“I was in a car accident a couple of weeks ago. I got whiplash and a concussion and Speedy is totaled.” I frown internally, knowing the bit about Speedy is not placed quite right — before any admission about the other guy’s safety or expressions of gratitude — but “totaled car” is the best way I know to convey the gravity of the accident immediately. I still don’t know how to describe the accident yet. Either I give too many details, which I can tell freaks people out, or I downplay how serious it was, and people expect me to be more okay than I am.
“This concussion been beating my ass,” I tell my cousin. We have a standing Sunday call that I miss a good 60% of the time. We always find a way to make it up during the week, though. Tonight, she calls during Euphoria, and though my head’s been bumping all day, I hit her back when the episode’s over.
“You have a concussion?” she asks absently. She was in the car with our other cousin when I told him yesterday. I’m fairly certain I’d been on speaker-phone, but I relay the same information I’ve been fumbling through all week anyway.
“Yeah and whiplash. I’m doing okay, though. Popping ibuprofen and staying hydrated.”
“I know, bro.”
“You been on your phone?”
“Less,” I lie.
“Liar,” she says.
I smile to myself. I have been trying, truly, but as I tell her, I’m not sure what to do with myself all day. I can’t read or watch TV or play video games. I have been off work all week. Despite my best intentions, my screen time report creeps back up an hour, hovering stubbornly around the 8-hour mark. I do not check the report because I have no interest in knowing what I could be doing on my phone for 8 hours a day.
I can tell I have made the mistake of too many details. My cousin is no longer listening, having started a side conversation with someone in the background. The front left quadrant of my head throbs.
“Alright bro, I love you.” I have spent the last 20 minutes listening to her talk shit about people we love and relay details about a concert I do not care about. I am very good at listening to other people. They tell me their innermost thoughts, usually completely unbidden, constantly. I have not, however, figured out how to make most people listen to me.
“Well fuck you too, then,” my cousin says. This is usually when I re-engage, assuage. I don’t have the energy today.
“What’s stronger than love?” Elliot asks Rue.
“Loss,” Rue replies.
“Why didn’t you finish your thought?” my therapist asks in one of our first sessions. I had been speaking and let my words peter away, something I often do once I register that I am being tuned out. I am always shocked and a little unnerved when I am speaking and realize someone is listening.
I went to urgent care the day after the accident. They did x-rays and found nothing inside me visibly broken or fractured. The doctor shrugged. “You went to sleep and woke up, so I’m assuming the worst is behind you.” This does not strike me as exactly comforting at the time.
My mom comes to visit for a couple of days after, more for her peace of mind, I think, than mine. When I hit my head in her hotel bathroom, leaving a small puncture wound where the corner of a shelf meets my forehead with the full inertia of one leaning over to do something other than hit their head on a shelf, she begs me to make a follow-up appointment.
Talking about something makes it real.
Not talking about something gives it teeth.
“You’re being very cavalier about this,” my primary care physician says at the follow-up appointment. I had just told her about falling on a slippery spot in my kitchen the night after my mom left — fully falling, the ground solid beneath my feet, and then my face solid against the cool kitchen floor. I’m sure the fall would have been funny, banana peels and cartoon characters, had there been anyone else around to see it. I stood up and checked for water or canola oil, any substances of a slippery nature, found none. Weird.
When will I be whole again? I ask the sky.
Never, the sky says and I know that she is right.
Banging one’s head and slipping over nothing are symptoms of post-concussive syndrome it turns out, which is concerning for many reasons — not least of which because nearly two weeks after the accident, I had not known I had a concussion to be posting from. The physician’s comment about me being cavalier strikes me as ironic, given that she follows the diagnosis with a smile and turns her back to me. She is typing notes on a computer.
“Ok, so what am I supposed to do?” I ask. I can hear the edge of alarm in my voice, but given the woman has just casually mentioned mild traumatic brain injury, the alarm feels justified.
“Oh, just rest,” she says cheerily, too cheerily in my opinion. “The documents will have everything you need.” A printer in the corner of the room is already churning out the alleged documents.
Gina makes me a virgin cocktail because alcohol is worse for my brain than usual right now. I am rinsing my glass at her kitchen sink. She hugs me around the waist from behind.
“I’m glad you’re alive, friend.”
I don’t know how to hold the gravity of what happened — almost happened — without succumbing completely. I’m not even sure what I’m afraid of succumbing to, exactly. Gravity, probably. I dance on a razor’s edge. My mom helps me clean my room. She calls me a “pack rat.” I call me sentimental.
The word “loss” on the insurance claim brings tears to my eyes.
I do a lot of things to make other people happy. And because I derive a lot of happiness from the happiness of others, in a perverse way, doing things to make other people happy makes me happy too.
I am not sure who I am if I am not being who people need.
“The scary part, for me, anyway, is that if I give in to it, I don’t know how long it’s going to last.” I am sitting on Kobi’s rooftop patio. We are drinking tea. The sun is setting over The Town. A chill is already settling in.
He nods in solemn agreement.
“The next time you feel this way, call somebody,” Breezy says.
My base state of being is so often tied to that of those around me, that it takes me a while to actually know how I’m feeling.
“I have a problem with “better” as a concept,” my brother says. I know what he means because I have the same problem. My parents raised us to be humble to the point of deprecation. I am afraid to be as great as I can be if there is a risk my greatness will make others feel less than me.
My friends don’t need me to be okay. It is a realization I come to and bury and come back to, repeatedly.
“To whom much is given, much is required.”
The verse is etched in my mind, in my mother’s voice, indelibly.
“Even if you don’t push through the thing, I’ll still love you,” Meatta says.
I am so wrapped up in being who I think my friends need me to be, that I forget they have never asked me to be anything.