I was nervous driving out there that day, with the weather being about forty degrees and it being one of those cloudy and rainy days. It set the scene for a handful of tears I knew I’d be holding in my palms on the drive back home.
It took me an hour and twenty minutes to find the courage to look at your phone number after looking at our pictures.
One hour and twenty minutes of silence.
‘What am I going to tell him this time?’ I thought silently. ‘I’ve had more time to get to know myself? All I really know is I’m not that same person who went in to the hospital when all of this happened.’
I had a stroke, a few years ago. I was young; I was happy; I was outgoing; and I was unafraid of the boundaries that life placed on me to keep me from straying too far.
Then I lost it all. I mean personality, smile, love for life. You talk about someone losing their ability to function as a normal adult, and we think okay, well they have to have someone there to wipe their ass, brush their hair, bathe them, but we never really address the most important aspect of major life changes. How are we going to turn out after all of the pain?
That was me.
Ten years post stroke and trying to figure out how to piece a person back together, when I knew nothing about who I was anymore.
You see, it was all pretty simple for me, I mean lying in a hospital bed.
I had nurses bring me food, I had nurses care for me and my safety, I had an alarm that would sound within the room for trying to get off of my bed when I wasn’t supposed to.
I sat there with the attitude that I could get out of there, and would get out of there alive and it was very easy for me to live with that mentality. All I wanted to know was those basic questions, like, if I was going to walk again, or even feel the same physically again. I mean, I would touch and move my left arm and it felt like the person I was familiar with. The person who hadn’t experienced a stroke. The sensation alone let me know I was safe on my left side, but my right side… my right side was a completely different story.
“Every patient is different.” Thats all I ever heard from any medical doctor.
One of the biggest questions I had formed in my mind was, ‘Will I heal?’
And every doctor had a one size fits all approach to my medical care; ‘Every patient is different. Give yourself some time.’
I remember that frustration. I remember getting home and feeling as if I was experiencing stroke, after stroke, after stroke. My nerves set ablaze with electrical impulses, my body, hanging on to every bit of movement that it would produce. What was seen to my brain as celebration for nerve regeneration left me feeling physically confused about where the road led for someone who was healing from a brain hemorrhage, craniotomy, and mental distress.
There it was. Mental distress.
No one had ever talked to me about it. I never got some tri-fold pamphlet about how I would change mentally. No therapist ever came in to ‘assess me’ by asking me those routine questions. ‘Should I have been the one to ask?’ I thought. ‘I was never a stroke patient before, the doctors would send for stuff like that…right?’
It was all what I would call standard procedure of a hospital;
Treat the body now, worry about the mind later.
I don’t know if it ever worked for me, you know not speaking with a therapist and all. Actually I don’t even know why I say that because I obviously needed mental help.
When I cried, I cried on the one shoulder that I could trust.
When I felt weak, I called to that one person to help me to stand again.
And now that I felt lost, I wanted to call in the man who helped remind me that the sun was shining out there and I needed to chase it.
And thats where I am right now. Staring at the tar colored road ahead of me and nervous of what I’m going to hear from a face that has grown so unfamiliar to me.
I questioned myself, ‘No, I mean I can do this… right? What if the door gets slammed on my face? What if I don’t even make it to the door? What if this is some unpractical joke on me and what if everyone I have ever known yells at me because he was hurt mentally as well?’
I flashed back to a pivotal moment in my life; “People don’t realize. I mean, I can’t put it into the right words because I write better than I voice myself, but people just don’t realize.”
Carla, our teacher, spoke the words that brewed in my mind, “I think what she’s trying to say is that there are major psychological changes that happen with people who have had major traumatic experiences, and that’s very expected and very common for people to change mentally. Let me ask something, have any of you been a serious caregiver to someone?”
The class rang with ‘no’s’, with a few small sad sounding ‘yes’s’ erupting from the silence. As if we all had a story too difficult to share with one another.
“Thats the one reason I would be the caregiver,” I said “because I’ve been cared for and I still to this day don’t know how I have changed. Or if he has changed too. I didn’t know anything else to say other than I’m sorry and that saying gets old for people. I don’t know if I can’t relate to the person I was, or if I’ve also hurt people and I can’t remember, because my memory is going so I have a hard time placing events at certain times… but its been a difficult process for me. I’ve been six years post stroke and then, I’m expected to see a counselor and talking about it just sends me back to the year I had my stroke. I feel like I shouldn’t go back there.” I moved my chin to my chest, staring into my palms as I voiced revelation to my entire psychology class of forty students, “I don’t know how to properly heal myself. I can do it physically, but I can’t do it mentally. How can I expect success from myself when I struggle with my past every day?”
Back to staring at the tar pavement, and still the drive out to see you was nothing short of pure stress for me. With all the questioning I hashed out with myself, and all the reasons reminding me why you had every reason to never speak to me again, I prayed this would be one of those God given moments when people just turn, or more like jump to the blank page in their life to rewrite their story.
We would have never been those people that could pick up from where we left off.
We would have never been that love story in the book that shows how we made it through tragedy.
And we would have never been that couple that set the tone with others, showing how hard it is to overcome physical and mental illness through hard work, dedication, and love.
No we wouldn’t, and we would never be given the chance, because as soon as I drove up into your driveway, our old driveway, I was greeted with a bright red ‘SOLD‘ sign sitting out on the curb. Every ounce of stress I was feeling, melted and added onto the pain I felt for the years I spent waiting for that phone call that never came.
You were gone, just like the past that we held together,
And my drive back home included that handful of tears I was preparing myself for all along.