30 Seconds

Tick, tick, tick. That is the sound of the watch counting down on your life. A disaster is about to hit. You are going to have to choose between living or dying. Tick, tick, tick. You have thirty seconds.

Thirty seconds seems so short when you look at the length of the average human life. People live past 100 years of age sometimes. To them thirty seconds might just be the blink of an eye. Thirty seconds can also feel like an eternity. For me, life has changed in thirty second bursts. I am given two choices and neither is pleasant.

Tick, tick, tick, The choice between life or three deaths came. I broke my back in a car accident. I could have made a choice to not risk my back, but the choice was between my life with health intact or at least my life intact or dying along with two children. Tick tick tick. The clock slowed down. It felt like an eternity. I know it was sudden. The impact that jarred us forward, sending our bodies into a free fall. The chair that should have kept us from flying free loose, wobbling and stripping up. the bolts connecting it to the van coming free. The cries of fear were drawn out. I had time to shift down, bracing for the impact.

The thirty seconds ran out and I felt as if I had died. The van seat pressed into me. I pressed back. I felt crunching inside of me. My hips popped out of their sockets and then everything went too quickly. I couldn’t think clearly through the pain to advocate for my needs. I just knew I was hurt. The boys were fine. The basketball pole we had hit was up inside of the van, the driver was afraid and sped away. No one else was injured.

This was the first time that the clock stopped like this and I managed to make a difference. Many times in my life the clock slowed, I had more than thirty seconds to feel a fall, or to choose. Tick, tick, tick. It was just thirty seconds but two brilliant young men are able to change the world. They will never know what I sacrificed. There was no ambulence, I had to try and get to the ER alone. My legs refused to move. I made them. I made it to the bus stop and waited. The clock was ticking, but now it was silent. It was seducing me, allowing me to be lulled into the dazed sensations of pain. It took me an entire day to make it to the Emergency Room.

The clock slowed again, I waited for two more days to be treated. I was forbidden to eat or drink, because surely the doctors would want to treat me and if I ate or drank I would die if I needed surgery. I had no money for food anyway. I just sat, watching the click on the wall. The minute hand creeping forward slowly. They missed the broken bones in my back. I was told nothing was wrong and to go on with my life. No pain medicine, just the assurance that in a few days I would be right as rain.

It was a flood. I waited a few days then went to the dance troupe I was a member of. I looked forward to moving, because I hurt so much. Movement would stretch my muscles and I would feel better. I raised my hands up and started to move with the others to the music. The clock slowed again. My legs went away and I collapsed. The pain grew, my head burned with it and I drifted into a daze. They wanted to call an ambulence. I refused it. The doctors had told me I was fine. I had to deal with this alone. I hadn’t learned to fire them yet. I had not learned what it meant when time slowed down and the second hand sounded like thunder. I made the wrong choice this time. My spine could’ve been saved. I should have gone to the ER, to see if they could find out why i was still in pain.

Time sped up, too fast this time. I lost my job as a dancer. Months passed in a single tick of the clock. They did not want me to go but I was weaker and weaker. My job as a teacher was lost. My job as a retail worker faded out too. I was facing homelessness. I couldn’t make a good impression at the job interviews. I kept getting sick from pain and fainting. No one hired me. My savings drained out. A flood of green flowing away. Tick. Tick. Tick.

My shelter was gone. I had to choose. I could live with my grandmother, if I ate food that would make me sick. She didn’t understand allergies enough to care. I could obey her every whim. I could live with a woman who had no love for anyone. I could be on the street in December with snow on the ground. I went to live with my grandmother. That was worse than snow. Grandma doesn’t like people. She likes to control them. Grandma is like my father without a penis to rape me with.

It lasted until Spring. Then she locked me out for seeking peace. She locked me out again when I went to a bar. I wanted to be away from her. I danced with someone. I drank a soda. I came back to where I should be sleeping to torrents of abuse, accusations of theft, being forbidden to continue to work at a video store. I was devalued. The clock kept ticking, and my spirit faded out further. Tick. Tick. Tick. I wished I had died.

I chose to go back to the city, to the streets. I chose wrong again. There was no right choice. That first night I laid on the cold floor, shivering and trying to sleep. My pain saved me. My paranoia saved me. I had taken a fork from dinner to bed with me. They count the knives at that shelter. The men and women all sleep on the floor. No matter if you are disabled, no matter if you are all alone. You are sheep together for the slaughter of someone else’s profit at your homelessness. I thought it was a nightmare at first, when I felt hands on me. I opened my eyes. I remember noting he had no teeth. The fork I had stolen was in my hand. I stabbed him in the chest with it. I pierced his flesh, I was quiet. He wasn’t. He scurried away, screaming and trying to escape me. I kicked hard. My legs held for a moment. Long enough to bruise his testicles. He had wanted to rape me. I laid back and listened to him explain his screams. He’d rolled onto the fork, he said, during a nightmare.

I couldn’t move in the morning. My legs wouldn’t move. Two men hefted me up and set me at a table. They gave me knowing looks. They brought me food for two days, but, then I had to try finding a job again. I walked the city. My feet started to swell, my clothing too. All of the toxic food was making my body gain weight. My stumbling had me often called a drunk. I hid in the library. It was April. Easter was coming. Two days before Easter it snowed. I waited in the city, no one allowed to use the shelter in the day. Not even the blind and broken woman who could barely handle the chill. We stood for eight hours in the snow. I gave up my spot in the warmth to a woman and her two children.

I heard the ticking clock again. It was so hard to move. A married couple carried me into the bus. The driver had wanted to leave us out to die. Many would die anyway. I almost did. He didn’t want to lose his job. It took more than thirty seconds to get me on the bus. It felt like an eternity. When in the light of the shelter, someone screamed. My face was black. Not the black that the persons of color might be, not a gleaming and rich ebony. The blackness of dead tissue. My entire body was black. No ambulence. The bus driver had to drive me out. The same married couple came to make sure I would be alright.

The doctor was afraid. My Blood pressure was 66/80. I should have been dead or in a coma. I made bad jokes. I laughed to stay alive. I hurt. The pain in my back was worse. I could feel my legs, my face. The tingle of damaged nerves. All they could do was thaw me out, send me back. I had no shoes now. I could not walk. I went to another shelter. My anger was too potent for them. I refused to die. The other shelter had a time limit. I had until the Fourth of July to get a job and move out. I went back to teaching music, another community center.

My pain was bad, growing worse. It was a mile to the center from the nearest bus stop. A mile because no driver would enter the “War Zone.” Gangs. Drugs. Pain. I ignored my needs. I lasted two months. I walked out after my boss refused to tell a client he could not shove his gun in my face. I yelled at him for it, turned out he lead the gang. He didn’t kill me. He was too shocked that the little white woman would tell him off. I was trapped by that act with two abusers.

Years passed. I could do less and less. The clock kept winding down. It stopped. Finally the diagnosis came. “When did you break your back?” That thirty seconds lasted for two years. I could barel walk. My pride at being able to walk left me to push myself. The doctor wanted me on antidepressants. I rejected that idea. Without them I could not have pain meds, she said. I did not want pain medicine. I kept telling myself the pain meant I was alive. I wasn’t living. I was just flesh in space. I couldn’t figure out how to wind the clock.

Two years turned into four. I finally gave in and started accepting that pain needed to be deadened. I accepted it would never go away. Four years turned into six. I began to fight for my freedom. I fought for a wheelchair, for the use of a service animal and I fought for my person. Six years turned into Eight. Today is the anniversary of my nearly freezing to death almost eight years ago. This is close to the speech I am giving later.

I am only twenty four. The damage to my body over my life time has come in bursts that lasted just thirty seconds. Each one has taken me years to even begin to treat and that is just unacceptable. In thirty seconds you can run a Super Bowl Commercial. In Thirty Seconds you can make a difference. If I took back all of those thirty second bursts. I could have another life time. I wouldn’t change my choice on that fateful day, when I had to choose Disability or Death. I just wish I had known that in thirty seconds I would join a minority. Being unaware of disabiling conditions I already had, I wasn’t an actual member yet.

It only takes Thirty Seconds to become disabled. Don’t forget that. Thirty seconds can cost you everything you think you hold dear. Thirty seconds can be the difference between dancing in a movie or dying on the streets. Just thirty seconds.

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