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THE FOREST CONVERSATIONS INTRODUCTION
by melody & marq ross
We have a story that has been told in pieces. A story that has never been told in its entirety because of the nature of it. It’s personal. It’s painful. It’s messy and tragic….but it’s also triumphant.
So…pieces of our story have made their way around. It’s weird to hear them. It’s weird to see them. Some of the pieces have been told by us, in passing…to explain why something was the way it was or is the way it is…or how it got to where we are now. Some pieces of our story have been told by others, which as you know could or could not be entirely accurate.
-this is us around the time of Marq’s accident – 2004-
WE are telling our story now. He and I. The story of how we met when we were kids, how we started a life together way before we had any idea what we were doing, how we miraculously built a tiny empire from our kitchen table…and then how Marq had an accident that injured his brain and turned him into a completely different person for the better part of a decade. A crazy person. A rageful person. We had 5 children. Over those years we lost all that we had built and of course we almost lost each other, many times. We are going to tell you the story of digging out and starting over. We are going to tell you the story of our deepest weaknesses and faults and also of the superhuman strength we had to find, too.
-this photo was a year or so before Marq’s accident, 2002 or 2003-
The thing is, in the 13 years since his accident, we had never really talked about it to each other in depth. Until now.
We went away to the mountains a few months ago and somehow we unexpectedly started talking about those experiences we had lived through. We have never had these discussions even though they were experiences that took our life and shook it upside down like a Boggle game…leaving words that we had to figure out. Leaving letters that didn’t even make any words that I knew, it all seemed so useless. It all seemed like such a cruel waste. The only word I could make out at the time was P A I N.
Why are we doing it now? Well, because we need to. Some of this needs to be stitched up so that it can finally heal. Some of it needs to be mined for gold and diamonds and platinum and just plain old trinkets that mean something to us that are still buried under the rubble made of pieces of our life that came toppling down like the worst kind of natural disaster. A devastating one.
It was unfair. It was unexpected. We were unprepared. Does that sound familiar? I am certain that you have gone throug your own natural disasters that felt just like this. Maybe you’re climbing out from your own rubble right now.
We are sharing it because life is so hard sometimes, and sometimes you just need to know that other people have made it through things that seem impossible to make it through.
-our trip to the mountains this summer when we started
telling our side of the story to each other … Summer of 2017-
So Marq and I recorded these raw, long overdue conversations that we had in the forest. There was no script. There was no timer. We didn’t even have a real video recorder or a tripod. We were just ready to talk about it and we were in the mountains. So…we took turns using our phones until they ran out of battery each day, over the course of 3 or 4 days, and we set up our phones where there was good light and a big rock or stump that could hold our phones with a place close enough for us to be able to sit in front of them. And then we just started talking about what had happened.
-our high tech tripod and video setup, Summer of 2017 in the Idaho mountains–
Over the decade that we are talking about in these conversations, Marq and I were side by side a lot of the time. We lived in the same house. We had the same children. We were married to each other. We were SO incredibly far apart, however. So very very far apart. As we had these conversations in the forest a few months ago, Marq and I were both astounded at how our individual experiences, right next to each other for all of those years were so completely different on so many levels. I don’t know how we ever made it. Well, we do know now…and that’s what we want to share with you all. We want to share the map of how we got out of hell…and also speak very very honestly with you about what it felt like to be there. What the minutes and the days and the years were like. Because we know for sure that some of you are walking through it right now or just on the other side of it.
And we all need each other’s stories to know that we can make it through.
So here we go…let’s just start.
It was a frontal lobe brain injury. He was on a surfboard, riding the wave of the wake of a boat. It happened in a few seconds, like many life-taking things do. And it really did take his life. It took our life. Yes, a frontal lobe brain injury. 4 words that hold a universe of meaning. Like atom bomb. How could something so destructive be said in only 2 words?
-a few days after Marq’s accident–
A short internet search would tell you the varied and horrific symptoms of frontal lobe TBI (traumatic brain injury) but that bullet list of words is so insultingly simplistic. Every one of those bullet items on that list is loaded with an arsenal of far reaching consequences for everyone involved. For our whole family for sure. It’s been 13 years since the accident. He can’t remember a lot of what happened in the worst 6 years of his recovery. But I sure do.
He and I have never really talked about what happened until this year. I know that sounds unbelievable. I don’t know that I could tell you the reasons why we didn’t talk about it, except that we were so focused on rebuilding our life that there just wasn’t time. I was also waiting for him to bring it up, and he didn’t. I didn’t know that he only had foggy memories of those years. I didn’t know that he wasn’t reliving those years every day like I was. Once his recovery started to amplify and have exponential progress, he just started living his life again. It was pretty confusing for me. Almost like it never happened.
at our recommitment ceremony where we awarded each other medals
for making it through 25 years together – 12 years after Marq’s accident
And so I was left holding this story, thinking for all of these years that we could cry over it together. I held it alone. While it was happening, I was scrambling so desperately to make sure no one knew how bad things were. I didn’t want people to see him this way or know that things were as horrific as they were. I hid him away so that people would remember him the way he was before the accident. And I held this story alone. Lots of it I will hold alone forever, and that is okay. Some of the things that he and I lived through, he can’t remember at all. What he can remember is mostly just really foggy. Some of it he can remember with absolute clarity. So even though we lived through it side by side…I’m the only one who knows some of the worst details. I have had to learn to live with that. In so many ways it is merciful actually, that he can’t remember.
You see, he went crazy over those years. He became someone completely different. I can say now without feeling like I’m throwing him under the bus that he became something of a monster, a monster who slowly ate my husband in little bite sized chunks, keeping just enough of him alive that we couldn’t even grieve his death. The monster ate him from the inside out so that most days he looked completely normal, which means no one knew what was happening inside our house because the monster was often sneaky and only came out when no one else was around.
The dynamic, amazing, funny, ambitious, athletic, happy, community serving guy died. The dad died. The husband died. The friend died. The boy scout died. And left a rageful, suicidal, irrational, depressed, despondent, shell of a person behind who had to be cared for. Early on I started seeing this new crazy person as the monstrous jail keeper who was keeping my very best friend behind bars.
I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable when I say words like crazy and monstrous. It’s taken me a long time to be able to. I need to tell the truth. I need to speak the truth because I know for sure that there are thousands of women and men out there who are living through unspeakable hellish days and I want to meet you where you are. It makes life hard when everyone glosses over the hard parts…because then we all think we are alone when we are in the hard parts. So…I’m gonna tell you now that I won’t be glossing over the hard parts. I also won’t be playing down the amazing parts. I’m committed to sharing the intensity of all of the truth, because I want you to be able to do the same. I am telling this story because I don’t want you to feel alone anymore and because I am sick of feeling like I have to be alone in this story too.
I want you to know that Marq and I have had very long talks about what to share and what not to share. Talks about honoring our marriage, and honoring and respecting and protecting each other and our children. We have talked at length about what sharing something so personal could do to our lives. We both feel like the risks are incredibly outweighed by the benefits. It would be downright cruel to keep this story from those who may need it. We needed a story like this and I would have done just about anything to hear one. I needed hope.
-this was taken around the time of Marq’s accident…we were in our 30’s
on a business trip to New York City – before we lost everything we had
worked so hard to build together-
I will say one more time that Marq is the most incredibly kind, straightforward, hard working, honest, fun, funny, smart, inventive, creative, resourceful and loving human being I have ever known in my life. He’s noble, honorable and good. He’s known throughout the land for the service that he gives in every aspect of his life. He’s the best kind of husband, father and grandfather that you could ever ask for. This is the truth.
The sickness that overtook him is what we are going to talk about, and it is not who he is. When I talk about how bad things were, please know that I am in no way talking about how bad Marq was.
And I want you to really understand that I believe that this is one of the reasons that we made it through this. We made it because my brain and my imagination went into a survival mode that had to separate this TBI person from Marq. There were 3 people in our relationship now…and I decided that he and I had to go to battle to fight this 3rd person who was holding him hostage. I will go into more detail about this later…but I want you to know with a certainty that this was something that I had to do so that I could stay. I didn’t like this new person, this sickness. I couldn’t stand this new person, this sickness. It became a battle to set Marq free from this uncontrollable monster who held him captive. This was not Marq. This was his sickness.
He was 36 years old. I was 32 years old. We had been madly in love, sickeningly in love for just about every day of the 14 years we’d been married. We had 5 children, a small little farm and a growing business manufacturing beautiful paper and photo albums. We had worked just about every moment of our marriage to build this life from scratch. We were from small farming communities and met when I was still in high school and he was a brand new adult. Just a couple of country kids in Idaho who found something in each other that they couldn’t stand the thought of being without ever again.
I remember the day when he walked back to his car after a date, and I thought; I never want to live another day without him in my life.
-our wedding day June 22, 1990-
So we got married when I was 18 and he was 22. We were poor, we were young, we were ambitious. We got to work immediately on building our dreams. I’m not sure if we knew that’s what we were doing at the time, but that’s what we did. I had big dreams from the time I was a kid, but not much confidence. He was fascinated by my dreams, he asked me about them pretty much whenever we were together. He had massive amounts of confidence and knew how to build or fix just about anything. He wanted to help build the pictures I had in my head. He believed in me more than anyone I had ever met. I believed in him too. We are very different in most ways, but one thing we have in common is that we are both extraordinarily hard workers. We each came from families where hard work was pretty much the #1 ethic. So we worked hard, building a family and a business from scratch until we had the 100 year old stone farm house we wanted…about 10 years into our marriage. We painstakingly restored it with our own hands, he grew the most beautiful lawn all the way around it. So beautiful was that lawn that people often stopped and asked how he did it, how he grew this legendary lawn. I filled it with flowers and children and memories. And life was really good. It could even have been described as a fairy tale. Our version of a fairy tale anyway.
That’s where we were at in our life when the accident happened.
-our children on the front porch of our home, the year of the accident 2004–
He was an expert wakeboarder, he started when the very first wakeboard went on the market the year we were married. He would practice behind the old tri-hull boat that his dad and uncle shared. They let us use it and we used it a lot. One of my dreams from the first year we were together was that I could figure out a way to surprise him and buy him the kind of boat he really wanted. A wake boarding boat. He was so happy back there on the water getting pulled behind the boat, riding on the wake and training his body to do acrobatics that took my breath away.
14 years later we finally had that boat we both dreamed of. We worked really hard for it.
And he was wearing a helmet. He was trying out a new thing called wake-surfing. He liked it, but he didn’t love it like wake-boarding, it was too calm and too slow for him, not enough tricks. He was all about the adrenaline, the big tricks, the moves that took skill and bravery. He went on a long run and then he quit when he was tired. He jumped off of the board, the board got pulled down deep in the water under the wake, and then the buoyancy threw it out of the water with such force that it almost broke his jaw and nose. It cut open his cheek and smacked him hard on the front of the head. He only went to the hospital because he needed stitches. He was knocked loopy, but not unconscious. Like too many times before.
I didn’t see it happen, I wasn’t there. He had taken our older kids and a few of our close friends on that brand new boat…I think that was maybe the 4th or 5th time we ever used it. Just a warm summer night on the lake, like a hundred times before. I was at home with our two youngest, barely toddlers. I got a call from our friends to meet at the hospital, that he was bloody and needed stitched up. That our 8 year old daughter Madi saw the whole thing and was really upset. That they had our other 2 kids and they would see me soon.
I wasn’t alarmed at all. In fact, Marq had been to the hospital so many times for sports accidents that he could have had his own ER room with a little gold engraved plaque above it because his many visits paid for that room. So, I met them there. I took my teary daughter in my arms and I went in to see his bruised up face getting stitched up. I kissed him, gave him a teasingly disapproving look…and it was just another summer night in our life.
-a few days after Marq’s accident–
But it wasn’t another summer night at all. Within weeks, Marq was slipping away into a dark hell that he wouldn’t be able to escape from for 5 or 6 years. Within a few months, I couldn’t even recognize this new person he had become.
It is a miracle beyond comprehension that he has made a complete recovery. The years between the night of this accident and this day that I am sitting here beginning to unravel this story are the ones I want to tell you about. While we are forever grateful for Marq’s recovery, this story is not about a certain outcome. This is not about his recovery at all. This story is about what must be done in the middle…no matter how long the middle lasts. This is about a journey through hell. Our intention is to give you the map we drew once we were out so that you might be able to use parts of our map to find your way out too.
The last thing I want to tell you in this first installment is that I decided a few years into this hell that I was going to have to become someone new too. Somebody different. There was absolutely no promise that Marq would ever make a full recovery. There was no promise that he would make a recovery at all. I had to decide who I would have to become no matter what the outcome was. That is what this story is about. It is about what and who you have to become when the road is long and you can’t see the end.
While this story is about a marriage, this story is not about saving a marriage. That is such a personal decision filled with so many different variables that I would never begin to counsel someone about whether to stay or go. This isn’t about saving another person, either. This is about a long long long walk that you sometimes have to take alone in life. This is about learning who you are, what you believe in, what you are a made of and what you are capable of when all you’ve got left is yourself. This is about finding God, finding peace and finding out that we are all just souls in the school of life.
-Summer, 2017 – celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary in the mountains–
Thanks for walking beside us as we tell our story, I think you’re going to find something in our story that just might help you through your story. We hope you’ll stay tuned for the next chapter, where we will begin sharing our recorded conversations with you.
Marq and Melody Ross
Here’s a link to CHAPTER ONE http://bravegirlsclubs.com/archives/33648
ABOUT THE FOREST CONVERSATIONS
Melody Ross is the co-founder of Brave Living and Brave Girls Club. Melody and her husband Marq have built this business together along with Melody’s sister Kathy, who is her business partner.
The Brave Living story started long before Brave Girls Club came to being. This is the story of how and why it came to be. This is the story of two people who have had to overcome so much.
These stories are told on video through conversations between Marq and Melody, with supplemental writing to go along with them to fill in the pieces that aren’t discussed.
You can watch the videos and read the blog posts, or you can watch the videos and hear Melody reading the blog posts on their podcast, The Forest Conversations Podcast.
The videos of the conversations between Marq and Melody start in the first chapter, after the introduction. Please don’t skip the intro, there are important pieces that you need to know if you’re going to listen along to this remarkable story, told so bravely and generously by Marq and Melody.
We know you will enjoy this series. We hope you will share it. There are so many people out there who will benefit from this story. We don’t know how long it will take to get through the whole story because it is a long one. Each piece is being edited with love and care.
We will be releasing pieces of it week by week until it’s done.
We promise you aren’t going to want to miss it.
The Brave Living Staff