This morning, with Patrick still sleeping soundly, I awoke from a dream and laid there, letting my eyes adjust to the half-light in the room. I rolled over, studying his naked back in the blue light of dawn, trying to remember the moment that I fell in love with him. I scanned my memory, flipping through countless images, but couldn’t find one solitary event that I could pinpoint as “the moment.”
What I do know, is that I fell in love when I was sixteen-years-old. We had such an unconventional relationship, (if you could even call it that) as kids. We met in band class, but Patrick, so full of teenage bravado, spent most of his energy ignoring me, and hanging with the boys when I was around. I’m pretty sure he made fun of me too, as boys do when they want to give the impression that they don’t like someone. Flirting at that age can feel a lot like teasing, wrapped up in provoking, all tied up with a bow of sexual tension tied very, very tight! Ah, yes, to be young is to be foolish and fortunate indeed.
What I do remember, was that we shared the same lunch-period, and without ever agreeing to it, we found ourselves accidentally and then intentionally meeting up in the dark auditorium together, instead of going to the cafeteria. We’d sit in silence at the grand piano, sharing a bench and playing together an improvised duet. We didn’t exchange many words. But we would lay on the carpet with our Catholic school sweaters brushing, our shoes lightly touching, and stare at the old ceiling tiles high above us in the silence.
Growing up isn’t easy, but it’s especially difficult for artists with hyper-sensitive souls. If grade school had been a war zone for me, with constant attacks and bullying, high school was all about trying to be invisible. Yet somehow, when we laid side by side, I remember feeling finally seen, because someone was revealing themselves to me. To Patrick, vulnerability was to be avoided at all costs, yet he could not escape that we were made of the same stardust, and as a result, I could see him. He was so skittish, like a frightened animal, and if you got too close… he would run. Still, there he was again the next day, waiting for me in the dark, begging me to step closer.
His green eyes, the color of an old WWII army coat, always looked so sad and so wild. I wanted to dive into them and swim; completely content to lose my breath and drown there. We were 16 then, and are 33 now, and those foolish and sensitive kids, have been replaced with scarred and somewhat rusty adults. Our hands are stained by the sorrow of what we’ve endured, and when we touch each other, there is just as much heaviness present as their is healing.
So much of Traumatic Brain Injury is about our search to be seen; far more than I ever once imagined. TBI is about being able to recognize yourself, after losing yourself almost completely. This loss of self is true for both the caregiver and survivor, who lose their identities in different, but equally challenging ways. During Patrick’s recovery, there have been so many moments that I have felt invisible, just like I did in high school; invisible to him; to friends, to family, to the medical system, and to the world. And I’m sure for him, there have been many times that he has felt invisible too, because our society sadly attributes our value (especially men’s) to our vitality, power, strength, virility, money, fame and wealth. He still questions his value and worth on a day-to-day basis, regardless of how much I reassure him, that his life has unique meaning and purpose.
Looking back, I never knew, that when I walked willingly into his hospital room on November 8, 2013, I was walking into an empty auditorium all over again. It was a very different darkness that we found ourselves meeting in accidentally that day, and then intentionally every day these past two and a half years. Sometimes, I cannot hear the music we’ve made there. But every day, at least once, there is a moment so intrinsically us, so wonderfully full of old patterns, which have made up our unique love since we were kids, that my heart explodes with joy for the sweet, mundane nature of it. And in that moment, I feel seen again… because I see him again. I feel home again because he seems here again. And even when things seem darkest in this room that we are living, I always have his gorgeous green eyes. While they have a different presence in them now than they once did (less wildness and fire burning, and more wind and fog blowing), I still lose my breath when I look at them. And I still want to dive again and again…..and again….and again.