It was 6:50 a.m. I’d been up my standard 4-6x in the night (TBI + Cat = no sleep for 3 years). I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and went to make Patrick’s lunch for later. I put on a pot of tea. Our living room was filled with early morning light; it was pouring in from our glass slider and making everything glow. It made me think of Christmas, the way even the air seems to sparkle during that time of year. For once, the house was clean and didn’t look like a post-war minefield. I didn’t feel so bad; my anxiety was low.
I walked past our bathroom; our toilet had been impossibly clogged for three days and maintenance had been slow to fulfilling our work order. I thought about my failed attempts to fix it myself, and immediately felt nauseous. I walked past our laundry basket, full of wet soapy clothes from two nights before when our washing machine, practically brand new, broke. And I remembered Patrick’s cell-phone, which was currently only working when on speaker, though I’d just replaced it over the summer. “The place is a minefield alright”, I thought, “just a different kind.” It was nobody’s fault. There was certainly no one to blame. (TBI wasn’t an entity, after all). And yet still, it was frustrating as hell.
I wandered back into the bedroom in my robe, to check on Patrick. Maybe it was the sunlight around him, but suddenly I felt breathless. He was bare-chested, and dressed in his new tan skinny jeans, putting on his shoes. I had helped him trim away his overgrown beard the night before, while he sat on his shower chair in the tub, revealing his thinner face and devastatingly beautiful mouth. He was still so handsome, and for a moment, as he tossed his hair from his eyes, and tied his shoes, I felt for sure that nothing had ever changed; that the accident had never happened.
He put on his new hoodie, from the “Funny Farm,” where he would be volunteering later. He’d accidentally gotten a large instead of an XL. It was tight, but it reminded me of how he always wore fitted clothes before his TBI. He stood there, completely dressed independently, 36 lbs lighter than he was in the Spring. He looked more his old self than I could remember since the accident, and I had to smile.
I put on my only pair of dress-slacks, and rummaged through my closet looking for something “business casual.” I dried my hair and put on makeup for the first time in months. I looked in the mirror: I fit the role nicely. It was my last day as a receptionist at a local realty office. I got the gig through a temp agency that I worked for while saving up for my RV and would-be tour, which of course, was rerouted by TBI. I wanted to be grateful, instead of fighting off feeling like a 34-year-old wreck of a human. Hell, we needed the money, and a caregiver can’t be too picky or too proud. I put on some lip gloss, smacked my lips and walked into the kitchen.
“When you get home,” I said, “there’s leftover split-pea soup in the fridge, so just heat yourself up some.”
“That soup was so delicious,” he said. “I can’t wait to have more.”
The God-damn normalcy of such a back-and-forth; the triviality of discussing something like leftover soup, can feel altogether astounding when you’ve come from where we began. (Especially when you have so many conversations that are strained, nonsensical or tangential). Likewise, I am always grateful for the moments I see him walking around on his own, especially when I think about the wheelchair a year ago, and how I never thought we’d be here with these new possibilities to embark upon, one grueling year later. I remain eternally grateful.
We rode the elevator down together. I got off at the parking garage and gave him a kiss. (I am the post-TBI initiator of affection, but like many things, a caregiver has to be the example of behavior in order for a survivor to relearn.) He headed down to the lobby to wait for ADA transport and I headed to my car. A few moments later, I got a text from him. “I forgot my money!” So back up I went, to get the bus-fare, and made a detour to the front of our building.
I found him sitting on the bench in front of our lobby. I shook my head again in disbelief. To look at him sitting down, no one would know. Then, he walked to the car to grab the money, and began asking me over and over again about Prana (our cat).
Had she gotten out of the house?
No, I said.
Was she still in the bedroom where he had left her?
Yes. I said.
Was I sure?
She was still in the house?
I doubled checked?
Because she can get out easily. And run right past you.
I know. I was careful.
I don’t see her on the drop-cam.
He was still nervous, but he at last relented.
As ADA transport arrived, I watched him walk to the cab and pay the fare. It had been two weeks since he’d begun taking transport. Among the many hats I wore… “driver” had been reduced to a part-time job. It was a beautiful thing, and yet, as I watched him put on his seatbelt, I caught a glimpse of young man in the back seat, who appeared to have Cerebral Palsy. I felt that familiar pang of heartache. It was so amazing that we had gotten to this point, and yet it was impossible to not feel grief at the same time. In fact, every single beautiful moment always seems to be forever wrapped in undeniable heartache.
He was going to the farm to volunteer. I was going to my temp job. Lunches were packed, and leftover soup was in the fridge. We would be apart for 8 hours, and arrive home at different times. We were having a day, completely independent of each other. We were participating in a typical mundane, middle-class Tuesday; delightfully normal, or as normal as we’d been since his accident. It was glorious.
Yet it had taken so much effort, so much blood, sweat and tears to get here. So much time. And there’s an injustice about it all; about what should have never been. We’ve been trying to build something new out of the wreckage of our lives; trying to detour around tragedy blowing apart roads that we will never get to go down. We’ve been trying to hold onto each other in the wake of relentless gunfire. We keep trying.
Volunteering, ADA transport and more independence, are all worth celebrating, just as every previous step has also been. Yet, as I watched the cab drive away, part of me still felt like we’d been robbed. People were celebrating promotions and babies, weddings and trips. The fact that we were celebrating the events of this day, illustrated beautifully how great the chasm was between us and the outside world. And no amount of soup-talk could change it.
I pulled into the office parking lot, and parked my car; putting my temporary parking pass on the dashboard and stepping back out into the sunlight. “Thank you for calling APT realty, how may I help you?” I would say this phrase repeatedly for the next 8 hours. Temp jobs are mind-numbing, and I sort of like that aspect of it. They’re a nice escape. I sort of felt like an actress playing a part; like Pam Beasley in “The Office.” It wasn’t who I really was, but I could play the part well.
I wondered if Patrick felt that way every single day living with his TBI.
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Thank you. All our love, Anj & Patrick)