It’s a rare moment of reflection in our otherwise chaotic lives when I gaze at my husband, sitting across from me on our dinner date, and ask, “Do you ever wonder about that time?”
As much as we can avoid it, TC and I don’t reminisce about those early months of TBI. And it’s not just because those months were filled with doctors, various surgeries, and colossal uncertainty. In our case, there was a parallel story unfolding during that time – a story that involved detectives, press conferences, nosy reporters, U.S. Attorneys, and the introduction to three young men whose life stories now intersect our own.
My husband’s brain injury was no accident. It was the deliberate choice of a few men on a quest for quick cash and a smartphone. During those 84 days I sat at the hospital at TC’s bedside, I found it difficult enough to process the fact that my husband suffered a severe head injury. Integrating that new reality with the idea that the whole travesty was completely avoidable, an act of selfishness and shocking disregard for life, was an impossible task at the time.
In some ways, it’s still impossible. I rarely speak the names of the three men who nearly murdered my husband and there are several reasons why. The first is my belief that these particular humans don’t deserve the time or cellular energy required to utter their names. Instead, I’ll choose to save those breaths for myself. The second is that their names induce immediate nausea. The sound delivers me right back to the minutes I spent testifying in court, sitting feet away from their chairs and wondering how on earth the footsteps of my life led me to this kairotic moment. Thirdly, these are not names I want adopted into the lexicon of my family’s daily vocabulary. One day we will sit down with our son and we will tell him everything he needs to know on this topic, but it’s my great hope that when that day arrives he’ll walk away from the conversation only mildly piqued, his mind primarily concerned with other important boy thoughts.
Under the surface, however, there’s a deeper hesitation involved with discussing these three individuals. It’s an underlying sense of tremendous violation. They are the only ones on this planet with a clear recollection of my husband’s final minutes before he was changed forever. The events of that night are among the few memories I can’t help TC reconstruct and we must both live with unanswered questions about exactly what transpired. There is also the disturbing knowledge that after taking TC’s belongings and beating him with a baseball bat, the young men jumped into their getaway vehicle, switched on his phone, and were greeted by a home screen photo of six-month-old Jack, propped up on our couch in a blue and white striped onesie. Our baby.
Without our consent, these strangers’ eyes fell privy to the inside world of our little family as we once were: simple, happy, hopeful. Later, one of the men would remark that after seeing Jack’s photo, he felt “a little bad.” But that slight feeling of guilt did not compel him to fess up, even after he was arrested hours later for a separate assault. These young men spent that very same night in prison, while my husband remained out in the street, slowly dying for nearly eight full hours.
I remember being asked once if I’d arrived at forgiveness and the uncomplicated, satisfying answer to that question would be yes. But “yes” is not my truth. The truth is that, at the moment, I am unconcerned about forgiveness. Now that we have survived that very dark period, my chief concern is living — living for myself, living for my family, living the happiest, fullest lives we can during our time on this planet. And, for now, forgiveness is not essential to that happiness.
TC’s brain injury was avoidable, but so are the years and years we could potentially spend dwelling on its source. There are tidbits to the story that if obsessed about, I imagine I’d be pulling my hair out for decades to come. As a mother I remain greatly appalled by the behavior of these young men’s families. The lack of personal responsibility or remorse for the situation will always be beyond my understanding.
When you are the victim of a violent crime, or caregiver to a victim, there is naturally anger involved. For TC and me, this anger presents itself intensely but infrequently. We have learned to detect its presence, the rumbling beneath the surface, warning us to step away from the present moment and find solitude and space. We have seen how ugly this anger can make us, unrecognizable to the other, a couple foreign to the one we were for the seven years before the assault, and it’s not a reality we care to experience often. But these moments are not completely inescapable. The anger, the regret, and the pain of missing who we were — all of these live in a dark well that we work hard to side-step every day. Occasionally we fall in, surrendering to the darkness momentarily, but when we reach the bottom of that dark place, it is the two of us there together. My husband and me. And that’s enough.