The first time she died was on the side of the road.
It was utter bullshit, too. Some real fluke of nature, Final Destination type crap that they only pieced together the next day.
It started with this idiot contractor who didn’t secure the ladder correctly to the side of his truck, so that after roughly the fifth time he swerved around someone going even slightly slower than him the ladder fell off and skittered down the middle lane of the northbound side of I-95.
Meanwhile, over on the southbound side, Maya was leaning against the back of her car, waiting for those triple-A fuckheads to finally get there with their tow truck and rip two hundred dollars out of her nose because the engine overheated because of course it did and if Alex would have listened to her instead of telling her she didn’t know shit about cars she would have been home by then.
Anyway, northbound I-95. Ladder. Middle lane. For roughly three minutes, about four dozen cars actually managed to see the ladder and get around it. There was some braking and some honking (which Maya did notice but didn’t bother to look over at because honking on I-95 is as American as apple pie and boob jobs) but for the most part the caging-and-raging masses managed to work together and defeat the errant ladder.
Until a Mr. Jayden Winters, 23, came screaming up the middle lane doing fifteen over in his shitbox Honda that he had put spinners and neons on. Honestly, even if his face hadn’t been in his phone he might not have been able to maneuver that POS out of the way in time. His face was in his phone though, trying to text his girlfriend using the T9 system on his Nokia 6820. Investigators eventually found the phone, sitting directly on top of one of the Jersey barriers, still displaying the last text message he would ever try to send.
So, no head
So Jayden hits the ladder at a blazing eighty miles an hour, and while the wheels might have had spinners five years of hard driving had worn the treads down so they were smooth as a seal’s ass and the next thing you know the shitbox Honda is flying through the air, spinning over the barriers into oncoming traffic like fucking Free Willy and landing directly in front of Mrs. Laverne White whose only crimes were loving Jesus and not paying any taxes in thirty-six years. Maya would sometimes wonder, did Mrs. White get to go directly to Jesus? Or in the world she slid into did the IRS catch up with her first?
The shitbox Honda hit Mrs. Laverne White’s wood paneled PT Cruiser head on. The impact not only killed them both, but broke off the rear passenger tire. Which used all of its remaining momentum to skip merrily southbound down I-95 for fifty yards until it slammed directly into Maya’s face still going forty miles an hour.
At least, that’s what should have happened.
No, no, no. That’s what did happen. That’s what was happening. The ladder fell off the truck and people avoided it until Jayden Winters didn’t and his Honda flung over the Jersey barriers and hit Mrs. White and a tire popped off and Maya was leaning against the back of her car and biting her nails and looking into the woods when she turned back to the highway just in time for the rubber of Mrs. White’s tire to fill every little bit of her vision. She never closed her eyes. Maya was dead.
And then she wasn’t.
Maya peeled herself off the back of her car, careful even through the dump of adrenaline not to back up into traffic, and watched as the tire, which a second ago had been an inch in front of her face, skittered off down the grass into the little gulley. She stood watching the tire for what felt like an eternity, possibly because her heart wasn’t beating. Her heart thought she was dead. So did her brain, kidneys, bladder, and spleen. The tire had been heading for her, not around her, so everything in her body had begun the shutdown process. Maya stood there, not breathing, her organs waiting for the brain to give the all clear, right up until Jayden’s shitbox Honda exploded behind her. Then her body and her brain expressed all of that mortal confusion by screaming for the next six and a half minutes.
The second time Maya died was far simpler. Slipped on a Matchbox car one of the neighbor kids left on the stairs as she carried her delicates down to the communal laundry room in the basement. Landed flat on her back across the stairs. The stairs were wooden and uncared for and older than Larry King and she landed so that her full weight and momentum drove the corner of one of the stairs directly into the back of her skull. There was pain and a warm gush of blood.
And then there was none of that. Maya hadn’t fallen flat on her back. She’d stepped on the car and slipped and fell straight down. Bruised tailbone, yes. Broken skull, no.
At the time, Maya didn’t connect the fall with the car accident. The human brain can be pretty stupid, actually. Easily distracted. Forgetful. So, while it’s apparent to us, staring at these things one after the other, that something fucking bizarre was going on, Maya didn’t put it together. She was just out of college, working two customer service jobs along with the unpaid internship that was supposed to help with the career she actually wanted (spoiler alert: it wouldn’t) and she just didn’t have the headspace to think about the most traumatic thing that had happened to her (spoiler alert: so far).
Without even a ‘that was weird,’ Maya stood up, rubbed her bruised ass, cursed the neighbors and their shitty hellspawn, and started off for the laundry room again.
Maya figured out something was off when she was thirty-two and died three times in the space of three days.
They say giving birth in the United States is one of the most dangerous things you can do, right up there with shark diving and free climbing in the middle of the desert without telling anyone what you’re doing or where you’re going. Well, everyone knew where Maya was and a team of doctors and nurses were all staring at her and she still died. Three times.
The first time, despite all the fucking staring at her and her monitors and the baby’s monitors, they missed when the placenta decided to fuck off early and tore a hole in her and she could feel the blood and the energy pouring out of her and she was trying to get this one nurse’s attention but the nurse was staring at the baby’s monitor trying to figure out if it was reading the heart rate right (it was) and if it was why it was suddenly plummeting (Maya and the baby were dying) and just as she was about to say ‘I think something’s wrong’ she died.
Of course, in the next second she wasn’t dead. In the next second nothing had ruptured and she wasn’t bleeding. Five minutes later she had a screaming bundle of screams in her arms, head full of hair and lungs full of oxygen and the doctors thought something was wrong but it turned out little Lily just liked screaming a lot.
The next morning while she was eating her shitty hospital breakfast with the toast that tasted like cardboard and the eggs that tasted like cheesy turds and her husband rocked a screaming Lily back and forth an embolism released itself from wherever it had been lurking in her bloodstream and shot up into her brain and she stroked out and died before she could even drop the fork.
Then she was forcing another bite of the hateful eggs into her mouth and listening to her own little hellspawn screaming and wondering if it would have been better to be dead after all.
Later that afternoon the infection she had developed giving birth began ramping up its ‘oh shit’ production. Maya went from fine to delirious in less than an hour and all of the IV antibiotics the hospital pumped into her wasn’t enough and at two in the morning she died again.
Another person, waking up the morning after they died, might think the whole thing was a nightmare. In fact, that’s what her husband, Lenny, thought when she told him.
“I had an infection,” she said.
“Oh?” he said, handing her Lily who had finally…finally…I can’t stress this enough…shut the fuck up for the first time in her life. “I didn’t hear that. Did they give you something?”
“Yeah, they gave me all the things. How do you not remember? I had a fever of 105. I was delirious, I think I was screaming about fish sticks. The last thing I remember is you bawling your eyes out and a couple of nurses standing over me giving each other those oh shit eyes.”
Lenny looked baffled. “Nothing like that happened. I brought you dinner from Wendy’s because you said if you had to eat hospital food again you were going to barf out your liver. The doctor came in and said we could leave tomorrow. We watched the Late Show. It must have been a nightmare.”
Maya agreed, but only because she was exhausted from dying the night before and didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t think it was a nightmare. In fact, she fucking knew it wasn’t.
Because now she was remembering.
The stairs in her first shitty apartment.
The placenta, the embolism, and now the infection.
It wasn’t a nightmare. In her life, Maya had died five times. None of them had stuck.