Tuesday, October 16, 2012

There's This Club You Belong To...




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 New York 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.

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?

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!

56 comments:

  1. You are such a good person Gina. I always felt trauma can give people new perspective- and to those who share experiences it gives them a connection if they're open to it.

    I'm so glad you stopped and talked to that guy...for both your sakes. I just really was so touched by this story. I'm a bit teary, really.

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    1. Thanks so much, Jen. I've been struggling a little trying to find perspective. It's confusing sometimes. Just looking at him, in the eyes, I knew so much about the life he is currently living. I told him it sucks but doesn't last.

      I knew by the smile on his face (and he smiled the whole time) that he was happy to meet me. You could just tell. He kept repeating how normal I looked as if he would never get there. He is one lucky kid!

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  2. What a great post Gina. Isn't it amazing that you went a witnessed to someone in the club and you never thought you'd do that. I am sure you made his day - for what it was worth.

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    1. It made both of our days because no one I know really understands what it feels like, or the lack of feelings sometimes. And avoiding people. He is on my prayer list and I don't even know his name.

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  3. When I read your words "There's no way in hell," I was hoping that the second part of the story would be about you asking someone else how their spirits are. I am sure that boy felt so much better when you talked to him, and hope he did the same for someone else somewhere down the road.

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    1. I was so grumpy at the time that I ran into the friend who had severely broken his neck. I've apologized since for any attitude I may have had. I was happy I ran after him because I did pause for a few moments before I took off. I hope and think I cheered him up a little. He seemed happy but, man, did he look like crap. I can say that because I've looked the same exact way. Thanks for visiting Samantha!

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  4. It always helps to talk with someone who has gone through the same thing you have, especially the part where you get better and share that better days are coming. You did a good thing.

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    1. You are right, LOW. There is a point where you think/believe your life will always stink and feel like that and it's depressing. There isn't much that can get you out of that funk. I felt better when I talked to my friend (even though I avoided him for a long time) because he did know without asking or pestering me about how I felt.

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  5. People have told me that I am able to help others because of all of the trauma I have lived through. It gives it a kind of purpose. Most of the time it doesn't make me feel better, but then there are those moments when you reach out to someone and realize that you are turning tragedy into an opportunity to help someone else.

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    1. I felt very peaceful after speaking with him. HIS smile made my day/weekend. I will remember him.

      I'm sorry you have lived through so much trauma. And it is difficult to find a purpose in it, if there even is one. But then you come upon a situation that tells you "this is it...the purpose." I felt that on Friday.

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  6. Awww you are a blessing to the world!

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    1. Thank you for saying that. We were a blessing to each other and maybe our paths were supposed to cross.

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  7. Lovely. And just good. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. I just went back to read about your dive. So scary. What a great thing that you can now show others that it gets better and give them hope.

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    1. TriGirl,
      We had just started (one day in) training for our annual triathlon. It was freaky, freaked us all out. I hope I gave that to him. He was sweet and had a long rode ahead of him.

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  9. I love how this came full circle! This is my favorite of yours during my time at yeah write!

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    1. That's exactly how I felt, Stacie. It did come full circle for me and summer now seems ions ago when in reality it has only been 3.5 months. That compliment, from you, means a lot to me.

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    2. You totally nailed it! And, get on twitter so we can congratulate you in real time ;)

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  10. Sometimes you hate it when a friend is right. I think in this case, you were happy to be proved wrong. While I wouldn't wish that anyone else would join your club, I'm glad that you have the support of others and can offer it to the newest members.

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    1. I think it was more that I didn't want anyone trying to make me feel better at the time. I was in the midst of my own pity party and no one else was invited. Weird time. And I was happy to be proved wrong and deep down in my heart, I knew I would be but I didn't want to accept that from him right then. Sometimes we don't get to choose the clubs in which we belong and that's okay. Thanks for your comment!

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  11. The Survivors Club, is what you belong to now! You survived, and you are helping others to get there, too. You have a big heart.

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    1. Thanks, Tina! I'm pretty good a the surviving thing.

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  12. I had to go back and read your full story in connection with this. That must have been such a scary time for you. I think it's wonderful that you were able to reach out to someone going through an equally scary time. I'll bet it made all the difference to him. I hope you're feeling well now.

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    1. I hope it made a difference to him and helped him realize his current "state" isn't forever. He had that down in the dumps look of someone not comfortable out on the street, which I totally get. I'm feeling great now. Thanks, Michelle!

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  13. What a story. Thank goodness nothing like that has ever happened to me. My friend's son just went through surgery for a broken back. -- Because of lifting weights wrong. Ugh. Poor guy was in a brace but it didn't heal. Now he has had surgery and will be in the brace again. This really puts his ordeal in a new perspective. You are so right to comfort that young man.

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    1. That poor boy you know is struggling, I can assure you. It felt natural to comfort him. Not many people understand how it feels just like any other ordeal someone has been through that we haven't.

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  14. I remember a friend saying something similar to me after I had a miscarriage - that I was now a member of the sisterhood no one wants to join. There is something special about the support you can give to a new member of the club you didn't want to be in, whatever that may be.

    I have also been "napping" many times. It's too bad we don't feel comfortable enough to say, "I'm overwhelmed and not up to interacting right now. Nothing personal."

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    1. Yes, that's the type of club I was speaking to in this post. I'm sorry for your loss.

      I napped a lot or just fell asleep in my brace sitting up in the middle of sentences. I knew full well I was putting my husband in some situations where he had to explain my behavior. I don't remember a lot of it especially through July. People stopped by and when I've seen them recently I don't even remember that I spoke to them during that month.

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  15. First of all, I am so glad that you are here to give that young man that hope. And secondly, what a generous thing to do and to share with us. Thank you so very much...

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    1. Thank you, IASoupMama. Sharing felt awkward before this coincidental encounter.

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  16. oh WOW. thank you for sharing this story with us and i'm so so sorry you have to be in that club.

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    1. Thanks, Christina. I read on one of our grid blogs that these experiences, as bad as some are, "shape who we are". This definitely shaped me as did talking to him.

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  17. This was a great story, and I love the whole "club" concept. I'm real big into "pay it forward" kind of stuff too. This was an uplifting read given an unfortunate situation.

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    1. Thanks, Angela. I'm really big on "paying forward" as well. I knew I would but I didn't want my friend telling me anything at the time. Wasn't ready to hear it. He gave me hope though and I returned the favor...I hope! And it's easy to write as uplifting now as I feel much better.

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  18. What a special club. Not one you wanted to join, but the fact that you are in it and can be a positive force for someone else in the same boat is such a beautiful thing. Lovely.

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    1. Thanks, Kianwi! No one wants this boat.

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  19. You are paying it forward, which is especially important in situations where people feel like they're the only one.

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    1. I definitely felt no one understood except Jeff, our friend. I bet that guy in NYC feels the same way.

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  20. I loved this. I can relate to this for a few reasons, especially to all the questions that weren't asked.
    I'm so glad you listened to that call inside you to talk to him. He won't forget it.

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    1. There was absolutely no need for either of us to ask the questions. We knew about each other's lives more than maybe some friends, at least the quality of life at the time. He is a handsome kid with curly hair and big brown eyes. I won't forget him either. Thanks for visiting, Heidi!

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  21. Quite a story, Gina. If anything remotely like this happens to me I'll think about your story and try to remember that it gets better. Inspiring, uplifting.

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    1. I can tell you that things can't get worse so you have to look forward! Thanks, Stephanie!

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  22. I just finished this and went back to read the story of your injury. Whoa! I can't believe you went through that!

    You strike me as such a positive, upbeat person, and now I know, at least in part, why. Carpe diem.

    Loved this post and really loved what you did to help that kid. You have a lot of good karma headed your way, mama.

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    1. I would never have written about this for YW if not for that kid. That is exactly why I've been writing light stuff (from what I can remember)! I'm happy you liked this and commented so sweetly. It's awkward for me to have this kind of attention. Since it happened at the lake and I stayed there for two months, no one at home except friends knows anything about this.

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  23. What a story. Wow. So glad you're here to share it with us and with anyone else who needs it.

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  24. What a nightmare to overcome, the essence of which you captured nicely in this post. Heartfelt and courageous.

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    1. And scary for mr to talk and think about so thanks for commenting!

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  25. Gina, this is my favorite post by you so far! Such a moving story and you told it so well. I was hooked waiting to see where it was going to go next! I'm so glad you're better and here to tell us these great stories :)

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    1. Thanks, Ashley. This is pretty much why I've kept all my entries light. It's not easy for me to think about. I appreciate you noticing.

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  26. What a beautiful post. There is so much people go through and suffer without hope. You are a light of hope for those that have been through the same trauma, the same nightmare. It's truly the one thing anyone can hold on to when they suffer...that they can then pass on the hope to someone else who suffers. Thanks so much for sharing this story.

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    1. I fully understood the meaning of hopelessness after it happened and I realized my situation, even if only for a few hours. I wouldn't have shared it had I not run into that young guy on the street. Thanks for your kind comment.

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  27. You are a kind person. This is definitely a pay it forward story.

    XO,
    Pippi

    P.S. And congrats on the win! Well deserved, my friend.

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    1. Pippi, you're a doll! Thank you for your kind words! I do believe in paying it forward. I'm thrilled with the acknowledgement.

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