I was approximately 19 years old. I was in college in New York City. I led a fairly balanced life. I was just a normal urban, happy teenager. I was a bit naive for my age due to my upbringing. I would do a lot of cultural activities and travel. My family was Austro-Hungarian, upper middle class, not particularly religious, but a highly morale family. I am first generation and was raised as American as I could be under the circumstances.
It was a cold winter night. I was at an Upper East Side apartment warming party with some friends. It was getting quite late in the evening and it was about 20 degrees with a chilling wind. I had lost track of time and I was trying to figure out the best way back to my downtown apartment with minimal costs, as I was a financially struggling college student. I wanted to do as much as I could on my own without my family's financial help. It was too late to take mass transit and too costly to take a taxi. A friend's boyfriend had a VW bug. She lived ~ 4-5 blocks from me and asked if I would like a ride downtown. I said yes!
When we were ready to leave, I noticed that here were going to be seven people in this small car. Teenage judgment made that ok. It was a relatively short drive. There were three people seated in the back seat and one girl laying across the three back seat passengers. I was sitting in the front, hovering over the stick shift of the car, between the driver and my friend. The driver decided to take 11th avenue downtown. 11th avenue is similarly structured to Park Avenue; a two-way avenue with a median divider that ran through Hell's Kitchen. Everything seemed normal, the driver was going ~20 miles an hour to catch all green lights down the avenue.
The last street sign I remember seeing was 52 or 53st. Just as we were approaching the next intersection, I could see a large black car coming very fast towards 11th avenue from what must have been about 51st. I noticed that he was going the wrong way up this one-way street. I turned my head to warn the driver about this situation and saw a look of sheer horror on his face. I can still see his face today when I close my eyes. He already knew that he could not avoid this fast moving car. I knew we were going to have a crash and I turned back to watch it come. There was no way to better secure myself and there was no time. I heard the impact, the sound of crunching metal and an abbreviated breaking glass sound and then everything went to nothing.
Nothing is hard to describe. No sensory input or output. I don't know what else to call it other than describing it as black or nothing. It was similar to being under general anesthesia but I went "out" instantaneously, not gradually. It was like black paint running down a piece of window glass very quickly. There was no sense of time and no sense of spatial relationship to anything or anyone. I had no ability to think or reason. It was simply... nothing. I wasn't me, no one or no place was anything. It is difficult to explain.
I do not know how long this sensation lasted. There was no relationship to time. Then something began to happen to me. I felt as if I was submerged under what I will call "heavy black water" and I felt like I was suffocating and having the breath squeezed out of my chest and I could not take a breath.
I somehow knew this was associated with death. The "heavy black water" was not really black. It was a color that does not exist. It was dark and strange. I have never seen this color before or since this experience.
I was able to reason at that point and felt a great sense of panic came over me. I somehow instinctively knew that if I did not begin to quickly "swim upwards" and get my head above this "heavy black water” that I would surely drown in it and I would stay like this forever. I had the sense that I was very deep down under, whatever this water like substance was. I was terrified that I would stay in this state or place forever if I did not try to get myself out. So, I began to use all of my mind and energy to "swim" up to air as quickly as I could. It was a very tiring fight and it felt like I was swimming for a very long time and getting nowhere. I had no feeling that I was winning this fight to freedom at any time. I would not give up and kept on swimming, instinctually going in what I thought was the "up" direction. I never thought the direction was incorrect or gave any thought to it at all. I don't know how I knew which way was up.
Then, all of a sudden, I could hear voices speaking around me. It was as if someone had turned my hearing on. I had no other senses. I could just hear voices. No visuals, I could not feel touch, temperature, or pain. I remember clearly everything that these voices were saying. I remember for instance, "Is she free on that side? Hurry, it's gonna blow, get her out NOW!!! It's burning bad" A lot of panic, my friend's voice screaming but making no sense and what seemed like a lot of men screaming orders at each other. Scary pandemonium. It was better than nothing. I felt some relief, but I could see the black water under my feet, like I was being lifted into the air and I was listening to the bedlam and then it became faint, like background music. For some reason I could see my bare feet dangling beneath me in midair, high above the water, at that point. I could see the bottom of a white night gown just above my feet. I just kept on looking at it, but the scary part seemed to be over as long as I monitored my relationship to the black water. It was seeing, but not with my eyes. Another experience that I cannot describe. Like a dream but not exactly.
Things sort of jumped time and relationship at that point. I am not sure what happened but I heard a man say, "she's crashing..." and I went "out" again.
I was thrust into the nothingness that had occurred before the black water for a second time. I could no longer "see" or hear anything. The water did not return, thankfully. Again, the time element was missing. i don't think I realized until much later that they were even speaking about me. I found it interesting to listen to. I had no opinions or feelings on what was going on around me.
My hearing was restored for a second time and I could hear what was being said. I knew I was free from the car and was someplace else. I could hear my friend. She seemed like she was close by from then on. There was a lot of talking and many questions about who should be contacted on "her" behalf.
I heard a man's voice say, "She's cute, what is wrong with her? Is she dead, yet?" The person sounded incoherent so I could not be sure about what was being said and I did not know who they were speaking about, nor was I concerned. I could hear the sounds in the ambulance and the medical talk and my friend screaming that her" mother was a judge and she was going to sue everyone". That was the statement that made me panic and I realized that they were talking about me. I tried to speak/ yell, move... anything to tell them that I could hear them and I was inside. I could do nothing but listen. I became afraid of a live burial and then I went back to nothing again.
The last thing I remember from this evening was waking up in what looked like a huge white room. There was a huge NYC policeman standing over me saying over and over again, "You was goddamn lucky kid..." I saw a handsome guy about my age and saw a person lying on a table next to me in a straight jacket. Then I remember nothing until months later when I was told what had happened to me.
We did have a crash. I was pronounced dead and revived. My friend's sternum was cracked. The other passengers got out without serious injury. I was told that because we were so tightly packed against each other in the car, it minimized the injuries. The man in the black car was going 55MPH and never braked and broadsided the car I was in. I was partially ejected through the windshield of the car and got stuck 1/2 way through. My arm had broken the steering wheel in 1/2 and I was all wrapped up in the mangled wreckage.
Rescue workers had a difficult time getting me free from the car. The car had jumped the divider skidded across the northbound lanes and hit an electrical pole. There were sparking wires around the car. There was gasoline leaking from the cars. Those voices I heard were real people who were trying to get me out before the car exploded or caught fire.
I was freed from the car and was taken into a neighborhood bar in front of the crash site and laid out on a table while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. There was a drunk man who did ask if I was dead. I was taken in an ambulance to a hospital and I went into arrest in the ambulance. My girlfriend was screaming about suing and did ride in the ambulance with me.
No one remembers the NYC police man and the man in the straight jacket. The handsome man that I saw was my then boyfriend. I could not recognize him as someone I knew. I didn't even know who I was for a long time. I am still not sure if he was there at that time or at some point later. I knew I was safe and alive.
What the Experience Has Meant to me in My Life
Difficult to answer. It has meant different things at different points in my life. I was 19. I am now 38. I do not know how much of my life experience has changed my point of view on the experience. It is hard to tell. I do know that at 19, I thought that I was immortal. I knew after this incident that no one is immortal, as youth believes. I had numerous phobias, especially about moving vehicles and not having control in vehicles such as airplanes, buses.
I am still afraid of heights and flying. I get what I call car paranoia when I get over tired. Any car moving quickly from the right towards me scares the daylights out of me as a passenger and a driver. I over compensate and can be dangerous when I am over tired and do not drive in this condition any longer.
When I first realized the extent of the experience, I believed that all I had been taught about God was wrong and scientists were right. We die and there is no after life. I stood firm on that for many years and lived as if time were a valued commodity. I wanted to experience everything and miss nothing because I believed that this is all we have. I am far more careful about how I go about life.
As I have grown older, I want to believe that there is life after death and have explored many major religions for the answer. Not so much for me, but for my child. I don't want her to be nothing. She is something else! It puzzles me how such a beautiful bright spirit can be here 1 minute and then not be here. That is the most major concern that I have. I did not want to have children before I could answer this question, but things beyond our control happen in life.
Part of me still thinks that we are just part of an out of control chemistry lab called Earth. We live and we die. I don't want that to be true but I have no choice. I'll have to wait and see what happens when I go for good.