Z is recording Bach. Fifteen minutes earlier he lost his music which is normal for him.When he was six years oldhis teacher could change a bowing pattern right before a performance and he’d remember just fine. Now, at 16, he can’t remember a bowing pattern even if he checks it right before he records. He knows that it’s because ofhis brain injury, and he tries to be patient with himself. But losing the music is more difficult.
He gets angry at himself for how often he loses things. I tell him people with traumatic brain injuries who get frustrated with their brain adapt more slowly. Still, he needs a throwaway take for the anger he has at himself. I used to be a good cello mom:hovering, micromanaging, coyly intrusive. Today I tell him to tuck in his shirt but I find myself backing away as he gets ready to play so my doubts don’t infect his best efforts.
One of us has to back away first.
I sit in the sound booth listening for ways I could have helped him practice the Prelude better. Then I tell myself not to judge myself. Before the Allemande is finished I have time to judge myself for how much I keep judging myself and wonder if I’m hindering Z’s ability to stop self-judgment. He finishes with a flourish then dashes out the door and down the stairs.
The sound guy looks at me.
“He’s going to throw up,” I tell him. “Head injury. Too much sound for him in one sitting.”
Z comes back up. Nods to the sound guy and walks back to the cello.
He left his glasses in the bathroom. I go get them.
At home he takes a nap while I tell him the research on traumatic brain injuries is that being honest about the prognosis is important to moving forward.
“I know your therapist said I should let you come to terms on your own timeline, but it’s time. After eighteen months, a brain injury that has not healed will not heal. We have a new baseline for you.”
“It’s okay mom. I think that therapist was better at helping me with anxiety than long-term planning.”
I hug him and notice how this went smoothly because I was patient. I need to remember that.
We mark the momentlike good Bostonerswith a trip to Dunkin Donuts. I open the door but he turns away. He can’t go in. He is crying.
Back at our apartment he says he wants to work on his college essays. Not that he is anywhere near applying to college. If you ask him, he’ll tell you his ability to focus hovers somewhere between goldfish and Alzheimers. But he is still goal oriented, and if he is going to write anything down, he wants to have a purpose. Not that he’s writing. I’m taking dictation:
“My head injury has made an impact on my ability to want to succeed and my want is to just get better. Because it feels hopeless in the sense that there can be a recovery. It’s hard to differentiate if I’m getting better or lying to myself. That makes it impossible to do anything. So I just get through the day.”
I tell him I’m happy to be able to write that down. I thinka lot of people feel like that after trauma— that trying to get better is pointless.
Then he lays on the sofa to sleep because he basically gets a headache every 3-5 hours of life.
I get the urge to go tomy gardenevery 3-5 hours of life, but I tell myself I am not allowed to leave him alone when he’s so sad. How do I squelch the urge to run far away from any problem except the problem of findingthe right pink shade of daffodil?Buy more daffodils, of course. It’s late in the season, but I’m a persistent shopper.
After a thrifty hour onEasy to Growthe dog is whimpering so much that Z begs me to take her out so he can have alone time. Now I am not running away. Now I am providing good solid caretaking for both the child and the dog. I grab three bags ofTazetta daffodilswhich I have decided can now grow in the north because of global warming.
I dig ferociously to plant 150 bulbs before the dog gets tired of fetching sticks. But my anxiety is contagious and she starts digging next to me, uncovering the bulbs faster than I can resettle them. Somehow she brings up aKing Alfred bulb. I toss it, she fetches and I have just enough time to bury all bulbs in sight.
At home Z has not moved from the sofa. I am covered in dirt. And I’m not sure which of us is functioning more like a person with a head injury.