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The Stop Sign

The blood tasted like pennies in my mouth.

I saw the STOP sign just 50 feet ahead. I had taken my eyes off the unfamiliar road for just a few seconds.

That was all it took.

I said, “I’m dead,” as the tractor trailer truck raced toward the same intersection at the same moment. I hit the brakes knowing the collision was going to occur.

It was going to happen and I was going to die. It was reality. My life was over. This was the end.

And yet, I felt nothing but relief. God had finally released me.

"I was going to die and finally be free of all the guilt, fear, loathing, indecision, unspoken conversations - THE INCOMPLETENESS."

In that moment my life flashed before my eyes: A failed business. A wasted degree. A stuttering boy picked by the girls as most popular in his 6th grade class.

I felt relief – a release from the weight of being a man, of being alone in the world, of being shy, of being a romantic. All of it suddenly lifted off my shoulders

I revisited my hometown, saw my sister’s smile, felt my mother’s hugs, ate my first Pop Tart, heard my father’s voice and raced my brother across the backyard.

I felt sadness and joy in a singular moment. But mainly joy. Pure joy. Real joy. All of the could’ve should’ve, would’ve doubts didn’t matter anymore.

My car went past the stop sign and into the intersection.

An awkward high school. College at 20. Graduation at 35. Savannah. Atlanta. North Carolina. Tennessee. Susan. Jennifer. Terry. Lisa. Katherine. Carol. Tammy. The gentleness. Skin touching skin. But never an “I love you” that really took. The first time I wrote my ABCs. My Hank Aaron baseball cards. Nervous job interviews. Five-day old beards. Sport trophies. Goof-ups. Daydreams. Brother, sister, mom, dad … then the collision…a fan of white light...the white room…the shattered glass…and the mercy.

I slammed into the side of the tractor trailer truck hard still going 50 mph. The air bag opened. Spin! Spin! Spin! Spin! Four loud angry rotations like a toy top with my foot still on the brake. The car’s front hood compressed. My knees jammed in the dashboard and I eventually came to a stop.

Someone opened the door and pulled me out. I stumbled across the hot asphalt and fell into a ditch. The world smelled like gasoline and honeysuckles.

I felt nothing. I was nothing.

The blood tasted like pennies in my mouth. Overhead the sky was cloudless. Lifeless. Godless. Meaningless. Perversely, I hoped for stitches and a scar out of this.

In the far-off distant, I could hear a siren slowly growing louder.

I remembered it all – every insult – poison – tear – fear – pain –joy – emotion --- and every poem I had ever read or written I suddenly knew by heart like marrow in my bones.

But I also remember the beauty, too - the emerald eyes, the soft sighs, thighs the color of tea and honey. I had seen everything, every moment, every face – every embrace – everything but the presence of God.

All my life I had always put myself first and now only had my compromises and excuses to show for it.

And as I felt blood trickle my neck I finally understood. No one ever gets away with anything – no -- not in this world. The best that you can expect is to survive and to struggle with the past, to stand on broken glass, to build upon your own ruins, to pray that either God or the Devil will have mercy on you and somewhere along the way you find more love than you deserve.


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