The story of October 1, 2017 exists in my room—in the faint stain of blood on the carpet and the chip in the plaster on the wall—visible only to me, I think (I hope). It exists in the dark space behind my closed eyes, in the memory of falling to my knees beside Matt and believing I wasn’t strong enough to stand up again. The story exists as a reminder that we somehow found a way to stand, even though it it seemed impossible.
I imagine that it comes as no surprise to anyone who follows this blog that I’m an early riser. I like the quiet of early morning, that hour when the sun is just rising and the rest of the world is sleeping. In the quiet of early morning, with my coffee and my thoughts, I can create characters and worlds and plots without the distracting static of real life.
When I first started writing, I wrote in the dark on the floor in my bedroom by the window. After Matt was diagnosed, I was more worried about disturbing his fitful sleep, so I moved my coffee and my laptop downstairs. October 1, 2017, I was sitting at the kitchen island when I heard the tell-tale creaking sound of the floor as Matt got out of bed. This alone, wasn’t shocking. Matt had begun needing to use the bathroom a few times in the middle of the night—something I frequently brought up with the doctors, though Matt insisted there was nothing abnormal about it.
Then Matt took a step. A creak. Then another. A creak. Then it sounded like he was running. The creaks gained speed. Then the crash. The whole house seemed to shake.
I remember the explosion of red hot panic in my chest as I raced up the stairs. The bedroom was dark. I called Matt’s name. He groaned. Absurdly I thought maybe he was still sleeping and if I turned on the light I’d bother his eyes too much. I warned him that I was turning on the lights and he should close his eyes. I was so worried the light would be too bright and give him a headache. He groaned again. I turned on the lights.
Matt was lying by the closet holding his head as if he had a headache. But there was blood. A gash in his eyebrow area. I panicked (partially because I’m squeamish around blood.) I don’t remember calling 9-1-1 this time. I don’t remember anything until the EMTs arrived and helped Matt stand. I do remember calling Matt’s parents—and wishing I could protect them from yet another disaster. I do remember just wishing I’d protected Matt—I hadn’t been there to catch him this time.
Matt’s dad went to the hospital to meet Matt as the ambulance arrived. I stayed home to talk with G and H and to clean the blood before they woke up—because somehow they’d slept through the crash and the EMTs’ voices and the sound of the metal scraping against metal as Matt was carried downstairs by a wheelchair stretcher. (A little light to this story: when G woke up and I asked whether she’d heard anything, she said she had, but she thought Matt and I were sword fighting. I’m still left speechless by the explanation she crafted for herself.)
That day, I needed help. From everybody. I needed to be with Matt at the hospital—at this point, Matt couldn’t at all give his medical history. The important dates, medications, and facts existed only in my mind and in a file at Duke. I needed to be with G, who had wanted me to watch her cheerleading (the first away game) because all the other moms would be there. I needed to be with H, who’d grown clingy as our normal world spun faster away from beneath our feet.
Somehow, the day ended on a positive note. Matt was admitted to the hospital for overnight monitoring—to determine the cause of the fall and to ensure it didn’t happen again—but his pain had subsided and his charm had returned and I told myself things were okay. We’d had another blip, nothing more. I’d made it to some of G’s cheerleading and then she’d spent the rest of the day with a friend. H spent the morning with a friend and the afternoon running around the playground with my mom and niece.
It’s strange to reach a new month in Post Hope and another new milestone (if that’s the word) in this story. October 1, 2017 feels like a lifetime ago, and yet it’s all too easy to look over at the crack in the plaster and the nearly invisible stain in the carpet and be right back in that moment. The helplessness and terror of that day are too close to the surface of my memories. Even one year removed, echoes of that red-hot panic explode through my chest whenever I hear the creaks and crashes of G and H playing upstairs.
The day was undoubtedly difficult. I remember feeling as though I simply could not drive to the hospital again, I could not call in friends to help with G and H again, I could not hold it (our life) all together without Matt again. Not again.
There is no way to spin that truth. But there’s also this truth, which is equally, if not more, important. The day was difficult, but we’d made it through, done all the things we thought we could not do. Matt was safe, mentally present, and being cared for. The Duke doctor would be looped into all we’d experienced over the weekend in the morning and, presumably (I hoped) would have something reassuring to say. And, most importantly, G and H had been protected from all of it.
We still had reasons to believe everything would be fine—shrinking tumors and miracle cures. We still had triumphs to celebrate—one (more) hard day hadn’t broken us. And for those reasons and so many more, we still had endless reserves of hope.