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Continuation from Going it alone 

Our accident reinforced the realization, my relationship with most of my blood relatives is negligible and scarcely deeper than exchanging niceties on Facebook. When I sorted through the cards I’d received, none came from a family member. Not one.

My cousin in Portland, who I met for the first time about ten years ago, sent me several supportive emails. He also wanted to visit but knowing he doesn’t drive, and I couldn’t retrieve him from either the Seattle or Mount Vernon Amtrak stations, I recommended he “stay put.”

The only other family members who provided emotional support and advice was a distant cousin, Frances who’d I’d met less than five or six times, and her amazing daughter, Sara who I met once. Within a few days of our accident, Frances sent me a lengthy email that warmed my heart. Sara complemented this email, offering her legal knowledge and assistance.

The family members I’d grown up with, and regularly saw throughout my childhood, until I moved to Oregon when I was 17, sent their “thoughts and prayers” via social media. I received significantly more support from people I scarcely knew on Whidbey Island and from work. Additionally, I was surprised to receive cards from people we’d met at Temple B’nai Torah, which we attended for several years when we lived in Kirkland.

There was also a wave of cards from acquaintances who I’d lost touch with, but having found out about the accident, dashed off a card or email, offering support and words of assurance.

For the most part, my support system has been one person: Rich.

I’ve written he’s the mainsail that guides my jib. He’s the person who can shine a light on reality and what’s truly important then help me toss the rest overboard when I’m flapping in the wind and can’t see the horizon through the fog. Too often, I get twisted up in the minutia, ruminating over issues that are irrelevant in the long run, and people’s opinions that shouldn’t matter. I spend sleepless nights anxious over something, which the next day, turns out to be laughably preposterous.

My mood often swings wildly, happy and serene one day, distressed the next. Even though I experience a rollercoaster of emotions and worries, from the outside, I appear strong. My strength, however, isn’t because I’m mentally sound, but skilled at suppressing my pain, disappointment and desires, a survival skill I’ve fine-tuned since I was a toddler.

My mother was thirty when I was born, 22 months after my brother. While most mothers reminisce about their children when they were toddlers, talking about their first words, first steps, and other milestones, mine focused on how I was a fat baby with perpetual diaper rash. I suspect I spent my early years confined to a playpen or released into the grassy back yard, crawling around with a wet diaper because my mother didn’t want to be bothered.

One of my mother’s favorite stories was how she couldn’t find me in the backyard and was convinced someone had climbed over the wall and taken me. After hours of searching, I was found under of giant philodendron. Years later, a neighbor shared how as a baby they’d peak over the wall and see me eating dirt.    

My father was ten years older than my mother, and typically worked six days a week at his garment factory in downtown Los Angeles. On Saturdays, and sometimes during the week, we’d spend the day in the factory with me sleeping in the garment bins, swinging from the metal clothes racks or being pampered by his mostly Hispanic and Asian seamstresses who brought my brother and I treats and sewed an adorable dressed for me when I was a toddler with appliqued bunches of grapes.  

While I remember my father’s factory being hot and dusty, it was also a place of wonderment. Shelves of different colored threads, boxes of buttons, rows of sewing machines, piles of fabric, lint intertwined with colored threads on the floor, bundles of cut clothing, waiting to be turned into dresses and pant suits, and racks of clothing covered in plastic for their voyage onto the elevator, down the street and to a box truck that whisked them to the designer, Fred Rothchild of California.

Off to one corner was several steam presses, used to iron clothes by sandwiching them between two large, cloth-covered steaming plates. Towards the front was a machine, which nipped off stray threads as you whooshed finished garments past the blades. There were also machines designed to sew on buttons, hooks and snaps.

On weekdays when the seamstresses were busy at work, the factory was a cacophony of sounds, rhythmic patter of sewing machines, whooshing of the steam pressers, drone of overhead fans, and women talking in a mix of languages. When the windows were open in the summer, you could hear the sounds from the street, the passing cars, people talking and shouting, and the clickety-clack of the wobbly wheels of racks and bins being pushed to their next destination.

And there was a unique smell, a mixture of machine oil, lint, and musty building. My father’s factory, named DoriAnn (a mix of my mother’s name and my middle name) was in the Cornell Building. Built in 1917 by business tycoon Michael J. Connell, the Cornell Building is now considered a Historical landmark and is part of Santee Village in the heart of the Los Angeles Fashion District.

When I was a child, the cement floors were stained and cracked, the rusty windows with Georgian wire glass opened outwards, the walls were thick with layers of paint, and the jittery elevators always seemed on the verge of breaking or stopping mid-floor. Like many older buildings, it had an elegant lobby with ornate wood trim, terrazzo floors, and a wall of tiny wooden mailboxes.

While my brother and I were permitted to ride the elevator down to the lobby and purchase hot chocolates and other goodies at a small eatery on the corner with a “walk-through” window, we weren’t allowed to explore the various floors of the building. However, when the elevator stopped on various floors, I could see other garment factories and fabric wholesalers, so I believe the entire building was devoted to designing and producing clothing.

Until recently, I hadn’t realized we never entered the building through the front door, but a back entrance. I found this navigable Google image, which shows what I remembered: A parking lot to the right of the entrance, eatery on the corner, and tall, ornate buildings on one side of the alley.

We went to my father’s factory nearly every Saturday. I recall walking by “bums” sleeping on the sidewalks and in the parking lots. Once our car was parked, we mostly walked everywhere, including to a delicatessen where my parents would order me a Kaiser bun, which I slathered with butter and jelly.

I don’t know if we walked or drove, but we would also go to Chinatown for wor wonton soup, which I relished, and Olvera Street, which was always packed with people. I loved seeing the dancers in their colorful dresses, hearing the vibrant Mexican music, and most of all, wandering through the stalls. I still have the doll my father bought me with a starched red dress and black sombrero. I also have a doll from Guatemala one of his workers brought me. 

When I was nine and my brother eleven, my father had a heart attack. In the subsequent months, while recovering at home, my father was told he needed to engage in a less stressful profession. My parents, therefore, sold the business. A month or so later, on a muggy summer evening, my father was rushed to the hospital, and passed away that evening from a pulmonary embolism. He was fifty years old.

While the first bypass surgery was performed in 1960, it wasn’t commonplace in 1970 when my father had his initial heart attack. His recovery essentially consisted of bed rest and a salt-free diet. Hardly curative.

If he’d had his heart attack a few years later, the outcome would have been radically different. He could have had heart surgery to replace his clogged arteries or at the minimum, angioplasty to remove the plaque in his blood vessels. Both his parents had heart disease and died in their sixties, as did others in his family.

Within a few weeks of my father’s death, my mother reignited her affair with Herbert Ross (HR), a man she lived with in the 1950’s. The fact that he was married was irrelevant. Years later when they broke up, she blamed me, instead of the reality that he had no intention of leaving his wife and their relationship revolved around sex. Once his sex drive waned, so did his interest in seeing her. And more importantly, once we moved from the Southern California to Portland, Oregon, there was no way he was going to hop on a plane every few months to visit. 

The relationship abounded with deceit. My brother and I had to lie about her affair since she didn’t want her parents to know she’d reunited with HR. We had to lie about his vehicles left at our house – a crappy convertible Oldsmobile parked in our garage, a wooden boat barely hidden in the side yard, and sometimes a beat-up pickup truck in the driveway.  

We also had to make up excuses for why she wasn’t home when they were galivanting around Los Angeles for his “job,” or sequestered in the bedroom having sex, morning, noon, and night. For the most part, HR spent most of his day in a bathrobe, reading, sleeping, or watching TV. I can’t recall one instance when he did anything industrious around the house such as wash a dish, clear a plate or (heaven forbid) vacuum, pull a weed or take out the trash.  

Decades earlier, my mother’s affair caused my grandmother considerable consternations with my mother lying about her whereabouts, and later moving out and living in “sin.” Like my mother, HR was self-absorbed, narcissistic, and indifferent towards my brother and me.

Even before my father died, my mother’s lack of empathy, arrogance, and sense of entitlement defined her attitude towards my brother and me. Because we’d get yelled at for hurting ourselves, such as falling, or getting sick, we learned to conceal our ailments.

Practice in squashing pain

As a toddler, I’d try to stifle my tears. My tongue would roll to the roof of my mouth, effectively cutting off my breathing. On numerous occasions, I passed out. One time, I was swinging from a clothes rack in my father’s factory. I must have lost my grip and fallen, instantly conking out. I remember the seamstresses getting very upset while my mother brushed off the incident, saying “It happens all the time.”

As I grew older, when I cried, I’d put my fingers in my mouth to stop my tongue from cutting off my breath. Or I’d simply not cry. I recall gashing open my ankle when I was four or five. I had a small metal stage suspended between four metal posts. Cardboard characters, each with a small metal disc on the bottom, could be moved by using a magnet beneath the stage. The plastic caps on one of the posts must have come off. For some dumb reason, I was leaping over the stage, and ripped my ankle open on the exposed metal.

I immediately thrust my ankle under the bed so my mother wouldn’t see. My brother, who was also in the room, ran and told my mother. To this day, I have a dime-size smooth patch of skin on the side of my right ankle where it was ripped open. My mother put a bandage on it instead of having it stitched closed.

Another time, I was riding on the back of a neighbor’s bike, and fell off, badly scraping both knees. I ran into the house. My mother, upset that I’d interrupted her cleaning the bathroom, poured alcohol onto my knees, instantly curing me of ever seeking her assistance and comfort again.

Her response to sickness was equally unsympathetic. When we were in elementary school, my brother and I got mumps, which inevitably, we passed onto my mother. It was very painful, but for years afterwards, the only mention of the disease was my mother’s suffering and a how a neighbor peaked in the window to see her swollen jaw.

Because my mother was more concerned with her health than ours, she routinely sent us to school when we were sick. She even brag how she’d hold a mirror up to our noses, and if she could see our breath, she’d send us to school. As a result of not being kept home to recover, our illnesses would stretch for weeks with simple colds evolving into tonsillitis and strep throat.  

It should be noted, my mother only worked for a short period after my father had a heart attack and before my brother was born. She simply didn’t want to be bothered with taking care of her kids.

One time, my mother left me with my grandmother who frantically tried to bring down my 103 temperature. My mother, however, felt it wasn’t a big deal. Years later, when I got mono in my early 20’s with a 105-degree fever, my urine turned dark brown. My mother took me to a local clinic, which immediately set up an appointment with a hematologist across town. Not wanting to deal with traffic, my mother refused to take me. Instead, I called a friend who willingly drove me.

It wasn’t until the hematologist called her, and said I either had leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease or mononucleosis that she paid attention to the seriousness of my illness. Even so, after a week of taking care of me she started complaining. I remember being so exhausted I could barely move, even so, she kept goading me to get out of bed and help around the house since she didn’t want to inconvenience my brother.  

The reason why I don’t drink alcohol is that my liver was compromised when I had a high fever for several days, and probably didn’t spend enough time resting and building up my strength. It took at least a year before I felt 100% back to normal and didn’t easily fatigue.

While I scarcely drank before getting mono, afterwards, a glass of wine would make me nauseous and produce sharp pains in my abdomen. Throughout the years, I’ve occasionally had a drink without any side effects, but since I don’t particularly like the taste of wine, and absolutely don’t like the taste of liquor (except Kahlua), drinking causes me more trepidation than pleasure.

From infancy through adulthood, my mother’s myopic focus on her needs and complete lack of empathy for anything that negatively affected me, honed my ability to squash pain and disappointment. Even as an adult, I was expected to marginalize my needs and desire or be lambasted for my perceived selfishness.

At my wedding, my mother kept goading me to hurry up so people could leave, even though the wedding had started less than two hours earlier. Not only did she refuse to be in the reception line for my wedding, but didn’t give us a toast, card or gift (neither did my brother or his girlfriend), and didn’t speak to my mother-in-law or Rich’s two children, Stacey and Chris.

Yet, years later she complained I didn’t seat her at the head table. The fact that our head table was a small card table our wedding planner set up at the last minute for Rich and me to sit at was irrelevant!

In the same vein, four months after fracturing my pelvis in four places while in Texas, I flew to Redmond, Washington to interview with Microsoft. That evening, I drove in heavy traffic to Portland, Oregon to visit my mother. Within minutes of my arrival at her house, she asked me to wash her kitchen floor and do other chores around her house because she was “too tired” or “something or other ached.”

A response of “no,” would have elicited a tirade about how I’m selfish, make excuses and only help others. So, I did what she requested through clenched teeth. And when she died, and Rich and I had her cremated, I resisted the urge of pouring her ashes in our kitty litter boxes.

Instead, we deposited the box of ashes on the front steps of my brother’s house. He, and his girlfriend, who is a carbon copy of my mother, is equally self-absorbed and heartless.

Pockmarks in the armor

While I’ve retained the ability to suppress pain and brush aside illnesses, other areas of my psyche aren’t just broken, they’re irreversibly damaged. And unfortunately, the brunt of my fragmented emotional health has spewed onto Rich, sometimes splatters of impatience, but most often, surges of fury and frustration.

I hate that I’ve poisoned our relationship with a lorry of emotional baggage. Throughout the years, I’ve been able to temper it, especially with the death of my mother in 2014. Prior, my weekly, and often weekend-long contact with her awakened suppressed memories, which were fanned by comparisons between her life and mine.  

When I turned 40, I was in the midpoint of my career, and had recently started dating Rich. A few months after her 39th birthday, my mother declared herself a wealthy widow and no longer obligated to pretend she was a loving wife. Years later, she confessed that she would have gotten a divorce if he hadn’t died.

My mother stopped working in her late 20’s after my brother was born. When my father had a heart attack, she took over his garment factory until it could be sold a few months later. Outside of doing a bit of volunteer work, her  life centered on having a secret affair with HR, reading the newspaper until 9 or so in the morning, walking her dogs, puttering in the garden, grocery shopping on Wednesdays, doing a little cooking, sewing clothes for herself, my brother, and I, working on needlepoint projects for hours every night, and coming up with a list of things I needed to do every day when I got home from school and on weekends.

Since I was nine years old, her expectation was that I keep her company in the evenings and accompany her on weekends, doing hours of yard and housework, running errands, picking fruits and vegetables, making jams and canning, sewing, doing needlepoint and crafts, and cooking many of the meals.

If I didn’t, I was pummeled with a rampage of insults ranging from my selfishness to lack of gratitude for “everything she did for me.” My schoolwork and desire to go out and play like a “normal” kid was irrelevant since she believed my role was to get married, reproduce, and buy a house with a mother-in-law apartment; although, she did everything in her power to curtail my having friends and dating.  

My brother on the other hand was given a few chores to do on weekends and allowed to do whatever he wanted the rest of the time. Afterall, she reasoned, he’d one day need to get a job and earn money to support a family.

To strengthen her grip, my mother would buy me piles of “stuff,” and then expect payment by accommodating her perpetual needs and shortcomings. In a sense, I became her indentured slave, never free of my debt.

Even when I started working, and moved into an apartment, she’d rope me into helping, using guilt, humiliation, and denigration.

If Rich hadn’t been transferred to Texas and tricked me into marrying him the week before he left, I’m sure I would have ended up caring for my mother for the rest of her life. While my brother was able to successfully extricate himself from my mother, I was never able to escape her clutch, especially, after she was conned out of $325,000 within a year of us moving to Texas.

I was sucked back into her vortex of neediness, manipulation, entitlement, and ultimately, stupidity. She was a bully to those she could hurt but didn’t have the backbone to seek help or tell the police she was being duped when they inquired, and the evidence was irrefutable.

Of course, I was blamed. She said my moving to Texas had made her vulnerable. The attention and adoration she got from the con artist stoked her fragile ego, and somehow justified giving him most of her money.

Rich became my addiction

Moving to Texas was like getting a divorce. My mother’s perpetual meddling and control of my life came to a screeching halt. I could leave the house without justifying where I was going (she’d constantly call to see if I was home) or be pressured to wait until the weekend when she’d want to join me. Buy whatever I wanted without being chastised for wasting money or not using a coupon.

I didn’t have to scramble to wash, wipe and put away every dish, following a meal, or rinse out the sponge within seconds of using it. I wasn’t admonished for leaving “things” on the counter or thoughtlessly tossing my clothes on a chair when I got home from work. Or heaven forbid, spend an hour reading a book or watch TV without having to keep my hands busy doing sewing or needlework.   

After decades of being critiqued for everything I did “wrong,” or more aptly, contrary to my mother’s warped and often hypocritical conventions, I was praised for what I did right. Rich accepted my gaffes and quirks. He recognized my short temper and agitation when something went wrong arose from my troubled upbringing. And he constantly commented my fixation with achieving perfection – from the meals I cooked to the cleanliness of our house – was my benchmark not his expectations.

As the years passed, my need for this acceptance became an addiction. I yearned for his kind words and depended on his level-headedness, emotional stability and steadfast rational approach to life to help me weather my demons.

I desperately needed the Rich I loved and depended on. But what returned home wasn’t the Rich I knew or wanted. He was antsy, desperate to make sense of his situation, frustrated with his limited mobility, and oblivious to his cognitive decline and loss of memory.

The afternoon of May 27, driving Gatsby, he was an extremely healthy 66-year-old man who routinely tackled difficult home improvement projects, was never hindered by anything physical, and enjoyed helping people in his second career as a bus driver for Island Transit. Three and a half weeks later, he’d regressed into a confused, frustrated man confined to a wheelchair with a wife who was falling apart and could barely deal with her own needs, let alone those of her husband.

Stacks of bills and financial chaos

Stacey is like Rich in that she always sees a “full glass.” Often, the glass is overflowing. She overlooks people’s idiosyncrasies and obstacles that lay across her path, having negotiated around roadblocks that would have stopped most people. She became one of a handful of women on the west coast who are US Coast Guard licensed captains. She drove boats for Argosy Cruises in Seattle, and Catalina Express and Hornblower Cruises in Southern California. In addition, she worked on several tugboats and luxury yachts. On a weekly basis, she thrives in a “man’s world,” as a test engineer for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton.

After three weeks at Rich’s side, and spending hours in the car driving him back to Coupeville, Stacey’s nerves and patience had worn thin. After getting Rich settled in the house, she bid us adieu to meet up with Chris, Coen (6), Caitlyn (4), and  Leticia (Leti), Chris’ mother-in-law who’d also driven up to Coupeville, and were staying in Oak Harbor.

While I was hoping to have a heart-to-heart chat with Rich, he was more interested in booting up his computer and tackling weeks of mail on his desk. I could sense his bewilderment at the myriad of notices from our medical and auto insurance companies, along with those from the auto insurance company of the woman who hit us.

Since we’ve been together, scarcely a day passed when Rich didn’t access our accounts on Quicken, track bills and payments, look at our investments, and fiddle with our finances. Following our accident, Stacey and Chris raced up to our house in Coupeville to retrieve Rich’s list of passwords, so he could access our accounts and pay bills via his smartphone.

Recognizing, however, Rich was in no shape to manage our finances, especially after brain surgery, Stacey and Chris commandeered paying our bills and buying necessities, using Rich’s credit card, such as a shower chair, countertop microwave, grab bars, and workout clothing for Rich for when he entered rehab.

Me? Finances? While Rich and I share much of the work around the house, we have a handful of “hard lines.” He does the finances and I do most of the cooking. If I managed our finances, I’d tighten the belt on all purchases. We’d be grocery shopping every few weeks, keeping the house at 60-degrees in the winter and 80 in the summer, and making the cats work for their food.

Since our finances are akin to multiple webs, spun by several spiders drunk on fermented gnats, Stacey and Chris didn’t know what was automatically or manually paid. They ended up paying several bills twice and neglecting to pay one or two. It’s no surprise. We have several houses, which are leased, each with their own set of expenses, and at least a dozen, checking, saving and investment accounts.

Only Rich can make sense of our finances. And when he got started sorting everything out, he became irritable and at times, irate, forgetting what he’d done the day before, and wondering why various bills had or hadn’t been paid.

I do, thankfully again

After enjoying some time away from Rich, Stacey returned to oversee an important task. When I learned Rich was returning home on June 21, Summer Solstice, I immediately contacted Stacey and asked a favor. I wanted her to photograph us exchanging our vows on the 17-year anniversary of when we got married in a civil ceremony in Hillsboro, Oregon.

As the sun was starting to slide towards the horizon, she helped me wheel onto the back deck, and then went back into the house to get Rich who absolutely didn’t want to be bothered. She kept insisting it was important. A few minutes later, Stacey emerged, pushing Rich in his wheelchair.

Days earlier, I’d printed copies of our vows. As we read the words, it was hard not to cry. While we were both seriously injured, we had the opportunity to enjoy another solstice, and the start of another year together. And finally, Rich seemed to understand the gravity of what had occurred, and the desperation of my pleas for his support and love.

Back in the house, Stacey ordered several pizzas, which Chris picked up on the way over to our house. He brought Coen, Caitlyn, and Leti. I was a bit nervous about having so many people in the house with Rich and I on edge and incapacitated, but Coen and Caitlyn were very well behaved. And Leti insisted on waiting on us, in-between vacuuming and sweeping the floors, and straightening up the kitchen.

After sitting down to eat, both Rich and I started to feel the weight of the day. It was difficult to “sit” when in the past, I was the one bouncing around, making and serving meals, and attending to other’s needs. It was hard to see stuff that needed to be put away, but no energy to do so. And to peak outside and know that doing something as simple as feeding the birds was challenging. I could see the hummingbird feeder needed to be filled, but it would be months before I could safely stand on a stool and reach it down.

It was a relief when everyone left, except Stacey, so I could wallow in self-pity. It was also obvious that Rich was exhausted and getting impatient. As soon as the front door closed, Rich and I headed to the bedroom to begin the dance of wheelchairs and walkers as we negotiated around the king-sized bed and bathroom, changed into pajamas, and finally, scooched into bed.  

Since I’d had the house to myself for six days, I’d fallen into a routine that was now disrupted by Rich’s presence. We had to take turns wheeling in-and-out of the bathroom, and I couldn’t just plunk my walker in front of the small rattan sofa at the foot of our bed, where I typically got dressed and kept my clothes and boxes of gauze and tape.

My umbrage was partially related to Rich getting round-the-clock attention and care for the previous three weeks, and me having to be more independent while at Providence, and later when I got home. While several neighbors and friends called and visited, for the most part, I was alone to deal with the mental, emotional and physical trauma of my injuries and the accident.

When Rich came home, he was looking for the same coddling he’d grown accustomed to from someone bringing him meals to helping him get dressed and use the bathroom. He looked to me for help, but I was exhausted from putting up a brave front and doing everything for myself, despite the pain and difficulty. I’d push through the pain, learning how to care for my open wounds, take my leg brace on-and-off, and secure the buckles, which were exceedingly hard to do because of the discomfort of moving and bending my leg. I figured out how to lean forward and “feel” for the hooks onto which I needed to place a metal ring, and then tighten the straps.

It often took me 20 minutes to change clothes, releasing the three buckles, and then putting the boot back on once I’d changed the dressings on my leg, and lifted my leg into the boot before buckling it again. My left leg was like an alien that needed constant care and did nothing for itself.

Sensing our first night by ourselves might be challenging, Stacey decided to spend the night in our extra bedroom. It was reassuring to have her in the house, especially since I didn’t have the ability to assist Rich if he fell out of bed or decided to venture into the bathroom on one foot.

While it would have been therapeutic to snuggle, we were happy to migrate to our respective sides of the bed. Once my leg was propped up on two pillows and the covers pulled up to my chin, I was set for the night. Any movement, other than leaning towards the middle of the bed to give Rich a kiss was too painful.

Sadly, and more truthfully, I didn’t want to be near Rich. I couldn’t deal with the fact my beautiful, superhuman husband was damaged. His stump frightened me.

Starting to rebuild

Saturday morning, I woke up feeling better about having Rich home. We’d both slept soundly, and before turning out the lights, had talked about the reality that even though we’d been horrifically injured, we were both alive, living in our fabulous Coupeville house, surrounded by beauty and amused by wildlife, including magnificent soaring eagles, flitting hummingbirds, humorous quail, and deer and rabbits who smirk when shooed away from our plants.

Around mid-morning, Shawn, Stacey’s husband and his father, Keith, arrived from Bremerton with a collection of tools. Andrea, one of the women who’d been watching our house and helping me, had earlier dropped off a large trailer of wood.

Fueled by coffee, they fired up their saws and began building a ramp from our front door onto the driveway. I hated the idea of needing a ramp, believing it was akin to a giant banner, announcing, “Here lives the cripples.” There are just two steps up onto our porch, but they might as well have been a full flight of stairs. There was no way either one of us could have tackled the stairs with a walker, let alone a wheelchair.

As the ramp started to take shape, my attitude quickly changed. Stacey said Shawn had an “idea” for how to make a ramp that didn’t take up too much space since there isn’t a lot of room between our front porch and the garage.

It wasn’t an “idea.” It was brilliant. The ramp Shawn, Keith, Stacey, and Chris built was not only functional, but aesthetically pleasing. Once it was painted to match the trim on our house, compliments started to flow in from anyone who saw it.

It you didn’t know there were steps under the ramp, you would have thought it was built as part of the house. Even better, it enabled Rich and I to easily and safely get in-and-out of the house. With that said, we had to lean back in our wheelchairs when we cross the slightly elevated door threshold. And I tied a scarf to the door handle, making it easier to close the door behind us.

After the ramp project was underway, Chris, Coen, Caitlyn, and Leti arrived. I felt more hospitable and thoroughly enjoyed talking to Caitlyn about unicorns, dancing, butterflies, bunny rabbits, and anything, and everything pink.

For lunch, Stacey bought bags of yummies from Taco Bell, which were a welcome treat. Anything from Taco Bell, particularly, bean and shredded chicken burritos, shredded chicken quesadilla melts, and chicken soft tacos are comfort foods. More powerful than chicken soup.

Amazingly, within six or so hours, the ramp was nearly done. With the day long, the worker bees returned to the hotel where they were staying to relax and enjoy the pool before gathering at Applebee’s for dinner. Rich and I also rested for a few hours before Stacey came back to retrieve us.

It was the first time Rich and I had ridden in the same car since the accident. Fortunately, Stacey has a sizable SUV, in which she loaded our two wheelchairs, two footrests, two cushions, and two walkers. It took at least twenty minutes to transfer us to the car with Stacey having to help me into the backseat and plop my left leg onto a pillow. Being taller, Rich was more adept at scooting himself into the SUV, but less steady, having to balance on one leg.

We reversed the routine when we got to the restaurant, which went a bit faster, but it was a chore to get us behind the table with my leg needing to be elevated on a footrest, and Rich’s stump also elevated on a special leg rest.

While everyone was chatty and happy, Rich and I were glum and emotionally detached. I was convinced everyone was judging me, the “gimpy woman in the wheelchair,” and I struggled with my reality that I might never comfortably walk again or would require a cane. 

Rich was fixated on his reality that “everything tasted the same” and eating wasn’t enjoyable. He ordered fiesta lime chicken, which should have been flavorful, but he said it had no taste. Mostly, he scrambled around the food on his plate, and tried to figure out what everyone was saying. He couldn’t hear well because the restaurant was noisy, plus he was having trouble processing information and remembering incidents that occurred before the accident.

I had grilled chicken breast with a baked potato and broccoli but was too tired to take more than a few bites. Plus, I was preoccupied with the hassle of doing anything more ambitious than wheeling into our office or getting something out of the refrigerator. I kept wondering how I was going to maintain our house if every activity was so exhausting, such as wheeling to the top of our driveway, which is sloped, to get the mail.  

While we were grateful for the extraordinary effort our family made to accommodate our needs – especially, Chris and Stacey who burned through all their vacation and sick time taking care of us – we needed time alone to adjust to being together again, and begin making sense of our new situation. It was therefore a relief when we got home and could quietly unwind. 

Sunday morning, Shawn and Keith finished working on the ramp and headed back home. Chris and his family came over for a few hours, and then started the long drive back to Camas, WA.

Stacey stayed until mid-afternoon, painting the ramp, and helping load the unused wood into Andrea’s trailer. As evening approached, and after weeks of putting our needs first, Stacey petered out, gathered up her stuff, and reluctantly left.

It was bittersweet. I could sense she had trepidations about leaving Rich. On the other hand, she needed to get back to her husband, her job, and her life. And most importantly, she needed to trust, with time, the father she knew would recover, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As the door closed behind her, I could honestly say, I had my doubts the Rich I knew would ever return, and I was fearful of what lay ahead.