For a few hours last August, Erick Sharda disappeared.
The ginger-haired dandy had missed work — and, more startling, a gig with his band, the Popsicles — before friends and family found him. Sharda was at KU Medical Center, in a coma.
He was riding his bike home just after midnight near West 38th Street and Baltimore when a car slammed into him and sped away.
In the hospital, the prognosis didn't look good. Sharda had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; doctors predicted permanent paralysis on his left side.
But for the third time in his 24 years, the classically trained indie-pop songwriter narrowly avoided death.
He chain-smokes and talks about his close calls with me on a Monday afternoon at his favorite bar, Chez Charlie. "I should cut back on the near-death experiences," he deadpans.
At 6, Sharda nearly drowned in a lake in Minnesota. And at 19, when he was a student at Gordon College in Boston, he says he hit his head and a doctor who didn't recognize that he had a concussion prescribed a nearly fatal dose of painkillers.
Those two brushes with mortality left him leery of lakes and hesitant to take even Tylenol.
The repercussions of his latest story go much deeper.
There are the obvious physical changes. Sharda lost 35 pounds and walks with a limp, favoring his left side. His left arm stays bent, his fingers stiff and curled.
He's teaching his body to play instruments again, and he can't drink alcohol or drive yet.
"Oh, God, I'm just glad I can have cigarettes," he says, tugging out another American Spirit.
He hasn't lost his muse: "I've been writing so much since coming out of a coma."
But almost dying (again) will affect Sharda's style as a bandleader.
"I will probably be more of a dictator," he says.
Sharda has come too close to death too many times to compromise on his musical visions. But he's confident that some manifestation of the Popsicles will carry on.
"Several members are left over from the old band," he says. "I've still got the drummer and the bass player and various, assorted backup vocalists. But I may have to give them some instruments."
Some of Sharda's old songs now seem eerily prophetic.
After the accident, he says, friends found a new meaning in the Popsicles song "The Foreboding," which contains the lines I don't want to die/I'm too young to die and too beautiful.
And Sharda recently rediscovered a dark ballad he recorded in Boston called "The Car That Almost Killed Me."
"I could potentially, at this point in my life, believe in a higher power," he says, "because I feel constantly taunted."
Not long before the accident, he'd written on MySpace that he was "not interested in being in car accidents." And in the About Me section, he had typed what he thought might turn into a song lyric: "Sometimes things disappear, and it is not magical."
Another twist: One of Sharda's primary musical influences (and a man he resembles physically and vocally), Orange Juice singer Edwyn Collins, also survived cerebral hemorrhaging in recent years.
The two musicians have connected via MySpace. "We've sent a few things back and forth," Sharda says. But he's nervous about sharing too much with his idol, and he's freaked out by the coincidences. "His son looks way too much like me," Sharda says.
Throughout his recovery, Sharda has been living with his parents in Grandview. Like just about any 24-year-old would be, he's grateful to his family but eager to have his own space again. So, now that he's well enough, he's making his own home.
On January 12, five months to the day after the accident, Sharda picked up the keys to a new apartment, a ground floor, one-bedroom within walking distance of Chez Charlie.
He's not sleeping there yet, but he likes to spend afternoons.
When I stop by, there's furniture only in the living room. We sit across from each other in antique leather chairs and drink sweet, alcohol-free red wine as Sharda plays his old songs through a gray-and-blue boombox.
He's going to turn the bedroom into his personal recording studio, where he can disappear for hours, safely.