I woke up in the intensive care unit as a nurse inserted a sponge filled with water into my mouth. She needed to keep me hydrated, which was especially hard since my fever kept spiking and dehydrating me.
It was March 1999 and paramedics had pulled me from of a car one week earlier. They ripped me open and filled my stomach with rags in order to stop the bleeding. Later that night a doctor warned my parents I might not make it through the night. They pumped me with 40 pints of blood, which kept me alive. Ater I sucked the water from the sponge the sedatives knocked me back out. Family and friends were in and out of my room, and sometimes I was conscious enough to recognize them. I was 19 and healthy a week earlier but the impact of the wreck left me unable to walk since it crushed my pelvis. During my first day in physical therapy I first tried to put weight on my leg and felt the sharpest pins and needles I had ever felt. The whole left side of my body was still numb from lying in a hospital bed for a month.
After my first session the nurse pushed me in a wheelchair back to my hospital bed. Tears covered my face as I cried to my comforting mother. “I want to run again one day. I want to jump.” I dried my eyes. “I want to be able to dance again.”
Little by little, from wheelchair to walker to cane, I got back on my feet. I got out of the hospital on Friday, May 7, the final day of the Spring semester, and went straight to the campus of Eastern Illinois University to find all the friends I made during freshman year had packed their things and left.
“All I know is God was watching out for you,” my neighbor said to me when she ran into me at the bank. That’s what everyone said. All I could think was, “If God was watching out for me, then why did this happen at all?” The entire experience made me begin to question how God could allow such agony? If God is “all-powerful,” why didn’t he dip into that sack of strength and stop my car wreck from happening? Made me wonder. Made me wander. I lost my faith in God within only two years of the wreck.
And if the pain and agony of the wreck didn’t already shake my faith, I hadn’t seen anything yet. I was about to become entangled in a web of mental illness; I would have stepped into that car wreck and lit it on fire myself rather than experience what came next.
Here’s part one of my story.
I had always been upbeat and peppy, to the point of annoying people. “Haven’t you heard of the expression ‘misery loves company’?” one of my mopey friends asked me as I skipped behind him, bouncing off the dorm room walls. It was a telling question.
“You defend everyone. You’d even like Hitler,” another friend said with a furled brow. I had just deflected his negative rant about a guy at the bar who had frosted tips and wore a backwards visor. “But he’s an all right guy, he’s always been nice to me,” I said.
However, soon I became the miserable one tearing apart guys with frosted tips. It was Spring Semester of Junior year, February 2002, and I had misplaced my laugh. It was choked out by worries and fears. The lightning bugs had left my eyes and the same friend who was convinced I’d like Hitler had the courage to address my downward change. You just aren’t the same, he told me from across the pub table. You ain’t happy, Matt. What’s the matter?
That stayed with me. I knew he was right. I hoped it was just a phase, a passing mood; it wasn’t like me to turn down invites; the solace of my room was so comfortable and every time I woke I questioned whether to pull the sheets off or stay. To stay meant not having to see any people, which was so appealing since people had been freaking me out. No more bouncing off the dorm room walls like a few years earlier, and I couldn’t control my anxieties, which made college tough. Professors became more surprised by my presence in class than my absence.
Just as I started to mourn that it wasn’t a passing mood, a chilly spring breeze touched the air. The calendar turned to March and everything inside me felt different. The breeze must have been whispering, because sweet nothings reached my ear, a real assurance – things will get better. The breeze’s hand rested on my shoulder, just trust me, I heard.
I did. Confidence entered me as though I had strapped on a super hero mask. Life went from limp on the floor to bouncing on a trampoline while eating ice cream.
The fears that confined me to my room a week before had completely vanished. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends I would be back to normal, and about the theories I had curated about fears.
“They are just a tool society uses to keep everyone down, a big hoax to make the strong seem stronger and the weak seem weaker,” I said as I passed a joint down to them. We all inhaled.
I turned on my jetpack and floated to the next person to explain my theory, and then the next person. All of a sudden, I could talk to anyone about anything, while barely taking breaths between words. This rocket ship to euphoria came in a matter of only a few days. My writing and my position as editor of the student newspaper entertainment section would come in handy – I’d take my pen and change the face of rock and roll with it, like how Nirvana turned Seattle into the face of grunge and alternative music, my college paper’s entertainment section would do the same to this cozy little college town in Middleofnowhere, Illinois. I also had plans for starting record labels, rubbing shoulders with Weezer, traveling to San Francisco to visit a friend from high school, buy a Jeep and have him fix it. You name it.
I was thrilled about my ideas. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, people say. Well, I had a couple dozen of them, all world-changing.
Each of my ideas was more fantastic than the last, I told myself in the mirror. But somehow no one was buying. It was because they were jealous, I said to my reflection, they just desired their own genius ideas or fearless swagger. The birds chirped. It was 4 in the morning, and I had an 8 am class.
“Maybe Matt’s got bipolar disorder,” friends started saying to each other.
Couldn’t be, couldn’t be, I control everything, I whispered into the mirror.
And I meant everything. I heard people’s thoughts, moved piles of leaves using only my mind, and delivered pizzas with my deceased grandpa sitting shotgun. Meanwhile I tore apart the reason for fear and determined we don’t need it, it was rubbish, propaganda infiltrating to the core of our society. If we just shielded our eyes from its lurking shadow we could finally find peace here on earth.
No more waiting for the freedom of death, we could truly live. That’s why my deceased grandfather was with me, we were finally tearing down the wall between the treachery of life and the rest of death. I had cracked the code!
I remember passing a joint in my bedroom with another friend and sharing my discovery with her between puffs. I also mentioned that I was a disciple of Jesus Christ. She had to look beyond the fact I hadn’t prayed, attended church or opened my Bible in years, and I was claiming myself an atheist until that day. But, Jesus wanted me to spread the news.
In a few short days I determined I was not the messenger, I was the messiah. I was Jesus Christ. That’s when my story became incredibly familiar to the ones written about in the newspapers. It’s no coincidence that that’s when the oatmeal cookie crumbled.
– Continue reading this story in Section 2.