I might be the only woman over 30 who looks forward to her birthday. So what, I'm a dork, I love it. I love eating cake, I love the Facebook love. I love the unintentionally weird presents my husband buys me. This year he got me an ill-fitting church hat. Just picture this in purple:
Birthdays are like life's little high fives that you survived another year. You may take that for granted if you've never hit any physical catastrophes. Me, I've been in a near-fatal car wreck and hit by a train. Wait, what? Hit by a train? I've alluded to this story before, but I've just been waiting for the right time to tell it. Allow me to creak back in my rocking chair with a pipe between my teeth and summon the year 2000.
I've been to Amsterdam twice. The first time was when I was a waist-haired sophomore at the University of Evansville, a small religious college in the southern most pocket of Indiana. Evansville is the type of place that makes the news when tornadoes blow away their trailer parks, but beneath the cloud of factory smoke and wifebeaters is a surprisingly flourishing gay scene and, it so happens, my conservative little university that still has curfew dorms. Now pack that culture in your TJ Maxx suitcase and put your mind on a nine-hour flight to the university's sister campus in an equally blue-collar town in the middle of England. Drive your imagination in a taxi on the wrong side of the road for about two months, all the while streaking and smoking and listening to lectures about Henry VIII's cod piece.
And now you are almost to the place I was in February 2000. It's the weekend and among words like, "lift" and "jacket potato" I've started being one of those irritating ex-pats who calls my trip away from campus a "holiday". A girl from my hall named Mandy (when you get in trouble, it's usually a Mandy) sets up a whole plan for us to visit reefer bars and take in some Anne Frank one weekend in Amsterdam. Sold. What else is college for? So we leave our jolly ole temporary campus and board a 45-minute Easy Jet flight to Holland. A note on Easy Jet: there is a reason international return flights costs $2 on this airline. It's because you'd never get back on the plane otherwise. It's basically Hooters Air, minus the food and girls and leaving the gross bathrooms and feelings of doom.
We arrive in Amsterdam at night and within an hour, find matching bunks at a hostel and make a friend. I wish I could tell you his name, but you'll have to settle for Small British Guy With Weed. The three of us debate for about a second if we should hang out at the hostel lobby bar, but of course that plan is canned because you don't come to Amsterdam for the lobbies. I'm not sure what the real plan is. Red Light District? General mayhem? I'd like to say we got to all that, but as conversations are popping, suddenly it's time to cross the street. You don't think much about crossing the street. It's like stepping onto an escalator or ordering soft eggs. A risk, sure, but it's a part of life you're confident with by the age of 20. Stupidly, when I think about these next few seconds later and forever, I vaguely remember someone behind me saying, "here comes a train".
Here comes a train.
And with that, the world is gone. It comes back a few minutes later covered in red spots and with missing pieces, like my corneas are made of swiss cheese. My right side seems to be pulling me to the ground and if it weren't for my cold sobriety, I could swear I was drunk. Nauseous. Emotional. Confused. An EMT explains that people die like that all the time before asking me if I'm from the UK. I'd like to tell you that flattered me as an aspiring ex-pat, but it just makes me feel stupid for forgetting how traffic works.
Having been in England a few months, I made the near-fatal mistake, as apparently many do according to the EMT, of forgetting the rest of the world is just like America. There is a McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner and we drive on the right side of the road. Thus, when you cross a street in the US and Holland, as this particular story goes, you need to look right first. That streak of forgetfulness landed me in a Dutch emergency room and a near miss with blindness and death. A note on socialized healthcare: it's great in the broad scheme of keeping everybody alive, but bad when you actually use it yourself. They sent me home six hours later with a painkiller, yet I threw up from the concussion for three days and suffered seizures for the next year.
And so our story comes full circle. I didn't die. I didn't go blind. I did in fact lose my sense of smell for a long time and dealt with the seizures until my brain healed (mostly) but I'm here, bros and bitches! ALIVE. There is nothing better than being alive! There is nothing better than a birthday cake piled with candles and maybe ordering yourself a motorcycle jacket as your own birthday present. (Guilty. Hey, I knew that weird hat was coming.)
Maybe someday when I get gray hairs, I'll tell you about my second trip to Amsterdam when I befriended a really nice pimp named Sergio. In the mean time, happy birthday to me!
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