Looking Skyward

Creative Nonfiction by Blake Johnson

It was a blameless summer afternoon, and perhaps overhead faint cloud wisps intertwined like phantasmal fingers, drifted like angels at play. This was the day your mother gave you a few dollars to spend at the ice cream truck, to buy whatever you wanted. You sprint up the street as if the vendor might depart at any moment, bills clutched between child’s fingers, grinning mad at your sudden good fortune.

You do not remember the muffled thud of your eight-year-old body colliding with a moving vehicle. You do not remember how your child’s brain bounced around the walls of your skull like an abused pinball or how you were flung against the asphalt, writhing under a sun burning white-hot like the blazing eye of God, the unblinking God, the sentinel God. There were EMTs or paramedics, spilling forth from a blood-red firetruck, but you only know this because later, when your spirit returned to your body, you found a stack of trading cards bearing their likeness. Souvenirs offered to children they managed to save.

According to your father, your short-term memory failed for a time. You spoke like a battery-operated doll programmed to repeat the same phrases, over and over and over. 

Where are we going?

To the emergency room.

What happened?

You hit your head.

Am I gonna die?

No. You’re not going to die.

Though maybe he wasn’t so sure.

Legend has it, your head left a dent in the car which struck you down. You are proud of this, delighted at the small vengeance. A few years later, you will tell your fourth-grade class that the car didn’t hit you. No. You hit the car. You will laugh, then, at this juvenile machismo. You will laugh and feel a weight settle in your puffed out chest. 

Because telling this story feels almost like lying. All those moments blotted out, scrubbed clean, erased on impact. There is the before, there is the after, but no in-between. All you have are secondhand memories, given to you by your parents.

Here is what you do remember: Soul dislodged, seeing yourself run up the street, your body drifting further and further away. How the E.R. bed felt as if it were stuffed with plastic grocery bags. Standing up, sore, ragged, bent-backed, pacing in contemplative circles. Your mother watching through bleary eyes.

You remember recounting the events in interrogative tones, as if seeking some sort of confirmation. Your mother affirms your rambling in soft monosyllables. You will not wonder how many times she had to do this until years later. You will not ask.

Later, when depression and anxiety cling to each of your shoulders like bloated crows, you will learn that head-trauma affects mental health, and you will wonder if that careless moment when you neglected to look both ways before crossing the street is the core of all your distress, if the trajectory of your growth was forever altered by a single misstep.

You will often look to the sky for an answer.

You will tilt your head toward the sun and shut your eyes against the burning light; you will feel the heat spread across your scalp and, like a stunted flower leaning toward heaven, you will reach for a miracle beyond the miracle which kept you alive.

<strong>Blake Johnson</strong>
Blake Johnson

Blake Johnson’s short stories have appeared in various outlets, including Mud Season ReviewBridge Eight, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. His American Gothic Horror novella, PRODIGAL: AN AMERICAN PARABLE, is available now from Trouble Department. You can read more of his work on https://bjohnsonauthor.com/ and can find him hanging out in the Twitterverse under the handle @bjohnsonauthor.

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