Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I have almost died on three separate occasions.

The first was a rattlesnake bite.

The second was a car wreck.

The third was a seedless grape.
Believe it or not, the seedless grape came closest to finishing me off. It attacked in the midnight hour, when the house was awash in darkness, except for the grey flicker of a television screen. You see, I was watching an old movie and, in lieu of popcorn, I snacked on grapes—harmless, unassuming little grapes. It seemed a wholesome choice at the time, and I never suspected that taking the healthy option might herald my demise.

As befits such hubris, I held the grape bunch in one hand, using my teeth to pluck grapes from the vine, one by one.

Here's a free safety tip: if you're ever doing that, and your teeth lose their hold on a grape? Let it go. You'll look like an idiot when the grape falls from your mouth, but just let it go. Trust me. Do not, under any circumstances, inhale sharply in a last-ditch attempt to suck the grape back into your mouth.

To my credit, mind you, it worked. I managed to hold onto the grape. If anything, the problem came when the maneuver worked better than I'd expected, sucking the grape straight through my mouth so quickly that the reflexive upthrust of the tongue came too late. The grape sailed right past that natural defense, giving it the finger over its little grape shoulder, on its way to my trachea.

I hacked, coughed, tried desperately to dislodge it, and it did actually start to budge. Unfortunately, it hadn't come free by the time my lungs expelled most of their air and, before I could think better of it, I reflexively gasped for breath.

At this point, the grape was sucked back even farther, so deep into my windpipe that it plugged it completely. And when I say completely, I mean completely. That goddamn grape couldn't have closed off my airway any better if it had been designed for the job. I mean it. I have never in my life owned a sink stopper that could close drains better than this fucking grape closed my windpipe. I tried to hack, tried to cough, tried to sputter, but it didn't even make a sound.

After about a minute of trying and failing to give myself the Heimlich maneuver, I went through the five stages of grief (very quietly, of course,) at the rate of about one stage every ten seconds:

1. Denial
"You have got to be kidding me! There is no way I'm going to die from a grape. Grapes don't kill people!"

2. Anger

3. Bargaining
"Okay, just be cool, grape. We can work this out. Don't choke me and I promise I won't eat you."

4. Depression
"Oh God, they're going to find me lying on the floor, killed by a grape. Whoever comes to declare me dead will laugh every time they think about it. I am the most pathetic human being who has ever existed."

5. Acceptance
"Well... shit."

I could just imagine my obituary:
Robyn Bennis, biologist. Previously lived through a rattlesnake bite and a nasty car accident. She is survived by three uncles and a palpable sense of irony.
By this point, I was getting dizzy and my vision had begun to narrow. For reasons that are not entirely clear, even to me, I decided that my last act in life would be to clean up after myself. I guess I figured that I only had a couple minutes left, and nothing better to do, so I might as well be tidy. I turned off the television, put the remaining grapes back in their bowl, took the bowl into the kitchen, and set it in the sink.

With the television off, it was so quiet in the house that the only thing I could hear was that faint little whoosh of bloodflow through the ears that you only notice in perfect silence. It was very calming, somehow, and I decided that I would return to my room, lie down on my bed, and let the grape have its victory. I didn't even blame the grape. I mean, it was only defending itself.

As I turned to go, I caught my own reflection in the kitchen window, and the sudden sight of my face freaked me right the fuck out. (This is not an unprecedented reaction in people who see my face, but it was the first time I'd ever done it to myself.) All the calm I'd achieved was shattered in an instant and I began to panic and flail at the kitchen countertop.

This only seemed to make things worse. My vision, which had been slowly narrowing, was now closing to a pinhole in front of me. The gentle sound in my ears rose to become oppressively, almost painfully loud. My head felt not just light, but aggressively light. I've never quite managed to encapsulate the exact feeling in words. The closest I've come is to say that it felt like the crescendo of fizz when a soda bottle is opened, with my skull standing in for the bottle.

And then, at the last possible moment, my lungs gave one final, spasmodic heave and the grape shot from my mouth like a bullet from a gun. It flew across the kitchen and hit the window, leaving behind a disgusting smear of mucus and grape innards before bouncing into the sink. With an undignified wheezing sound, I sucked in breath until I started to see spots, then lay down on the kitchen tile, ironically worried that I might now pass out from too much oxygen.

Since then, I have lived every day as if it was my last: crying for four hours straight, giving away all my worldly possessions, and kicking my boss in the jimmies.

Okay, I haven't really lived every day as if it was my last, because that would be both insane and incredibly stressful. But I know this brush with death changed me because, true to my word, I did not eat that grape.

I mean, it was pretty gross at that point, anyway.

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