We’ve tried to end this blog at least twice over the past three months, since Brooke has been home. We never seemed to get to it. It took too much time. We didn’t have anything to say. Surely you’ve noticed that there’ve been many fewer postings; if you were a reader of something like this, wouldn’t you take two weeks of silence as the end of it, as if the authors had given up? But that’s not the case--for a whole set of complex reasons we’ve been unable to bow out. But we’ve tried. For example, we wrote:
We keep thinking that it’s an ending. Perhaps it’s time now to end our work on this blog. In many ways also this is a sad moment for us, since we have loved writing it, and we are deeply grateful for your participation in it, whether you’re written responses or not (of course, we loved those). In fact, we have had to have an audience like you in order to go on writing what we have over the past two years. But the time has come to have some closure. Life will go on. Both of us will continue to develop and hopefully mature in this as Brooke’s recovery to whatever is his “new normal” continues. But we can’t go on forever with this.
But we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t quit. Just the same, there’ve been long pauses, gaps, silences. In a way these gaps represent the difficulty in our getting started in this new life. There’ve been some high-spirited postings recently, like the visit of Peggy’s nephew and son on the same lively evening, or an account of why eating at home with friends is better than eating at restaurants, but they don’t convey the complexity of what’s really been going on. It’s about coming home under completely changed circumstances, when coming home was supposed to be the culmination of two years’ seemingly superhuman effort.
Poems have blank spaces. Think of Wordsworth’s “A slumber did my spirit seal”—they speak. Usually they are strophic, they take things to another level, another emotional level, you know, like the Ode on Immortality—the voice stops, that’s the way the poem progresses. That’s the way this piece of writing, this blog, needs to progress, it needs to confess its pain.
Brooke says, you’d think when you had a scrotal abcess like the one I had a year or so ago that would really be pain, and it was, but that’s nothing compared to this challenge. This is a time for a deep emotional sounding, an exploration of the abyss that may lie below the surface.
We both recognize that the hard part is now beginning. We wanted to end this blog, but couldn’t end it, because something really huge hadn’t been confronted yet. The strains this whole thing, my accident, my being home, puts on a marriage are unbelievable—even a happy marriage—and digs up stuff one could otherwise live and entire lifetime without ever having to recognize. All of the courage and optimism and determination is somehow undercut by opposites, by terror, by anger, by despair. This is the shadow that counterbalances the optimism, the shadow that’s been casting itself over our new life, now that we’re finally at home.
This subsurface current of psychic pain has emerged from the shadows in a conversation with two close friends, L. and D.. They just came and brought dinner basically to try to relieve Peggy from all the stress of running what’s essentially a one-bed hospital and let her go to the symphony that was playing that night, but she never went. They’d written a letter they wanted to post to the blog about how fragile Peggy seemed, how much help she might need to seek, and how perhaps friends could think of bringing by some food now and then so she wouldn’t have to think about the cooking all the time. But that was two weeks ago, and much has changed since then, both in shadows revealing themselves and in increasing fortitude in facing them.
It took a conversation with these two friends of very long standing, who’ve been seeing things from the beginning, to get us to open up about what we find really painful to write,, what has surfaced since Brooke has been home. We started to talk honestly, and even before we got to dinner Brooke had gone into the bedroom to get cathed. He came back from bedroom and said that while he was being cathed he’d had a really painful breakthrough; he was shaken. He’d been thinking about people and their lonely marriages. He said we have a serious, deep problem that we need to confront; we’re in a situation in which we’re lonely together, in the house. I know, said Peggy. I want to talk, Brooke said, and I poured out this stuff about being alone together. That kind of opened up the emotional floodgates.
But it began more easily:
How does an outsider deal with your pain? D. had asked. Presence, Brooke answered. You weren’t mentioned by name, but you’ve been present at three or four occasions when I had extreme pain. Even trying to recapture those moments, if you’re not the one suffering that pain—the assumption is that you’ll get through it, there’ll be an end to it, that pain. You stayed and stayed and stayed, There’s a huge amount of love in that, absolutely overwhelming. Then Brooke remembered something still earlier, when he was first in the hospital and couldn’t talk because he was intubated and then trached but without a speaking valve, he had spelled out something with the alphabet board, to D.; it said I love you.
Our talking with D. and L. started from there, spun out from there. We needed them the way you need a therapist, someone you’re close to who understands you and who understands the situation. That was the setting for our conversation. Everything grew from that. We kept saying that the blog will not be beautiful and true, if it can be, unless we try to plumb this abyss, about the coming-home sense of unexpected aloneness. We suspect it happens to every close couple where one of them has been in a hospital for years and they’ve developed a different way of being together, but they’re both now back where they started—though, of course, in a very different way.
We tried to explore what ending the blog meant, and we came to recognize that that has been our joint project, our mutual work, the thing we can do together, really together. Dropping it, even for a couple of weeks, has made us lonely and isolated in ourselves. It’s as if we couldn’t talk anymore.
Sometimes people write to each other, and write at a very deep, personal level. There are some legendary correspondences—Keats’ letters to his friends and his family, for example—and some modern practices that make use of the written letter, rather than in-person exchange, to explore deeper feelings and commitment: think of Marriage Encounter, for instance. But those things involve one person writing to another, and that other person writing back to this one. But in this blog we haven’t so much been writing to each other; we’ve been writing together, forming what has sometimes been an intertwined duet and sometimes a single voice that speaks out to other people. It’s been our way of talking.
Though we don’t look backwards much, we remembered a moment when we were reminiscing about the things we used to love to do together, like hiking together and talking. We always said, let’s go hiking. We never said, let’s go talking, although the talking part was at least as important as the hiking part. So while we’ve recognized that we can’t go hiking anymore, we have thought that we could still do talking. Indeed, talking together was part of almost everything we used to do—so, we said, we haven’t lost all of it.
Or at least that’s the way it seemed. But losing the blog seemed to be losing not just the kind of talking we used to do hiking, but what not only talking together but writing together has made us see. That isn’t always happy—more on this shortly, the shadow-side of dependency—but just the same important to see.
Over dinner, D. said, I’ve been thinking about your trying to end the blog, but perhaps there was something artificial about this, the anxiety of ending. Termination. Finality. But this is an ongoing story. For the space of a quiet dinner at home with these friends, writing together became a four-part voice, itself a new thing.
D’s right; it is an ongoing story. We’re not finished. There’s still stuff we still need to be honest about. Stuff we don’t have the courage to write down, or, more accurately, stuff we haven’t had the courage to recognize. This is hard; homecoming was such a goal, something that was the aim for over two years, and while it is wonderful in many respects it is really coming home that makes us face the hardest things, about what a catastrophic injury and radically changed circumstances can mean.
* * *
But. oddly enough, writing this has brought us much closer together again. Much closer, as if we’d weathered the storm that in fact everyone had said would be on the horizon.
Perhaps we need this blog for ourselves, as much as we thought we were doing it for you.