Once, when I was little, I was playing on the rope swing at my grandma's house in her back yard. My hands slipped. They'd never done that before. I could always trust my hands and feet. I considered myself to be particularly skilled at tree climbing. I hadn't found a tree yet that was too difficult for me to scale as long as it had a few low, sturdy branches. But that afternoon my hands slipped and I was playing alone. I hit the ground hard and the pecan shells dug into my skin. Flat on my stomach with arms and legs splayed out, I immediately tried to gasp. A simple reflex at my sudden fall. The shock of suddenly being down here when a second before I was up there. But nothing happened. Air refused to enter my lungs. It had all been knocked clean out of me. My grandma's yard had this really good dark green grass that would turn cool in the late afternoons and it was kind to bare feet. I laid there on my belly, all arms and legs and long dark hair tangled in a heap. It was like I could see every individual blade of grass. Each blade was waiting with bated breath to see what would happen next. The air simply refused to enter my body and the grass kept waiting and watching in silence. It was probably just as scared as I was that it would have to hold the story of the wild child who died from falling. That's what I thought was happening after all. As I tried again to draw air into my now screaming lungs, I realized I was about to die. Right there in grandma's yard with the pecans and the rope swing. Terror over came me. "Please god, don't let me go to hell. I'll do anything. Don't let me go to hell." My muscles relaxed enough for me to grab hold of a loose scrap of oxygen and I filled my body to bursting with it. I cried. Alone out there I had been spared. Clearly, god wasn't ready for me to die. I mean, hello, I totally just couldn't breath and now I can. I don't remember what happened after that. I like to think I went on about playing or maybe went inside and got some water. As soon as it happened, it ended. I was spared from going to hell another day. I was allowed to live to see tomorrow. In hindsight, I wonder why I have such a vivid memory of the first time I got the wind knocked out of me. Maybe it was a metaphor for how I learned to console and comfort myself. How I knew how alone I was on earth.
That wasn't the first time I begged god to save my soul from my inevitable damnation I was barely escaping at all times. And it definitely wouldn't be last. I can see my mother's eyes so clearly and I remember sitting on the floor of the living room. The first time she told me god was going to send me to hell.
Cut to a scene of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, but photoshop my face over it and play it on loop for eternity. God was about to press play on that scene.
Again, my breath hinged inside of me. Maybe it was fear or anger or the sheer shock of it. A spiritual punch to the guts. I was always told I'd die young and that my soul was hanging in the balance. But to know god was about to make that final decision was too much to bear. So, I unplugged the tv. I beat the ever living shit out of any idea I ever had or even thought about having about god or heaven or hell. So take that. Catch me if you can.
All this time later, I think I'm beginning to taste that sweet oxygen flood my mouth and lungs. Realizing I'm alive to live another day. Safe and sound under Mississippi skies and pecan trees.