I died on the night of March 6, 2015, shortly after 10 pm. I wasn’t expecting to die that night. I was expecting just more of the same from my life. Dissatisfied in my marriage for so many reasons. Exhausted from running my tech company. Juggling three kids, all of whom had unique needs. Worried, always worried, about cash flow. As the only source of income for the household, the stress of supporting everyone and feeling like it would be on me for the rest of our lives, was astronomical.
But I was also feeling something else, like I had taken the wrong path. You see, I went to school for art, illustration and design. I was always very creative. But after graduating, I went into computer programming and created a lucrative business from there. And for so long, the joy of finding wild solutions to client projects fueled me. I lived on lateral and out-of-the-box thinking.
My art supplies sat unused in the basement. Boxed up. Once in a while I’d touch them but it was half-hearted at best. The few things I did create and share were shot down by careless comments from others. Being in a fragile state with my confidence in my art meant that it didn’t take much to do that.
On the night I died, I was just coming back from a social painting night. Now, if you’re not familiar with those, they’re basically two-hour events where a group of women come together to create paintings following step-by-step instructions from an artist. They use dollar store quality canvas and the shittiest paint around to create terrible art, but it’s a lot of fun. For me, it was a no-pressure chance to reconnect with my art. No expectations. No being fragile about the paintings. Just paint and let go.
I remember watching how full the class was. There had to have been around 15 or twenty women there! And the instructor owned this thriving business she clearly loved. I was instantly jealous but not in the bad way, just in the yearning kind of way. Why couldn’t I do something like that? Guide women into finding their creative sides in a non-threatening way? That seed of an idea, the idea that I could make money in ways other than driving a desk, took hold.
So I should back up and clarify that at that point, I had been working for myself for fifteen years. In isolation in my basement. When I Skyped with a client it was all text. When I communicated with my own team of people, it was by email. I thought I was happy but the energy I got from the social painting event showed me what I was missing. I was lonely. I was dying to work with people, face to face!
Coming home from the class, it was about an hour’s drive on the highway. It was dark. The highway itself was busy because this one really never slows down, it just has more or less vehicles on it. I was enjoying the drive but going home just felt like putting on a coat full of obligations. I wondered what I could do to change things and realized that probably nothing would ever change.
I was in the leftmost lane. Cars or vehicles, I don’t remember details, were beside me in the middle lane. There was little to no shoulder. And there were headlights in my lane coming towards me. Now, this highway is a divided highway. There’s a concrete barrier between the directions, so there’s no way in hell that headlights should be coming toward anyone at all. Not unless someone was driving the wrong way.
I remember being suddenly aware of the lights. Looking around me for a way out and realizing I was going to die. I call this moment my Certain Death Experience. I was 100% certain that I was going to die. Life did not flash before my eyes. I didn’t suddenly remember anyone with fondness. What happened was that I got angry. So angry.
FUCK! FUCK FUCK FUCK! My life was over and I had not lived it at all!
I had dreamed of being a famous artist but had done nothing to make it happen.
I had dreamed of writing books and short stories but had done nothing to make it happen.
I had put my music down, because the noise from the piano bothered my husband, so I hadn’t even honored that gift.
I never traveled, though I’d dreamed of traveling the world. First because we didn’t have enough money. Later because we’d had small kids. Excuse after excuse. So I’d done nothing to make that happen.
And my kids would grow up without their mother. How different would their lives be?
I had a huge rock in my stomach. I knew to my core that my life was completely and utterly wasted and it was over with no warning. No foreboding music. No signs warning me. Just. Done. And I could see so clearly how I should have lived it but it was too fucking late.
Even writing this, I feel that rage from that moment.
I don’t remember what happened next. Did the highway suddenly get a shoulder? Was I able to move over in my lane enough? I don’t know for sure; memory is a slippery beast at the best of times, but definitely, fueled by adrenaline and rage, it is unreliable and full of blanks. I do know that I survived that event. I do remember watching what had to be around eight police cars racing down the other side of the highway in the moments afterwards.
So if I survived that event, why do I say that I died?
I did die. The person I was, resentful and wasteful of this incredible gift of life, ceased to exist in the moment that I raged. The moment I gained perspective. The moment I decided that I would do everything differently if I’d had the chance. The minute that car passed me, I knew that every minute after was a bonus. Time I wasn’t supposed to have and I was damn sure I was going to make it all matter.
That event triggered a series of events that followed. It changed my art from amateurish to professional. It helped me make massive leaps, not only in showing my art but in connecting with other people in person and online via video. I learned to say yes to everything that scared me. I opened (then closed) a commercial studio space. I shut down my tech company. I ended my marriage. I moved to a new city.
Now, I needed that dramatic sign to shift me, but not everyone does. I was so driven by fear, so clinging to the normal, expected path while resenting it, that I missed every other sign around. Nudges. Pokes. None of it worked for me. But that’s okay, because I’m here today with an entirely different future ahead of me, just four years later. Life is awesome.
Well, mostly awesome. But even the worst of this new life, is far far better than the best of my old life.