I am sitting in Starbucks on a warm, beautiful Saturday morning. The shore is starting to buzz with life again. The cherry blossomed streets of Ventnor are both fragrant and lovely. As I drink my “fruity lemonade whatever,” I watch the workers in their black uniforms & green aprons, hustling to make drinks, and working a system of steps that I know very well.
When Patrick worked at Starbucks, I often used the location as a “mobile office.” It was really just an excuse to be together all day while we both worked. He’d shoot me winks, sneak me kisses as he swept up the floor, and give me drinks for free. I loved watching Patrick at work, because he always took coffee so seriously. He wasn’t just “making coffee” for people. To him, there was an pristine art to creating the perfect caffeinated drink. He was embarrassed to admit that he enjoyed it as much as he did, but I found it wholly endearing.
Even though it has been close to two years since I’ve actually seen him behind the counter, I suddenly expected him to come walking in from the back room. My heart fluttered as reality was suspended momentarily, and I waited to see him emerge with that barely containable, bubbling over energy; his contagious and spontaneous laughter erupting at any moment. I always thought he looked practically edible in his uniform, especially when he’d come home smelling of coffee beans and pastry. It is amazing, that though you can have an awareness of the time that has passed… your senses will still play tricks on you. To live with TBI, is to live in a very strange reality indeed. Smoke and Mirrors. Razors and Roses. One minute I am in the present and the next, I’m looking for my man in the green apron, carrying a kiss and a cup of Java over to me.
Yesterday was an amazing day for us. Patrick not only hit 18 months of recovery, but rang in the celebration with some pretty fantastic accomplishments. He was able to SNAP his LEFT hand fingers on the beat to music, which is a task that requires great finger dexterity for your dominant hand, let alone your non-dominant, once paralyzed hand!! In the afternoon, he was able for the first time to kick both legs as we did assisted laps in the pool! He totally rocked it out.
In the evening, we went on our first “dinner/movie” date post TBI. At the restaurant, Patrick ordered Sashimi (fish over rice) for the first time in 18 months. He was always a purist, and when I asked why he wasn’t getting any sushi rolls he said “it just feels more authentic this way.” It was a phrase right out of his past! I went back to reviewing my menu, only to look up at Patrick a moment later and lose my breath. He was studying the menu intently, with his right elbow on the table. He was cradling his face in his right hand, with his pinky finger extended up onto his cheek. A moment later, he tossed his hair to the left. It was a moment, so intrinsically Patrick that I was actually startled; a mannerism so nuanced and yet so undeniably him that I’d forgotten it even existed.
He caught me staring at him. “What?” he said. “You… are just more you all the time,” I said. “Really??” he said. (He always loves when I say this.) “Yes. You just did something SO Patrick.” When these moments occur, they are like flashes of lightning that illuminate the sky. These flashes will reappear slowly more and more, until a mannerism or trait becomes integrated back into the composite person. Then, ironically, you forget it was ever not there.
To truly fall in love with someone is to love not part but all of a person. To almost lose that person to TBI, and then to watch them recover, is to fall back in love with each and every tiny piece of them as it reappears to you. It’s like watching your lover be spliced into a million jigsaw pieces and then watching them be put back together. The puzzle is never the same. It is always somewhat fragmented. And you wonder if you ever appreciated or noticed the beautiful things that you only ever knew as part of a whole. I believe that this process creates a deeper love than anyone outside of TBI can understand. I feel like I get to watch the same process God put into motion when he created Patrick in the first place.
After dinner, we went to see a movie as planned. As we made the very tedious journey to the actual seats in the theatre, I experienced that common realization of how many times I’d taken for granted my ability to hurry. As we sat down in the theater, Patrick put his arm around me and pulled me close. FLASH. My man in the green apron was there again, holding me. His strong arm touched me the same way it always had since we were kids. I felt a flood of normalcy rush over me as the previews ran and he began to kiss me. When the movie was over, we discussed the film, and Patrick expressed immense frustration in his inability to follow the storyline. His injury is a brutal bully. It doesn’t care if we choose to celebrate his success. It tries to always remind him of his weaknesses. But it also forces me to appreciate everything I took for granted prior to its arrival.
TBI is a life not lived in years, months, weeks, or days, but in instants. Moments. Flashes. Flashes of what is, and flashes of what was before. Every day you are reminded of what you’ve lost and what you’ve gained. Moments of absolute grief. Moments of immense frustration. Moments of denial. Moments of triumph. Glory. Resurrection.
Moments that knock the wind out of you. And moments that take your breath away.