It was early August and I’d avoided this guy for a month, at least. He’s a friend but I hid every single time he came to see me.
“What should I tell him this time? He just wants to talk to you.”
“Ugggghhhh! Why won’t he leave me alone! Tell him I’m napping. Anything. I don't care!!!” I yelled more loudly than I meant.
“But it’s 10:00 in the morning…” My husband's words trailed off.
It was simple. I didn’t want to hear his story while living my own bad dream.
Yet, the world must be confronted at some point and I needed to get out and walk to build back my stamina. My plan was to do it during the week when I could walk in peace with no questions asked.
It was my second 1/2 mile walk and I was roasting in my Aspen Collar (picture below) which was now soaked with sweat yet I felt good. I pressed on a little farther but as I made the turn for home, a car rolled up. Oh for Pete’s sake, who’s this?
“Hey.” Jeff said.
Oh crap. “I’m so sorry I was napping all those times.” I said sheepishly.
“It didn’t matter. I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you.”
“Haven’t felt like talking to anyone.” I admitted.
“I get it. How’re your spirits?”
“Pretty shitty, thanks for asking, but I’m getting there.”
We chatted in the middle of the road awhile longer and not about his multiple neck fractures or details about my accident, although he knew the full story. We talked about “big picture” stuff. How it’s normal to feel depressed, the daily emotional roller coaster and the light at the end of the tunnel that you just can't see yet.
His parting words were…
“We're in a club now. If you hear of or see someone who’s been through this, even if they’re strangers, you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll reach out to them. Tell them there’s light.”
As I walked gingerly away completely exhausted, I thought, “Oh no I won’t. There’s no way in hell.” It wasn’t my personality to intrude on anyone’s privacy. Just being grumpy, I guess.
I was probably nice to Jeff but I’d been pissy for as long as I could remember.
While walking the streets of
this last Friday, I saw a young kid (probably late 20's) walking towards me. From a distance, I noticed his slow and fragile gait. As sounds caught his attention, he used the tell-tale full torso turn I knew so well to see from where the sounds came. As he got even closer, I saw his ghostly pale skin that hadn’t seen the sun in forever, sunken eyes and scrawny stature. New York
Really, what stood out like a blinking beacon was his Aspen Collar. It had been my “necklace” for 8 weeks, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And there’s only one reason you wear one. They’re for broken necks.
As he brushed by me on unsteady legs, I whispered to my best friend who’d also noticed him.
“I have to talk to him. I can’t help it.” What? The urge was so strong.
“Go. GO!” Maggie encouraged.
So I ran after him and touched his arm gently while simultaneously making apologies to him and his companion.
“Hi. I'm very sorry to intrude. I couldn’t help but notice your Aspen Collar. I wore one all summer.”
Smiling, he replied in his soft spoken voice. “You did?! You look normal.”
“Thank you. I feel pretty normal. How much longer do you have?”
“I have six more weeks. It’s been six already. ”
“Oh, boy. I know exactly…”
I didn’t ask but he volunteered his story. He’d fallen asleep at the wheel and hit a tree. Then he asked me.
“You’re lucky to be alive.” I said.
“I know. You, too.” He said sweetly.
“No, I’m lucky to be walking and feeding myself.”
We both sort of chuckled.
“How’re your spirits?” I asked.
His girlfriend answered quickly , “Crabby.”
“Crabby, I guess.” He acknowledged in agreement.
Then my friend chimed in, “Oh, she was really crabby, too!” which made all four of us laugh.
“You look so normal.” He said again looking off in the distance.
“You will too, I promise, and really, really soon. You’ll feel a little bit better every single day until one day, you’ll forget that it wasn’t so long ago that…” I didn't need to finish.
“Does it feel different when it rains?” Meaning my neck.
“It always feels different. Getting used to it, though.”
We both have enough titanium holding up our heads we’re TSA security risks.
“I don’t want to keep you but you’re halfway there. It’ll go fast. Please be careful driving. We never know how many chances there are.”
“I hope so. That it goes fast.”
Looking directly in each other’s eyes, we smiled before turning away. When I was 20 feet away he called out, “You look great!”
“Your turn next!”
There’s so much we didn’t need to say; questions we didn’t ask each other because we both knew.
Do you sleep at night?
Can you open your mouth more than an inch or eat without smashing food to a centimeter?
Do you even have an appetite?
Do you fall over things all the time?
Have you called the doctor about the funk and asked for meds?
How bad does it smell?
How bad does it smell?
Do people treat you differently and annoy you?
Have you begged yet for more pain meds then wondered what you’ll do when they’re gone forever?
What is normal?
Guaranteed, this kid will see someone in the "collar” and reach out, too, and ask, “How are your spirits?”
There's this club; one you never imagined or wanted to belong to but now you're a card carrying member.
Head over to Yeah Write and check out some awesome writers telling their stories. They’re courageous and creative and everything else I want to be. Go on!