The way he told me, he saw it as a kind of existentialist episode. “It’s like the left side of my brain’s taken over from the right side” he said, “… the sensible side. I feel like a little boy again. Everything is .. I’m having to learn everything again – tying my laces is like the hardest thing in the world… it’s fascinating – like my sensible grown up side has gone on holiday – I just woke up one morning and there it wasn’t..”
That was one Christmas – one – no two perhaps, before ….
..and then I remember trying to explain this to the woman from the brain injury place – the nice one – the place he went to when he came out of hospital. Sitting across from me at the kitchen table. He was listening – half listening. I’m not sure how much he was listening. Wandering, restless, occasionally saying “have you got a fag?” and me saying “we’re not smoking because Jenny is here and she doesn’t smoke” and he would nod, sit back down at the kitchen table, half listening, maybe, who knows, but then he would forget – his memory is fucked – and five minutes later would be up again, restless, pacing, “have you got a fag?” … At that point he couldn’t quite work the lighter, so he depended on me to do it. It was safer that way. I always tried to explain – to say “I’m sorry I have to be so bossy. The thing is you forget – and it isn’t safe…” and he would nod, and say it was ok. The thing is he would forget again ten minutes later
I remember saying all this – describing it to the woman, and I’d ask him – “do you remember when that happened to you? In Tucson? In the apartment”. I don’t think he did remember
She said, “that was probably an irregular heart rhythm” – tachycardia something, and he probably recovered spontaneously. Did he see a doctor after that?” – and I said no, I didn’t think he had. I can’t ask him because he doesn’t remember. I didn’t ask what would have happened if he had seen a doctor. I didn’t ask if they would have been able to… there is no point.
I remember what Zach said to me, when I gently mocked the way in which he took vitamins, some little bottles of something called greens – concentrated bottles he drank each morning – I remember Zachy saying yes well he’s a tweaker isn’t he. Tweakers have to be careful about their health – like it was the only obvious sensible thing to do. Logical. Except of course it wasn’t logical at all. Nothing was logical. Nothing. Not then. Not now- not since, not since not since and what the fuck what’s the point – there is no point. Whether, if he’d gone to a doctor then, they would have done something, given him something to make it stop – to make it so eighteen months down the line he didn’t end up on the floor at terminal three with the paramedics attaching the pads, and one of them telling me – like there was a choice – that they would have to cut his clothes away. Would it have made any difference? Idiot that I am, I wanted him to come home first and foremost. I couldn’t bear to think of him dying alone, there, in that squalid longstay hotel room. He had looked so ill – so thin. Should I have persuaded him to get on the plane? Was that wrong? Was I selfish? Was it better that he saw someone who loved him before it happened? Hugged me? Said “it’s good to see your face”? Told me to not crush him – there was nothing of him – nothing when we hugged - he felt half disappeared. Was that better? What if – what if.. Would it have been better if he’d died? This half life he has now – is that better than nolife? Does he remember – how much? Does he care? Does the bit where you care about it all in your brain still work for him? And if it does, how often does he remember, and then forget, and then remember again. He has never told me. When I ask if he remembers what happened he says he doesn’t. when I tell him what happened, he sometimes takes my hand and kisses it with gratitude, because it’s easier for him than saying thank you – his speech isn’t too bad, but something inside his brain, some connection makes it a pain for him to speak so much. He kisses my hand thank you. When I read him what I wrote – about what happened, how it happened – how he nearly died. sometimes he cries, silently.
I am not sure I did the right thing and it hurts so much to go through it – over and over and over in my mind. At least he doesn’t have that. I hope he doesn’t have that. I wish I didn’t. I wish I wish. I can close my eyes – no I don’t even need to close my eyes – I am just there. Snap. Like that. Back there watching them attach the pads – watching his chest heave with the shock – he had lost so much weight - it seemed as if his ribcage would explode with the energy of the shock, and people – the airport man – gently saying “don’t look” but I did. I did look. I thought I needed to see it all – so I could tell him afterwards, tell him what had happened. I didn’t know then. I didn’t know. I didn’t know about brain injury. I do now. There is so much I know now that I didn’t know then.
Ask me now if he would have been better off dying in that longstay hotel room so far away, alone, or on the grey dirty airport floor, or if he is better off as he is now, in that place. I ask myself all the time – all the time, and I don’t know.