Christmas with Old Friends: The Ghost of Christmas Past
After realizing that I could make music again, I had spent night after night getting my music together and making CDs for some of the people that had shown their concern for my well being by visiting me in the hospital and/or contacting me or my mother. I wanted to share with them my discovery of my ability to produce music after my brain injury, and also to share my love and gratitude for their compassion during the hardest trials that I had ever endured, and continued to endure. Indeed, what better holiday than Christmas to spread love, gratitude, and good news?
I could not write articulately with my hands, but I could type. The availability of technology to aid me in expressing myself both in word and sound is a luxury of modern times that I am very grateful to have at hand. I typed my sentiments and my mom and I pasted them on Christmas cards and sent them out.
My good friend, Stina, came out to be with my family for Christmas. She IS family to us. She had flown out to New York from Colorado as soon as she heard about my accident. She arrived on May 9th (I fell May 8th) while I was still in a coma, and stayed by my side until May 14th. She was there to hold my lifeless hand while she tried to come to terms with the fact that this could be the last time that she saw me breathing. I was on life support so there was a machine that breathed for me, and I was hooked up to IVs that provided me with essential fluids and I was unresponsive to any stimuli.
My love and gratitude for Stina’s immediate and undivided attention is not easily expressed. All that I can say is that I love her, and I know that those words can never be sufficient in expressing the intense feelings and immense gratitude that I have for her compassion, but they are necessary words. It is a remarkable person that stops whatever they are doing and travels across the country so that they can simply be in the physical presence of a nearly lifeless body. She possesses a type of empathy too few have. Her love and compassion, however, does not negate that of the countless friends, family, acquaintances, and people I really hardly even knew! The love and support that this community brought to my bedside may have been what eventually opened my eyes and certainly was a non-quantifiable part of what kept me going.
Stina lived in Colorado, my home state, and could not physically be present for me for the indefinite time that I was in the hospital. This seemingly inconvenient dilemma was cured, once again by Stina’s stubbornly caring nature: Stina communicated with my mom everyday, and would call me every night throughout my entire hospital residency. I could not talk, but I would put her on speakerphone and I would text to her while she spoke to me in her sweet voice. She has the most beautiful voice that I have ever heard, and through this strange communication system we had devised, I remember that she would sing “Help!” by The Beatles in her sweet voice. And in those moments of what seemed helpless, there was her voice reminding me that I was not alone… all was not lost. This was a message that I did not fully grasp at the time, and even though it had its cryptic elements, it was translated into the moral support that I needed to make it through those crucial next days.
During this time of uncertainty, an emotional toll was brought upon Stina, and she cried often. She would even have trouble singing from fighting back the tears and I could feel how deeply she cared about me from two thousand miles away. I could really use someone to sing a lullaby to me every night at that point, and she knew it. And through all the difficulty, the physical distance, the emotional toll, she still managed.
Some things never change. The last time she saw me, I was unconscious and hooked up to life support. It was now time for her to see me awake after the miles that I had traveled in my recovery and the miles I had ahead of me. When Stina flew out to Texas for Christmas, we rented a car and we got to spend a few days together checking out different places in Austin. It still hurt to stand, walk, and I talked… very… slowly. I understood that the way for me to get stronger was to push myself: to attempt the things that I wanted to be able to do despite the fact that it was uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating, and exhausting.
I also knew that I needed rest, and we did a lot of resting too. Stina was beat after a hectic work week and I was beat from the hectic brain injury that I had not yet recovered from. So we relaxed, shut up, watched movies, and held each other close knowing that the odds of my survival alone were next to nothing… A bullet had been dodged. Vegas never treated me so well, but survival certainly did.
It was not until a recent conversation with Stina that I was reminded about her singing to me during that dark time. In fact I did not remember almost all of the stories that I have written about until something or someone “lit” a memory. What was once a relatively clear memory illuminated by many bright candles had turned into a windy cascade of darkness. Thus, this “dark time”, is an era that is literally stored in the darkest trenches of my memories. As if the candles that illuminated my memories had been blown out.
It is funny how one remembers a situation or moment in time. For myself, it was the little things that sparked my memories or lit a candle, and that candle would light another that would light more until the memory would be illuminated and I would remember something. The cascade of darkness would become a domino effect of illumination.
We went Christmas shopping one day and met my good friend, Taylor, and his girlfriend, Molly. We went to a few bars and restaurants and as hard as it was physically and emotionally, for a brief time, I felt normal. Or rather, I was distracted from my current weakened condition. I remember telling Taylor when I first arrived in Austin not to treat me any different than any of his other friends. I wanted him to tell me inappropriate jokes, laugh with me and even poke fun at me: but never to baby me.
Indeed, I walked, talked, and thought slower; but still, I would rather be made fun of than be babied. I am animal, and like all animals, I had to adapt. This, however, is made more complicated by the fact that I am also human, and humans use technological innovations to make life easier for those who have been handicapped. The reality was that even if my surroundings changed in the most technologically advanced way and I was encircled by the most supportive team, all of this would not bring my abilities to a state that I could be content with. Thus, rather than creating an adaptive social environment, I would be the one adapting socially, physically, and emotionally. I knew that if my surroundings adapted to me, I wouldn’t adapt to them. I didn’t know if I would even be able to adapt to my surroundings, but I would try.
And so it was Christmas Day. And I had already received the best gifts ever! My mom and John had given me a chance to reclaim myself. They had brought me in from my pitiful state and were helping me everyday to reclaim my agency. On a more emotional level, Stina had been nurturing me for months and had been an amazing friend to me. I was in no position to be giving gifts, but I would like to believe that my second chance, this fragile life of mine, was a type of gift to those who truly cared about me. All I could do is show them my gratitude in my own broken way. Like one hand clapping, I could not show them effectively.