“I started making a list of all the times I almost died” said one of the folks at a dinner outing the other day. Something had sparked a memory of a childhood accident that had nearly killed him and he had started to ponder all the near misses with death in his life and had actually started to make a list. The point of his story wasn’t, as I understood, about a morbid obsession with almost dying but more of a wondering about the things the mind will latch onto and compel us to explore.
I smiled not because all his near deaths were funny, but because my mind had latched onto something the previous day and had also compelled me to make a list. My list was not nearly as traumatic but did center around things that had an impact on my life.
What had sparked my memory list was being hot. I was at a concert the day before. The day was cold and I was wearing winter coat. So when we sat down in our seats I didn’t take my coat off because I was still chilled. Then I just forgot I was wearing it util about halfway through the concert and I started to get uncomfortably hot. And then bang. I was taken back in time to memory of being too hot.
When I was young (I can’t recall my exact age, some time in elementary school I suspect), I went to the hospital with my Mom to visit a friend of hers. I’m not exactly sure why I was dragged along, but as my Mom sat and chatted with her friend, I was forgotten at the edge of the room standing in my winter coat getting warmer and warmer, and then getting hot and then at some point passing out from the heat. I had fainted.
That is my earliest recollection of fainting. If I had ever fainted before that I can’t recall. That’s when I started thinking, how many times have I fainted?
Fainting is not pleasant. Terrible is the right word, I think. I would not wish it on anyone. (Though perhaps you should experience it just ounce to see how terrible it is). So not sure what compelled me to revisit those awful memories. But recall them and list them I did. I came up with seven that I could clearly recall though I am sure I am blocking on a few. They quickly came to be known as the Seven Faints. I won’t relay them all to you but mention a few as illustration of some point I am trying to make, which I am unclear of at the moment.
The next time I remember fainting was perhaps the most understandable. Some paragon of wisdom decided that our Fourth grade class should take a field trip to the local meat packing plant. I would go into details but let’s just say they didn’t spare the gory parts. They actually led us out onto the killing floor. I didn’t make it past there. I always figure that was a reasonable as place as any to pass out but the impacts of that incident were felt for years.
The social impacts were obvious as it was a topic of great interest for several days at school. Though I am sure the incident faded from collective memory much faster than it faded from mine. Though maybe not, as many years later at a class reunion a member of that Fourth grade class came up to me and the only thing he seemed to remember about me was that I had fainted at the slaughterhouse. Great.
The other fallout was that I was branded sensitive and delicate, which may or may not have been true (I was okay with being sensitive), but it was that I was treated that way, as if I needed to be protected or sheltered. From my parents to some of my siblings to some of my class mates and sometimes teachers, someone was always wanting to protect me.
I certainly bristled at that. In fact, I thought given some of the cards I had been dealt – sensitive, small, introverted – I had managed to survive quite well. I was resourceful and fiercely independent. But no one ever saw that.
Of course, my case wasn’t helped by fainting a few more times in public before I got out of high school. In the eighth grade I didn’t make it through dissecting the rubbery frog. In the eleventh grade I didn’t make it through descriptions of the horrors of the Holocaust. Both incidents being known far and wide throughout the school before the end of the day.
I’m not the only one in the world who has fainted a lot. From a physiological perspective I understand why one faints. Why I used to faint so often I can only attribute to being hyper-sensitive. But in the end I don’t really know. I know I haven’t fainted in many years, whether it is avoiding situations that might trigger it or having coping skills to make it through them or just becoming less sensitive, I can’t say. I can say though I am glad it doesn’t happen anymore.
I guess if anything those Seven Faints had influence over who I am without having defined who I am. They certainly made me independent and for that I am grateful. I suppose that was the point of making my list. To remind me of that.
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