Nine Years or Ninety, I Dedicate My Life

December 3, 2011

December 3, 2020

Nine years. And a lifetime ago. Time means absolutely nothing with brain injury. Except that it’s all we have. It’s forever. It’s yesterday. It flies by. It’s at a complete standstill. Day to day is meaningless as progress is measured in inches and ounces over years and years.

Before the accident and after the accident are my only sources of reference in our lives. Then and now. I can’t stop saying those words  even though I absolutely hate it when I hear them come out of my mouth.

Before the accident is always followed by a story, as though I feel I need to prove something to the person I’m talking to.  As though I need to explain that Damon wasn’t always this way. That we weren’t always this way.   “Before the accident,” I say, “Damon was the best skiier, the fastest runner, the most incredible mountain biker.” Or: “Before the accident, we were so happy, we traveled, we had everything.” “Before the accident, Damon built this, he said that, he had everyone peeing in their pants.” And, of course: “Before the accident, Damon took care of his friends, he was nerdishly brilliant and freakishly strong.”  Before the accident has become some rose-colored and perfect lens from which I view my son and that life. Then. 

Of course it was anything but perfect. Damon was a typical 17-year-old boy and not the herculean god I make him out to be. Our lives were shallow and not the matrimonial bliss we portrayed. Reality was tainted. So much time spent in keeping up appearances.  A phony marriage. Teenage girls. A college freshman leading the way to the dreaded empty nest. Fake friends. Too much alcohol. So much frivolity. So much waste. Before the accident (if I were being truthful) I didn’t really care much for myself or my life. Before the accident, life was kind of meaningless.  I did, however,  love my children to death…teenage girls and all.

After the accident we changed. All of us. Damon, of course, the most drastically. He lost so, so much. Every dream. Every opportunity. Just about every friend. He lost the ability to walk and speak well and drive his beloved Jeep. But weighing it all on the after scale, he gained something else. Something non tangible but very much there in his eyes, maybe behind his eyes, deep, deep inside.  He shines a different light than he did before. He emits a softer color. A sweeter soul. And for all his inappropriate words and unfiltered, spoken-out-loud thoughts, he projects an innocence he never had. I often tell him something touched him as he hovered between life and death. Something or someone left their mark. A sort of peace. A calm. Maybe a form of pure happiness. And being near him, we feel it too. We feel better just being close to him. But don’t ask him about it. 
A very (extreme) Christian man talked to him once about him being in a coma. What do you remember, Damon? “I saw Jesus,” was Damon’s answer. Oh, the man was ecstatic. He didn’t understand what Damon said next, but I did.  This man took Damon to a nearby friend, before I had the chance to intervene. Praise be to God, they both said, this boy is a testament to Our Lord. I said nothing until we came home. Damon, did you say Jesus took you into a record store? Like Nardone’s Gallery of Sound? “Yes.”

Damon, wasn’t that from a Family Guy episode?

 “Ha,” he said. “Yes.” 

So, after, he still has the best sense of humor and still makes me laugh. Many of our jokes are old, inside jokes that no one else gets. But they are always funny to us. And I probably appreciate his humor even more, because he has a brain injury, and nine or ninety years ago he couldnt even smile, let alone talk, and it’s wonderous and marvelous and just amazing that he is still so funny.

The girls changed after and then changed again, and again, and again. They are spread across the globe right now,  and I miss them. Are they better or worse or miserable or happy? They’re changed. I search into their souls to find a piece of the innocence they possessed, the innocence that smashed into pieces the day the car hit the cement wall. We all became as mangled as the car for a while, I think. But their journey is their story to tell, not mine. I don’t own their stories. Only Damon’s and mine. 

I’d like to think that I am a better person after. I sold my soul to the highest bidder in that first year, to whomever would heal my boy. I was weak and fraught and then strong and determined. I wonder what price I’ll eventually pay.  I’ve already lost a marriage, two parents, and an adopted grandfather. What more?

I’ve learned so much over the past nine years about what matters and who doesn’t. I have very few close friends but an over abundance of virtual ones across the world. Sometimes I’m not sure which group is more real.

I know, after, I care more and feel more deeply.  My mission is to help those on this journey or any journey, as best I can. Some days are seriously lonely, just me and Dame, and I wonder what we will look like in 20 years. Still the two of us, so much older, going to the same places, laughing at the same dumb jokes, singing the same songs? Who will take care of me when I can no longer take care of him? Will we share caregivers?

People see me in pictures and exclaim as to how happy I look! I love seeing you smile! You look so good!

It’s a picture. On Facebook. I’m not saying I’m not happy. But I’ll always be sad, too. I just post the smiles. Because I’m an ugly crier. And sometimes I just use the happiness filter on my camera.

Nine years or ninety. I’ll never feel life is fair. I’ll never believe things happen for a reason. I’ll never see what Damon’s potential actually was.  I’Il never know a future life without him by my side. 

I talked to my baby girl today and one of her comments to me about taking on more responsibilities in my life was, “You already dedicate your life to Damon, so you need to stop worrying about everyone else.” It hit me then, all over again. This is my life. After. Forever. Nine years, ninety years. I’ve chosen to dedicate it to Damon. I made that promise long ago and there will be nothing and no one who will cause me to break it. So time will continue to fly by and it will continue to be at a standstill. And I’ll age. And I’ll never know happy without sad and I’ll never know freedom without responsibility. But Damon will know love without condition.

And he deserves nothing less, after.

Spinning Away From Control

We passed the turn we were supposed to make. My fault. I was the navigator.

“We missed the turn,” I said out loud, my voice shaking slightly. “We have to turn around. I’m really sorry.”

My body froze. I braced myself for the backlash, the anger, the screaming. I was surprised when he only laughed, found a place to turn around and then found the right exit. I gathered the courage to look up. He was singing the words to a country song playing on the radio. “Thanks,” I said quietly. “Thanks for not getting mad.”

“What ever for?” he asked me, truly perplexed. He turned to look at me sensing my unease, his foot coming off the gas pedal. “Why would I?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Because he did. They all did.”

I’m not used to a man who doesn’t go from zero to angry at the slightest inconvenience, the slightest frustration, the slightest annoyance.

I’m used to fingers pointing in my chest, faces contorting into fury and hatred, mean words, and blame. So much blame.

I’ve been programmed to stop, drop and roll, to not add to the anger. Don’t make it worse. Don’t question, don’t solve. Just sit there quietly, disappear, and let it blow over. Or if it escalates, soothe. Take the blame. Use that soft voice.

I’ve been a work-in-progress for a few years, healing from past years of emotional abuse, but took a major step backwards last year when I reopened all the old wounds by again choosing an angry, controlling man.

My opinions made him angry. My tattoos made him angry. My past made him angry. My refusal to wear more makeup or go to church made him angry. My disabled son’s priority in my life made him furious. No one will put up with your lifestyle he told me in a voice way too loud and threatening for my quiet house. No one will accept your situation. No one will listen to Damon’s loud music or his inappropriate videos and deal with any of it. No one will ever want to take on your baggage.

And then, when I felt sorry for myself based on those hideous words now pounding in my head, he spewed out that people have gone through far worse in life and how dare I think I had it so bad with Damon’s situation.

When I finally reached the end of my feeling-not-enough rope, when I finally mustered up that mama bear strength, I looked at this angry man and said in a quiet voice. I am not afraid of you. Get out.

Before my body’s involuntary reaction to my navigation flop, I thought I had totally healed. I thought I had finally moved through all the triggers which caused me to walk on eggshells, to always want to please, to not allow me to be me. But emotional abuse doesn’t shed just because the abuser is gone. It remains until each trigger is faced head on. Not avoided; navigated through. Navigated through by saying That was then and this is now, and I was never to blame for anyone else’s inner demons, feelings of worthlessness, or insecurities. By saying, Threats, emotional blackmail, control, and anger are the workings of a little man and have nothing to do with me.

Most importantly, healing from emotional abuse requires breaking molds. Changing gears. Choosing someone different. And then understanding this different guy is not the other guys.

I’ve had that bad habit of choosing the wrong guy. Of repeating the pattern, over and over again. “You need to understand control doesn’t equal love,” my daughter told me time and time again, knowing that I had a very controlling mother and then husband, and that for my first 50 years of my life I honestly didn’t know that I could have love without control. That I could be loved without anger. That I could be accepted without someone trying to change or mold me.

When this right guy finally stepped in front of me, I said to my girlfriend, “I don’t know…he’s not my usual personality type.”

And my friend said to me, “Seriously? Look where your usual personality type has gotten you.”

He is unusual because he truly accepts me as is, unconditionally, and has no desire to change me, control me, or make himself feel like a big man by making me less-than or causing me to squirm. He trusts who I am, respects who I am, respects himself, and has the confidence in himself to put me on a pedestal without any fear whatsoever that by doing so he may lower himself. Rather, he elevates us both.

He is not afraid of the priority Damon requires in my life and unequivocally accepts him as a huge part of me, saying you are who you are because of everything you’ve endured. A lesser man would be threatened. Lesser men were threatened.

I feel him holding the end of the tape while I slowly spin to unravel….that tape which has wrapped me up and held me inside of me, like a mummy. And with each unraveling, each full rotation, I expose more and more of my real self….the self I’ve hidden away for so long. I hear his words now: Please do not ever change even one ounce of who you are, instead of the other words: You need to change your hair or your outlook or your plans or wear some lipstick or what were you possibly thinking or just grow the fuck up.

I should never have had to try so hard to please anyone, ever, in order to keep the peace, to make someone else feel important at the expense of me feeling so small. I should never have accepted being made to be anyone other than me.

I should never have been made to feel like a child in an adult relationship, by a man-child pretending to be an adult.

I know this now. But I cant go back and change it, then.

Instead of an onslaught of condescension or reprimands when I screw up or merely stumble, today, I’m met with laughter….the belly aching kind, gentle teasing, but also encouragement. I’m met on an equal plane, a level playing field. With a partner and not a prison guard. How it should be. How it never was.

I know I’m still in the healing phase. But I’m truly getting better. I seldom walk on those eggshells anymore. And when those triggers appear, I try to no longer look down; I slowly glance up and look into the eyes of this wonderful guy I’m with and breathe deeply and stay in the present, and know I’m ok. I’m safe from the past, from myself, from all the boxes I’ve ever lived in.

I know I can be loved without control. And I know I can love without fear.

I’m finally on my way to free.