Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mom's Dreams

Mom’s Dreams


            My mom is great, I love my mom. I mean C’mon, who doesn’t love their mom? Here you can insert all the clichés that everyone says about their mom, and they all apply to my mom. And like most people, I really don’t believe I deserved all she sacrificed and gave for me.

One of the things I love about my mom is she has always been a dreamer. It’s like she and my stepfather were these old vaudeville actors and they had this tired old bit, talking about their dreams, that they trotted out every show like it was fresh and new. All you could really do is watch the show and smile and nod and be as sincerely interested as you could fake being.

My mom is almost seventy-five years old and you know what she did this spring? She planted an orchard! A pecan orchard or something. She’s imagining in a few years she will stroll along the orchard lanes with a basket harvesting pecans, or whatever she’s growing in her orchard. In five years she’ll be almost eighty! But that’s my mom.

I was in junior high when she married my step-father. They are a match made in heaven. No truly, they are. There is no way that two people who both live on dreams should live in the real world. This mundane world has no place for them. They keep toiling on life’s lower rungs, but they’re happy, very happy. Just up around the next bend the rainbow is going to open up and cast its gold their way.

Like I say, I was in junior high when I first heard their dreams, and I believed them, every word. By the time I was sixteen I was beginning to wonder when this was all supposed to happen. By the time I was eighteen I knew it was never ever going to happen. They didn’t have the business sense to make a million dollars, so they had to rely on dreams instead. For most this would be a poor trade, but it worked for them.

I think deep down they didn’t want the dreams to come true, that wasn’t what their dreams were for. They understood the joy was in the wanting, not the possessing, and they were rich in want. Usually, folks burn out on the wanting and give up their dreaming. Not my folks, not my mom. Wants were her wants. Her dreams never stopped feeding her.

My wife and I are more pragmatic. My wife is much more pragmatic. I just accepted that that was how my mom operated, but it would just drive my wife up the wall. “How can they be so silly?” As if there was an answer why puppies and kitties were so cute. They just are.

So when the time came, when I was lying in a coma in the hospital, and the doctors were advising my family to start looking into long term care facilities, that I saw the value in my mom’s dreams. My young fiancé had a white knuckle grip on the hope that the nightmare would end and I would be okay. Everybody, absolutely everybody, was advising her that she should make a quiet exit. No one believed I would be anything more than a vegetable. In fact, vegetable was too optimistic, I was destined to be parsley, simply brushed aside as a useless annoyance in the meal of life.

Except my mom. As I lay dying, “Mike is going to be alright. You watch, he’ll come through this better than ever.” And my then fiancé, now my wife, always the pragmatic practical one, chose that one time to believe my mom’s dream talk--and that one single solitary time my mom’s dream was spot on. If she has lived her whole life on dreams and scant else, just so that she could be the one to say I’d be okay that one time, and give Linda a foundation of hope to build her own dream on, then I say humbly, thank you, mom.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Haunting Now

I walk into the front room to put on my shoes as I look forward to meeting my friends John, Tim, and Howard, at the Daily Grind Espresso Bar and Coffee Shop. On Saturday mornings it is my regular haunt and we do the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle. Sure, we could each do it alone, and probably faster, but then we’d miss the camaraderie and jocose cajolery that makes the morning bright.

As I reach for my shoes I notice the folder and textbook for my Thursday writing class sitting on the table by the door. I reorient myself, “That’s right, it’s Thursday morning and I have to go to my Creative Writing class.” I chuckle at how airheaded I can be sometimes. I admire myself selfishly in a self-congratulatory manner. I’ve developed this trick for making sure I make it wherever I need to be, and as a fail-safe back-up, to simultaneously bring whatever I need to bring, to wherever I’m going. I put what I need to bring to wherever I’m going next, on the table by the door. I make it a habit to always look at the table to see if anything is there. If something is there, then I know that is what I’m doing next.

This works for me because I don’t have a problem remembering why I put things on the table, but when I am rushing out the door to go someplace, I frequently am thinking about the trip and then I forget what I need to bring. Its primary benefit is to remind me where I am going next. I usually know when I’m supposed to be where, but the “now” is ever changing. I’m trapped in this ‘now’ and the rest of the world hurtles by me. It is like I’m sitting in a train car and can only see to the side, never ahead and never behind. It might seem exhilarating, blithely embracing whatever the ‘now’ hands to you, but it is actually a colossal pain in the ass.

Waah waah, a tragedy. Acknowledge and forge ahead. Today is not that day. Today I have coolly and deftly sidestepped a catastrophe. My scheme has worked, my life is smooth. I hop in my truck and head off to class. As I pull on to the freeway I notice I’m about an hour early, oops, I’m still on coffee shop time. It occurs to me that I have not read the next assignment and I calmly appreciate the serendipitous consequence of air-headedly thinking it was Saturday, I now have time to read the assignment. I also appreciate the 11:30am class time as it allows me to avoid rush hour traffic, which more than just an inconvenience, is unsafe for me as my reaction time isn’t that good. Actually, my reaction time isn’t really that bad, it just takes me longer to process the visual information I’m taking in, but the end result is the same. I smile, that is not a problem I need to worry about this time.

I exit off the freeway and head into downtown Minneapolis. Something isn’t right, is this a holiday, there is almost no traffic? No that can’t be, not on a Thursday. Maybe there was another 911 type event. I can’t handle the distraction of a radio when I drive. Having the radio on, it’s as if someone is sitting beside me tapping my shoulder saying, “Hey! Hey! Hey! So if the Russians attack, I won’t know about it until I see a mushroom cloud. This thought makes me smile as I realize that my Cold War mentality ages me.

I pull into the parking ramp, pay my five bucks and park. Score! I get rock star parking, today is a good day. And then heady realization surges through me like an overpressure wave. Temporal vertigo. This is not Thursday, This is in fact, Saturday. I do not have a writing class on Thursday morning in Minneapolis, I have a Lit class Thursday night in Saint Paul. I had absent mindedly left my homework out last night. The contrast is startling, instantly I have gone from mastery of my world, to the victim of a harlequin’s mad dream. “No!” I scream silently, “not again, not still, this is so hard and I am so tired. I don’t want to be brain injured anymore.” Supplication admits of no absolution, and reality is such a fickle whore. “Why does this have to be my reality? I want the one I had when I left the house. Why don’t I get to keep THAT reality?”

“Because an easy life is worth what you pay for it.”

“Go to Hell.” I hate being me sometimes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fool's

            April Fool's day is very stressful for me. It is hard enough to follow what people are saying. Oftentimes I find myself stretching to grasp where people are coming from when the say something to me. Very often things don't quite make sense or seem right.
            And then you get a day where people are purposely trying to catch one another off their guard.
"Did you hear we're supposed to get a foot of snow today?"
"April Fools!"
            Ordinarily that's just good fun, but when a person with a brain injury is the victim it can be quite mean. Everybody feels like a fool when they fall for something like that, and the joker feels quite clever to have put one over on somebody. But it is a painful reminder to a person with a brain injury that they have problems with processing information. Sure, it can happen to anybody, that's the spirit of the April Fools holiday, but for a person with a brain injury everyday seems like that and to have a day that is specifically meant to do that fills them with dread.
            So, if you don't have a brain injury, imagine this; What if every day was like April Fool's Day? What if every conversation you were in had the potential of ending in a "Gotcha!" Imagine how that would fill your day with trepidation. You have to admit that it would get quite tiresome. On April first it is hard for anyone to keep up their guard, sooner or later somebody is going to yell, "April Fool's!" and they will be caught. If it happens too often it gets very tiresome very quickly.
            That's what brain injury is like every day. Except people aren't even trying to pull one over on you, it just feels like it. They might as well yell, April Fool's life!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Forty-Seven Percent Rule

There is an old joke that goes, "Forty-seven percent of all statistics are meaningless." I've always enjoyed the sub textual humor of that. Now when somebody, like my employer for instance, wants to know my exact limitations I will tell them, with respect to a certain task that I happen to find difficult because of my brain injury, I can do that forty-seven percent of the time.

I look them square in the eye and say it with all earnest, as though I have kept a record with carefully calculated results, and I am recalling the exact number from memory, which is in and of itself ludicrous, as I have a brain injury. It is also ludicrous to try and describe my very real limitations from brain injury in black and white. So I tell them I can do it forty-seven percent of the time.

This is a very specific number to illustrate the absurdity of the question. First I start with the basic fifty percent "sometimes I can" "Sometimes I can't." Then I trend downward for Murphy's law. This is the law that says when it is really important I probably won't be able to do it, but still almost even. Forty-nine and forty-eight are too easy round up to fifty so I have to dip a little lower. This leaves forty-seven because at forty-six and below I start sounding like I mostly can't do something, and that's not the way I look at the world.

            On days that I'm feeling immortal I go for the polar opposite 'fifty-three percent,' which says that I can usually get it right, but since this whole discussion usually comes up when I'm trying to illustrate that I do, in fact, have a brain injury, that does, in fact, hamper my day, I usually go with the downward slope to forty-seven.