It’s been a few years since I wrote this piece, with help and approval from my mom, for a TBI survivors’ group. It is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I’m resharing it now because we’ve finally written a happy ending of sorts to it. Here’s part one of what is now a 3 part post. Thanks, Mom, for your help with this.
It’s been a long time since we lost my mom. There are days when it’s been so long that I can’t even remember what she was like. I no longer have the memories of her laugh or her voice anywhere in my mind. I don’t know the sound of her footsteps any longer. I can’t recall how she sounded when she sang. I no longer know the touch of her hand, or the comforting feeling of being held in her arms. The sure and powerful bulwark of my life had disappeared. She is so far gone from my mind that I sometimes wonder if the woman I knew ever existed.
I called her last week and asked her if she can remember being the woman she was. She said sometimes…when she sleeps. Which is fitting, because the only time I see the mom-who-was is in my dreams.
It’s been nearly thirty years years since we were out running errands and she ran a stop sign. A lifetime since a suburban slammed into the driver’s door and I lost the woman who was my mother….forever. I woke up in an emergency room strapped to a back board. She didn’t wake up at all – comatose, brain injured, with severe internal injuries – dying…
and then she lived.
Brain injuries and comas are strange things. No one tells you that in the hospital. You sit by the side of someone you love and hope that they will wake up so that you can take them home. Nobody prepares you for the fact that the person who wakes up may no longer be the person you loved.
They also don’t tell you that you’ll never be allowed to say that.
She died. The mom I knew died.I’ve said it over and over again through the years. Relatives cursed me for my insensitivity. Therapists got so frustrated that they yelled. Family friends begged me to stop saying something so ugly. I could not, because it was the truth.
I have gone back and read the journals I kept when I was 14 and 15, just the way that my mother taught me to do. I screamed and railed on paper my anger at the chaos my life had become. I shouted in indignation over family members who disappeared when our catastrophe became too uncomfortable for them to endure.What I cried out against with all that I had on those pages was the lie that somehow this person was my mother.
I’ve also read the journals that she kept during that first year back at home. She wrote of me, “There’s a girl in this house. I don’t know her. Her mother has died and she cries for her. I don’t like the crying and wish that she would stop. If she won’t stop crying then she should leave.” The daughter in her memory, the me she knew, was 7 years old. Her daughter was missing and she screamed at me demanding that I bring her girl back.
People tried to reason with her and said, “This is your daughter, right here.”
She would look at them and scream, “LIAR!”
and she was right.
It had not taken very long for the people we were to be replaced by the very beginnings of who we would become. Those strangers were as foreign to us as they were to each other.
She had been a capable woman. That’s the first word that comes to my mind for her – capable. Strong, brilliant, independent, fiercely protective – and then suddenly broken. Every part of herself in which she had once taken pride had been stripped away from her. What was left was the raw truth of the woman who had been underneath, and that truth was ugly to behold.
The woman who had set out that day was gone, and we brought a frightened and confused monster home with us in September. All that was left of the woman she had been were anger and fear. She raged and roared at the world. She lashed out in a murderous fury, and I learned to hide and cringe in terror.
Healing took years. It was a slow painful crawl until we got to a place where the woman she became replaced what she was. But she was not the same. The confident ambitious woman had become timid and unsure. Her brilliant mind suffered from confusing lapses in memory. No longer protective, she was easily swayed and convinced. The hard shell of her had been smashed and what was left was still determined, but humbled and kind.
She came to visit us ea while back and brought with her a cassette tape. After the rest of the house had gone to bed, she motioned to me with her awkward hands. “I have a treasure to share with you,” she said.
I sat next to her on the couch in the front room as she worked it into the tape player and pressed ‘Play.’ From out of its muffled speaker came the laugh of a woman I had lost. In that long ago voice, she sang and played with my younger brother. They sang of twinkling stars and the Good Ship Lollypop. A weight wrapped around my chest until I couldn’t breathe.
“That’s my mom…” I choked as the tears streamed down my face.
“I know,” she answered.
“Yes, I did.” Her cold fingers gripped mine tightly.
“You’re nicer now.” I told her.
“But I miss her terribly.”
She reached up and wiped my face. “I know you do.”