CHAPTER 6 – Different Sides of the Same Mountain

It’s been about 4 months since I released the last installment of The Forest Conversations. I have had this episode written and ready to release, with every intention to release it as soon as it was done…but there was something that I wanted to do before I moved forward, I wanted to make a video with Marq and talk to him about how he feels about me moving forward in the story without him, from my own perspective. I wanted to do this because at this point in the story, we realized that we were having two different and nearly separate experiences, and he can’t remember much of his.

We’ve been married for 28 years this year. Those 5-6 years of doing life without him were the hardest of my life… so it’s been strange to think about telling this story without him too. It just has become more and more clear that there’s no way for us to tell about this part in the story together. I just wanted us to make a video about it though so that everyone knows that he is 100% supportive of me telling this story.

Here’s us, September 2017

So in October, 4 months ago, we planned on making that video and then he had a really bad weekend, he was just not himself. Then the next week was worse, and the next worse than that. It started in October of last year, and I’m going to call it a relapse…because it was so much like all of those years I’m just about to write about.

Strange timing. A total gut punch. Brutal.

Some things got mixed up with his medication. Summer was over and for all of the years I’ve known Marq, summer being over has been a tough time anyway. We had a LOT going on and so there was a lot of stress. We had already had a very busy year and so he was tired, I was tired. Well, all of those things combined and he just crashed.

And I have to tell you that this happened about 3 years ago after a very busy and stressful summer and it lasted just about as long. But I was sure it was a one time thing. It felt like a sucker punch then too.

When he started feeling better a few weeks ago, he sat me down and had a talk with me. He said…’babe, it’s like any other injury, there are going to be times when it flares up. My brain got injured and that injury might flare up. It’s like I hurt my knee in football and the old injury flares up every now and then when I’m using it too much. Maybe we just need to expect that this could happen occasionally.”

Of course I went somewhere alone and cried for a good long time. I don’t like this. I want this to be 100% fixed, 100% over. I know he does too. But I think it will be easier if we don’t get devastated because we were married to our expectations. I think we will just gently hold the possibility that this could happen again.

So we went through a very difficult Fall and Winter. It’s February now and for a couple of weeks he’s been whistling his happy tunes. He’s been on fire and motivated and back to himself. He’s been going 100 miles and hour getting things done. He’s an incredibly strong, sensible and wise human being. He has good perspective about it.

For me however, it’s been brutal. After a few weeks it put me into a tailspin with all sorts of PTSD symptoms. I just kept thinking…I’m not as young this time. I’m old, I’m tired. I don’t know how to do this again. We got through the holidays and lots of huge work projects, but it aged me. That’s the only way I can explain how I feel right now…I feel like those months put years on me. I feel old and tired and weary. But I know I will bounce back, because that’s what we do.

He turns 50 next month, I’m turning 47 this year. I guess it’s okay if we start aging.

I also want to say that this little glitch over the last several months brought lots of gifts with it, and I don’t want to take those for granted. I still feel angry that it happened, if I’m being 100% honest. I thought we were done. But with all of the fear and sadness that it brought, it also taught us some more valuable lessons.

It taught me a lesson about fairy tale endings. I want this to have a fairy tale ending, the ending that I write. But it’s not going to be like that. It WILL be an epic tale, and it is… but it’s still being written and there are still more dark forests to traverse through, more mountains to climb. I suffer so much when I’m attached to a specific outcome. I feel so betrayed when I wanted things to work out a certain way and they don’t. I hope I can learn from this to be open to things working out in ways that I did not expect, and that all of it can ultimately be turned into something beautiful. And that even if it’s not beautiful, it will continue to grow us.

And we do a disservice to each other as human beings when we only tell about the fairy tale endings, but we don’t tell about what it took to get there. We don’t want to give anyone the illusion that we aren’t still climbing our mountains.

These last months also brought the gift of memory, and it’s a good one because I’ve been working on writing this story. Going through it again brought back so many old feelings and specific stories we lived through. It’s not going to be so hard to try to go back and dig it all up because I feel like we just had a really good refresher course…and this is the part I’m writing about next.

here’s us, yesterday, making the video that will be in the next installment

Next week we head up to the mountains for our first ever writing retreat. It’s all about writing your story. Funny how things turn out. I will be continuing the writing of this story along with 22 other women who are doing the same.

So with that…I will start with what I wrote 4 months ago. And I will see you all again when I get back from the writing retreat…

From October, 2017…

It has been epically hard to work up the strength and courage and memories write this part. But I am ready and I am doing it. I’m going to start telling you about the day after the accident and the days and years that followed. This was the day we got put at the very bottom of the tallest mountain we’d ever seen, both knowing that we had to climb to the top. The thing is, I was on one side of the mountain and he was on the other side. Neither of us had any idea where the other one was.

the week after Marq’s accident, 2004

I don’t know whether it’s cruel or merciful that we didn’t get to say goodbye to each other. I don’t know whether it’s cruel or merciful that we didn’t have some kind of a written life trip itinerary that stated that on the last week in July of 2004, there would be a beautiful day like every other and then the next day would begin a journey that was entirely different. We didn’t even get to pack for it. There wasn’t even a map. There wasn’t a return date. We never got a chance to say… goodbye… please don’t forget how much we love each other. Please don’t forget.

We got thrown out into separate wildernesses where we couldn’t hear each other whistle out our special whistle to each other… the one we made up early in our marriage to be able to find each other in stores, on our property, wherever we were in the same vicinity and couldn’t spot each other. One of us would blow a whistle out our pursed lips, a whistle that sounded a lot like “yoohoooo” … and the one hearing the other whistle would start navigating toward the whistle sound until we found each other. It worked.

And the thing is, he was always whistling anyway. I always knew he was coming because he was ALWAYS whistling some kind of happy tune while he was fast walking. Which he is sort of legendary for, he is always just walking so fast, or running, always on a mission. In 2004 he stopped whistling. He stopped whistling to find me, he stopped whistling happy tunes. By the end of 2004, he couldn’t find me and I couldn’t find him, with or without a whistle. Lying next to each other in bed, sitting beside each other… I couldn’t find him and he couldn’t find me.

There were all sorts of ways we decided to belong to each other before that. I remember the first time I noticed that every time we got dressed up for church or special events, he always waited until I was dressed to pick out his tie. I came upstairs to our bedroom and my dress was laid out on the bed. I saw him with 2 different ties, laying them on my dress trying to figure out which one matched the best. I said… ”are you matching your tie to my dress?” and he said “I always do, you just never noticed.”

After that, I noticed. I noticed that he would always find a stripe that was the same color of red as my dress, or he’d pick a paisley that matched the flowers in my dress. Sometimes he would ask me which one matched the best. Most of the time he did it on his own.

When we were engaged and he gave me an engagement ring, he squeezed my ring finger 3 times. He said… “whenever I do this, it means 3 words…. squeeze squeeze squeeze… I LOVE YOU.” After that, when we were holding hands, he would grab my finger at random times and squeeze it 3 times. So many times. And then he stopped.

In 2004, he stopped matching his tie to my dress. He stopped wearing ties. He stopped getting dressed. He stopped going places with me.

But I had to keep going. I had to wear the dress without the matching tie. There were so many things like that… things that just felt like a confusing betrayal when I kept moving forward, like I should wait. But I had to keep going. That is one of the hardest parts of this story. I had to keep going. We always went together, and then I had to keep going. I kept whistling yooohoooo, but he never came running.

The day after the accident, he was all black and blue and swollen. They didn’t keep him in the hospital. They just stitched him up and sent him home, like many times before with his sports accidents. His eyes were black and his jaw was sore. He had several stitches.

He was having a hard time waking up when he would go to sleep, and when he would wake up his headaches where so severe that he just wanted to go back to sleep. We went back to the doctor and they gave him some painkillers for his headaches. The painkillers made him sleep. I remember we tried to go on a business trip that week and he was just so spacey, in so much pain. He kept telling me that he just didn’t feel right. When we got back, we went to a headache specialist and got even more medication.

He slept for nearly a month as I remember it. He would wake up to eat and then would go right back to sleep. We finally went to our family doctor and she ordered some X-rays and an MRI. He was still in a lot of pain and starting to get depressed. His mind was fuzzy and he couldn’t think straight. She was very frustrated that the headache doctor did not seem to be concerned with what could have happened during his accident and just gave him more pain meds.

I remember so clearly coming home from that appointment with our family doctor, Marq went and got back in bed and I got a call within a few minutes of arriving home. It was early evening, very warm outside and I remember time stopped when I got this call. On the phone, she told me I needed to sit down and listen to her carefully. I stepped out the back door and into the back yard so my children wouldn’t hear the conversation. She said that they’d found a lot of swelling in his brain, several areas of tissue damage, of all different ages, from his previous sports accidents. And of the most emergency, they found that it appeared as though he was experiencing an aneurism in the back of his neck. One of the veins going into his brain looked as though it was blocked and squeezed.

She proceeded to tell me that I needed to go get Marq right now and bring him to the hospital… that a brain surgeon was waiting for us to get there and that they would be rushing him into emergency surgery. She told me not to tell him so he didn’t get upset and cause more issues in his brain, and to make sure he didn’t lay down, but that he needed to be sitting up all the way to the hospital.

This is one of the only times in my life that I remember experiencing the symptoms of shock. I felt the blood leave my face and my hands. I started to shake and I couldn’t form words. I tried to call Marq’s best friend, Craig. I couldn’t tell him what happened, I just kept stuttering. I finally got the words out and then made a few more calls. I don’t remember who I called but I must have called his parents and few people from church because I remember when I was in the waiting room of the hospital, people kept showing up.

So I went upstairs, told Marq that they needed to do some more tests on him asap and somehow convinced him to get in the truck. I can’t remember whether I finally told him what was happening or not. It felt like time and space were a big soup that we were floating in. I lost any firm hold I had on anything, but I got him there. I was weeping, I remember he kept asking me why I was crying. We got there, and sure enough… a brain surgeon and his team were waiting.

I got to be with him while they were checking us in. I got to meet the surgeon. He asked Marq a million questions, did some strength tests and sight tests and then just said… “something doesn’t seem right here, I am going to order another MRI before I cut you open…”

I remember feeling both afraid and relieved. He had been in so much pain and starting to act so strange that I was feeling relieved that they had finally figured out why. I was hopeful that this surgery would be the thing that helped him to feel better.

I had to go out into the waiting room where there were some of our friends and Marq’s parents. We waited for news of the MRI.

After a while, the surgeon sent for me and brought me in to show us the images from the MRI. He said it certainly looked as though he had an aneurism. But it wasn’t an aneurism. It was a birth “defect.” Apparently there are two veins next to each other going from the neck to your brain, and they are supposed to be equal in size. He had a birth defect where one was smaller than the other, but it was totally okay. His body had learned to compensate. The surgeon said there was no need to cut into his brain, but that he did indeed also have some swelling from his accident and several areas of tissue damage just like our family doctor had said. He wished us luck and said to start paying attention to his behavior, his sleeping patterns and his personality.

I have to say that emergency brain surgery feels like it would have been a piece of cake compared to the years that came next. He and I were both incredibly disappointed to find out that no one knew exactly how to help what was happening. He continued to take the pain medication and continued to sleep a lot. It was a fluke deal, this vein, no surgery needed. With so much attention paid to his brain, still no one and nothing prepared us for what was to come.

Within a few weeks, his headaches started to dissipate. This was a relief, but still things weren’t right… he was just “off.” So he slowed down on the pain meds and then he was awake more. Every time he woke up though, he was acting a little more strange. You couldn’t joke around with him. He kept forgetting things. He was super impulsive, like he didn’t think through the consequences of what he was doing. At first, he was just loopy… but every day he slipped a little further down some kind of hole or through the door of some dark place. He started getting irritable, and that turned to anger, then that turned to rage. His face changed. He scowled all the time. He was very literal and couldn’t handle anything but basic facts. He would hardly speak and when he did, it was just a few words… it seemed like his voice even changed. More weeks went by and he couldn’t handle any noise. He couldn’t handle any stress. He couldn’t handle any people. He had no affection and no need for affection. He didn’t want to be touched. He didn’t seem to care whether I was in the room or not. He didn’t seem to even see me or hear me or notice me. He would often just look right past me. He slept and slept and slept and when he was awake, it’s like some kind of monster was overtaking him more every day. Within a few months, he was gone. He was not the same person at all.

This is where it seemed we parted ways. I had to go on a journey by myself and so did he. So this is the point in the story where I’m going to start telling it from my point of view. If you watched our Forest Conversation about this, or listened to it… you’ll see that from Marq’s point of view, he remembers almost nothing. He even says he felt nothing. My side of the story is totally different. I saw who he became and how he behaved and what happened. I’m thankful that he’s blocked it out, I’m thankful that he can’t remember. I wasn’t a big part of the journey he went on; I don’t know that anyone was. So… his part of the story is that he essentially went to sleep for nearly 6 years.

this is us the year of the accident, 2004 – I was 32, he was 36

This is where the 3rd person in our relationship stepped in. The person he became.

What I’m going to ask for from you dear reader, dear listener, fellow human being… is that you’ll remember all of the amazing things I’ve told you so far about who my beloved REALLY IS. Who he was then and who he is now.

The way we got through this ordeal was to remember that the sickness caused by his brain injury IS NOT WHO HE IS, it was never who he was. So when I’m telling you about him… I’m just going to refer to it as the brain injury MOUNTAIN. He was worth fighting for, to pull him out of the brain injury. He was with climbing for. He fought to get back… to get back to me and to our family and to himself. He fought to stay alive. He climbed all the way to the top.  I fought too, I climbed too. I fought so hard to keep things together, to do what I could to free him from the monster that was holding him hostage. Maybe it wasn’t a monster at all, but just a big old mountain that we had to climb. We were fighting the same fight on different sides of the mountain.

We found each other finally when the climb was over. We overcame the trial. We each climbed to the top of the from different sides of that mountain. And we got to meet each other on top. But we each did the climb alone.

THAT is why we are telling you this story. We want you to know how to get to the top of your mountain. We want to give you what we learned. We want to give you the inspiration and the courage and the encouragement to keep climbing.

With that…in the next chapter…I will begin to tell you about what it was like on my side of the mountain.

I love you so. Thank you for being with us.