Altered Perceptions

It wasn’t until much later that I had time to reflect on the tricks my brain had played. Later, after I’d picked myself up from the ground. After I’d dusted myself off and bandaged the scrape in my elbow. After I’d picked the bits of gravel from the bleeding spot on my left knee. After I’d ascertained that the crying toddler was, in fact, crying from fear and surprise, rather than from injury.

I’d been holding my friend’s daughter while her parents hitched up a travel trailer. It was hot, and she was getting fidgety and restless, and I was concentrating too much on keeping her from wriggling out of my arms and not enough on where I was stepping. And then I put my foot down into a loose patch of sand, and it was all over.

Though I doubt it could have been more than a second or two between when I lost my footing and when we both hit the ground, I remember how slowly it seemed that time was moving. I remember making a conscious decision to tighten my hold on the little girl. I remember making a conscious decision to twist my body around, remember clearly thinking, “you CANNOT land on top of her”. I remember the half-roll I did in the air, a maneuver I could never have normally managed. I remember, just before my left shoulderblade hit the ground, the thought flashed through my head: This is going to hurt, but if you don’t drop Sarah, she’ll be all right.

That curious slowing of time, that stretching of the briefest instant out into what seemed like a much longer interval, is called tachypsychia. If you’re ever in a self-defense situation or other traumatic incident, odds are you’ll experience it too.

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