For many, holidays are a time for introspection and thanksgiving. Each year, around this time, I reflect on the important people in my life. This is my story. I could have grown up a motherless child, but the Man up there was looking out for me.
Maybe my dad didn't see it coming. I imagine my mother yelling, her brown eyes closing, cheeks tensing up as she slipped away into unconsciousness. Broken glass everywhere. Dead. He must have thought she was dead.
There is one early memory that stands out to me. A picture. Pre-accident. Living room. My mom's kneeling on the carpet floor. Her nose at my sister's cheek and her arms around me. She is smiling widely. I am looking at the camera. How happy she was, my mom. This was before the rainy night. The night that made my mom refuse to drive in the rain for many years to come.
There's another picture that jitters my memory. My dad holding me. Now, we are in a hospital. I don't look like the baby from the first picture. There is a tube running from my nose to someplace I can't quite see. Was I happy?
The next picture is in the same hospital as the previous one. But now we are all together as a family. Naeema, Rana, dad and sleeping mommy. "Why is mommy sleeping?" Naeema asks.
And then the final picture. Post-coma. Post rehab? Post Traumatic Brain Injury. We are in my house now. My mom is no longer smiling. She is holding my sister despondently and I am leaning on her knee. There is no smile. A hospital band is on her left arm. My swelling has gone down. I look like a normal baby. I don't think my father was smiling in this picture. Maybe he was fighting back tears.
I wondered if mommy was able to pick me up and carry me around the house as most mothers do when their child is of age. I never really asked her and when I do, she never responds. To her, I imagine, the reasoning is somewhere along the lines: If I could I would have but I couldn't so why ask me to hurt me?
I never knew you before then, mom. I only have pictures. She never responds.
Though I hadn't suffered as serious injuries as my mother did, my fractured skull was of great concern. It was something that had to be protected, documented and monitored, but never really talked about. I remember going to the hospital for x-rays. I remember making up little games to pass the time. I'd hold my breath and count and see how long it would take until I heard the beep of the machine as they moved the x-ray to different parts of my body.
To me, my mother symbolized a list of could nots. She couldn't sing. She couldn't whisper. She couldn't run. She couldn't walk fast. She couldn't jump on the bed and pillow fight with us. She couldn't catch me if I ran away. She couldn't use her right hand to write pretty cursive like I was learning in school. She couldn't chop carrots fast. She couldn't walk long distances without getting tired. She couldn't walk around the amusement park without needing a wheelchair. She couldn't go anywhere without her cane.
I hated the cane and everything that it stood for. The cane was a crutch for her happiness, but an accelerator for my unhappiness. Using the cane for my mother, I presumed, brought her joy. It helped her keep her balance. It helped alleviate the pressure she sometimes felt on her right leg, the one that always swelled and gave her lots of problems. But for me, it was a source of embarrassment. It was like placing a big sign on her head that read "Hey, I'm Rose and I have a disability. Rana is my daughter. My daughter has a mother with a disability." I don't know what I was more embarrassed of. The cane or what other people saw when they saw the cane.
As a young child, I tried to teach my mother to walk fast. I thought that she simply didn't try hard enough. I had spent a whole summer teaching my pet Cockatiel, Sunny, how to run. I made an obstacle course of pillows on my living room floor and used a blanket to help push him through the obstacle course. The faster I ran, the faster Sunny ran. I thought this same logic would work on my mother. Sometimes when holding her hand as we walked through a store, I'd suddenly increase my pace. She kept up with me for a few footsteps. She was walking normally, I thought in my mind. She could actually do it, she just had to practice. My mother was always the one to tell me that I could do something if I kept practicing. My joy never lasted, because after a few moments, my mother would realize what was happening and start to panic. I'm going to fall! I'd let go and sulk off. I failed.
I couldn't teach my mother to run. She wasn't a bird. She'd always need her cane.
I never quite got over that as a kid.
It was hard for me to deal with the aftermath of what the accident did to my mother. Most of the confusion has been because I didn't understand how much her life changed in that split second. It's funny how life works its magic. How the future is told at the very precise second the moment is happening. Some people bounce forward while others take steps back. How you can go from being a fully functioning adult to not knowing how to speak, how to write or how to read. She was in the last semester of nursing school at the time. She had her family, a loving husband and her dreams to look forward to. Life seemed good until the accident. Then life became shaped by it.
The "accident" is what everyone who knows me and knows of it calls it to this day. It was the day that changed my life. It shaped how the rest of my life would play out. It was the first domino in the long chain of dominos on the table called life. Sometimes I wonder how much of an "accident" it was. Is accident even really the right word? I've grown to question the idea of inevitability and destiny. Maybe the timing of two cars colliding was more than a "could have been avoided" moment. Maybe tragedies are part of a grander destiny.
Is the first domino that falls the most important, or is it the second or third?
Sometimes I don't tell my mother I love her enough. Over the years, she's been a great symbol of strength, loyalty and determination. After months of rehab and years of recovery, she's accomplished things the doctors said she would never do: learning how to write again, to read again, to walk again. Her life, in many ways, was snatched by a rainy night. She snatched it back. She did.
As an adult, I am now able to understand and process a lot of which wasn't explained to me as a child. My mother makes me smile. She's the strongest woman I know.
My mother never stopped loving me or my sister. She loved us even when we misunderstood her abilities the most.
I love you, mom. For you, I am forever thankful. For you, I am eternally grateful.
I know this is cliche, but please take time to tell the people closest in your lives how much they matter to you.
Rana Campbell is a freelance writer and branding strategist who helps brands and organizations create stories that inspire. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram. Read more at ranacampbell.com.
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