Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I lost my hat today.

Dear Lady Who Works at The Housing Works Thrift Store on Broadway between 96th and 97th Street,

I am very glad I am not you. Even though I am the one with the brain injury and I am the one with the lost hat, I would rather be me than you. Do you want to know why? Probably not, but I am going to write about it anyway.

I dropped off a big bag of clothes with you today. Because you said you do not take certain items, I sat down and sorted through my bag before dropping it off. I started sweating so I took off my hat and stuffed it in my pocket. Or so I thought. When I left I asked you if you wanted me to put everything back in the bag and you said no that you would do it. That was nice of you.

What was not nice was the way you treated me when I came back to see if you had found my hat. I had already asked the very nice people at the Salvation Army Thrift Store on 96th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue if they had seen it. Because you did not accept certain items, I dropped the rest of my stuff there. The ladies at the Salvation Army took the time to look for it with me. They took the time to listen to my description and even asked questions for clarity. It was a light gray bonnet with a brim and a dusty rose ribbon with a bow. It was not knit or stretchy and it had a cashmere lining sewn it to make it soft. They offered to take my number in case it showed up. When I left there, I honestly felt like if I had left it there and somebody took it, I would be happy for that person. I was fairly certain that I had lost it in your store though.

You were not at the counter so I explained the situation to "the assistant manager" who was at the donation counter. His response was that all of the clothes had been processed already and when I asked what that meant, he said "Put into bags." When he told me that you and he were the ones who processed all the clothes, I was pretty sure you would remember seeing it if you had picked up all my stuff. He agreed to go ask you and ran upstairs. It could not have been more than 5 seconds and he was back. I was worried that he had not described the hat to you so I said, "There is no way you could have explained the situation that quickly. What did you ask her?" "I asked her if she saw a hat."

You came down the stairs then and I thought, "Oh, good. She will remember me and help me." No! Instead, you made a point of making sure I could not finish a single sentence. Every time I started to speak you cut me off and said, "Ma'am, let me explain something to you..." I did not get to describe it because you cut me off and saying I should not have interrupted your lunch. I also should not have questioned the assistant manager's description because he had explained the whole situation in detail. I was not allowed to clarify the situation because as you said he came upstairs and asked you if you had seen a "BLACK" hat. You made it very clear to me that you were not going to waste any of your time listening or helping me. You did not allow me to finish my sentence about how I had taken it off in the store because I was hot when I was unpacking the clothes but cut me off and said I dropped it in the street. When I tried to explain that I had sewed the hat, you said, "Everybody feels that their stuff is special." I was choking back tears when I left.

I am glad I am not you because I would not make someone feel bad if they needed help and thought that I was the only one who could help them. I actually try to help people so if somebody actually asked me, I would. I am glad I am not you because I do not LIE to cover up for the fact that my employee did not actually describe anything and then I do not chastise people for wanting to be heard. Unlike you, I am not only nice when people are giving me something and then nasty when they are asking for something. I am also glad I am not you because you seem like you recently graduated from some elite four year liberal arts college and moved to "the big city" to pursue an exciting career. I feel bad for you because the economy sucks so you are sorting used clothes and slumming it on the upper westside. I am glad I am not you because the highlight of my day is not the 30 minutes of uninterrupted time I get to take my lunch break and stuff my fat face with take-out. I also feel pretty good because I would never tell someone who lost something she made with her own hands, that everyone's stuff is special to them. Especially if I worked in a THRIFT store where every single item in the store was donated by its owner. I most am grateful that I am me and not you because I have better things to laugh at than the back of a teary brain-injured lady who just wanted to be understood.

Monday, January 16, 2012

starting again

I have been trying to complete a post for weeks. Different reasons came up for not finishing but the need to write pulls from some place. I feel connected to life but still so alienated. I sometimes think having a brain injury is like being buried in Stephen King's Pet Sematary. For anyone who may read this who has not read the book, I will give a brief synopsis. There is this burial ground and kids start burying their dead pets there. A few day later the pet wanders home, alive but not the same. The cat or dog is altered in some weird way.  The longer the pet was dead before being buried there, the stranger is the new personality. Not just strange but malevolent in a way.

I think it is part of what makes me feel invisible. I feel like a ghost walking the earth. I came out of surgery altered and scary. It is like I am not supposed to be back. Everyone who loved me was so grateful that I made it through. Only gradually did the changes become apparent. I knew something was wrong in my head, with my thinking, but I was unaware of what others were seeing. It was baffling to me that I pushed my family to the limits without even realizing we were close to that point. It is like a mistake that I survived. I came back a different person.

When I think about the people who still love me, who do their best to try to understand what it means to have a brain injury. I want to cry. I am so grateful for their patience. My daughter, my husband, my mother, my last couple of remaining friends. I do not feel worthy. I cannot be sure why they bother. I do not say that because I am so down on myself but because of the overwhelming evidence that I should be.

I worked hard at being a good person. I was determined to be different from my father. I consciously endeavor to be generous and thoughtful. I suppose I can not make up for the times when depression took over and sucked me into a vortex of solitude and fear. Without consistency, I imagine friendships do not seem reciprocated.

Leaving school the way I did was devastating. Someone remarked recently that my abrupt departure from my job was like a boyfriend breaking up with me. That comparison has lifts the burden of anger from me occasionally. I know the feelings of betrayal will pass. The questions are the same as the ones I asked at the end of a relationship. I loved him so much. What happened to the promises that he would love me forever? What did I do wrong? How could he hurt me so much after everything I gave? Why doesn't he want me anymore? What is wrong with me that he does not want me anymore? And there is burning desire that he should be suffering as much as I. How could he just go on without me? What does she have that I don't?

The part that is so hard for me is that I never had this kind of break up with a boyfriend. I was the one to end things and I rarely had regrets. The one relationship that I obsessed over was one that I was forced to end because I knew I would never get what I wanted from it. Even then, when I left he still called and told me how much he loved me. It broke my heart that he could be so cruel as to tell me how wonderful I was while not being able to commit.

But school, leaving my job was so different. It really makes my question myself as a human being. I hate to even admit how hurt I was, I am, by the words that were said to me, written about me, written to me. My assistant's final email to me spelled out specifically the details of what a horrible person I am. He closed by advising me I should worship my husband as a saint, presumably for putting up with me. (I do adore and worship Brian and I battle to quell the fear that he is only tolerating me. This article from the Times was so accurate: When Injuries to the Brain Tear at Hearts) If I listen to what people say to me now, I am the rudest, meanest, most inconsiderate person. Yes. people have said that to me. "I have never been treated so poorly in my whole life." You can see why this might bother me, especially after I thought I was trying so hard to be nice.

I have been told to stay positive and I feel some obligation to be that person who overcomes adversity, emerges victorious after great obstacles. That is what people want to read. I personally hate that crap. When I read these memoirs of people with brain injury who experience bliss or made a miraculous recovery because of the great sacrifice of hordes of loving supportive people, I don't believe them.

I am not writing this to solicit words of support from those around me or from the brain injury community who really does understand. I am writing because this is how I feel right now and I want to express it. I know I am loved and I love all of you. I just don't understand the hate. If I could dismiss it as insignificant expressions of people who don't matter, I gladly would. These were people whose opinions I valued.

Who am I? What did I become when I woke up against the odds? Maybe I was not supposed to make it. By clawing my way out of the dirt, I no longer belong. I am forever altered.