She waited for her friends to come pick her up. It was raining and they were late. The river was grey and brown, rough-textured with falling water and a steady wind from the east, from the ocean.
Sitting and waiting, nervously considering the possible explanations for her friends’ lateness, she wondered if they had gotten in an accident, and then involuntarily pictured the whole tragic scene – wet metal twisted, a tire still spinning, the underbelly of the vehicle exposed, hiss of rain on a hot engine quickly cooling. Frozen in a stricken sadness, she willed herself not to think about wrecks, and strained to hear the dogs bark, the sound of tires on the wet dirt road. When her friends arrived a few minutes later, she almost couldn’t believe they were okay. There had been no wreck. Nonetheless, the heavy sadness stayed with her, made her quiet and awkward riding in the backseat, still thinking about wrecks and how weird it was that her friends had no idea that she had been almost convinced that they’d been in an accident.
Ideas or imaginings that make her feel something are hard not believe, because they exist in her mind and in her body with the same detail and sensation as things that are real. Her feelings are her nervous system being scared, or excited, happy, calm, etc. The sensations she calls feelings are caused by her nervous system reacting to what she is experiencing.
She is a visual thinker. This means that she imagined the wreck that never happened, she saw the car crash, the slip of tires on pavement, crumpling metal, windshield buckled in like a spider’s web in wind, the sharp impact of a face against a dash board. Sometimes her nervous system doesn’t know that what she imagines isn’t real, and so her heart races, her blood vessels constrict, guts clench, and the chest constricts with a feeling of crying seizing in the throat.
It was of no importance that she’d never been in a car accident, that she had never seen – at least not up close – a bad wreck, had only glimpsed the mangled car bodies on the side of the interstate, in the closed lane.
She had seen plenty of wrecks on television, in movies.
Once, on the bus to the Catholic school, someone swore they saw a foot, a severed foot, laying in the road by a wrecked red car, but she didn’t see it, except in her mind.
For years before she’d ever been to New York, she could picture being in the city so thoroughly that she had to remind herself she’d never been there, pause a moment if anyone asked what cities she’d been to.
Her head is full of things she’d never experienced seeing – car wrecks, war zones, the devastation of floods, the anger of men in dark rooms, the creeping stalk of late night streets, cities lit at dawn, the tangled of interstates coming alive while people on the other side of the world bake under the midday sun, speaking different languages, living in refugee camps, steam rising from the earth, the stink of the slaughterhouse, quiet halls of rest homes, bombs going off, rivers always flowing, waterfalls plunging into the dark, mountains asleep as the edge of glacier falls heavy into the ocean, unseen and heard by anyone but the bears, blithe seals giving a brief shudder before sliding back into the water.
All of this is happening all at once, a rapid-reel flashing of scenes and thoughts running in the background, a sense of seeing, witnessing.
It’s made up though, her imaginings of these things she has never seen in real life. It’s all based on television and movies and pictures in books, stories she has read.
She stopped watching television in 2001, in the days immediately following the American event of 09/11/2001. Taking the dog for a walk around the NE Portland neighborhood she lived in, she found herself picturing the President’s face, the buildings falling again and again, the people and the smoke.
She could feel it in her body – terrible, stunned, and close – almost like she was there, like it was real to her beyond the news reports of what was happening several thousand miles away.