Interviews By Sigurd KongshØj Larsen and Rhys James
Photos By Sigurd KongshØj Larsen and Jamie Taete
Have you ever had a near-death experience?
I caught a stray bullet while I was living in the Mission District in San Francisco in 2007. It happened in front of a house party. Some guys from the block beat up some dude who I guess was not supposed to be there. About half an hour later we were out in front again and they came back and did a drive-by. I caught a .45-caliber bullet in my back.
I take it you were immediately whisked away to the hospital?
No. I was kind of sketchy about my health insurance so my friend drove me to Walgreens and bought peroxide, which he proceeded to pour all over it. Then he drove me home and my roommates convinced me to go to San Francisco General Hospital. I got X-rayed and patched up, and they said that because the bullet was in a “good” spot in my back—right between my ribs and lungs—it wasn’t going to rupture anything, so they suggested I just leave it in there for a year or until it started coming up to the surface. It stayed in my back for a year and a half until I finally got it pulled out.
Did you see the shooter?
Oh yeah. It was just some dude from the block.
Did the police catch him?
No, they cut out. I don’t know what actually happened afterward, but I ended up just leaving it at that.
How close of a brush have you had with death?
In Miami I spun out of control on a highway and landed in front of opposing traffic. It happened when I was 17 and I was on my way to a friend’s house with another friend. Somebody cut me off and I spun around. A couple of cars could easily have hit me, but thank God they didn’t. Was it your fault? How fast were you going?
Not too fast, about 60 or 70 miles an hour. I mean, on a highway, that’s legit. Were you listening to music? That can be very distracting.
Um… I think the music was on. It was almost ten years ago. Hmm, so maybe it was kind of your fault after all. What happened to you and the car?
Absolutely nothing. I was very lucky. It was like a miracle. The front of my car was faced toward opposing traffic and everybody just stopped and allowed me to turn around. I was at a full stop in complete shock with my mouth wide open, thinking, “I can’t believe this just happened.” I just went on my way… shaking. It was pretty surreal. Did you stop driving for a while after that?
No. I got right back on the road. I’m good like that. What did you do afterward?
I continued to my friend’s house. I told her about it and we were just relieved. And then we smoked a big fat doobie.
Have you ever thought you were definitely going to die?
Yeah, just a week ago. I run a Vietnamese restaurant and it was my first time making pho beef noodle soup after all my friends had been harping for me to make some. So I’m making this beef stock and I need to cool it down quick, so I take down this 15-gallon stock pot to the walk-in freezer.
How hot was it?
It was simmering, so I’d say it was easily 180 degrees. It was so heavy and so hot, and rather than put it down I just chose to take it to the freezer. I also decided to not turn the lights on, being that I’ve gone down my stairs and into the basement many times. But I forgot about this little two-inch lip, so I pushed the door open with my elbow and I tripped over the lip with my little rubber Crocs. It came this close to splashing straight up in my face. I think I fell four feet forward and somehow swung the pot around and set it down. The liquid went straight up and landed back into the pot. Some of it splashed out and hit my hand and my wrist.
Damn, it sounds like you would’ve melted your face off if it splashed any harder.
It would’ve been third-degree burns all the way. Now it’s just this little thing on my wrist. Afterward I came upstairs and told everybody. There were a few customers here, and I was just so relieved I didn’t burn my face off and that I didn’t die.
Has death ever come knocking at your door?
I had a severe out-of-body experience for a solid eight hours about seven years ago. After a weekend of partying, I got into my friend’s refrigerator and took enough liquid ketamine for about 20 people. Oh God.
I left my body and rose through the house and up into the sky, the stars, the moon, the universe. I eventually got to this glow, this nucleus of energy and light, and it had all these long laser lights coming out of it. This telepathic voice in my head was explaining things as I went along. That’s scary, but it doesn’t sound like dying.
Well, I found myself in this hallway, and there was a doorway at the end of the hallway that looked thousands of years old. I walked up to it and touched it. I stopped and understood that this was death’s door. I really wanted to go through it, but you can’t. Once you go through, that’s it. That’s when it became a more earthly experience. When I say “earthly” I mean it was like fucking spaceships hovering hundreds of miles over Earth and I was in them. So you were slowly coming back?
Eight hours later I came to and was like, “Whoa, fuck!” but then I went out again and I kept going in and out for the next couple of days after that. Something like eight days later I felt normal again.
Did you ever have something happen to you where you thought you were going to croak?
That’s a really weird question. I was in a car accident once. It was during high school. I was with a friend, and we were going to get my nose pierced and then go to the library afterward. We were on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and it was slick and we crashed into the median—she lost control of the car. It was kind of severe. The car was totaled.
Were you hurt?
We were fine. I had what looked like a giant hickey on my neck from the seatbelt. She had a sprained thumb from jamming it into the steering wheel, but that was it.
When you crashed did you think, “Oh shit. This is it”?
I totally did not comprehend the severity of it. None of it made sense until we got out and saw that the car was totaled. If anything I had nervous laughter afterward because it seemed so real, but nothing about it felt reckless. We weren’t even going super-fast.
Have you had problems with driving since?
No, but soon after that I became a panicky flyer. Every time I’m on a plane I’m certain I am going to die. I don’t know if that transferred from the crash because I didn’t have a problem with flying when I was younger.
So I take it you prefer trains now.
Trains, buses, walking, even cars. I just don’t want to fly.
What’s the closest you’ve ever come to mortal peril?
When I was younger I had a problem where I would faint sometimes, and when I was 16 I was at a teen club in Oklahoma when it happened. That night a band was playing and I was sitting at the bar. I fainted, hit my head, and flatlined. The entire school was there, including a buddy who I knew was a lifeguard. He was doing CPR on me. Then the paramedics came and they had to use a defibrillator. So you were clinically dead.
Yeah, they had to revive me three times. I was in a coma for three days and then I woke up for a bit, but I was pretty out of it for an entire week. I lost all of my memory of the incident, and it’s caused me to have short-term memory problems for the rest of my life. I was lucky because the doctors were telling my mother that there was a very strong chance I would be a vegetable. How long were you out of commission?
The shittiest part of it was it happened on the first Friday of spring break. I got released from the hospital the next Sunday, nine days later, and then Monday comes around. My mom was like, “Do you want to go to school?” I said, “Why not?” and I went. I was like a walking zombie. Every single person was talking to me. My school had a thousand students and every fucking person wanted to talk to me. After that I didn’t go back to school for the rest of the week.
Have you ever looked death dead in the eye?
I’d say a car accident I was in.
Jesus. You girls and the car accidents. You realize you’re reinforcing a negative stereotype, right? Anyway, what happened?
I was in high school, a sophomore I think, around 16 years old. My friend was driving and I was a passenger. She dropped her drink and swerved accidentally and hit a tree. Then the car got stuck in reverse and hit a car and it just spun around. Eventually the car ended up burning down.
Well, you shouldn’t drink and drive.
No! We were in high school. We were going to the public library.
Were you hurt?
The airbag hit me and I had bruises on my face.
How does it feel when an airbag bounces off your melon?
It hurts like hell—it hurts really bad. That was the thing that shocked me the most. I had no idea what had happened. I could have gotten out of the car fine otherwise. But the airbag hit me so hard. I was totally confused.
What happened to the other passengers?
It was just me and the driver. The airbag hit her too and kind of messed her eye up a little bit, but we were fine.
What was the aftermath?
I think it was just one other car that got hit, and the crash just kind of messed up the body. We were questioned by the police because they thought we were drinking, but we weren’t. Then we just went home and didn’t go to school the next day. We showed up with black eyes two days later.
How close have you been to biting the big one?
A Mack truck hit me when I was driving by myself. It kind of hit the back end of my car and sent me spinning across four lanes of traffic. You’re the fourth woman I’ve talked to today whose “near-death experience” was being in a car accident. At least this one sounds like it wasn’t your fault. When did it happen?
About two years ago in Maryland. I just kind of entered this whole other world. Everything stopped even though I was spinning and all these things were going on. It was just very calm and quiet. Were any other cars involved in the accident?
There was one woman who dodged me. She said she could see me face-on, like we were looking at each other. She just swerved out of the way and pulled up on the median a little ways up and walked back to see if I was OK. Did the guy that hit you stop?
No, he just kept going. I think he probably dozed off, swerved into my lane, and kept going. And what was the outcome?
My car was fine. Everything was fine. To be honest, when I hit the median I just opened the door and rolled out of the car. I just laid there on the grass for a couple of minutes. I was encouraged to see a doctor and pursue something, but I was leaving for Korea in five days so I put it on the back burner and just focused on the trip and moved on. I left the car at a gas station and a friend picked me up. I came back the next day, tested the car, and drove home.
Vice: Tell us about the closest you’ve come to kicking the bucket?
When I was really young, my little brother pushed me into a swimming pool. It was back before I could swim.
Did you thrash around like a chicken on heat?
Pretty much. I almost drowned. It was terrifying.
How long were you under for?
I don’t know, but it felt like ages. Forever.
How did you escape from your potential liquid demise?
My dad saw what had happened. He jumped in and saved me. Thanks, Daddy!
So your dad saw what happened. Did he bawl out your older brother?
No, we were really little. I’m not even sure he knew what he was doing.
Are you sure you’ve not secretly been planning an elaborate scheme to get him back and are waiting for the opportune moment to hatch it?
Vice: Has the reaper ever come calling for you?
Maria: At Glastonbury this summer I had a really bad case of appendicitis. They didn’t know what was wrong when I got to the hospital and I ended up in really, really bad shape. How come they didn’t know what was wrong with you? Did you just go to the nearest person dressed like a doctor? You do know that people go to Glastonbury in fancy dress, right?
No, it was a proper hospital. They cut me wide open but they didn’t know what they were looking for. They just had to open me up and poke around to see what was wrong. Thank God it didn’t explode inside me completely, but I was still in septic shock. That would be a good name for a thrash band. How much pain were you in, on a scale of one to cut-my-own-head-off?
It was pretty bad, but I got to have lots of morphine, which was great. Do you have a scar?
Yes. It’s a really big one. Do you think that boys dig scars too or does it just work the one way round?
I hope boys do too.
Vice: Have you ever had a near-death experience?
Yes, I was riding my motorcycle in LA and I was in the carpool lane. I was speeding, I have to admit, but a car swerved right in front of me to reveal a pile of sand in the middle of the lane. Luckily the line I was taking with my bike happened to be right in the one area of the pile of sand that I could actually have ridden through. Had I been an inch off in any direction I would have been thrown over the handlebars and probably wouldn’t be here talking about it.
Are you sure you’re not exaggerating? One inch? You don’t even have a scratch to prove this tale
No. I’m very happy that I was exactly where I was.
So you will still be using carpool lanes as shortcuts?
Yep, I still have the bike.
OK, but you aren’t technically allowed to use carpool lanes, are you?
It’s the only lane where you actually move anywhere.
Vice: What’s the closest you’ve come to biting the big one?
Daniella: It was when I was 11 years old. I ran across the road to go and play PlayStation at my friend’s house and this car just came around the corner and hit me. Woah, what happened?
I went flying eight metres in the air and landed on my knees. Not quite cat-like reflexes, then?
No, I broke my knee and fractured my knee cap. I also hit my head really hard so I had a lump on my head like a really big ball. The driver’s family was in the car. He was really shocked and my brother was screaming at him so he was a bit of a wreck. I seem to remember feeling sorry for him. What game were you going to play on the PlayStation that almost cost you your mortality?
I can’t really remember, but I think it was some shitty game where you have to build a hospital. Ironic, huh?
Vice: Were you ever sure that your time was up?
Yes. I think I was about eight years old and I was driving with my grandparents somewhere in the countryside. The car door didn’t have child safety locks on it so I thought it would be an awesome idea to swing it open.
I can see where this is going.
I kind of ended up hanging halfway out of the car. This was in a bit of the countryside where there were hills and cliffs and stuff, so it was a long way down to fall. My nana didn’t realise what was happening until my sister started screaming. Then she managed to pull me back in.
Wow, you must have had a super strong gran.
It was pretty traumatic. I still haven’t learnt to drive because of this and I’m 23.
Vice: What’s the closest you’ve ever come to shuffling off your mortal coil?
Andy: I’ve been run over twice. Wow, that’s not so lucky.
The first time was when I was five. I was living with my parents in Madrid. There were a lot of terraces on the street where we lived. It was summer and we were looking for our parents along the terraces. My brother specifically told me not to cross the street but we passed this kiosk where he couldn’t see me and I thought, fuck it. I ran across and got hit on the side. I flew three or four metres through the air and landed on my face. Did you end up with a face like a pizza?
No, I got away with bruises. And number two?
That was probably when I was 15 or 16, in a village in Spain where I used to spend the summer. I came out of my house and my friends were coming to meet me in a car. We were only going two streets down so my friend said to sit on the bonnet. I thought it sounded like a great idea but as he went into second gear the car decelerated and I started going forward and suddenly slipped under the car. So your friend nearly killed you?
Yes, that was weird.
Vice: Have you ever looked death in the eye?
A couple of months ago I thought I had indigestion. It turned out my bowels were all twisted and exploding. It took about 24 hours to diagnose. It was a scary day.
That sounds like a fairly unique ailment.
They were twisting randomly for no reason. I feel quite happy now though because I know that it’s not going to happen again. They got so tangled that they had to cut some out and stitch them back together again straightened out.
Was it a bit like enforced colonic irrigation?
Basically! I’ve actually always wanted a colonic irrigation and now I have had one, and it was free. Thanks, NHS! If I had left it I would have died—apparently I was about a couple of hours away. They thought it was appendicitis but they eventually worked out what it was and rushed me in to surgery. My parents were scared, but I was on painkillers and telling the surgeons to wash their hands. I was a bit delirious and serene throughout.
Vice: Have you ever been sure you were about to perish for evermore?
Dave: I almost died once. I was on a big ketamine trip and everything went blank. I don’t remember how much I’d taken but I couldn’t even move and I had to be carried everywhere. Did you go to A&E?
No one thought of it. My friends said that I was just on the floor and no one even thought of calling an ambulance. My friends serenaded me with Lady Gaga songs because I am a big fan and they thought it might have pulled me out of it. It is certainly unlikely that they would have gone in for that course of treatment if you had gone to hospital. Are you sure you weren’t just in a K-hole? That is the end point that most people who take ketamine are after.
No, I have been in plenty of them before. This was different.