“Of course your parents are overbearing. Think about it: they’ve been there since the beginning. Since before you could walk. And now you’re a step ahead, mentally at least, and wanting to be left to your own devices, but they still see you as you were four months ago.”
I am sitting in the perfectly tempered office of Anna, my psychologist. It is late December of 2014 and I am quietly dismayed that, as always, she’s countered my irrational irritation with a cold dose of logic and sensibility.
“The first time you left home, they had – what, 20 years or so to get used to the concept. They saw you grow up, start to do your own thing. They probably started to actually look forward to you living independently. This time…” she pauses. “You have to understand; people with brain injuries don’t usually recover this quickly. You’ve matured amazingly fast – it’s like you’ve gone through those twenty years in the space of three or four months.”
The problem is that I want to go out, out into the world, but my parents are holding quite sternly on to me. More specifically, I’ve identified, I’ve gotten used to my parents handling everything for me: it’s become comfortable, and I’ve become complacent in that comfort. Only now, as I start to (attempt to) spread my wings, does their caring (forceful, intense, but caring all the same) get in the way.
“Start small,” Anna suggests. “But you’ll need to start. And you’ll need to start doing things for yourself. You can’t just expect them to suddenly stop and let you do everything again – you’ll need to first show them that you can; that it’s not a worry.”
Okay, sure, I think. I can do that.
And it is a few months later when the sun has begun to bleed in painted, gorgeous hues of reds, yellows, purples and pinks across the sky, signalling that night is falling. I have moved in to a small, comfortable but cramped flat in Caulfield with my boyfriend, Jeremy, and have begun to spend my days completing application after application in increasing desperation and learning to enjoy elements of my own personality, of being with myself and living for myself.
It is maybe 7PM, and I am thoroughly engaged with the music pumping through my ear buds, mindlessly ignoring the traffic speeding past me in either direction.
The music comes to a halt as I do, somehow, and I look left, then right, then left and right again. No traffic.
Feeling slight unease bubble up through my chest – the same unease that’s taken hold of me every time I’ve crossed a road since Berlin – I stride out onto the road proper. It’s but a few steps – one, two, three, four, five – to safety on a dead road as the sun sinks down, further down into darkness, and –
And my neck seizes up in fear (and pain; the pain that’s struck me ever since the crash) as I turn to my left and see a car, headlights blazing, motor roaring as it continues to fly down the road towards me.
This is what I get for jay-walking, I think, even if there are no cars nearby.
I am caught, a deer in the (quite literal) headlights, but, unlike Berlin, I am able to throw myself out of the way; scuttle forward and to the sidewalk. As my body reaches the ground, I hear the gargantuan shriek of the car as it passes through the space where my body was a few seconds ago.
As the feeling returns to my now-bruised body, I realise that this was what everyone meant when they said how “lucky” I was to have been hit by a car in Germany, if it had to be anywhere: the speed limits there are much lower, and the cars actually obey them.
Start small: small steps made quickly so as to avoid certain death.
It’s the third night of my return to Sydney and I’m walking with my good friend Jess through darkened streets; both of us attempting to navigate our respective ways home after a launch party (during which, I’m pleased to note, I didn’t freak out once – almost like a real life normal human being.)
We’re discussing the perspectives of friendship; how confused and taken aback I am by the two week period of veritable solitude I’m faced with before returning to study, how I’m uncertain how to navigate my own attempts at friendship and reconnection when they’re so often forgotten about in favour of the insane workload NIDA foists upon its students; how my initial reaction is one of hurt, but I’m learning, slowly, to dial that shit down, to recognise it as a base reaction courtesy of the brain injury rather than anything to do with my friendships in question.
I hadn’t thought, I think, that everyone’d fall at my feet, but…
But maybe I did, a cooler voice cuts through the self pity worming its way through my brain. Maybe I’d hoped that they’d all be so fucking excited to see me that they’d drop whatever’s going on in their lives to come keep me company. And maybe now I’m hurt, irrationally and illogically, that they haven’t.
Then: Yeah, right.
“Besides, maybe it’s good for you,” Jess says as we navigate the increasingly hilly patch of sidewalk before us. “Just getting used to being on your own again; being independent and doing stuff for yourself. You can do it, y’know; you just need to show yourself that you can.”
Start small: small steps to prove that yes, dickhead, you totally can do this.
And I realise, now, as much as I don’t want it to be, maybe it is good. I’ve replaced my parents with Jeremy as a person-shaped security blanket (not that he does everything for me); someone I’ve attached my hopes and fears and safeties to; someone I’ve mentally told myself about: everything will be okay as long as we are together.
And of course, now, we’re not.
And of course, we won’t be in the future – not always.
And of course, that’s much less in than co, a desperate co-dependent hanger-on from my brain injury wildly skittering around and looking for safety and warmth and comfort anywhere it can find it. Safety and warmth and comfort are all wonderful things, of course, but the world – as a large part of me knows; is acquainted with – is not safe and warm and comforting, and more often than not you need to be able to find that within yourself.
You couldn’t find it last year, I think, and look what happened.
Yeah, let’s not get into that.
I used to be okay. I used to be strong – stronger than this, at least, and capable of existing and flourishing in solitary confinement; capable of getting shit done and being proud of myself and –
And I am still strong. I’ve gotten through a hellish myriad of terrible things in the past year, and come out the other side successfully. I can do this.
Start small: sure, but just fucking start.