Flowers

Some memories are fluid, untrustworthy as they embellish themselves. Some are burned into my soul, so even as they hold beautiful moments, they are solid, comforting in their details. As time has passed this last year, some memories have been lost, and some have resurfaced, bringing me to tears. This is one which touched me deeply.

The memory is of tomorrow’s date, 20 November, in the year 1998. I had just turned forty and ended a relationship. The week prior, on my birthday, I had stopped by Chaddsford Winery, where I had worked for a few years and was part of the family. I had just had my tragus pierced, and was in a very good mood. My friend Suzanne said “You must have found a new love, you’re glowing,” to which I replied “Nope, no relationships, I’m taking a break,” much to the shock of the table. I had a well earned reputation as a ladies man, my friend Pete once exclaimed so loud my date heard him, “Where do you find these women?” I told her he was complimenting us both.

The memory of 20 November was inspired more by some flowers than the calendar, more on that later.

There was an event coming up at the winery, a Nouveau tasting, and I needed an escort. I found this ad in the paper.

Emma's personal ad

Emma’s personal ad

This was a world before the internet, with personal ads in newspapers and conversations by telephone. We eliminated the goal of “lifelong partner,” her husky voice informing me that there were two things I needed to know about her, she was Sicilian and she smoked. Ironically, I was with her for the remainder of her life.

I picked her up at her apartment, she didn’t want me to come to her door due to her dog, a two hundred pound Rottweiler. As I waited in the car she came out and first approached another car, she later told me she had asked if he was Blake and he had said “I sure wish I was.”

I drove us to the winery, there was a light rain. As we approached I told her I knew an alternate entrance, through an open park behind the winery. It had not occurred to me how strange it would be to drive off the road and through the woods with someone I had just met in person, later she told me her hand had been on the door handle the entire time.

We had a lovely evening, I’m fairly sure she was impressed with the way we were treated by Eric and Lee, the owners. We were kissing quite a bit in the barrel room and she suggested we continue at my place. I did not need to be asked twice. When we reached my room in South Philadelphia, a “trinity” with a winding staircase, she looked around and said “This won’t do at all” quite severely. I wasn’t sure what she meant, until she continued “You’ll have to move into my place.” I had been in her presence for about three hours, but had no reason to argue. I went down to the kitchen to get some food, and returned to find her on my bed in a lovely corset. At some point we slept, we awoke intertwined.

I drove her to a little pancake house near her place for breakfast. I had Belgian waffles, then I dropped her off and went to my weekend job at a florist North of Philadelphia. When I arrived at work my friend Beverly picked up my vibe and was ecstatic for me, preparing a bouquet for my new date that evening with Emma. Emma brought her handcuffs. It took almost a week to move into her place in Delaware county.

Now the flowers.

About a month later we traveled to Bloomsburg Pennsylvania to see my oldest son Leyland in a “A Christmas Carol.” The next morning she suggested we “stop by” and visit her friends Catherine and Bill in Staten Island. She never was much for directions, but my ex-wife had been rather rude the night before (she was under the impression I was coming to see her) so I was seeking a way to sooth her.

We finally located Catherine and Bill after dark, and had quite a bit to drink with them. At one point Catherine reached over and broke a piece off of a plant about six inches long, telling Emma it would root if she just stuck it in some dirt. Last month, eighteen years later, that plant finally died. It had flourished, and had been shared with several friends through the years. It is called “Crown of Thorns” and produces small pink flowers. At least ours did, no one else ever saw them, and Emma felt she had an intimate relationship with the plant, which was producing the flowers just for her.

When Emma was in the hospital, just a few days before her death, some friends brought a plant. It had a much thinker trunk, but it was the same species, Crown of Thorns. I have had that plant for just over six years now, and the other day it produced flowers for the first time. I was so excited Sam heard me in the other room. These flowers are white, but apparently there were pink ones previously, the petals remain nearby.

new flowers

new flowers

These flowers remind me of the entire story. So far the majority of my rediscovered memories have been pleasant, I always had trouble remembering bad times. I know Emma and I had disagreements, but we usually ended up laughing, like when she threw a spoon at me and it bounced off my head and embedded into the ceiling.

I worry sometimes that I dwell on Emma. Right now exploring memories feels safe, I don’t focus on a single moment and repeat it, I just have a wealth of pleasant moments with Emma. I have no desire to live in the past, I’m just glad I remember it.

 

Real World Problems

I have been attempting to put my personal issues into perspective, recognizing that my impairment is not the end of the world. In the meantime, the world ended.

I was once a fairly sharp analyst, at least two sets of memories indicate this to be true. One of the main reasons I had wanted to emigrate to Belgium was to miss the presidential election in America. As it worked out, the woman who left me behind returned in time to vote with her fresh citizenship. Had I been with her perhaps she would have stayed in Belgium, the equation is too difficult to approach.

So here I am, unable to endorse either major party candidate. I would like to make a change in our lexicon, changing the word “vote” to “endorse.” I suspect people would have an easier time accepting their role in the process if they realized the position was not solely their decision. My personal choice was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, largely because I overestimated the American voters, and thought all the folks who were upset about Bernie Sanders being cheated out of the Democratic nomination would actually vote for a third party candidate like they said they would. All that would have been required would have been for a third party to receive 5% of the vote, but that did not happen. They were all demanding honesty but couldn’t come up with any of their own.

Wednesday morning I woke to the news Trump had won, I had pretty much figured it out before I googled for the results, there was no “We Won!” fanfare from the liberals. I also had some messages from Belgium, one right wing politician was rather snippy about me and “my kind,” had I been in Belgium she might have figured out who me and my kind are. I was called a racist and a homophobe before I left for therapy, and couldn’t bear the wailing and gnashing of teeth on the radio so I put on something more comforting. I found that the bass tones on Courtney Love’s album “Live Through This” match my hearing disturbance and were quite soothing at high volume. “Asking For It” almost put me to sleep.

So there I am, at the Brain Trauma unit, and of course the elephant in the room was unavoidable. We work on mindfulness and cognitive therapies, ignoring reality is frowned upon. As I spoke with my therapists and other patients, I heard the phrase “You’re the most sensible person I’ve heard from all day” a couple of times. I have come to expect it from the other patients, coming from a therapist it was a bit unusual. Me, the guy with a brain injury, was the most sensible person she had heard from all day.

I remain impaired, plagued with neural fatigue after something as simple as a Lumosity session, as well as losses in processing speed and memory. I have regained my sense of humor, and the bloodwork indicates my hormones are once again balanced, but there has been no physical or emotional confirmation. I consider myself “better” because I can recognize I am unemployable. My neuro-psychologist says that high functioning brain injury survivors take the most therapy, because we have so much difficulty accepting our limitations. I understand, that is to say I know what is holding me back, and for the first time in my life I can’t conquer it. The astrategies which worked in the past, denial, working through pain, only make the problems worse and slows any actual recovery. Punching my way out only leaves me with bloody knuckles.

I can’t really ponder my future, fortunately I don’t care. I know I can’t sustain my lifestyle, I can’t even manage to make it to my friend’s gigs; last week I couldn’t accomplish a day trip to see the “Monkeemobile” at a local shop. I feel more isolated, but the physical isolation doesn’t trouble me. The mental isolation does, if you will excuse the comment I feel like the smartest kid on the short bus. It is all perspective. I do not expect to be taken seriously, I expect that anything controversial I say will be responded to with “Well you know, he has brain damage.”

In a society which so easily dismisses complaints as “first world problems” I try to point out the human element, the issues we all face. The turbulence following the election shows us pervasive arrogance and violence, which are real world problems, reaching across all social and economic barriers. The people claiming to be intellectually superior were suddenly made aware of the electoral college, one person standing on her degree in history claiming it had only been used five times previously (she did not realize it has been the method of election in all of the sixty previous elections, yet considers herself politically informed). I live in the Northeast, every year people forget how to deal with snow, I suspect some forget what snow is. After a lifetime of ambiguous sexuality and taunts of “faggot,” I was called a homophobe because I didn’t vote for Hillary. The problem is a failure of perspective, people who protest in the name of tolerance acting with no tolerance. It would be easy to blame this on a lack of education, but most of these people will tell you how educated they are, largely because they never bothered with the definition of education. To them it means they attended a particular institution, not that they learned anything useful. Someone told them they were educated, they never realized that the truly educated never stop learning.  They feel they are compassionate because they have seen compassionate people and it made them feel good, as they drove past. I cannot argue with such arrogance, it would be the equivalent of trying to convince a crazy person they were not sane.

I recognize I am probably not completely sane. Which in a counter intuitive way validates my sanity. I listen to people who do not listen to themselves. I guess I’m asking for it.

 

 

 

Running on Empty

I believe I have always been a gentleman, as well as a gentle man. That may be nearing an end. I am increasingly frustrated and irritable. I am not happy with the person I am becoming, but I see no way out, and I am looking hard.

I pictured it last night as a four engine aircraft running on three engines. Looks easy, but that is not how it was designed, that fourth engine had a purpose. The twin engines are fine with only two engines, there are plenty of single engine craft and helicopters. I should be happy with three engines, but I know I used to have four.

I attended a gathering last night, my big night out this week, and ran into someone I saw a few months ago. He remembered my name, we had met at a gathering of a related group which had been both of our first group forays. Of course I didn’t remember his name, and probably wouldn’t have without the injury. I was never good at names. After a while something happened which caused Sam to mention my brain injury, and he said “But you look okay.”

Yes, I look okay. Because what is wrong is something you cannot see. I falter, walk with a cane, am hard of hearing, can’t see very well, but those issues are common in people of my age. I have adapted. I smile, ask people to repeat what they have said or to speak more slowly, I have a beautiful cane, I connect abstract ideas on occasion, I dress well, I fit in. I can remember trivial events, which covers for the fact I forget what I am saying mid sentence. Writing does the same, you don’t stop every few words as you read this, you don’t know how much I struggle with each sentence.

A relative called the other night. I suspect he meant well, but there is enough of me left to feel critical of his aloofness. I can remember telling him about what I am doing, he acted as if he did not. He made some insulting comments, which I am sure he did not realize were insulting. When Emma was fighting cancer, another relative felt the need to casually insult the profession of restaurant server. When I reminded him that Emma had been a server most of her career, he doubled down, directly insulting my dying wife. Both of these people are related to me, not many of my close friends can believe it. I wanted to hang up, but I am too nice. I shook until I fell asleep, and slept poorly. The next morning when I could collect my thoughts I wrote him an email, explaining the pain he had caused. I knew better, nothing was going to change. He wrote back, I couldn’t bring myself to read his email. I asked Sam to read it, just to tell me if there were any questions to which I should respond. She said it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be, but she hadn’t read my letter to him, so I let her read the email I had written. Her opinion changed, so I am glad I did not read his email. My words did not merit his response, which I had expected. This has nothing to do with my injury, it’s just a reminder of a disappointing relationship at time I need a more supportive one.

There are these kind of issues, the untangling of issues. I run into it with physicians, who try to separate my multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and advancing age rather than just treating the symptoms.  Insurance is even more frustrating, because it’s just a faceless voice on the telephone, giving their personal interpretation; if I call back I get another faceless voice with their own interpretation. Social Security Disability is scary, because from what I can gather it is a monolith, the unimpeachable opinion of one person determining my future, and that person has no medical training upon which to form this opinion. Personal interactions are the worst, everyone intends empathy, and I can finally understand the meaning of “You don’t know how I feel.” Depression is present, but I actually have brain damage. I can’t just think of things another way. I want to be gracious, but I don’t believe I can keep up the facade much longer. I don’t know how well I’ve kept it up so far, people have been falling away from me, no one has visited, I have received very little support from my fundraising attempts.

A few years ago, I visited Lieve’s brother in Belgium. She was never precise about his disability, but he was in his forties, living in an institution, wheelchair bound. He cannot speak, but he recognized me from a previous visit. We all had lunch in the day room, with the other patients. This was a residential care facility, there were no white coats, and most interactions were in Flemish. An hour or so in, I realized I could not tell the patients from the staff, and they probably felt the same of me. I was pleasant, attentive, but my English just sounded like gibberish, my Flemish was broken. I feel the same now, my adaptations and eloquence make me appear to be “normal,” I carry no physical scars, I look okay, but I am not.

I am scared. Not as much by my crumbling finances as my crumbling brain. I may end up homeless, if things continue the way they are certainly by this time next year, perhaps much sooner. I had once thought losing one’s mind would be peaceful, a gentle descent into forgetfulness. Sad that one of the last things I am to learn is the solitude of a broken mind.

 

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I always thought of myself as a warrior. I’m losing this battle.