Monday, January 11, 2010

Sixteen Years

I wanted to write a post today to commemorate the sixteenth anniversary of the day my whole life changed.  After sixteen years, though, the event itself doesn't seem all that important.

You see, I've been thinking...  It's not the tragedies of our lives that make us who we are.  It's what we do with ourselves afterward.

Sixteen years ago...  My daughter was 5 months old.  I was a brand new single mother.  I'd just gotten a job I really liked that I was really good at.  I was young and beautiful.  I had a mind like a steel trap.  I was ready to take on the world.

And then sixteen years ago I ran a red light and my whole life changed.

January 11th, 1994 at around noon.  You know, the only thing important about that day is the car accident.  I don't remember the day at all.  I don't remember the twelve days before or the seventeen days after.  Those things were wiped away.  January 28th... Now that's a day I'll never forget.  It's permanently etched into my brain.  It was the day I came back into my head. 

On January 28th, I started making sense and my brain started processing the goings on around me.  That morning, in fact, I woke up from the strangest dream - a dream I now believe was the fast-forward version of the preceeding days.  And I understood everything.  Finally, no one had to tell me for the bajillionth time why I was in a hospital.  (I do remember asking where my baby was.  She was with my folks, and wasn't in the car with me when it happened.)

I was back in my head.  Problem is, my head wasn't the same.

My body wasn't either, but that's not the point of today's stroll down a pothole-filled memory lane.  Although, at the time, that was the entire point.  I knew my brain wasn't right, but since I couldn't see it, like I could my other injuries, I refused to believe it mattered.

Except I wasn't remembering new things very well.  My doctor had to introduce himself every time he came in the room.  I kept calling him Dr. Seinfeld, but he was actually Dr. Friedman.  (The TV show took precedence in my head apparently.)

And the old memories weren't where they were supposed to be.  When a person has a head injury, there's a set of questions the nurses have to ask every morning.  The questions change, but they follow the same general gist.  One morning it went something like this: What's your name?  (That one I got.)  What day is today?  No clue.  Who is the president?  Easy.  Ronald Reagan.  (Ummm, not in 1994.)  What is nine times three?  I know this... I know I know this...

You know something?  The brain is a funny thing.  I couldn't remember the answer, but I got a clear picture in my head of fourth grade and Mrs. Tabaka teaching me my multiplication tables. 

Anyway, flash forward.  After numerous months of therapy, I re-learned my multiplication tables along with a lot of other things.  I learned new strategies for remembering things on a day-to-day basis.  I also learned strategies for holding onto any old memory that happened to bubble to the surface.  (Which was very rare until a few years ago, but that's another story.)

Sixteen years later, I still have problems, but for the most part, I know how to deal with them.  If I meet you at a conference, and then run into you a year later, I might remember your face, but I won't remember your name.  For time to time, the old 'word finding difficulty' knocks me around.  (Not a great problem for a writer to have, but that's why we have dictionaries and thesauruses.)  Still, I do pretty good at being as normal as possible. 

The point is, sixteen years ago I could've wallowed in my tragedy.  My babe-licious body was crumpled.  My beautiful brain was bruised.  I was gimpy and scarred and defective.  For a while after January 28th, I did some wallowing.  I admit it.  Every once in a while over the past sixteen years, I admit to doing some additional wallowing.  But I didn't let the tragedy consume everything I am.

Sixteen years ago, someone told me I would never walk right again.
Sixteen years ago, someone else told me I would never think right again.
Sixteen years ago, someone implied that I would never be fit for a job that required skills above the level of a clerk in a garden store.

If I'd let the tragedy consume me, maybe those people would've been right.  (I have some theories about the kind of people who would encourage wallowing, but that's for another time.)

Sixteen years ago, I thought my life was over.  Maybe my life as I knew it was.  I know I'm not the same girl I was before this happened.  Oh, I'm not going to be stupid and say 'if I had it to do all over again, I'd wouldn't change a thing'.  If I could go back to sixteen years ago this moment, I would pay better attention to the traffic signals - that's for damn sure.  But I'm also not going to say this tragedy wasn't enlightening.  After all, it showed me that I am capable of overcoming whatever life throws at me.

And that, my friends, is a pretty good thing to know about yourself.


  1. Wow. It takes a very strong and admirable person to overcome the adversity you've faced. I'm proud of you, and very glad that you decided to fight to get your life back instead of wallow. You're an inspiration to those of us who have had personal tragedies and are looking to move past them. Thank you for this post.

  2. Wow - thanks so much for sharing. Not all of us can say we'd be able to face anything - but we should. We should have faith in ourselves to fight and go on. Much easier said than done. You are a strong person.

  3. Thanks for sharing. It's very inspirational! You should, you know, take up writing or something. ;o)

  4. Your my new hero. I love how you shared your story, so intelligently and with great insight. Sounds like the steel trap is working again. God bless you. With Him noting is impossible.

  5. Somehow none of this surprises me about you. Your writing shows great strength of character and now I know why.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. What a frightening experience for you, but your fight back is inspirational. I do admire you.