Saturday, August 29, 2009

From Chapter 3 -- Mexico, January 1997

No one greeted her on Tuesday afternoon as she hurried into the humble office that the physical therapist shared with her new physician, Dr. Siemens. An older couple, the woman with her cane, the man with his magazine sat near the door at the other end of the room. They didn’t bother to look up when she sat down in one of the worn teal and pink cushioned chairs that lined the walls.

The faint smell of gasoline lingered on her hands. She spilled it all over herself as she topped off the tank on the rental car and had to return home and change, but there was no time for a shower.

“How late am I?” she thought. “Did I miss my appointment?” She looked down at her watch, but it wasn’t there. She considered picking up a magazine, but her thoughts, like a feather in the wind, blew gently away.


The weekend in Mexico last year was thrown together quickly. Nearly every day, Camryn and her sister Cynthia spoke on the phone. As she was driving to work that Monday morning she saw an advertisement on the side of a bus for a low cost weekend in Cancun. Many long lazy weekends and vacations with the kids with Cynthia and her two girls were spent at Bill Johnson’s condo, a lifelong friend of their father’s. Many years ago, when Bill’s wife, Doris slipped away with half of everything while he was busy drinking and carousing, Bill bought the condo and fled to it rather than face the family he shattered in Connecticut. Bill never charged any of them for use of the place. All he asked was that they be very friendly with the staff and tip them generously.

“Hey, doll face, what’s up?” asked Cynthia.

“Let’s go to Mexico at the end of the month. You’ve been working like a dog. And I could certainly use some time away.” Camryn turned off Colorado Boulevard toward the Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver.

“Ok, let me check on a few things and get back to you. By the way, how did the work on your dissertation go this weekend?”

“It’s hell. I can’t believe how much still needs to be done. My house has never been cleaner.” They laughed. Both Camryn and Cynthia took after their mother in this way.

They said their good-byes as Camryn drove into the parking lot of her office.

As it turned out, Cynthia couldn’t get away. Camryn would be going to Mexico alone for the weekend. Cancun in January alone--she decided she’d bring her lap-top and work on her dissertation.

A subzero cold spell hit the Front Range of Colorado that January. It was six below at the airport when she walked from the short-term parking garage at Denver International Airport to the terminal. She took satisfaction in the thought that that afternoon she’d be walking off a plane in 80 degree weather.

Camryn was in her swim suit and on the beach by two o’clock that afternoon. The wait-staff greeted her warmly as she walked to the beach. They asked about Cynthia and the children. Richard was there, too. He was an American who moved to Cancun several years ago and involved himself in the hotel industry. He waved and approached Camryn as she grabbed a chaise lounge. Richard had been an investment attorney and “gave up the life” as he put it and moved to Mexico.

“Bienvenido, mi amiga, como ‘stas?” asked Richard.

“Gracious. Estoy bien, y tu?” replied Camryn happy to practice her Spanish.

“It’s one beautiful day after another. When are you going to pack up and move down here yourself?” Richard knew of Camryn’s desire to live in Mexico or some tropical Spanish speaking country one day. They sat together and caught up on their lives since last summer when everyone was there together.

Later that afternoon, after her obligatory Mexican siesta, Camryn sat on the balcony which faced the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The sun was setting and the waves were getting stronger. A group of about twenty shirtless men wearing the same navy shorts ran along the water.

Camryn showered and dressed for dinner and decided to take herself some place nice, one her favorite places. La Dolce Vita was considered one of the best restaurants in Cancun. It overlooked the Lagoon. That Thursday night, she arrived around nine, after dark. From her table, she could see the twinkling of the lights from the boats as they traveled through the Lagoon. She enjoyed being alone with her thoughts. Antoine, the matre‘d, whom she’d known for a few years, was a fair complexioned man with blue eyes. He sat with her for dessert and coffee.

Antoine escorted Camryn out of the restaurant, called her a cab and instructed the driver to take her to her condominium. She didn’t feel like going back there yet, so she asked the driver to take her to the night club district.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I'm Stuck

Nothing. I’ve got nothing. I’m on my third cup of coffee and third gluten free cranberry flax bite. It takes longer to say it than to eat one of them they’re so small.

I’m editing an article for a website. I just added my nephew who lives in the Philippines as a Facebook friend. I’m working on Chapter 3. I don’t like it. I’ve been up since 4:00, well 3:52 if you must know.

I’ve had nothing before. This was a familiar state in the years after the accident. Years mind you. Not days, not weeks, but years. How does one endure the strung together moments that fall together in a rubble that’s supposed to be a life?

My speech therapist, Mary Ann Keatley said, “one day you’ll reflect back on this and realize how injured you really were. You’ll get better.” She gave me inspirational tapes to listen to (reading was difficult). She gave me hope that I didn’t have and desperately needed. She understood. The days I had difficulty speaking were particularly bad--the stammering, stuttering was very embarrassing. I’m a speech therapist for God’s sake! And a damn good public speaker. But not in those years.

I lost my memories. Who are we but the bundle of experiences which fit together and make up who we are? Who are we without our memories? Meghann began high school during that time. I don’t remember her first day of school. There were birthdays and Christmases and trips. I don’t remember. There were people I met and friends I made that I don’t remember.

From the Monday after the accident until sometime later, I guess until the money ran out, I had therapies several times a week. There was physical therapy, massage therapy, speech therapy, and Rolfing. After the neuropsychological testing the speech therapy stepped up in frequency. A year later when things got worse (if you can imagine that), a psychotherapist and psychiatrist were added to the roster. Then there were pain management people and procedures.

It all helped. They were all so great! I felt listened to. I felt understood. I felt safe in their collective experiences. I trusted them and they didn’t let me down.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I’m not okay, and you’re probably not either.

I’m sitting at a table on the side walk outside of Vic’s on Main Street in Louisville Colorado, the best small town in America, sipping a 16 oz iced half-soy, half-rice milk latte--way too many syllables for one drink. But, at least I don’t have to use the syntax required at Starbucks. Plus, Jenny knows me by my drink. I love that! She sees me coming and simply asks, “Kathe, hot or cold today?”

Jenny wears skirts, sometimes pleated, with white ankle socks, bare legs and loafers. In the dark of winter with raging snow and temperatures in the teens, she wears an outfit like this. I asked her once, “Aren’t you cold.” A simple, “no” was the reply. No explanation. No excuses.

As I was preparing the entry for yesterday’s blog post, it brought me back (again) to the way things were. I don’t remember much those first few months. As best as I can figure, I lost about four years of memories. There are a few recollections, but that’s mostly because I had a notebook and wrote things down a lot. Also, I was beginning my therapies and everyone asked the same questions, so, I told the story many times.

The recollections of those years are more like remembering the details of a movie, than the experience of a life. There is no emotional memory, because, you see I wasn’t really there. I was somewhere else. I was not ok.

My before-the-accident-self was going through the motions of my daily life. She’s good! We now call her ‘the Betty.’ She’s amazing really. She can do almost anything. She’s sharp and quick and focused. She’s strong and confident. She can work on a Ph.D. and start a business and run a household and raise two kids on her own and faux finish the dining room walls while making Halloween costumes. But, the enormity of the situation overwhelmed even ‘the Betty.’ She went missing.

I was not ok. Some well-meaning friends offered kind suggestions, but they didn’t know what I was going through. They didn’t know what is was like to drive to work on a route I’d traveled for years, only to get lost and arrive late (again). They didn’t know that I couldn’t check the change I got back at the store, because I was like a five year old and couldn’t make sense of the money. They didn’t know I couldn’t understand what they were saying if they spoke too fast or that at a restaurant (the few times I went) I’d order what they did because I couldn’t read the menu. They didn’t know the pain in my body and the headaches and the noise and the light and the rapid pace of it all.

When did it get so bright and so loud and so fast! I was on a slow soft train. Everyone else was on the high-speed express.

I was not ok! Don’t tell me it’ll be okay, because you don’t know! You really don’t!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From Chapter 2 - But Mommy, you don't seem all right.

Sunday was typically the day Camryn’s mother called. Elizabeth had been flying around the globe and blew in and out of the lives of her children and grandchildren erratically since Camryn’s father died five years ago. She became close to a group of women who had also lost their husbands. They called themselves the “Merry Widows,” a not so original and a somewhat distasteful name for the band of women in their sixties with too much time and money. Elizabeth had been accustomed to calling her family on the weekends she was between trips and tee-times. She called twice yesterday. When Camryn didn’t call back, she called early Monday morning.

David answered the phone.

“David, what are you doing there? What happened? What’s the matter?” The nearly inaudible sigh which slipped between David’s lips told the story of both the love and disdain he felt for Elizabeth. You always knew where you stood with her. She had blamed David for the divorce—she hadn’t kept that to herself. Yet, Elizabeth’s direct way of getting to the point was a refreshing contrast to the vagueness of his own mother’s circuitous route to the truth. Neither he nor his brothers ever got good at reading her thoughts or anticipating her needs.

“Elizabeth,” David shot back, “Camryn and Zoe were in a car accident Saturday.”

“Oh, God. I knew something was wrong. I just knew it. When Camryn didn’t return my calls yesterday, I just knew something had happened,” she shouted into the phone.

David interrupted."Zoe’s fine. Camryn got a bit banged up. They kept her in the hospital overnight on Saturday,”

“Hospital?” Elizabeth always liked David too, but he never got to the point unless she prodded and probed. “Where’s she now?”

“Upstairs sleeping. I haven’t gotten her up yet. She and Zoe have doctor appointments today.”

“A doctor’s appointment? You said Zoe was all right.”

“She is. It’s just a precaution. I’m keeping both kids home from camp today. And actually, we were just heading out to get the rental car for Camryn.”

“Rental Car?!”

“Camryn’s car was badly damaged. It was totaled.”

"Let me talk to Zoe,” Elizabeth barked.

“Hang on,” the muscles along David’s jaw line began their familiar dance.

The same line of questioning continued with Zoe. “Sweetheart, do you want me to come out there and be with you and your sister and your mother for a few of days?”

“I don’t know. You should probably wait and talk to Mom.”

“I love you, darling. I’ll keep you all in my prayers. Where’s Nikki?” Elizabeth heard Zoe yelling for Nikki to come to the phone.

“Nikki, honey, how are you? How’s your mother?”

“She’s sleeping. She seems all right I guess.” Elizabeth fired off the same set questions she had to David and Zoe, but Nikki was in the middle of searching for her sneakers, and she was distracted and handed the phone back to her dad. David was annoyed with her for not being ready yet. They were running late. David got back on the phone to assure Elizabeth that he’d have Camryn call her when they got back from the doctor.

The day was long. When they walked in the door, Zoe and Nikki offered to make dinner. Camryn was a virtual Julia Child in the kitchen and she was proud of her children’s interest and skill in the kitchen at their ages—fourteen and ten.

Camryn grabbed an ice pack and lay on the floor in the living room. It felt good to lie down flat on her back.

“Mom, do you want a salad with the spaghetti? We’re sautéing vegetables and serving them over spaghetti or would you like linguini?”

“I’m going to heat up the Brie and serve it with the rest of the baguette from the other day with that fig spread you like so much,” offered Nikki.

“Ok, girls, whatever you both want to do. It all sounds great. I’m starved.”

“Mommy, you’re talking funny.” Zoe noticed the halting stammer in Camryn’s speech.

“That's Ok Mom, I love you,” said Zoe as she walked over to her where her mother lay.

Zoe’s 'I love you' phrase had been a part of their family history since Zoe was in the second grade. They moved to Colorado from Philadelphia and it was a rough adjustment for Zoe. 'I love you' had become her secret way of saying she was afraid.

“Sweet pea, I’m all right.” Camryn sat up to hug Zoe.

“But, Mommy, you don’t seem all right.” She didn’t leave her mother’s side for the rest of the night.

Camryn didn't phone her mother back.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome back old friend.

I began writing during my usual time. I'm trying to set aside my writing time each day from 5:00 - 7:00 am, when Katie from Korea IM'd me. She and I have been penpals (I guess that word isn't really used anymore) for awhile. She found me through one of my websites. She sees me get online and then I hear a little bloop and see her first note. She's ending her day as I'm beginning mine. We chat about a variety of subjects. She's due back in the States soon, I hope one day we can meet.

So, my blog writing got off to a slow start today (not your fault Katie, I enjoy our chats). Now, Kevin's got Mozart's Piano Concerto number 26 playing upstairs (I wouldn't have known this, I had to look inside the CD jacket). It's lovely--the sweet sounds of the piano.

Music. There were years and years of no music, no sounds in the house. I preferred the quiet. I needed the quiet. Having music back in my life has been the return of an old friend I didn't realized I missed.

When my neurologist (Robert Scaer) mentioned the thing about writing my experience, I think he may have been referring to journaling. Which I tried. But, I'm not much of a journal-type writer.

"August 13, 1998, Dear Diary, Today my neurologist suggested that I write." No, that's not me.

But then, months later, on October 23, 1998, that strange thing happened (see blog post from August 18, 2009). I can't explain it. I'm not an expert in traumatic brain injuries, but my speech therapist, Mary Ann Keatley (yes, that's funny, a speech therapist going to a speech therapist for help) said that the frontal lobes are often damaged in patients with TBIs. The frontal lobes of our brains provide the executive functions. They mostly tell us no.

So, without the no I was on full throttle of a two year period of creative flow that I'd never experienced. Creative writing was something I'd never really done. There were papers, articles and textbook chapters for my career, my profession as a speech pathologist, but never the creative style of writing.

It took the longest time for my fingers to type out the words that my mind wanted to express. It was a type of apraxia of speech, I guess, where the signals of brain don't move the parts of the body. I knew what I wanted to say. I knew what I wanted to write, but my mouth, my fingers, my hands wouldn't cooperate. It was SO frustrating. There were times when I'd be very, very quiet, because the effort it took to speak was too great. My normally extroverted personality switched in an instant.

At the end of the two years I put the book aside. It was crap. A self-absorbed cathartic rant that I was sure no one would be interested in. But, it served it's purpose. I could type again. I could spell again. I could express myself again. I was recovering. Dr. Scaer was right. But, it would be another two or more years before I could actually say and agree to the words my daughter Meghann spoke, "Remember, Mommy, you had a brain injury." Finally, using the past tense! It was lovely.

Welcome back old friend. I missed my brain while it was gone.

Monday, August 24, 2009

From Chapter 2 -- A River of Words

Zoe had Camryn by the shoulders. “Mom! Wake up! Wake up! Mommy!”

She was shaking her hard. Zoe’s eyes searched frantically outside the car. “Oh God! Oh, my God. Somebody help us!” Zoe screamed. Her face was red and puffy. Her tears dappled the front of her tee-shirt.

Zoe jumped out of the passenger side of the car. A white car had pulled in front. A man walked over to Zoe. “I saw the whole thing,” he shouted. “I’ve called 911.”

“Are you all right?” the man said.

“Yes, yes, I think I’m fine. I was sleeping--”

Camryn opened her eyes. A blinding headache clouded her vision. There were two figures. They were talking. “Daddy is that you? What are you doing out there talking to Zoe?” she thought.

“--when we got hit.”

“Let’s check on your mother.” The man from the white car walked quickly over to the driver’s side. Zoe rushed over to the passenger side.

“Mom! You’re awake! Are you all right?”

The man instructed Camryn to sit still, to not get up.

A river of words rushed by. She tried to grasp a few of them, but they moved on so quickly. The paramedics arrived. They fired questions at her that she couldn’t answer. There was a whirlwind of activity. She wanted to return to the nothingness.

Some time elapsed. Some decisions were made. She was in an ambulance. Zoe was next to her.

Then she was at a hospital. David was there. “How’d you get here? How long have I been here?” she thought she’d spoken, but no one answered her.

Then Zoe was gone. David was gone, too.

There were X-rays and questions and doctors. She’d begin to speak, but they didn’t wait for her answers.

Trying to piece together the events which swirled around was impossible.

Her eyes closed. She was drifting back to that place, the empty place where it was still and unhurried. She thought she remembered talking to her father, but Ken had died some years ago.

Finally, sleep came, but it was restless. She woke herself up each time she moved.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Almost a Square on a Quilt

Today is my birthday. I'm 54. There was a time I would not have mentioned my age. Our society does not value aging women.

My long graying hair, that I color sometimes, the wrinkles around my eyes and mouth are acceptable, they're just fine. I'm not dead. When you're not dead, you age. I'm preferring gray hair and wrinkles to dead.

In March 2005, I was at a Native American conference in Denver put on by White Bison (check them out I was sitting with Sam English talking about life and health and wellness and creativity, when I looked across the hall and saw a brilliant quilt hanging on a frame. I asked him about it. Each square on the quilt was made by someone to honor their deceased relative.

I was almost a square on a quilt. Had the circumstances at the time (in 1999) taken me one more mile farther down the road I had been on since the accident, I would have been a square on a quilt.

We all brush up against death multiple times in our lives. In 1999, I nearly stepped off the bridge to the other side. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll let the story unfold for you.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Tender Sleep

There was a skunk nearby last night. The smell woke me from my tender sleep. Sleep and I have had a complicated relationship over the years. We've loved each other, we've been in conflict, we've found peace together at times.

As I lie quietly, the rhythmic sounds of my partner's breathing try to lull me back to sleep, but the strong skunk-smell pulls at my consciousness and keeps me awake.

And the thoughts begin to flood in. So, I get up, make the coffee (I'm out of half n' half, grrr) and here I am, comfortably seated in my favorite chair, lap-top on my lap. Writing. Happy. Sun rising.

Yesterday, I posted the last few paragraphs from chapter one. For so many years I couldn't let go of the idea of, "why'd this happen to me?" My life was good. The day was perfect. Then, suddenly, without warning, it was all different.

"The dead don't know they're dead" (at first)--a line (roughly paraphrased) from the movie the "Sixth Sense." I know why! Because for some deaths, it happens too suddenly. There you are, kissing your loved one good-bye as you head off to work or go to bed that night or take that flight, and you never return. You never see them again. Or maybe more correctly, they never see you again.

It was like that for me. As soon as I came to, there was conflict between what my recent former self knew to do in an accident and what my now brand-spanking new brain injured self was trying to do. There was too much commotion. Too many people. Too many questions. I couldn't piece it all together.

Then sleep came. We became best friends for awhile. I slept and slept and slept. And when I was technically awake, I slept.

Having a brain injury is like that foggy feeling you get when you've been in a deep sleep and are suddenly awakened and you can't quite get oriented to the place, day or time.

I was in that foggy place for so long. The brain-injured don't know their brain has been injured (at first).

I became slow and stupid. It became my new normal.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

From Chapter 1

After breakfast, Camryn and Zoe headed to I-70 which would take them to Silverthorne--a mountain town that was littered with outlet shops. There was a whole new season to fill with clothes, shoes, and accessories. At fourteen, Zoe was already taller than Camryn. She was shy about her body--already overly critical of the form which she saw in the mirror. The magazines she read were filling her with unrealistic images of what a woman’s body should look like.

“Mom, what do you think about this top?”

“I love it. The color really brings out your eyes. It’s funny how that is.” The sky-blue tank-top pulled the blueness of Zoe’s eyes into sharp focus.

“Zoe, what do you think of these shorts?” Camryn asked as she stepped through the curtain into Zoe’s changing stall. “I can’t seem to hang onto shorts from year to year. Whatever happened to the khaki shorts I had last summer? Did you take them?”

“Mom, can I get two tops. Look at this one.”

“But your bras straps show through.”

“Everybody wears tank-tops like this. Do you think this makes me look fat? Can I buy a couple of new bras? I hate the way my stomach looks in this top.”

They walked from shop to shop, tried things on, laughed and joked. It was a luscious feeling of freedom. There was nowhere to be, no time schedule to keep. That carefree day would become the symbol of all she had lost.

The shadows were growing long when they headed home from the outlet center. Their bellies still full after a late lunch. Zoe napped as Camryn drove home.

As they reached the road which took them into Boulder from the Interstate, the purple sky held the silhouette of the mountains in a gentle embrace. She was at peace. Glancing over at her sleeping daughter a deep feeling of love seeped into every pore.

When Camryn was pregnant with Zoe she had just started graduate school--it was a Master’s degree. It was a hot dry summer that year and toward the end of her pregnancy she waddled and lumbered her way through the tiny apartment unable to find comfort from the heat or her body. Being pregnant meant not dieting. Camryn always paid attention to everything she ate. Her mother etched into her consciousness the need to stay thin and fit and beautiful. But pregnancy changed that for awhile. Camryn ate everything. She gained 45 pounds. But still, she loved being pregnant. She read stories to her unborn child and rubbed her big belly and talked sweetly about what life was like outside the womb. As her due date approached, Camryn ached to hold the child inside of her. The need to hold the person who was sharing her body, her life was powerful. In the early morning hours the day Zoe was born, the sounds of her cries, her wet dark hair pasted to her scalp, the puffiness of her newborn face were heaven. The bluish tips of her tiny little fingers--her finger nails were long, they actually grew while she was inside--filled Camryn with a love she had never experienced. She would give her life for this child. The image of the lioness instinctively caring for her cubs was accurate of the protectiveness she felt for her newborn daughter.

All was right with her world that June evening as they headed home. Then, in one brief second in time, one small choice made by another driver, one poor decision, it all changed.

In a fleeting, lucid moment, Camryn realized the car in her rearview mirror would not stop in time. It was traveling too fast.

Then there was darkness. Nothingness. The void that befalls those unconscious. There were no images, no lights, no voices, just emptiness--time that wasn’t filled. She came out of the darkness and found she was in the car some distance from where she last remembered it to be. She had been slowing for a red light and was almost completely stopped when her car was hit from behind.

Zoe was crying, “Are you all right? Mom, wake up. Get up. Mommy!!”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It started out like any day

I woke up late this morning, 7:07 am, that's practically the middle of the day for me. For many, many years I've been a light sleeper and an early morning riser.

I love the quiet sounds of my home and neighborhood as they wake up. The steamy burble of the coffee maker and the aroma that fills the house comfort me. The neighbor's kid across the street has a summer job and I usually hear him drive away at 6:00 am. For years, a woman I've never met runs along the bike path also around 6:00. I see her from my kitchen window. I missed them both this morning.

All is as it ought to be. I am well. I am happy. I am.

Back in 1998, on June 13th, it was a Saturday, I take my cup of coffee to the white sofa in in the living room, I still have that old thing. I had been actively running for a couple of years in anticipation of my fortieth birthday. I wanted to feel and be fit and strong. And I was. I finished my first (and what has so far turned out to be my only) half-marathon the previous weekend. I loved reading "Runner's World" magazine and may have been reading that or a novel or non-fiction. I usually have several books going on at the same time.

All was as it ought to have been. I was well. I was happy. I was me.

That morning, I had no idea that my life was about to take a turn that would chart a course that would change me forever. One small choice made by someone else changed everything.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

So, the journey begins... August 18, 2009

It's been eleven years, two months and five days. At what point is it time to talk about it? At what point does the story need to be told?

Do I want to share my tale with you so, I get a "oh, honey, that must have been so hard for you." Well, at one point that was most certainly true.

But, it's been seven or eight years since the book was completed (well, nearly completed, it needed a lot of work, and really, still does).

The book began from an off-handed comment by my neurologist. He said that he noticed over the years that his patients who wrote about their experiences seemed to recover the best.

I knew (don't ask how I knew, it's just one of those things you know), that I would be one of those patients.

Then some time later, it could have been a week, it could have been months (I had a brain injury and much of that time is a blur) I had a dream. Well, a dream of sorts.

I woke up on Friday October 23, 1998 with the book title, the chapter outlines, the character names and a voice in my head that said, "write the book."

At that time, I could barely type or spell or speak in complete sentences... still after these years, the tears come when I remember.