Four months after waking up from my month-long coma I met with the Dean to discuss my return to college. She suggested I might want to check out the course of a history professor who had undergone brain surgery and was also just returning to school.
I felt it was a good idea since we had the “brain” thing in common.
Outwardly, I staggered when I walked, had poor balance and couldn’t talk clearly; while the right side of his face was frozen and he always wore sunglasses when he went outside, apparently to protect his eye from the wind and sun.
I ended up taking one of his courses, and I also went to his office, occasionally, to speak to him when I was having tough times.
One day, when I was feeling especially depressed and sorry for myself, I went to his office looking for a kindred spirit. Once there, I found myself complaining and venting. When I was done he looked at me and said, with a bit of anger in his voice, “What are you worried about? You are going to get better! I’m not.”
Was I going to get better? I really didn’t know if I was, and right then I couldn’t see how. And besides, what did “better” mean anyway?
I left his office and never went back, although I stayed in his class.
Fast forward four decades:
Last week I was in a coffee shop where I go to write sometimes. This coffee shop happens to be in the same small town as the college I attended.
As I sat writing I couldn’t help but notice an older man with his wife, sitting in front of me, speaking as if he had a neurological issue which effected his right side.
Interested, I kind of forgot what I was supposed to be doing, and I watched and listened to this man, who must have been somewhere around eighty/eighty-five years old. Having him slowly come into focus in front of my eyes was a little like having the hospital room magically come into focus when I woke up from my coma. I realized I knew him, and that I had a chance here to get some closure on an event I still thought about.
When he got up to leave, I got up also and went over to him. I asked him if he had been a professor at the college. When he said yes, I told him that I thought I had taken a course with him; that I had been in a car accident and coma, and had taken his course because he had just had a brain operation.
He vaguely remembered me and we talked a bit before he said, “You look really good.” I told him that I felt good and that he looked good also. “Except for my asymmetrical face,” he said and smiled. Then he paused and said, “I never think about it anymore. It’s been forty years.”
“Yes,” I said, “Forty years this summer. For both of us.”
I briefly thought about bringing up what he had said to me forty years ago, but I couldn’t see what purpose it would serve. He looked and sounded satisfied about where his life had taken him; I was happy for him and for me, and I guess that was all that mattered.
We shook hands and looked at each other for a moment. We had both come through the “brain” wars. I flashed again on that conversation in his office, forty years ago, when we were both angry and depressed; both at wits end. Then I thought about him at the table, here, in the coffee shop, proudly talking about his great-grandchildren with his wife, and then the two of us talking and smiling right now; everything was so different than we ever could have dreamed.
I thought about where my life was and how far we had all come. August will mark forty years since my injury and standing here, speaking with my old professor, I felt as though I had come full circle. I have come so far; but then, forty years is a long time. The passing of forty years represents enough time to work through a lot of stuff.
Yes, forty years is a long time, especially right after a TBI when I could never conceive of passing forty years in the state I was then; when the days are interminably slow, painful and worry ridden.
The anniversary of my accident often passes without me realizing it, but not this year. This is a year for reflection and tying up loose ends from my past, and this year I will be celebrating. Not only have I gained closure and perspective, but also my son is getting married on that day.
That day, which once meant transformation and loss, will now have new meaning; promise and pride and beauty. I can’t think of a better day for a wedding.