Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Crying The Dust From My Eyes

A week from now, I will celebrate my second anniversary of the most emotional day of my life.... October 11th, 2009, I woke up from my coma.

I've had my hands full lately trying to wrestle with all the complications brought on by my failed surgeries two years ago. Not everyone understands how completely botched my surgical procedure ended up... or what the long term consequences have been. I'll save that recap for another night. For now, let's just say that recovery doesn't happen overnight and the stress never really goes away.

How does one go about celebrating a horrific event? Do you throw a party? Do you bake a cake? How many candles are you supposed to blow out? Do you exchange presents? I feel like our culture really lacks for ways to mourn and grieve. We have a million ways to party into oblivion, thousands of ways to excuse our indulgent behavior, but so few ways to share grief.

Given this obvious lack of cultural guidance for mourning, I will do what I do best.... I'll share a story.

The cool night breeze that spilled through the vents in the camper trailer was just enough to take the edge off the last remnants of the day's heat. The aluminum trailer walls were still warm to the touch. All day through the hundreds of miles, the trailer got hotter and hotter. Now, the sweet wind that trickled in was so welcome. 
The hardest part was trying to decide if rolling over was worth the slippery unsticking, and repositioning, or would it be too much effort to try to cool off the side that had laid against the sodden mattress? So much pain, so much fatigue. The delerium came in waves like nausea. Even turning my head was too much work. The many bags of overripe potatoes that held me down to the bed made moving almost impossible... until I realized nothing was resting on me except a thin sheet. 
By the time the first recoil of revulsion rolled through me, I was able to make out sounds outside. We had stopped for the night. Judging from the sounds of loose fine gravel underfoot, I guessed probably a parking lot. It wasn't overlong before I could begin to make sense of the strains of music outside. I knew I had to be in Hell since only in Hell would they play modern country music over a cheap PA system just loud enough for it to sound like cats fighting in a two liter soda bottle. It wasn't long before I heard another person walk by. The gravel made sense now. We had to be parked somewhere. The trailer had stopped all the shaking and rolling. We were definitely parked.
When I heard the many throated roars pull into the parking lot, I couldn't quite count the number of motorcycles, but my guess was a good half-dozen. As each biker shut down their ride, and the silence returned, more feet outside my world made me aware of just how thin these walls were. Their exhaust hung too long in the air and was now coming in on the night breeze. Great. The nausea returned and with it, whatever remains of my lunch I had, came right up.
Each passing person sounded so close but no one came to open the door of the camper. Wishful thinking had me praying for someone to stop, perhaps hearing my breathless pleading. My whispers amounted to nothing. I pressed on the walls but even my hardest pounding was but a feather touch on the aluminum sides. I had only enough strength to gag again as I tried to breathe my way through the pain. Blinking hard to push dry-salted tears out in hopes that they might rinse clean the bits of vomit that I couldn't reach before falling back asleep exhausted.
The music outside changed while I slept. By the time I roused, the only sounds were of argument and bravado. My guess was that some of the bikers had done or said something to someone and now were itching for something to get angry with. The violence was palpable. I waited for the sound of breaking glass, of screaming, of fists and leather. 
Instead I was surprised to hear the soft metal hinge of the trailer open. The blast of cold desert night air rushed in with just enough dust to steal away my breath. I coughed twice and tried to open my eyes. Finding them crusted over again and weeping burning hot salt tears, I just wept. When I heard her voice ask how I was doing, I fell. I fell and fell. Over black empty space. As she pressed the cold wet cloth into my eyes, clearing away the debris, I could see the concern and worry across her face. She passed a new, fresh, colder cloth over my brow, running it over my neck, ears, and back over my brow again. Her gaze met mine and we both realized I was awake. 
The trailer was gone. Replaced by small and boisterous Italian restaurant. The heady rush of  rosemary and oregano permeated the air. Olive oil and simmering tomatoes... definitely an Italian restaurant. On the wall in front of me was a small space reserved for waiters to process their orders, write up checks and other miscelania. Just to the left of that was a small alcove that had two small wall plaques made of plaster and painted; one of fruit and one of vegetables. A small way past the waiter's station and slightly to the right was a short set of stairs and a door to the outside.
Standing in the doorway was the most amazing sight I have ever beheld. My wife leaned against the counter, hands on her hips as though surprised I noticed she was there. Refocusing my eyes, I could see our dear friend Mary Ellen standing beside her. They moved closer to me and for the first time in years, I could clearly  make out what was being said. 
Nancy pulled closer and was so happy to see me that she was crying. Fighting everything holding me back, I pulled and pulled but couldn't budge. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. Nancy looked into my eyes and tried to explain what had happened. It didn't make any sense. All I wanted was to hold her, to kiss her, to tell her I wasn't gone. 
In the end, all I could do was cry. The tube in my throat made it impossible for me to say what I so desperately wanted to say. So I cried. Nancy brought her head closer to me and tried to figure out what I was trying to communicate. Standing back up she asked if I was trying to tell her that I loved her. I didn't know tears could be so hot. She knew. It was her birthday. All I could do was cry. 


  1. Those coma dreams are still so vivid for you, love, as are my days of waiting by your side while you dreamt them. Thank you for choosing to come back to this side.

  2. There is no way for any of us to come close to understanding the ordeal you have gone through and continue to be challenged by but your story gives a glimmer and yes, I am crying. My son was hit by a car two and a half years ago suffering a moderately traumatic brain injury and severely fractured leg. I am grateful he is still here, it could have been much worse. There isn't a day that goes by that we don't experience some kind of a challenge from this event. I have silently celebrated the anniversary of my son's being alive, but he is not ready for that. There is too much emotion, too much loss, too much pain and anger and still so much recovery ahead of him.

    Alex, you have some very beautiful gifts and I believe that you are still here to share those gifts with others. I think spending your day with those you love and treating yourself gently and allowing yourself to experience the emotions coming to you could be one way but only you will be able to figure that out. Of course, watching a good comedy on dvd could be the trick too. Never underestimate the healing power of laughter.

    Thank you again for candidly sharing your stories.

  3. I agree...in the absence of rituals performed through organized religious practice, our culture is barren of any precedent for grieving. When the Band Aids won't stick, we're in the habit of medicating our way through especially trying times...which sucks when the medication itself makes you ill.

    I thing that writing about your dreams is a profound step towards emerging from that dark place. Reading this palpable description of you fighting your way back invokes in my mind a whirlwind of memories--stories and past events you've shared with me; as well as those that I've witnessed, from closed chapters of your life.

    It strikes me that through this experience some of your worst fears have been realized. I encourage you to allow yourself to experience whatever feelings may come, embrace them and let them pass through you. Carrying them around any longer is too weighty a burden to bear. When your thoughts feel crushing, and your heavy heart aches, remember that you're not alone. There are those of us who will always be waiting for you on the other side.

    "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning."
    -Louis L'Amour

  4. These dreams are fascination like a baby in a womb must feel as they emerge into a strange land.
    You did come back and although your life changed you have ridden that wave with much dignity when I know all you want to do is scream.
    Your Nancy is some woman who seems filled with love for you.
    Thanks for being with us and giving us the gifts of your struggles- I hope that through the writing you gain some peace.

  5. Nancy is definitely something. No question. She surpasses my wildest expectations every day when she smiles as she says my name.

    As for feelings... each week I learn more and more about how little I know about my feelings. Arrested development be damned. I intend to learn the language of my emotions! So much to be learned. I'll definitely need all the time I have left.