Film: The Bourne Ultimatum
Time of death: 2 hours, 3 minutes and 42 seconds
He didn’t exactly cheat death as a child, but still. The two car accidents happened so early in his life that neither brought forth feelings of mortality at the time. It made sense that he survived them. Why not? Why, so close to the beginning of his life, with all four grandparents still alive, plus both parents, and with an unbroken faith in the world, would he not crawl out of those two cars, each of which had flipped on to their roofs, and each of which were left with a glass-toothed empty space where the back window used to be.
After crawling out of the first wreck, aged eight, he looked down and saw a spattering of blood on the Velcro straps of his shoes. ‘Blood,’ he thought (and he often recounted this story), ‘is dripping from my head.’ But even at that moment his confidence in life was so intact that he could watch the dripping blood staining his shoes as he watched art lessons on public television – the colour spreads, the canvas reacts to the liquid.
The second time, aged twelve, he was in shock. One of the police officers at the scene handed him his copy of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as he was five books into the Narnia series for the second time round. Gravel was dug into the space between the first page and the cover, embedded into the gum of the spine, and he remembered, he said to me, thinking how much that must have hurt the book, even though none of the pages were ripped. They told him he’d need a single stitch on the top of his head, one stitch, while the car was taken for scrap.
Sometimes, at night, never in a car, never while we were driving, but sometimes in bed, he’d describe to me what it was like when the Dodge rolled over, and he always mentioned the inner refusal, the soft no, and the disbelief, the memory, if it could be a memory, of his head as it bounced against the wine- red ceiling. He seemed to rediscover the dimensions of the Dodge (he didn’t remember the first car), and the absence of fear at the time. Why shouldn’t everything be fine? He was twelve. His placidity had been disrupted only when his father showed up at the hospital hours later and raked his fingers across his son’s skin and rubbed his hands up and down his son’s arms as they stood in the hallway. ‘There was very little comfort in my father’s touch,’ he told me one night. ‘He had been testing for solidity.’
It’s only now he’s scared of those two accidents from long ago; or he was scared of them, like a sports fan who can’t believe everything worked out and sits on the bus on the way home from the victory, scarf in hand, asking himself: Maybe we didn’t win? Maybe the outcome was different? What proof do I have now that I’m far from the crowds?
‘Maybe,’ he said next to me in the dark one night, ‘it happened. Maybe I died in one of those accidents and this is my reward.’ (This would be on the nights he wanted sex, so the assumption of death was a compliment: his pleasant afterlife consisted of lying next to me.)
Or else he’d make the same claim during one of the good moments, even ones I classified as inconsequential. The last time was when he bought a Mountain Dew slurpee from a 7-Eleven in upstate New York a few weeks before the third accident; his first slurpee in years, he said. I didn’t believe him. I took a long sip from the straw and held a mouthful of icy grains, sitting with him out on the concrete step next to the store, and I agreed that it was a reward; it was good, though it didn’t necessarily mean he’d died in a car accident as a child to deserve it.
‘You can have it, anyway,’ I said. ‘This doesn’t have to be heaven, or a heaven.’
‘A heaven of sorts,’ he replied.
‘Of sorts,’ I said.
From what I heard, the third accident, aged twenty-nine, happened fast. The car that hit him didn’t stop. The driver reversed immediately, dragging his battered bumper, and drove away again. The NYPD representative told me that the individual driving the car was being pursued, but he couldn’t disclose much more. The individual had not been a police officer, even though he was driving a police car. There were gunshots at the scene, but my husband wasn’t killed by a gunshot, thankfully. In some ways, I’m glad the driver of the car, the man who was being pursued, the man driving the stolen NYPD car, didn’t stay at the scene. I didn’t have to see him when I arrived there amidst the glass and lights. I didn’t have to look at him sitting in the back of the ambulance with a reflective blanket over his shoulders. There was no eye contact. The man kept going. He had momentum. The job – if only the man knew – was finally done.