We were sitting at a red light on the corner of Pacific and Montpelier Avenue in Atlantic City. It was a Friday afternoon in August, and the city was becoming congested with visiting, shore traffic. My car’s thermometer read 97 degrees, and my weather app showed 46% humidity outside. So our city was basically the equivalent of a gas-perfumed-steam-bath, sandwiched between concrete. I was tired. I just wanted to get home.
Patrick and I had been having a circular conversation for about 40 minutes; the kind where a lot of energy is spent until you are thoroughly exhausted, misunderstood and grumpy, and yet you seem to end up right back where you started. He was trying hard to be understood, and somehow I kept misunderstanding him. I was trying hard to be the undying cheerleader, but everything I said seemed to make it worse. We were misfiring. We seem to always get sucked up into circular conversation like a stray cow left in a field, that lays in the wake of a tornado.
He was sitting right across from me, but I felt alone. I felt isolated. I felt like withdrawing into my shell. He didn’t say anything about it, but I imagine he felt the same. Brain Injury can be isolating as hell, and not just the couple from the world, but the couple from each other. Some days it’s a bridge connecting you. Other days, it’s a glass wall between you. Some days you cross the bridge to each other, and hold on for dear life. Other days you sit on either sides of the wall with your fingers pressed against it, trying to touch each other, but feeling only the cold, smooth glass.
And you know what? It isn’t even the damn injury that isolates you: it’s what the injury creates. It’s the frustration Patrick feels about his life, or “lack of a life” as he puts it. It’s that he has to get up and face his recovery every day, in a body that won’t do what he is asking it to do, regardless of whether he feels like it or not. He works so tirelessly hard. He is still making great progress. But that doesn’t make the process all smiles and gumdrops for him. And then… it’s also my exhaustion and self-neglect. It’s my grief. It’s the channeling of energy to be the strong-faced soldier, the sunshine, and the corner-man every day. It’s my identity loss. It’s feeling like I haven’t done enough. It’s my own lack of balance.
So to you, our readers, we may appear as one powerful success story. But to us, the people who live it, we feel like we are always fighting a war. And the isolation caused by this ongoing war, when it strikes, is the most challenging of all pain. This is because isolation is the breeding ground, where all the darkest flowers of the human spirit grow. When Patrick was much worse off, we used to feel a lot of isolation from the world. We never really had visitors. We didn’t have support. People didn’t know how to be around us in a social setting. We had some emotional support from afar, and our church rallied around us last year to provide financial support, but basically we did brain injury recovery… alone.
Now that Patrick is much better, people seem less uncomfortable, and we are starting to go back out, be social and do things with others. Which is awesome! But that doesn’t stop the isolation that we sometimes feel from each other; the “together-alone” phenomenon that sometimes occurs. Which brings me back to the beginning; at the intersection of Pacific and Montpelier.
The light was red. We had both just finished emptying our lungs, and were exhausted. Time seemed to stretch out like a hot, dry blade. But suddenly, Patrick did something unexpected, and yet so wonderfully familiar, that it knocked my breath out of me. He took his hand, and placed it on my thigh.
I had forgotten all those drives we had taken in the past. I had forgotten that he used to ride with me, always with his hand on my thigh. It was a silent way of connecting, of letting me know that I was his, and he was mine. It had been lost, somewhere between the brain injury and the now. It had always been such a comfort to me, and yet had become a casualty of the TBI war.
Yet the moment that I felt the weight of his hand on my leg, the comfort returned. I felt my eyes close. It wasn’t just the initiation of that movement, it was the spontaneity of it, the naturalness of it. He wasn’t trying to do something that he remembered I liked, he was doing it without realizing that it had ever been lost. I marveled for a moment, realizing that on top of everything, it was his left hand, his weaker hand, which had always felt like it belonged to another man when it touched me, placed on my thigh. I couldn’t even tell that it was his left hand. Then, he made a small movement with his thumb as if to caress me, and I felt tears well up in my eyes. With them no longer assisting, and my sense of touch heightened, I began to smile. For that one moment, Patrick 1.0 was there with me, and it felt as if I had traveled through time.
I knew it would be fleeting. I knew it was a flash. Time was suspended, and the noises of the city fell away. For that one moment, we were on the bridge together, embracing each other over incredible heights, despite the jagged rocks beneath us.
I didn’t want to breathe. I didn’t want to move. And I never wanted the light to turn green again.
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Thank you. All our love, Anj & Patrick)