Let me tell you the story about how I almost died. It’s a story I hold so close to my heart and will never ever forget.
Recently, my doctor passed away. His end was sudden and cruel. Doctors are not supposed to die, not before their patients, let alone at a young age.
The news did something to me. I can’t quite explain it, but the thought of death has been poking at my mind since then. People are going around in their blissfully ignorant bubbles, trying to do more, gain more, be more. We take it all for granted and act like we’re going to be here forever. We forget about the cliff we’re all going to fall off of. The cliff I call death. We don’t think about the cliff, unless we come face to face with it. Then things get real. Then it’s not about how many mansions you have or how attractive you are. Funny how it takes the dead to wake the living.
In 2012, I think I was supposed to die, but got a second chance. This is how it went down.
I was born in 1988, the year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology. In this culture, the dragon is the absolute zenith of sacred–a creature of greatness, power, divinity, guardianship. Lord of the four elements (fire, water, air, earth) and the four directions (east, west, north, south). To the Chinese, the dragon is the cat’s meow and all that.
So I was born an Earth dragon. All my life, some part of me believed that made me lucky. However, according to the Chinese, every twelfth year after your birth is bad luck (1988, 2000, 2012, 2024, etc). They even have a name for it. Ben Ming Nian. The Ben Ming Nian is a whole year of bad luck. Generally all aspects of your life, including love, health, career and finance, will not go well. Therefore “Dragons” should be more careful in years of the Dragon.
On Saturday, December 31, 2011, I took two pieces of paper, went deep into the dark abyss of my mind, and jotted down what I wanted to let go of from that year. Basically, all bad things. Then, in the other, I wrote, “I want to be the best possible version of myself. Eat healthy. Sleep more. Stress less. Love. Travel.”
At exactly 12:00 A.M., I went out to my backyard, tilted my head back and looked up at the sky. I shut my eyes and said, “On this New Year, I let go of…” and burned the paper after I was finished.
I let go.
Next, I took the other paper and again spoke to the universe.
The next couple of days, my wishful thinking started to fade away. Noticeably. My family noticed. My friends noticed. Something didn’t feel right.
That same week, on Sunday, I had a flight bound to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, where I was studying engineering at the time.
One day before my flight, it was the crack of dawn and I was already up. I’ve never been an early bird, but I wasn’t myself that morning. My parents looked at me with grave eyes while we sat at the dining table, my absent gaze giving me away. “What’s wrong, darling?” my grandmother spoke.
“I feel like my time’s running out,” I told her. Nothing was wrong, but that’s exactly how I felt.
I gave my grandmother a kiss and went back to my room to finish packing. A month or so before, I had bought two nice cards for my mom and dad for no particular reason. That day it felt like the right time to write them something. Again, for no particular reason.
I had flown countless times to my parents’ every time the holidays rolled around. I didn’t know why I was being so sentimental. I didn’t know what was happening inside me.
On January 8, 2012, while my mother was shouting at me from the kitchen to hurry up because I was going to lose my flight, I slid the cards underneath my parents’ pillows. It was so weird of me to do this.
I grabbed my cat, Achilles, put him inside his travel carrier, and then we were off.
At the check-in-counter at our small airport, I patted Achilles gently on the head as he was being taken away. I hated that he couldn’t ride with me on the plane.
I was told my flight was delayed, so my mom, dad, little brother and I decided to wait in the airport rest area until my flight was announced.
One coffee later, we all looked past the transparent glass windows where one lone plane sat visible at the tarmac. We knew it was my flight’s plane, because it was the only one departing at 2:30 p.m.
“What are they doing?” my dad asked, as a team of technicians busied themselves around the airplane. My mother, a chronic worrier, stood from her chair and walked over to two pilots as they were ordering coffee.
“Mr. Pilot, what is going on? We haven’t been told anything,” she asked.
The pilot removes his hat. “There seems to be a problem with the left engine, an oil valve we were told―”
My dad, brother and I had one hand behind our ears.
My mom, stressed to her stomach, mid-eyes him in suspicion. “How old are you?”
“Aren’t you a little young to be a pilot?”
“It’s actually my first day on the job.”
News no passenger wants to hear.
“Okay, listen to me carefully, young man. You see this girl here?” She looked at me. “This is my daughter. She’s also twenty-three. She’s in your hands.” She sounded like she was joking, but my mom never jokes about safety, much less her children.
After my flight was finally announced, we all said our goodbyes.
While in the air, the flight attendant spoke. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be arriving at the nearest airport due to a slight maintenance problem. Please standby.”
When we landed, I called my mom right away.
“Where are you? Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, we had to make a quick stop because there’s still something wrong with the plane.”
“What? But they said they fixed it. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. The won’t say.”
“Don’t get on that plane. Do you hear? Catch another flight―”
“Mom, it’s fine. They’re fixing it.”
“I shouldn’t have let you on that plane.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry. I’ll call you when I land.”
Two hours later and finally we were taking off. Fifty-one passengers were aboard flight 2053 that day. The flight attendant offered us a brief apology and joyfully said we were on our way to our final destination. Ironic.
I was in 8A, window bound. Seated on an eight on an eighth day. Creepy, huh?
Exactly one hour in flight time, I got up from my seat and headed to the bathroom all the way toward the back. I followed the low-dimmed lights on the carpet. Night had fallen; there was complete blackness, except for probably two or three readers with a light on.
The bathroom was occupied.
I decided to wait. I noticed a friend of mine seated in the last row. She studied at my university. We chatted a bit about school, but then it occurred to us that the guy had been in the bathroom for a long time.
I knocked on the door. “Almost out?”
“Almost,” he answered.
Suddenly, a filthy stink filled my nostrils.
My heart started racing. I looked at my friend. Did she smell it too? What was that? Where was it coming from? There was a a loud clattering of metal on metal. Then the plane dropped, nose-first.
Passengers screamed. I hurled myself onto my friend in one desperate motion. I held on like I’ve never held on to anyone or anything in my life.
Everything comes down to that one moment, that one last thought.
My mom! She won’t be able to live with this! She’ll blame herself!
Smoke crept inside the cabin. My friend and I prayed hysterically. When the plane leveled out, I bolted to my seat and fastened my seat belt.
Meanwhile, the flight attendant was screaming, “Everyone, stay calm! We’ve lost power! The plane is presenting a mechanical problem! When I yell ‘brace for impact’ engage in brace position! When I yell ‘open’, the people seated at an emergency exit open the doors!”
All I could hear was the sound of my last moments on earth. The sound of agony, terror, desperation–that one lady behind my seat telling her children it was all going to be okay. That they were going to a better place.
Please, God. I can’t. I can’t die. I’m twenty-three. I haven’t married or had kids. I’m not finished with school. I haven’t done anything with my life. Please, let us live. Spare our lives. I know I’m meant to do something greater with my life. Please, my parents. This will ruin them. Please, God, give us a chance. God, please have mercy.
I put my face in between my legs and grabbed my seat from underneath. The flight attendant hadn’t yelled “brace for impact” yet. But this was my life, and I was holding on.
Everything happened so fast. The plane skidded like a car on ice once we were on ground. All I kept thinking about was my mom. I called my parents right away after landing. I reached for my cat the second I saw his carrier on the carousel. I think Achilles did died that day. One life down…eight more to go.
As for me, I don’t think I was the same person after January 8, 2012. The moment I walked out of that plane, I was a different person. I was lost, but I found myself. I was dead, but I came alive.
Looking back at that one letter I wrote on New Year’s Eve, everything did. Soon after, I became a Vegan. I traveled. I slept. I laughed. I loved. I met new friends. I lost others. I ran a sprint. I wrote A Diamond in the Rough.
I don’t suppose a person can feel they’re going to die. If they can, then that’s exactly what I felt the days leading up to my flight.
And so you see, the universe does listen. What you ask for is what you get.
I was born in 1988. I’m an Earth dragon. As it turns out, the Chinese had it wrong. 2012, the year of the dragon, was far from an unlucky year for me.
Because I survived.