Read Fallen: A Trauma, a Marriage, and the Transformative Power of Music Online
Authors: Kara Stanley
Copyright © 2015 by Kara Stanley
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Greystone Books Ltd.
Cataloging data available from Library and Archives Canada ISBN 978-1-77164-102-9 (pbk.)
ISBN 978-1-77164-103-6 (epub)
Editing by Nancy Flight
Copyediting by Stephanie Fysh
Cover design by Peter Cocking
Distributed in the
by Publishers Group West
by Nayeli Jimenez
An adaptation of a cortical localization diagram on
is printed with the permission of the Centre for Neuroskills,
, using art from
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, the Province of British Columbia through the Book Publishing Tax Credit, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for our publishing activities.
We need only view a Dissection of that large Mass, the Brain, to have ground to bewail our Ignorance. On the very Surface you see varieties which deserve your admiration: but when you look into its inner Substance you are utterly in the dark, being able to say nothing more than there are two Substances, one greyish and the other white, which last is continuous with the Nerves distributed all over the body... If this Substance is everywhere Fibrous, as it appears in many places to be, you must own that these Fibres are disposed in the most artful manner; since all the diversity of our Sensations and Motions depend upon them. We admire the contrivance of the Fibres of every Muscle, and ought still more to admire their disposition in the Brain, where an infinite number of them contained in a very small Space, do each execute their particular Offices without confusion or disorder.
FROM SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY DANISH PHYSICIAN, GEOLOGIST, AND PRIEST NIELS STENSEN’S
DISCOURS SUR L’ANATOMIE DU CERVEAU
1 Rugged Cheddar and Thought-Prayers
All Your Junk and Your Catalog Too
Came a Wind
All the Little Things
DR. CHARLES SUNG
Haw, Dr. Donald Griesdale, Dr. Marcel Dvorak, Dr. Jennifer Yao, Dr. Rhonda Willms, and the members of Simon’s rehabilitation team—Sean, Melissa, Natalia, and Richard—have all kindly agreed to appear in this memoir as themselves. Due to the difficulty of contacting all the doctors, nurses, and therapists, many of whom we were only on a first-name basis with, I have, in all other instances, changed the names of the various medical professionals we encountered in order to protect their privacy.
RUGGED CHEDDAR. THIS
is what I am thinking about when my husband, Simon, falls. I have been thinking about cheese, and about Simon, on and off all morning. The deli counter at the grocery store has set out samples of a particularly good aged cheddar, and as a small square dissolves on my tongue, the crunch of tiny lactic acid crystals sweetening the salty, nippy kick, I decide to blow our weekly budget and buy a block. Simon will love it. If a man could claim a cheese of his own, rugged cheddar would belong to him. Over the years we have had disagreements about cheese consumption. I have had occasion, during particularly tight financial times, to assert that cheese is a
item. It is not a snack. I have wailed as I watched Simon slice into thick slabs and devour what I considered two nights’ worth of dinner material in an attempt to restabilize a late-afternoon dip in blood sugar. But thankfully, those times have passed. Although we still live paycheck to paycheck, there is enough buffer room in our budget to accommodate a totally superfluous block of cheese.
I will cut it up and serve it with a plate of red peppers, and open a bottle of wine. Even though there is no special occasion to mark, I will surprise Simon with a date-night dinner. He was tired this morning when he woke, and achy and anxious about the coming weekend. Eli, our sixteen-year-old son, is away at soccer camp, and we have only just made it through a long and fractious winter. Damp and gray, the cold months lingered deep into spring, and the grind of extra-long work days, pressing deadlines, and a sense of stalled forward motion wore us both down. There is need, and now some time, for a few spontaneous date nights.
Earlier this morning I opted to ignore the stack of editing work piled beside my computer and instead took an early-morning yoga class, my first in over a year. After yoga, I moved through a list of chores at a meditative pace, as if this were my full-time job, work to take pride and pleasure in instead of something usually squeezed in at the end of a long day, tasks turned unpleasant by the gnawing sense that there is never enough time to get things fully done. Because I know how tired Simon is, how deserving of a break, the leisurely pace at which my day unfolds is a guilty pleasure.
Still, the sun’s warmth creates space, opening up the hours, and I soften into a state of happy anticipation. It’s too hot to eat a heavy meal, so the dinner I plan takes the shape of a table laden with appetizers: a dish each of Kalamata olives and marinated artichokes, sliced avocado, cantaloupe, and garden-fresh greens. A warm baguette. I’ll make a pot of soup for a main course—a minestrone, perhaps. Or a smooth tomato and basil, Simon’s favorite. It will be a meal of simple luxuries, one to savor long into the late sunset of a summer evening. This is what I am thinking: rugged cheddar, a bottle of red wine, and an evening alone with Simon. It is 11:20 a.m., and I am in my car driving home to Halfmoon Bay.
Back at home, as I unpack the groceries, the warm blue buzz of summer air is fractured by a blistering series of sirens: ambulance, police car. Another police car? It must be a serious accident. In a community as small as Halfmoon Bay, it is likely that even if you don’t know the person in the ambulance, you know someone who knows them. As I always do, I send out a thought-prayer of strength and safety to whomever the ambulance is intended for.
There is a moment of silence in the wake of the sirens’ keening trill, but as I return to my average, if exceptionally leisurely and pleasurable, Tuesday, everyday noises resume: the frantic chatter of insects, the lush and liquid warble of birdsong, kids shouting, a chainsaw’s electric purr somewhere in the distance. I continue to catch up on household chores. I attend to the recycling, the pileup of dirty clothes, the grimy bathroom. I fill a vase with fresh lavender and a single blood-red rose and place it on the bedside table in our bedroom, then change into my dirt-streaked gardening shirt in preparation for starting some much-needed yard work. I am fitting clean sheets onto the bed before heading outside when there is a knock at my kitchen door.
The knock surprises me. The dog starts barking like a maniac, and I abandon the fourth fitted bedsheet corner to answer the door. Framed by the kitchen window is the distinctive profile of our friend Ryan: his long, dark hair pulled into a tight bun at the nape of his neck, his Daliesque mustache in a particularly stiff twist.
“Come on in,” I shout as I reach for the kettle. Simon and Ryan are building a house down the road on a large waterfront property, working longer hours than usual to complete as much of the project as possible by the end of this week. I fill the kettle with tap water and switch it on. Maybe they’re home for a late lunch. But why the knock? And where is Simon?
It is Lou, one of Simon’s bosses, who steps through the door, and I know then that something is wrong. My body knows: an icy chill bristles the back of my neck while deep in my belly a seasick clutch of panic surges and swells. My heart, an unmoored boat in an unexpected storm, capsizes and beats painfully against my ribs. I can’t breathe.
Lou speaks in short sentences. “Simon fell. He fell on his back.” He takes a deep breath and then continues in the same calm, measured voice. “He couldn’t feel his legs after his fall. Don’t worry—that’s not uncommon. It is shock. An Air Evac landed at Trout Lake, and they’ve taken Simon to Vancouver General Hospital. This is protocol. This is precautionary. We’re just being safe.”
For a moment all I can do is picture Simon, earlier this morning, as he stood at the foot of the bed, shirtless and scowling, rubbing his wrist.
It was sore.
It was sore enough that he considered staying home, a rare occurrence. He strained it, he figured, playing his slide arrangement of the Paul Simon song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” Sunday night, and he was worried that it wouldn’t be in top playing form for his weekend gig. But there was a deadline to meet, a house to shingle. This was his last week before an extended break to focus on music. Besides—a sore wrist? In the macho culture of construction workers, that’s a pretty thin reason to take a day off. Weak.
“It hurts,” he said. “But it’s my last week. Shit.” He wavered, not only irritable, but also unusually indecisive.
“He wasn’t going to go to work today,” I say now to Lou, as if this is a critical piece of information. I look to Ryan, sitting at the kitchen table, but he doesn’t say anything. I repeat myself. “He wasn’t going to go to work today.”
“I wish he hadn’t,” Lou says. He outlines a plan: Ryan will drive me to the ferry to Vancouver and then to the hospital. Lou and Dave, the owner of the construction company, will follow us in a second vehicle. I should pack an overnight bag, clean clothes for Simon.
There are things to do: I call the Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living, where I work part-time, and ask them to cover my week’s shifts. I call my mother in Powell River and briefly update her. I change back into a clean T-shirt and dig in the closet for some kind of overnight bag. When I don’t find one there, I drift from room to room, lost. Lou continues to give me prompts. “Maybe pack a pair of sunglasses,” he suggests. “Simon might have a concussion; his eyes might be sensitive to the sunlight.”
Lou is a volunteer fireman and has some experience handling crises. It dawns on me that he’s here partly because he has this experience. Right now, I am the situation he is handling. This thought—more than what he is saying—makes me feel, in quick succession, resentful, appreciative, and, finally, afraid. “The dog?” I say.
“Don’t worry,” Lou says. “We’ll take care of her.”
Duffel bag found, I haphazardly fill it with a change of clothes for both Simon and me, a bent and scratched pair of old sunglasses, and the Cormac McCarthy novel—
All the Pretty Horses
—that Simon is reading. If he has to spend a few days in hospital, he will be happy to have his book. As I continue to pack odds and ends, I calculate the time it will take to reach Vancouver General Hospital. The Sunshine Coast is connected to the Lower Mainland by a forty-five-minute ferry ride. The 1:30 ferry will just be pulling out now; the next sailing won’t be until 3:30. Then it will take at least an hour, depending on traffic, to reach the hospital. Another seasick swell and surge, the waves growing bigger. I steady myself against the bathroom counter as I add up the hours: I won’t be with Simon until almost 5:30.