Before my brain injury I was a mind reader, a multitasker, an excellent speller and a sharp-witted, cynical, confrontational, over-achieving bitch. If you have ever watched Grey's Anatomy I would most resemble the character Christina Yang (played by Sandra Oh). I stopped at nothing to get what I wanted.
Women like me are seldom liked and even more rarely loved. (I am in awe of Rachel Maddow (another over-achieving, opinionated, confrontational woman) and often fantasize about her, but could I really live with such a high powered, opinionated personality? Probably not.)
I got these attributes from my father, both genetically and through his behavior. His sperm produced all males excepting myself. He saw himself as the Supreme Alpha Male. Smart women learn young to cozy up to the alpha male or in my case become an alpha female. I excelled in school and could beat the crap out of any boy who pissed me off.
One day when I was in fourth grade I was walking home from school with my best friend Dorothy. She was from Yugoslavia and had both an unusual look (read: not an American) and different way of speaking. Her skin was naturally darker than everyone else and even at such a young age she had dark peach fuzz growing below her nose and along the sides of her face. Her mother spoke only in their native Slavic language.
It was a beautiful sunny day as Dorothy and I meandered home talking about the band we had in her garage. Suddenly from behind Dennis Burks squeezes his way in between us. Then, in an effort to get next to me, he did the stupidest thing anyone has ever done and pushed my Dorothy down a little hill that ran along the side of the road. I was so pissed that I tackled him, then threw him to the ground. Sitting on his chest with my fist ready to punch him in the face, I yelled, "don't you ever touch Dorothy again or I will punch your f***ing lights out".
That was the last fight I ever won with a boy. Less than a year later I started developing breasts and began my period. The boys suddenly got stronger and taller and I ended up more bruised and damaged than they did after a fight. Once several of them ganged up on me and threw me in the boy's bathroom. Belligerent and pissed I came out swearing like a sailor only to run into the principle of the school. I was suspended for 3 days.
Jump forward 45 years during which time I have survived living on the streets, bootcamp and the marine corps, college, jail and eventually a long-term job. My unique combination of alpha femaleness and survivor's instinct guided me through the rough spots and though I took what I now consider to be alarming risks, I survived.
After years of therapy I named one of those instinctual voices in my head 'Mom'. She was with me when I cried, when I lost someone and when I felt hopeless. She answered my incessant questions day after day, (unlike my real mother who would say "go figure it out for yourself"). She helped place the pieces of a collage in just the right configuration and could be counted on with 100% accuracy to find things I had misplaced. Best of all she was always there. My own private angel.
But immediately following the brain injury I had NO voices in my head. Not 'Mom' or any of the other 'gauds' I attributed my creativity to. There were no pictures of things that needed to be 'born'. Nothing. Just a terrifying blank screen. When I wasn't being terrified by the blankness of that screen, I would joke that there was a large black hole in between my ears filled with a pool of tears. My knack for inappropriate comments seemed to be the only thing that had improved.
On one day early in my recovery a strange man walked into my room and announced, "Hello, my name is Dr. Hacker. I am filling in for Dr. McGurr while he is on vacation. Do you have any questions you would like to ask about your brain surgery?" "Yes", I said, "What ever possessed you to become a brain surgeon with a name like Dr. Hacker?" He quickly left without answering and that was the only time I saw him during my 30 day stay at Sacred Heart.
For months after I got home it was impossible to find misplaced things. Worst still was my inability to make art. The best that I could do was to collect things, put them in baggies and hang them on the wall.
Multitasking tired my brain so quickly that if two people talked at the same time or the radio was playing music and someone was talking to me, I quickly became confused then irritable. I yearned for the day when Mom's voice would return helping me to find lost things again and guide me through the creative process. I waited for more than a year, crying to my therapist in my weekly session that I had lost my imagination and would never again make art.
By August 2009 I had been volunteering at MECCA for a year. The first Object Afterlife show was coming up in September. I had already paid my fee to participate and been giving 3 plastic, wall thermometers (the kind one uses to turn the heat up or down in a house). It was getting very close to the time to turn my creation in and I still hadn't made a thing.
One day I was in the back hall clearing a pathway to get through. There was an old brass lamp with a pathetic shade on it sitting in a pile 'of stuff'. (MECCA had and still has tons of 'stuff'.)
Suddenly I felt the presence of Mom and I began to visualize that lamp shade as a skirt. So enthralled was I that I strapped that lamp onto the back of my bike and once I got home began to work immediately on what became my piece "The Resurrection of Yo".
She has death on her head and the skull of a small dog in her back. She also has flowers and birds representing life. For me the piece became both a container for my soul and proof that I would once again rise from the ashes of a near death trauma and create art.
I have been back just over three years now and my friends tell me I am not the over-achieving alpha bitch I used to be, but a kinder, gentler version of myself. I died as Christina Yang (in Grey's Anatomy) and came back as Meredith Grey.
Thank 'the gauds' and 'Mom' for giving me my imagination back. And thanks to my many friends who have loved me through this crazy thing we call Life. And Happy Birthday me... 'every day above ground is a good one'. yona c. riel
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