“Where are you going?” Mary asks as she watches me grab my keys.
I look up in surprise. “I’m going to house…no…the fixing place – dammit. No. I’m going to that place where they pay me money to show up – work! I’m going to work.” I say in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Kim, you can’t drive.”
“Yes, I can. I can drive j-j-just fine.”
“I don’t think you should be driving right now.”
I stop and look at her in annoyance. “Mary, adults work. I am an adult. I have things that need to get done at work. I told them I would be there by 0800 and I will be.”
I stalk off into the other room, fuming. I know she’s just trying to be helpful, but I’m fucking fine. I feel anger suffuse my body and my desire to break things spikes. I breathe slowly, carefully, deliberately calming myself. I may not be 100%, but at least I can go to work for two frikkin’ hours.
Later, over breakfast, Mary says, “You’re having trouble with your words. You need to rest – you shouldn’t work today.”
I clench tightly on my anger so I won’t say something I’ll regret in a few minutes. My voice is deliberately calm as I work hard to sound reasonable. “I don’t need to t-t-talk to do my job. I just need to be there and work on a report due at the end of the month. It’s only two hours. The short work day is embarrassing enough – I’m not g-g-going to cancel on such a pittance of work. I’m not.”
“Can you do something for me? I want you take a few deep breaths.”
I glare suspiciously. “Okay.” I take a deep breath.
“I want you to think about how you feel right now – how you really feel. What’s your energy level? How is your brain working today?”
Silence. She gives me the chance to slowly come to my own conclusions. I am stuttering and the day has barely started. My head is pounding and I feel a little confused. My body is heavy with fatigue, my brain feels dull. I could easily lay down after breakfast and nap for a few hours. Damn, she’s right. I’m in no shape to drive. My brain is running much too slowly to stay focused on the road and traffic. If I did go into work, I’d probably just sit there with my glazed eyes staring at some papers on my desk – no way I’d be able to do much on a computer right now.
I take another deep breath. Tears start welling in my eyes. Mary knows that she’s been heard. “Why don’t you go right now and call your job and let them know you won’t be in.”
Stiffness. “I can’t face calling in again. I hate not following through on a commitment. I’ll email them and l-l-let them know I’ll be in tomorrow to make up the time.”
Mary lets my comment pass. That is a fight for tomorrow. “Let’s see how you feel tomorrow. Go email them now. Your computer is just over on the shelf.”
Imagine this sort of conflict happening again and again. About whether I can go to clay class. Whether we can go out to dinner. Whether I am up to carrying groceries in. On and on and on. There doesn’t seem to be a single aspect of my life that doesn’t require judgment – and hence a functioning brain.
This is now our life together, Mary’s and my life. My girlfriend has become my caregiver, the only fully functional adult in our household. And she’s doing this voluntarily. Because she loves me. Because she has a sense of responsibility for me since so often I can’t care for myself. Because she sees us as a family, and families take care of each other.
I haven’t felt grateful for her help – for her being the one who has to tell me over and over again what I cannot do. It has only been recently – two years post head injury – that I have begun to empathize with how shitty it must be to have these conversations over and over again. With someone who is suppose to be her partner, her equal. With someone who doesn’t remember, who simply doesn’t understand. With someone who just wants to be functional and whole again.
Mary, thank you. I won’t pretend that we won’t keep having these fights, but right now, this moment, I see. I see the shape of our lives and the sacrifices that you make. I see how unfair this is and how difficult it must be for you. I see why you struggle against your life and dreams being absorbed into my disability and need. I am thankful you are here. I am sorry this is our life right now. I am blessed, so blessed, to have you as part of my family.