During my first time in an ambulance, I wasn’t sure if my brother was alive, or if he was unconscious, or if he was just being really quiet. Just before the accident, I was reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the front passenger seat. I had come home late the night before from playing in a JV basketball game which was about an hour away from home, and I needed to catch up on some homework. And the last thing I had heard was my brother cursing and then the truck hit us, and there was smoke and glass and blood and burnt rubber. Sunny Day Real Estate was no longer playing.
When I opened my eyes, or rather, when I opened my left eye, I saw a face telling me that everything will be okay and that an ambulance was on its way. I was never able to meet that man or find out his name, but I will always remember his face and soothing voice. I could make out that our friends who were in the car were doing okay, but I kept calling my brother’s name and he never responded. I kept calling his name in the ambulance and still nothing. And for some reason, I started singing Cracker’s “Low” — the part that goes, “I’ll be with you girl, like being low, hey hey hey like being stoned.” I sang that part over and over again, perhaps because I loved that song and the first time I had heard it was in the car with my brother, on the way to school. Much of the music I appreciated back then, and now, had come from listening to my brother’s music collection like Sebadoh, Pavement, Outkast, Sunny Day Real Estate, Wu-Tang Clan, Olivia Tremor Control, 2Pac, Beck, and of course, Cracker. This was during the mid-90s.
I kept singing that one line over and over until I heard my brother’s voice. He said my name. I stopped singing and started crying. I stopped crying and started singing again to keep my brother awake. If anything, surely my horrible, out of pitch voice could keep him up. I still think about that ride in the ambulance, and how, when I thought death was near, I went straight to music for help, for a hand to run through my hair and lips to kiss me on the cheek. It was the first time I reached for music during a time other than when feeling my usual high school angst: I’m depressed, no one understands, she or he won’t love me, I have no friends. This was something different — I didn’t know if my brother was alive.
When we got home, I couldn’t go to school for a few days — my right eye was patched up due to abrasion, and the right side of my face was scraped red and raw. My brother had a wrap around his left leg and his face was full of sorrow — showing a pain that I’m sure hurt more than his physical ailment — from seeing me the way I was, post-accident. I still wonder what he was thinking about when he looked at me that week.
Even then, while in bed, watching TV through my left eye, I only kept the channel on VH1, watching videos, like Joan Osborne’s “What If God Was One Of Us” and Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul,” over and over again. Even today, every now and then, I’ll listen to their CDs while driving, to thank them for keeping me company at a time when I felt vulnerable and out of place.
The second time I was in an ambulance, it was 2003. I had been taken straight from the Lafayette Regional Airport to the hospital — I was just getting back from India, having dysentery, a twisted appendix, and volatile back spasms that made me scream so much on the flight from Houston to Lafayette that the flight attendant called for an ambulance while en route and asked the pilot to speed up to get me safely to a hospital. Again, I didn’t know her name — but I still remember her face and voice, and I’m extremely thankful for her concern. During the remainder of that flight, I even had those cliché flashbacks of my parents and my grandparents smiling at me, and there was one of my brother and me playing in the backyard with Elliot Smith playing in the background. On this ambulance ride, Radiohead’s “Bulletproof” played in my head, and in between my shouting, I would whisper repeatedly, “I could burst a billion bubbles.” While screaming in pain, I remember thinking that line would be a great last lyric to sing before passing on.
I like to write. I like to read and watch movies and plays and pretend to know how to play the guitar, but when I think someone I love is pain or when I’m in pain, I seek music’s hand. It’s something I only realized lately. I can’t play any instruments. I never got past playing the first few seconds of Weezer’s “Undone — The Sweater Song,” and I can’t sing at all. But I love how none of that matters. How in the end, I will most probably be singing some random lyrics while reliving moments of my life and remembering the ones I love.
Shome Dasgupta (www.shomedome.com) is the author of i am here And You Are Gone (Winner Of The 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest), and The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India, 2013). His stories and poems have appeared in Puerto Del Sol, New Orleans Review, NANO Fiction, Everyday Genius, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. His fiction has been selected to appear in The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing (&Now Books, 2013). His work has been featured as a storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story, nominated for The Best Of The Net, and long listed for the Wigleaf Top 50. He lives in Lafayette, LA.