Until last Thursday (February 10, 2011) the last time I saw Brooke was just a few weeks before his accident back in 2008. He happened to be at his sister’s apartment in Manhattan when I popped in to see his brother-in-law to “talk shop.” I remember the joy of the surprise, as we rarely got to see each other. We spoke for a few moments, shared a big hug, and he was gone.
The reason we hadn’t seen each other since his accident was purely one of my selfishness. I was afraid to see him. I was avoiding exposure to the very pain and suffering Brooke was enduring on a daily basis. He had people taking care of him, so I would ask myself why I needed to go see him even if I desperately wanted to tell him that I thought of him often, tell him I loved him – I could accomplish that from afar. I had already cried after the first time we spoke since his accident sometime last year. Why would I want to subject myself to any more of that? Why change the way I think of Brooke when I picture him? Why let him see the concern I was bound to show upon seeing him in his current condition? Selfish jerk.
As you can tell, Brooke’s accident affected me deeply. Our relationship had gone through its ups and downs, but over the last decade or so we had developed a bond. I don’t know where the bond came from, but it likely formed when we hiked to the top of Antelope Island together back in April of ’02. Looking out over the Great Salt Lake and seeing the majesty of the mountains in the distance was so special that any time I see mountains I am reminded of that day. Over the years we spoke infrequently, but when we did it was meaningful.
And that is what this last visit was – meaningful. Stepping into “M Street” is like stepping back in time for me. The images on the wall, the layout of the rooms, and even the way the sidewalk meets the property in front are all things that trigger various positive memories for me as a child. I spent a few minutes outside preparing myself to forever change the way I saw the place. I had heard through the family grapevine that life at home was manageable for Brooke, but also that every day was a challenge. I was about to go snowboarding for the weekend, so the last thing I needed was a downer to start off my weekend. (Hey, there’s that selfish jerk again.)
However, the visit turned out to be everything but a downer. Brooke was busy working on a lesson plan for his Shakespeare class when I came in – seriously?!? Working on a class? I could tell from his speech pattern that he was using some sort of voice-to-text technology. Very cool. That set the tone for the rest of the visit. I headed upstairs to see my favorite Aunt Peggy and my cousin Mike Battin (who happened to be in town.) We got all caught up on each other’s latest goings-on and headed downstairs to really start the visit when Brooke was done with his work.
The evening was truly amazing. What was likely just another day for Peggy and Brooke was life changing for me. We enjoyed some drinks together, had a great slow-cooked chicken dinner, and talked about everything old and new. Brooke required help the whole time, but it was easy to pitch in and do my part. Mike and Peggy were on “caregiver autopilot”, and what I observed was far from pain and suffering. It was more like poetry. What I thought I would perceive as juggling the various tasks associated with Brooke’s care was more like well-choreographed theater. At points we had Brooke laughing so hard I thought he was going to short-circuit his diaphragm regulator! What I witnessed was that Brooke was not just alive, but living.
I don’t want my description of the evening to diminish the seriousness of life for Brooke. He still requires ‘round-the-clock help. But, the way he interacted with all of the people who were in and out of the house that night makes it clear that the help is acknowledged and appreciated.
What was just as meaningful to me was that I knew I had changed when I left. The visit with Brooke has changed the way I view the accident, Brooke and myself on so many levels, which is a topic for another time. And speaking of time, not so much will pass before I return to M Street to see Brooke again. - Bill Hogenauer, 2/11