How ironic it was that the accident happened on the same day that I received that letter from my girlfriend.
Everyone agreed that it was a dreadful tragedy. I was almost finished with college, and I had good grades and good prospects. I had a caring and supportive family, a great social life, many friends, and a wonderful girlfriend who loved me and intended to marry me when we both graduated.
We didn't go to the same college. The university that Wendy attended was some 600 miles south of mine. Thus we got to see each other far less often than we'd have liked. We wrote each other a lot of letters, and each week we indulged in a short phone conversation.
One day, she sent me a letter that in part said:
"I never knew I was afraid of anything until now. My one fear is that you will die and I'll be down here in school. The possibility that I might never see you or hold you again frightens me more than anything ever has. I don't know what I would do."
That night I was studying for an exam, and I decided to take a break. I got into my car, and drove to the 7-11 for some junk food. It was late, and the streets were virtually empty. I pulled up behind a large truck at a red light, and being impatient, I started to unwrap one of the thin, overpriced bars of chocolate, when I was hit with a powerful jolt that sent me forward in a confusion of grinding metal and shattering glass. I was gasping for breath when something struck my head.
The next thing I knew, I was in a brightly lit, sanitarily white room. I heard voices. I could identify my father's voice, but others were strange. I felt pain. I perceived a presence at my elbow, lightly stroking my hand. I opened my eyes.
For several moments I observed that quiet patience of a room full of people waiting for something to happen. I could see my father at the foot of the bed, talking to a pair of doctors. There were chairs on both sides of me, containing my mother and Wendy. I noticed a table full of flowers and some boxes that looked like they might contain candy.
Suddenly Wendy noticed that I was conscious, and immediately the room was launched into activity. Doctors and nurses rushed to my side, and attendants brought equipment in and ushered the protesting visitors out. I was subjected to various tests and questioned on various matters. Eventually the doctors became satisfied, and the visitors were allowed to come back in. They were so happy to see that I was O.K. that they had a hard time telling me about what had happened.
A drunk driver in a van had hit me from behind. He apparently didn't notice the stoplight, and was still going at full speed when my car was suddenly in his way. I had been in a coma for three days, and my parents, and later, Wendy, had stayed at my side for as much of that time as the doctors would permit.
Now that I had regained consciousness, the doctors felt it was safe enough to proceed with some more, very tricky surgery. The next morning I was operated upon. But something went wrong. I was losing too much blood. The transfusions weren't working. A piece of glass had lodged itself in a major artery. My pulse was fading. "Quick, get that cardiostimulator over here!" My lungs were filling up with blood. "Hand me that scalpel!" "There's no pulse!" "Dammit nurse! Give me the other one!" "It's too late for that, Doctor!"
And yet, I still lived. For I immediately learned that I was not truly dead as long as I lived in the thoughts of living people. I felt myself become disembodied, and I became an astral mass of disconnected emotions, free to move about, and remaining in a conscious state. I was with my parents as they went into shock. I was with Wendy and her tears. I was with my friends when they heard the news. I was there, and I could share their thoughts and their feelings, I could observe all their actions - but they, of course, knew nothing of this.
I found that my consciousness could only center on one person at a time, and that I could only travel to places at which someone was thinking of me. Also, I felt very strong when I was with someone who felt strongly about me, but when I visited a person who gave me only a casual thought, I was weak, only a faint whisper, a phantom.
And there were others of my kind. I began to encounter a great many ghosts, kept alive by people who remembered them. I met important historical personalities, centuries old, as well as people I had known in my life time. I found my grandmother lingering at my father's side, and also someone else that I did not recognize. I noticed that some of the ghosts I encountered were quite complete and substantial, while others were hardly there at all, just a trace of them remaining.
I watched my funeral with great interest, and was disappointed that various people I would have expected did not attend. I was saddened when I watched my belongings being divided up; I watched helplessly as things I cared about were thrown away, and things I thought trivial were carefully preserved as remembrances.
And so time passed. Gradually my loved ones recovered from their loss. When people thought of me, I was with them. Nights were the best, for I was most alive when they dreamed of me. I could sometimes talk to them.
Time, as they say, heals all wounds. After several years Wendy met and married someone else. I was pleased to find that she sometimes thought of me when he made love to her.
Fourteen years after I died, my mother passed on. Two years after that, my father joined us. They were strong at first, kept alive by my brothers, but as time wore on, they, like me, began to fade. These days, my brothers think of me more often than Wendy or my friends do, yet I am only a tiny sliver of what I once was. Most of my thoughts have faded into an all consuming void, and I can feel the rest of me slipping into it. I never got the chance to leave my mark on history, and so when there is no one in the world left who remembers me, then I shall truly die.
And it is happening even now.