My Little Brother’s Blanket

 

My little brother, David.

We spent a considerable amount of time together in high school. We were great friends, so much so that people always asked if we were dating. I would always joke and respond, “Ew no. He’s like my little brother.” And that is how I got a little brother.

We kept in touch when I was in college. And when I would come home for the summers, we would hang out like no time had passed. Even after I graduated, we remained strong friends.

Then sometime around 1998 we lost touch. He had moved to Austin & I was staying in Dallas.

After a while we ran across each other on My Space of all places. He introduced me to his wife. She and I would chat a lot. Then we all moved over to Facebook. Same deal. I stayed closer to his wife and mom than him.

Then suddenly I had to go to Austin for work. My wife wasn’t going to come with me so I decided to reach out to old friends. My little brother and I finally got to see each other again after nearly 20 years. And we picked up right where we left off. It was fantastic.

Until he started asking questions like, “Do you remember when…?”

Because I don’t. I don’t remember the stories and the details and even some of the people. “How can you not remember dating Billy one summer?”

Um…lack of oxygen to the brain as well as a stroke. That’s why I don’t remember.

I do sometimes get memories, images in my head or sensations I can feel with no association. I had this memory of being on the back of a motorcycle. But I couldn’t remember who I was with. I couldn’t see the face yet I could remember the feeling of the rain drops hitting my face and the wonder I felt because I had never experienced that feeling before.

For 6 months, I tried to figure it out. Suddenly out of nowhere I had the memory and then I heard a voice. It was David yelling at me, “For the love of God, woman, hold on.”

Anyway, David kept trying to feed me details to spark some recollection. Nothing.

I told him I trusted him not to tell me things that weren’t true because I would have no choice but to believe him. And being the doll that he is, he reminded me that he had never lied to me and never will. Sold.

People have asked me if I don’t remember, how do I know that we were friends?  The truth is that I don’t. I have been tricked before and manipulated because of this. But that was before I knew to trust the feeling.

When I think of my little brother, I don’t necessarily remember a lot of actual memories. I do, however, feel safe. And loved. And happy.

I trust that. I trust that with everything that I am.

That is my memory now. That feeling that wraps around you when you think of someone. What you feel in the very core of your being that you get from someone, some place, or something. It’s stronger than any memory.

On the bright side, every story is new to me. And people love telling their stories without the limitations of my recollections.

 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

~Maya Angelou

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Turning the Page

Today is October 16th. I realized this today and the thought nearly knocked me down. October 16th means that Labor Day has come and gone. The anniversary of my stroke has passed. It tiptoed past me without a sound. And I didn’t notice.

Labor Day has held so much meaning to me by reminding me what I’ve experienced, what I’ve overcome, the person I’ve become. It takes me back to when my life was so dramatically changed and I’ve used it as an opportunity to reflect.

But I missed it this year. For the best reason ever.

This year around Labor Day I was preparing to have some extensive oral surgery that would make a huge difference in my life. I was scared and nervous and excited. I was also a little anxious about the 20th high school reunion that was approaching. I wondered if I would be healed enough from the surgery to go to the reunion and actually talk to people. I was spinning in a whirlwind of emotions. About the future.

I didn’t notice the anniversary of my past because I was looking ahead.

And I didn’t do it as a part of some plan to self-actualize or heal from within. It just happened. Naturally.

This doesn’t mean I’m not still proud of how far I’ve come or that I won’t still reflect on the trek. I think I will still look back on the journey. I think, though, that I am more focused on the wonderful things scattered about on the road ahead.

The Chair

In 2008 I bought several pieces of antique furniture. Some of the pieces needed some cleaning up. I started doing little things here and there to clean up the decades’ worth of stuff that had accumulated over the years. And then a little more. And then even more.

As it turns out that kind of detail work is a lot of fun for someone who has a touch of OCD. (Ok, less like a touch and more like a slap but I digress.) I was good at it and it was fun to me.

And at that time, my social anxiety was so severe that I rarely left the house so I had plenty of time to work obsessively on little crevices that had become the home to grime over time. Q-tips and toothpicks and time. It was the beginning of a perfect hobby.

And then I had a stroke. I couldn’t pick up a toothpick much less use it to delicately coerce gunk to get off of my furniture. And it was pretty low on my list of priorities.

Over the past 4 or so years, most of the furniture has been sold or given away. Except the chair.

An old Gunlocke desk chair was listed on Craig’s List for $25. It was in overall good condition. Except for this one thing. It’s a reclining chair and you should be able to adjust how far back it goes by turning a knob under the chair that adjusts the tension in the springs under the chair.

However, that was not the case. Turning the knob did nothing at all so when you sat in the chair it instantly reclined to its fullest extent. And this scared the shit out of people. It scared the shit out of me.

But more importantly it challenged me. I had a problem to fix. I played with it a little. I took it apart, inspected the parts, and put it back together again. I couldn’t see the fix to the problem. So the chair got pushed to the backburner as I worked on a Duncan Phyffe dining table and chairs. I made some progress. And then I stopped working on everything.

Circumstances in my life after the stroke required me to move a few times. And that broken chair moved with me. And I kept saying to myself and others that I would get to it. But the truth is I had no desire to pick up a screwdriver and see my hand fail to be able to control it. And the chair would remind me every time I saw it that I couldn’t do what I used to do, that I wasn’t who I used to be.

Finally, I was able to build up the courage to try. My hand gripped the screwdriver and my wrist turned. It felt so good to see and feel my body doing what it used to do. There were some limitations, of course, but nothing so big that I couldn’t work around it. It was good. I was good.

However, I was still posed with the reclining problem. So I took it apart and put it back together several times. I won’t dive in to the details but will just say that there was this metal plate that seemed to be the problem. I just couldn’t figure out how.

Until a few weeks ago. I finally figured out the puzzle that had been plaguing me for over 4 years. It would have been a “break out the champagne” moment except for one thing. The solution that would fix the problem required welding. Sure it was a tiny bit of welding but any bit is a problem when you don’t know any welders or where to find any welders.

So the chair sat in two pieces in the spare bedroom for a few more weeks as Paige checked with a few people she knew. I was about to give up and post on Facebook a request for anyone who could or knew someone who could fix this chair for me.

Before I did, though, Paige asked her brother who recommended this little business in Fort Worth. We pulled up to a metal building and saw one man working inside. He said that he could do what was needed and it would only cost a little bit. I didn’t have any cash so Paige drove me to a little gas station with an ATM and I pulled out the cash.

By the time we got back, he had already fixed it. I was giddy. So we went home and the only thing left to do was reassemble the chair and see if it worked. I went to work. I’ll admit that I struggled with it a little but did what I could. Paige was kind enough to help me with a few things that required two people.

Then we flipped it over and Paige tried it out. Success! A few minor adjustments were needed but it worked the way it was supposed to.  I was so excited! I had figured it out and it felt so good to know that I still had the ability to figure things like that out.

This chair has so much more meaning to me than just a project. It is my 360°. This piece of my puzzle journeyed with me from my life before the stroke to my life afterwards. It is a reminder of what I lost and what I reclaimed. I love this chair.

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Things That Amaze Me

In our world with all of the information to which we have access few things are left to amaze people.  Frequently I fall in to the group of people who is not often awestruck. I have seen technology advance at extraordinary rates and doubt that it will do anything but continue to do so.

Yet with all that I see, I’m actually a little surprised when things do truly amaze me. And this little list doesn’t even begin to cover every one of those things but it is a start.

1. The human body – who couldn’t be amazed by the human body or the body of any living creature, actually. We start with one cell. That cell multiplies (or divides – I never was that good with math) to create more cells and those create more cells and so on. Those cells become different types of cells that create different systems within the body. All of the systems work with the others. The nervous system, the circulatory system, the digestive system, the immune system, the endocrine system, the reproductive system, the respiratory system, the muscular system and the others I’m sure I’m forgetting. I know so little about how it all works and there is so much to know! Every minute of every day there are a million little processes going on inside of us. I’m amazed at how complicated it all is. I’m amazed at how it all works.

And on a personal note, I’m amazed at how resilient it is. I am amazed that the stroke deadened a part of my brain. It took away my ability to speak. It took away the use of my right arm (and if you know my left arm, you know that that pretty much left me with no arms). It took away my ability to walk well. And those are just the physical effects. We won’t dive into the ocean of psychological effects. But here we are 3 years later and people are often surprised when I tell them I had a stroke. So what died in the part of the brain has been redirected and relearned by a different part. How freaking amazing is that? It’s like telling the carpenter, “Hey, I need you to go and learn to be an accountant now. Quick.”

2. FedEx – I know this probably seems silly but I am truly amazed by FedEx. When I think about the fact that something that I held in my hands yesterday is now in the hands of someone in Maryland this morning, I am awestruck. I mean think of how information was transported in the past. From being delivered via horseback and stagecoach to train to automobile to airplane, mail has continued to be delivered. And of course when we throw in radios, telephones, televisions, fax machines and email, we have even more ways that information is being delivered. But to sign your name on something at 6 pm on Wednesday and for that signature to be in the hands of another person all the way across the country on Thursday by 10 am or even earlier, well it’s just amazing to me. How far we’ve come from the Pony Express.

3. Everything is made – Ok this one is not so much a thing as a realization I had. I was on a plane stuck between two business men flying to wherever. They were talking to one another despite this little lady between them (I was a bit more little at the time). And I’ve realized that business people will be salesmen anywhere and are always looking to build their network. Except with therapists. Thus my conversations with strangers on planes are often pretty short. Never has anyone asked me for my card from a plane conversation and I’ve never parted ways with anyone saying to them, “So the next time you’re in Dallas and mentally ill, go ahead and give me a call.” This is only true for planes, however. Everywhere else is a different story entirely. People in grocery stores, department stores, people doing repairs on my home, car, or dog, and especially people in bars feel that any of those settings is the appropriate place to tell me all of their issues and struggles. It’s rather bizarre actually but wow how I have digressed.

These two businessmen were talking about what they do. And the gentleman on my left said, “My company makes the bleachers in Texas. Chances are if you’re sitting on bleachers in Texas, my company made them.” I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, partially by choice but mostly because my mind jumped in to this realization. I’ve sat on bleachers. Many times. And never had it crossed my mind that someone made them, that there is a company out there that manufactures these things that I rest on. I started looking around the plane. Someone had made the seat I was sitting on. Someone had made the little tray on the seat back. Someone made my carry-on bag that had inevitably shifted in flight. Someone had made the plane, lots of somebodies. These things were all somebody’s job. Everywhere we look, we will see something that somebody made. It is somewhat overwhelming if you spend a lot of time thinking about it. Every now and again the realization hits me again. And it amazes me every time.

4. Cameras – How can something capture an image that I see and store it in a little box? How does it see what I see? I know that I could easily look up how they work. And if you know, please don’t share the knowledge with me. As hungry as I am to know things, I prefer to stay ignorant on this. It feels like magic and I like having a little magic in my world.

Craft Project

Last night I did a craft project. I haven’t done any crafting since the stroke. I think I had been scared to. Well, that’s part of it.

Another big factor is that I haven’t had a place to do any crafting. Soon after the stroke, I was living back with my mom. I lived out of a suitcase. And anyone who has been to my mom’s house could tell you that I didn’t exactly have room for anything else. I went from there to living with Paige in her house. It’s taken me a while to get to the place where I somewhat feel like it’s my house too. And, even now, I kind of still stick to one room.

Due to the moves and living out of assorted suitcases, I haven’t had access to my craft materials either. But Paige made room for everything and it’s actually accessible. Well, most of it is.

So anyway, I got out the stuff to make a journal for a friend of mine who is sick. I picked out the color, picked out the stamps, started measuring, and then began the process.

It took much longer than it used to but there were other factors that could play a part in that. I didn’t have the same tools accessible that I used to, my scissors desperately needed to be sharpened, and I didn’t have a big area to spread out on. At any rate, when I was done and looked at the finished journal, I was so disappointed.

Paige thought it looked good. And she tried building my confidence by praising it until she saw my reactions were to point out every flaw. She said, “Oh, you’re a perfectionist. Nothing I say will help.” And she was, as usual, correct.

The spacing was terribly off – because my hand still lacks the steadiness to hold a stamp in position like I need to. The edges were bulky – because my hand lacks the dexterity to fold things tightly. Some of the embossing was not the best – because my hand wasn’t steady enough to hold the iron.

At any rate, I was depressed. I’m still a little depressed. And this is what I was scared of, the fear that kept me from looking for a way to make it happen. My fear has been realized.

I am not the same as I was before the stroke. I probably won’t ever be. And that depresses me.

 

 

New Tenant

So right around the time that Amanda died, I received a call from the office manager at my counseling office. We had a new tenant moving in so I needed to move my furniture out.

I’ve been renting space from some therapists for several years now. Initially, I signed up to rent one (of the four) offices full time. I paid a monthly rent and had the freedom to sublet the office if I wanted to. Then I had the stroke. I was still responsible for paying the monthly rent but the women in the office were wonderful to me. When I couldn’t make the payments, they didn’t say anything. And the office manager even tried to help me find people to sublet the office to.

When my contract was up, I didn’t renew as a full time renter for obvious reasons. But we kept my furniture in the office for a few reasons.

  1. It’s nice furniture.
  2. It saved them the cost of having to buy replacement furniture.
  3. I didn’t really have anywhere to put it. By this time, my ex-husband had already kicked me out of the house so I was staying with my mother in her already overcrowded house.

I did stay on as a part time renter and saw a few clients here and there, nothing steady. And the women I rented from still didn’t push about the back rent I owed.

Then I got a full-time job. And I told them that because I had a job now, I could begin paying them back for the rent I owed them. They said that was great but not to put myself out, that I could pay a little at a time. Well, I paid them back gradually but regularly. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would pay them. So when I paid the last bit on the balance and they were so grateful to me for paying them back and being an honest person, I was a little surprised by their gratitude. I forget sometimes that people don’t follow through with their obligations.

But anyway…the office manager called me and told me that they had found someone who wanted to rent the office full time. I let her know that was great news. She then told me that this person had her own furniture that she wanted to bring in so I needed to move mine out. I told her it was no problem, which was only a little lie. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but I could bring it home until we figured it all out. And that’s basically what I did.

So now I rent some time in someone else’s office every other week. It’s not my style at all and I definitely feel like a visitor when I’m there.

The point of this rant is this:

When I found out Amanda had died, I felt a weight had lifted and that I had the freedom to go back to counseling when I was ready. I was beginning to consider going back to what I believe I was meant to do. Then I lost my office. Is this a sign that I’m not supposed to go back?