the world.

Beginnings Blogfest

My Horny Hump Day post is here.

Beginnings

Today, 9 January, L.G. Keltner of Writing Off the Edge is holding a blogfest in which participants write about various beginnings—blogging, books, writing, jobs, relationships, life, etc. It’s in honor of her first blogoversary.

I was strongly leaning towards writing one of the stories of how I got into any one of my favorite bands, but decided against it. (If you don’t like those bands, you might not like my stories!) I also considered the story of how I was inspired to write my first Russian novel, since my 20th anniversary of that beginning is coming up at the end of this month. (Where did all that time go? Was 1993 really twenty years ago?!)

I decided to go with my story of how I began moving towards greater religious observance, excerpted in part from a blog entry I wrote in October. Until I was 22, I’d believed all the stereotypes about Orthodox Judaism, and didn’t realize what a diverse community Orthodoxy is. At the moment, I’m still not in a position to officially affiliate Orthodox, and I may never be 100% of the way there, but I would love to someday be part of a Liberal Modern Orthodox community. None of the Orthodox people I’ve ever known are the crazy fanatics who get all the bad press, people who throw rocks at women at the Western Wall or making blurry glasses so men can’t see women.

***

In late February 2002, I decided to take an Orthodox friend up on his invitation to go with him and a few other friends to Chabad after the Hillel services and dinner. I believed all these stereotypes about the Orthodox, and hated the idea of sex-segregated services. But he said we were going there for dinner, not more services.

It was such a lovely community. I immediately took to it. It’s easy to dismiss something when you’ve never experienced it, but when the real and the ideal conflict, you often change your perspective. I suddenly wasn’t offended at the fact that I couldn’t shake hands with the rabbis, or that men and women had to dance separately, or that the married women wore wigs.

At the end of March (the day the Queen Mum died), I bit the bullet and went for a Saturday morning service. It was my first time at an Orthodox service, and I ended up really enjoying it and feeling at home. I really liked the separate davening (praying), and how we have our own secret little world the men don’t know about. It’s easier for me to concentrate behind the mechitza, and I like the old-world feel to it. There tends to be a smaller crowd in the women’s section, and I’m usually one of only a few women who’s there for the entire service instead of popping in and out, but that just makes it feel more special, gives me even more private space to talk to Hashem.

For the first time, I was called by my Hebrew name, Chana. My full name is Chana Esther Dafna, but it’s not always easy for people to remember a triple name. I became Shomeret Shabbat (guardian of the Sabbath, or observing all the Sabbath prohibitions against things like using electricity). I added long skirts to my wardrobe and stopped wearing pants. I was Orthodox in all but name.

Sadly, I had to go back to the Berkshires after graduation, and all that beautiful forward momentum was lost for many years. I’ve been unmarried and childfree way longer than I ever dreamt I’d be. But at least I’m finally back on track with my spiritual identity.

Wildest Moments Blogfest

My Autumn’s Harvest post is here.

As part of the festivities to celebrate the release of her book Wilde’s Meadow, Krystal Wade is hosting a Wildest Moments blogfest. Participants will post about wild, life-changing, inspirational, heart-pounding moments they experienced. Anyone who posts between now and the 23rd can win a Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire Skins, or a $15 Amazon gift card.

In July of 2001, I was in Colorado for my maternal grandparents’ 50th anniversary party. (Their real anniversary is in September, but the family reunion was scheduled for a time it was more convenient for everyone to come out there.) That place was chosen because it’s where my surviving uncle and his family live. I must say, he picked a beautiful state to make his adopted home.

We were staying at the famous Bald Pate Inn in Estes Park, and one of our hikes was going to be up the nearby Twin Sisters Peaks. But on our way towards the climb, I had to go back to the inn because my shorts were too tight. I had to change into a new size 14 pair my mother had bought me in the aftermath of my college weight gain. At the time (I was 21), this was humiliating, but now I don’t care if I wear something that’s a size 14 on the high end or a size 8 on my lowest end. It’s not the size, it’s how healthy and active you are.

By the time I got back to the trail, the others had already started climbing. There was a fork in the road, and I picked the road I thought they’d gone on. The East Twin Sisters Peak is 11,428 feet high, and the West Twin Sisters Peak is 11,413 feet. All the way up the peak, I never ran into any of my relatives, and when I reached the summit, they weren’t there.

I began thinking they might be on the other peak and that I’d taken the wrong turn, but I couldn’t see anyone across the way. Then when I was standing on top of a hill on the mountain, I tripped and fell down, cutting my knee open somewhat badly. I think it was my left knee.

I had no other choice but to get off that mountain the exact way I’d come up. And keep in mind the sun is beating down very strongly. I had to walk all 11,400+ feet down with blood coming out of my knee and my leg feeling stiff and hurting. At least this was when I still had two fully-functioning legs, before my accident and the resulting 4 leg surgeries and metal hardware in my right leg. When I finally found some relatives again on a veranda at the inn, they thought I’d skipped the hike, but I told them, no, I climbed the wrong Sister and cut my knee open.

A few days later, we were on another hike/climb, and my uncle was very impressed with me for fully participating. He couldn’t believe I’d be up to more climbing and hiking after I’d just gotten injured. I love hiking and climbing, and wouldn’t dream of sitting out this uncommon chance to take on some real mountains in Colorado. We don’t go out there to visit him very often, and I wanted to take full advantage of the outdoors activities.

Somewhat off-topic but related to the story: On our way home to Massachusetts, our connecting flight was a small aircraft that flew low over NYC so we could have a good look at the Manhattan skyline, including the World Trade Center. Two months later, that skyline was gone.