As told to me by Bill Gunnin
This thirty year mark is a significant day. It is a monument that marks a day of before and after in your life. A day of reckoning so to speak. For you, it is a day of monumental shift where everything changed. For me, it is not that way at all. I don’t have a before. I only have an after. I don’t remember what I was like before. I am told I am different now than I was then and that’s all I know. For me, I don’t feel different, it is just a continuum of my life.
It grieves me you had this horrific time in your life because of me, and I can’t relate emotionally. I can’t help you with it, or heal it for you, or work through it at all, because I don’t remember any of it. You tell me the things I did, and I am horrified in my mind, but I don’t feel it. I can help intellectually, but emotionally I can’t connect at all to your pain. I can say I am sorry and it could help some, but I have no connection to the feeling of it. I say I am sorry, because it is what you do when you know you have hurt someone. For me it is just head knowledge of what happened, but for you, it is great emotional pain which I have no part of. It is a big day for you each year to mark the day your life turned upside down…our lives turned upside down. For me it is just another day. I am grateful to be alive, and I know that is why we celebrate this day, but I don’t even know how to talk about this day. I am flummoxed. It’s a day that changed everything, and I don’t remember any of it…so what the hell am I supposed to say about it?
Thirty years later. I should have done more with my life in thirty years. I have no patience because I am ADHD to the hilt. Yet, I can sit and tune a piano for hours. I can do tedious things sometimes, but others I can’t sit still. My TBI makes me a dichotomy, unstable and unable to be consistent, which is a big problem in my life. It holds me back, and I can’t do anything to help it. Heaven knows I have tried, and you have tried to help me. It feels quite a mess, like I am lost and cannot find my way. Mostly it feels like failure. In thirty years, I should have been in a different place, but I’m not…we’re not, and that feels bad in the deep places.
As far as memories go, you ask what I remember of that day and I have snippets. Nothing chronological at all. Just like still photos in my head that don’t seem to go together. They are foggy. I am not sure if some of them are real, or if because you have told me the stories I have a “false” memory. I remember having breakfast that morning at IHop in Roswell with a family from the church. I have trouble pinning past memories to specific days. I remember breakfast, I know that I did that on the morning the accident happened…I’ve been told I did. I remember getting a notebook from them. I met with them more than once, so it can get a little blurry which meeting I remember.
I can’t do chronological. I have bits and pieces, after the breakfast. Walking the halls. Vague memory of a wheelchair. The door in my room had a window in it. I had to wear a belt over my clothes. I hated it, I remember not wanting people to see me wearing it because they would think I was a crazy patient. I remember there was a dining room, and I had some job I got to do there, but I don’t remember what it was. I remember people asking me the date. I would go look at the calendar so I would know, but then not be able to remember. That was frustrating to me. I have memories of them giving me lists of things to remember. I remember physical therapy, but then it gets blurred because of the other rehab place I went to later on. I remember people following me around. I thought they were stalkers. I didn’t know they were there to make sure I was safe. I remember going home for day visits and having to go back to the hospital. I was nervous about it, really scared, but I didn’t want to go back to the hospital. I wanted to be home.
This is a vague feeling…how do I describe this? I’ve never quite tried to communicate this or thought about this, I remember going home, but feeling like I am not sure if I belong here. I felt lost. What am I supposed to do now? I remember going into the house and feeling a sense of being unsure and afraid. No schedule, no responsibility, no job. I was so nervous. I felt trepidation. I feel it now, just talking about it. Insecurity. Not confident. I thought I was supposed to know what to do, but I didn’t. It was a bad feeling. When I look back at that time it might have been the realization I was not who I used to be. Only I couldn’t verbalize it, I could only feel it, and not even really know what I was feeling. Does that make sense? It is a very uncomfortable feeling that I used to be one way and I am different now…I don’t remember what I was before. I hate that.
I remember going to court to plead nolo contendere. I was told to say that, so I did. So, there was no penalty. I didn’t think I did anything wrong, but I had the ticket for following too close, since I hit from the rear. I can’t remember what I was doing or anything about the day and the judge thought I was bad off since they had to check me out of the hospital to go to court. My dad had information from a private investigator he had hired to find out what happened. I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know someone pulled out in front of me, or that there were three cars totaled. I didn’t remember it was raining, or that the construction truck that pulled out in front of me had long lumber hanging out the back, which is what hit my head at 60 miles an hour. I didn’t know a bystander had removed my seatbelt to try to pull me out, in case the car was going to blow up, but no one would help him, and I was pinned inside until the jaws of life arrived. I didn’t know I was unconscious at the scene, but when I woke up it took 7 people to get me in the ambulance because of the fight or flight response. I don’t remember being handcuffed and tied down in order to control me and get me help. I didn’t really know anything about any of it, only what I have been told later. It sounds terrible and I am glad I don’t remember. It is like I am talking about what happened to another person, not me.
I remember my friend Jim Moon coming. That could be a false memory, because you have told me about his visit ,and how perfectly timed it was for you for him to be there on the day they moved me to the rehab unit. I don’t remember anything before that, the ICU, or the surgical unit. I think I lost several weeks. I remember other people coming and going, but not anyone specific. Lots of visitors, but I can’t recall any of them. I remember a tape player in my room. I don’t remember throwing it because I didn’t want to hear music. I didn’t know there were three different tape players because I kept breaking them, but you wouldn’t give up trying to play music for me.
I remember the boy next door with the thing through his head. I knew he was worse off than me since he couldn’t talk or move his head at all. His mom was nice to me. I remember being across from the nurses’ station. I didn’t know the window in my door was so they could watch me closely to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself or doing crazy things. I remember walking past the babies in the nursery and looking at them. They were cute. I think there was a TV room and we tried to watch the Olympics. I didn’t know that I couldn’t sit still for more than 5 minutes and I paced and walked the halls to keep moving. I remember I had some kind of job at meal time, but I didn’t know it was taking trays from the people in wheelchairs and putting them away. I didn’t know they gave it to me to keep me busy since I couldn’t sit still. I felt pride that I had responsibility. I thought I was better off than the others. I remember talking to people and feeling I provided an important service. Like a waiter. I felt less damaged. I was helping people worse than me. I used my people skills…always trying to be charming.
I remember looking at my calendar to show them I was smart. I remember thinking they were over concerned that I knew what day it was. So I would go look and then I still couldn’t give them the right date. I felt I was outsmarting them to go look at my calendar right before they asked me the questions. Funny I knew they were going to ask, but I couldn’t get the answer right. So frustrating.
I remember the belt and having to wear it. I wanted to hit my dad with it, because he was antagonizing me. I felt mocked. He was trying to be funny by calling me cripple, but I didn’t think it was funny at all. I got really mad at him. I don’t remember you stepping between us so I wouldn’t hit him, but I remember the feeling I was going to explode.
I do have a memory of riding in a wheel chair, before the belt. I didn’t know I made you walk me constantly at a specific speed…not too fast, not too slow…for hours and hours. I didn’t know you all tag teamed to take turns walking me. I don’t remember learning to walk again. I do remember you taking me to the chiropractor to try to fix my shorter leg. We went several times, before it finally shifted. In my first memories after the accident, I was walking, so I guess I lost a few weeks. I remember one day I was looking for you and couldn’t wait for you to get there. I put on the sweatshirt you said I looked good in and waited. I was so happy to see you come around the corner that day. You have told me that is the day I was back…you could see the sparkle in my eyes again. I only remember being happy to see you.
I also remember being excited about a necklace I got you for Valentine’s Day. My dad gave it to me, but I really thought I picked it out. I can’t remember what you got me. I didn’t care about that, because I was so excited about giving you the necklace. I thought I gave you pearls, but you say that was for our wedding. I get things mixed up sometimes. It was opal with diamonds around it, now that I see it I remember it. I don’t remember the stuffed dinosaurs with their necks twisted together that you bought me at the gift shop. I also don’t remember telling you all about how I went shopping to pick out the necklace. I guess I made that up since I didn’t know how I got it.
I remember playing an electronic poker game and making houses with playing cards. I don’t know how I had the focus for making those houses. I don’t remember exploding when they would fall. I remember pacing and walking in circles around the hospital. I remember being mad and hitting the windshield of the car and breaking it. Did you ever doubt I would get back to stable consciousness? What scared you?
Everything scared me. It was so unpredictable. One minute you wanted me right by your side, the next you were calling me names and telling me to get out of your room. Then you would beg me to stay. It was a rollercoaster on eggshells. Rage. Anger. Inability to focus. Constant movement. When you got home it was worse than in the hospital. You put your fist through the walls, threw the keys at me so hard they stuck into the sheetrock. I got good at ducking. I also learned to stand up to you, and somewhat how to not take it personally. I knew it was brain related and the inability to control emotions, since it was a frontal lobe injury. So in some ways it wasn’t your fault, but still it hurt so it was very difficult to deal with. You needed to have consequences for your actions, even though you couldn’t control them. I eventually learned to try to teach you coping strategies, and some of those worked sometimes. I also learned how to adapt my life to what you need. It has been one hell of a journey for both of us, Honey. We have endured so much, and that is the reason I celebrate this day. It shows us God’s faithfulness to hold us together despite horrific circumstances, and years of coping with this injury. I am so glad you lived. Happy 30 years alive day!
Thanks. Can we stop talking about this now? I don’t want to remember anymore.