Last August, I was in an automobile accident.
I was driving home from “happy hour” at my favorite haunt, Joann Fabrics, sadly thrilled with my fabric choices and singing all the incorrect words to every Ed Sheeran song that played before me, when I suddenly opened my eyes and realized my vehicle and I had landed on a sidewalk, airbags flapping around, chunky knees stuck under the dashboard, blood speckling beige upholstery and no memory of how I got there.
Upon regaining consciousness, I was told by witnesses that an incredibly intoxicated driver hit me. The impact resulted in my little car flitting around like a confused barn swallow before hitting a street sign and coming to a halt. The idiot who struck me? Gone. Gone, apparently like his sobriety and good judgment .
That’s the short version.
The longer and more complicated version is the veritable choas within me. Although nearly a year has passed in a haze, I’m still reverberating with the after effects of this collision. Sort of like when I drank all that grain alcohol after senior prom and felt the bile rising in my throat for eight months afterward. Even now, if I smell Kool-Aid and it happens to be mixed with another toxic substance in a Rubbermaid container, I am brought to my knees.
Here is what no one tells you: A car accident that involves a brain injury, no matter how slight, changes you. I am changed. I feel like old Maria joined her crappy Ford at the scrap yard, never to return. I have lost segments of myself and daily, I contemplate when I will be strong enough to crawl out of this bottomless rabbit hole in which I was dropped. Like Alice, I am wondering when I will inhabit my normal world again.
While the sternal, and knee fractures are unfortunate, I’m aware that these will heal and leave behind nothing more than residual soreness and ugly, lasting bruises on my ugly, Polish legs. What scares me to death is the real possibility that the shifting of my brain will result in deficiencies I am not able to fix.
Memory is a quirky, fickle thing — either ally or enemy. Through crisis, we sometimes suffer memory loss to protect ourselves from trauma. The memory deficit I’m experiencing is short term and causes me a level of frustration I haven’t felt since the last presidential election. I cannot remember simple words like “stool” or “mulch” or “screen,” but I can tell you what I wore on the first day of school in fourth grade. (It was a sassy Kelly-green dress with embroidery and blue patent leather Buster Brown shoes. I was an incredibly hip 11-year-old, but with really, really tragic bangs.)
I’ve lost the ability to grab fancy words out of space. I cannot whip up sentences wrapped around multi-syllabic words without the assistance of my trusty synonym finder. (How do you think I found the phrase “multi-syllabic”?) I struggle with finding the perfect words to describe situations or people or even food. It takes a while, and I am an impatient wordsmith.
I’m experiencing waves of extreme emotion — the highest of highs, the dismal lowest of lows. Couple this phenomenon with menopause and my husband wants to move out and live in a yurt in the middle of a field in Nebraska. I say, go for it. But tomorrow I may cry about it. Maybe not. See? It depends on the weather, my painful sternum and the slant of my gray matter. But no one is safe.
Listen, I realize this collision could have had a very different outcome and you would be reading my obituary instead of this column. So, put in that perspective, I’m constantly searching to find the upswing to the whole scenario. I can — I think — like Alice, painstakingly figure out my new world, with its new proportions and answers to the many riddles presented before me. Reinterpreting logistics and playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts in my head, I will strive to find my new normal — mad as a hatter.
Maria Jiunta Heck, of West Pittston, is a mother of three and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life. Send Maria an email at email@example.com.