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.