I Lost My Life in 2006


Judith Hannah Weiss

My head is in a helmet studded with electrodes. A giant eye is watching me.  My brain is numbered. Again. Probes puncture my scalp to survey my mind. Temporal lobe, occipital lobe, you name it; there’s a probe for the lobe. I look like a million dollars, rather, a million dots, in a screaming, thumping tube.

I am asked to recall a sequence of two things moments after I see it.  I can’t.  Then a “sequence” of one.  I can’t.  They ask me to say my name.  I can.  Then to say my address.  I can’t.

This is my brain. No, this is my brain on brain injury. Rather, this is my brain on high-definition fiber tracking and non-invasive virtual dissection. Before, the word “neuroscience” meant something abstract, irrelevant. Not anymore. This time, it’s personal. Time and space collapse. Thoughts collapse. So do words.

In my first life, I was a freelance writer. We ate my words at every meal and they paid the mortgage, too. Prolifically not myself, I wrote countless pieces of promotion for clients like New York, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, PBS, Disney, and Vogue. More a story seller than a storyteller, I was a tool like a broom or a mop. I wrote about places I didn’t go, and things I didn’t do, for legends I didn’t know.

Then a drunk driver stole a truck, jumped a curb, and compressed a parked car. I was in the car. The good news was I survived. The bad news was brain damage. It was an accident.  

Headlines are not accidents. They are intentional. From baking a Bundt cake to buying a car to dropping a bomb on Afghanistan, we knew how to state it and where to stick it. What to make more of or less of or none of. The right words in the right order, not the wrong ones inside out.

You might wonder how it feels to wake up one day and not know who you are. I don’t know. I don’t remember. I need words I can’t find to say things I can’t say. This is called aphasia.  

Freelancers had to follow three rules in every piece. I forget what they were. That is called amnesia. Amnesia makes nothing out of countless somethings you knew, forgot, then learned again.  Aphasia does the same to words.  Chews them up and spits them out.

My first mind had furnishings. You know, nice chairs, a sofa, floor to ceiling shelves for beautiful things.  It also had a foundation. My new mind tips in and out, devoid of furnishings. I was a mommy, I was a badass, then I was in pieces, invisible.  An instantaneous dissolution of an entire culture, formerly between my ears. The brain that blew was mine.  

Aphasia became famous briefly when Bruce Willis acquired it. Aphasia is hard to speak about.  Most of us can’t speak. Many of us also can’t read or write.  I read something. It erases. I see something. It erases. I hear something. It erases. I know something and lose it almost at once.  

Imagine you are trying to speak and no one can understand you. That’s what it’s like to live with aphasia.  Imagine you are with other people and you can’t understand them.  That’s what it’s like, too.  Like twenty words are twenty kids playing twenty different sports at the same time, in the same space, in my skull.

My nose is crinkling. That means my brain is trying to think. I point to a chair because I can’t say “chair.” I do the same with a shoe.  I mime drinking from a bottle because I can’t say “bottle” or “water” or “drink.”

Once I can use my hand, I start scratching any words I can find on any surface I can find – paper plates, paper cups, placemats, Popsicle sticks. Fragments not in alphabetical order, not in numerical order, not in chronological order, but out of order, like me.

They jumped from first person to second and past to present and took place in diverse settings like Saturn and Utah at the same time. There’s no clear demarcation between lives. It’s not like the first life ended on Mile Marker 89 and the second began, and the second ended at Mile Marker Whatever, just south of somewhere and east of somewhere else.

The human brain weighs three pounds and has billions of cells and millions of “wires” that let you breathe, think, talk, walk, chop, spin salad greens, spice a mean sauce, sell Girl Scout cookies, take care of your mom, keep clients happy, do Downward Dog, and clean dryer lint. Or not.

Maybe there are 8,061 things to do, prayers to say, and amends to make – before you are hit by a truck. Maybe not. I don’t know. I would have done them if I knew. I would have said them if I knew. I would have made them if I knew.  I would have done it for me and my child.  

Sometimes medical students or residents swing by, each holding a tablet obscuring their face.  If there are five residents, there are five tablets and five sets of eyes and ten opposable thumbs. They always ask if I know why I’m here. I want to say, I left my body and didn’t come back. I mean, my brain left my body and didn’t come back. But I can’t speak.

More residents arrive and ask the same question. I point to my head. Then they ask if I know where I live. I point to my head.  I want to say, It’s sort of like my hearing aid goes on and off, except I don’t have a hearing aid. My brain goes on and off instead.  

Something broke in my head and took away the names of things. But not just their names, the things themselves.  And not just the things, but also me. In my first life, stories lived inside my head.  They live there still, but can’t be said.

Aphasia is caused by damage to areas of the brain where language is held. Where language “is held” sounds beautiful.  Where language “was held” does not.  But I progress and break things down into small questions like: What is this called? Why is it in my hands? When you can’t say big stuff like why you’re here or who you are, you stick with small stuff like: “This is a pencil. It’s in my hand.” Two things which I know for sure.

Brain damage asks everything of you, takes everything from you, yanks you out of you.  My clients paid me to get the “main point” across and I had to know what it was. That gets reversed when you’re brain injured. You knew something a moment ago, but you don’t know it now.  My voice was snaked out of me, and so were my words.  

The stuff that could comfort me, that had comforted me before – the stuff I loved, you know, books, poems, photographs, pillows, throws, the kitchen sink – take all this away and you might as well start life as some other person.  I did.

Someone’s face was in the mirror when I looked and so I didn’t like to look, not knowing who it was. I hate that it happened, whatever it was, whatever I did, whatever I said or didn’t say or didn’t do. I lost my head. I really lost my head.

There are two Brain Training programs – one for survivors of brain injury and one for caregivers. I was the only “survivor” in Outpatient Rehab who was a “caregiver,” too.  I took care of me.

Caregivers are told to separate their “new” daughter/son/father
/mother/husband/wife/friend from “the one before the accident.” How do I separate the new and old me? How can I help the new me? What allowances should I make? Where should I draw a line? Also, how can I draw a line? I’m the one with the injury. No, correction. I’m the one taking care of the one with the injury.

I slam between selves like a hockey puck, happy enough for both of us, or sad enough for both of us, too. But one day I start to speak. Or at least find my voice, though some words go splat on a wall and some come in and out like stones on a lake or are shuffled like cards in a deck.  

A slew of residents arrives and asks, of course, if I know why I’m here.  I say, It’s the classic American story, things weren’t working out in the east brain, so I went west. Plus pain as a blessing, a promise. What a crock. I hate lines like that. The world gets smaller with all you have lost.  Then it breaks open and you’re not in it. You make or don’t make decisions. You don’t know if you made them or not.

Everything folds together in the (literal) folds of the brain. If the brain were not folded but rather pieced together in a continuous line, it would stretch around the Earth or from Memphis to the moon. One of those is true, but I forget which one. A doctor might call this a 13% reduction in the frontal lobe, a 6% reduction in the parietal lobe, 9% in occipital lobe, and 4% reduction in some other lobe.  

I would put it this way, My mind held my memories. It knew what I loved and learned and earned and built.

Imagine your mind as a library, an archive of time and space.  All that really matters to you, kept safe since you were born.  The building implodes. Books careen off ledges. Shelves crash to the ground. Fixtures shatter, land on desk. Slabs of roof slam down next. Brain damage doesn’t take you a piece at a time.   It’s an “Everything Must GO” event.  

Or it’s like you’re in a desert. And you need to find water. But there is a drought. Your camel gets heat stroke and keels over – dead. And then, the apocalypse.

Imagine yourself streaming backward in time. You lose your rattle, your blankie, your mommy, your teddy bear. Imagine streaming forward in time. Your coat flies off, your scarf, your shoe, your home, your child, your mind. You land stripped of all familiars somewhere you don’t recognize. Brain damage grows around you like fuzz or fur. Inhibits you, inhabits you. Stamps you with shame.  Am I the sum of what I lost?  I would say No, though I’m not sure why.

A doctor arrives. She says something about not wanting to pressure me. That almost seems funny. She adds something like I can decide what I want to know. Or how much I want to know. Or when I want to know it. This seems almost funny, too. There are holes in any landscape. Gaps where words should be. Buddhists speak of three lords of materialism.  The lord of form, the lord of speech, the lord of mind.  And suggest we let them fall apart.  No problem.

Just before the accident, I’d begun to ghost a book for a name-brand doctor. The client was told I “hurt my back” and was willing to wait. Which was true, but incomplete.  I left out that every hall seemed the same, every hill, every corner, every table, every sign, and nearly every voice and face. There were a few other problems, too.  I couldn’t read, couldn’t write, and couldn’t remember what I had ever done for them or how I had ever done it.  

I invent an Imaginary Therapist.  She asks me to describe myself.  I say, I am a new arrival on this planet. And a wild raging ocean. And a ship tossed on the waves.  And the wreckage on the shore.

She asks me to describe a typical day. I say, Doctors ask me to walk on my toes, then walk on my heels, then walk heel-to-toe in a straight line. I can’t.

But I am improving.  I can now say letters of the alphabet with an impressive degree of accuracy. I just can’t read the words in which they appear. I see “Commuter brain slides into creek,” which really says “commuter train” and I see, “Thank you for your pitiful donation,” which really says “pivotal.”

I also see “F–king opponents sue Feds,” which really says, “Fracking opponents sue Feds,” followed by “Reversing mitochondrial decay with supplements increases cellular levels of The Boston Globe”— which would likely surprise both The Globe and the purveyors of said supplements. Next, it’s “depriving your partner of seeing your body in all its ludicrousness,” which really says, “depriving your partner of seeing your body in all its lusciousness.”

Despite what poets say, truth is not beauty, and beauty is not truth. They are rising or ebbing or peaking or crashing levels of serotonin or dopamine in mental modules. You know the expression, “It’s the thought that counts.” Well, it’s not. It’s the neural transmission. Instead of the tired “dog ate your homework,” or “got hit by a drunk with a truck,” try “your sodium gates closed down.”

When the brain breaks, the legs don’t know what to do. Neither do the hands or the feet. I walked in a narrow, padded hall with a padded floor which felt like a bright blue tube. This is not a metaphor. A physical therapist walked behind me holding a leash to keep me from hitting the mat. Proper foot position was essential; I had to both keep my head on my shoulders and my feet on the ground.

They test my head hundreds of times and find things have disappeared. Like the file that remembers locations and the “lay of the land” and the part that integrates physical movements so I don’t fly down the steps or fall out of my chair. I take a step. A goal for my feet. I say a word. A goal for my head.

The odds of a sinkhole opening within me are approximately equal to the odds that I’ll find the right word at the right time. Or – even more important – the odds I can build a bridge to my child. The average human heart will beat three billion times over the course of a life. That’s 3 with 9 zeroes. I would add more zeroes if I could.

Aphasia gouged words.  Amnesia gouged most everything else. It’s hard to divine your deficits when they’re constantly shifting. I have “more or less aphasia” combined with “more or less amnesia” at any given time. I don’t know history, I don’t know the secret to anything, I don’t know the solution to anything, or if I do, I can’t say it. It’s like you’re going along trying to put one word in front of the other when the engine fails and the wheels fall off.  

I am staring at a blinking thing on a screen. Then at the thing you push with your hand. I curse the nameless blinking thing, then recall its name. A cursor, of course. I am impaired and can’t be repaired. The doctor told me so. She spoke with all the sensitivity she likely lost over years. They need to replace the memory board, the logic board, the chipset, the plug-ins. They can’t.

A team of residents arrive and ask if I have any concerns. I say, I’m threading my way through brain injury, which is sort of like a wine tour of Europe minus the wine and Europe, or a stargazer’s guide to the universe, minus the stars and the universe.

Answers like that make them put down their screens.  I like that. Then they put up their screens again and try to find the box to check for “minus the stars and the universe.”  I’m pretty sure boxes generate bills.

When I was in college, I wrapped packages at a luxury department store. At Christmas, you asked if the customer wants angels or reindeer or endless Noels. We were dressed as elves, wrapping gaily, getting tons of paper cuts, and keeping blood off gifts. My belt was big, my cheeks were red to match the jaunty jacket and hat, and Elvis was crooning holiday tunes.

Then I got a job imagining things.  I made even more lovely places I did not belong and even more lively conversations I wasn’t in. I made even more wonderful men who didn’t touch my face, kids who didn’t climb on my lap, moms who didn’t rock me to sleep, dads who had arms to hug and legs to walk, which means they were not my dad.

Then life behind door number three.  Brain injured artist, brain injured writer, single woman getting old.  Three lives out of the picture, on the outside looking in.  Words fly and perch, fly and perch, fly and perch. Glowing thoughts and words with wings, words that don’t yet have a nest, can’t be shared with my baby, don’t yet fit in anywhere.

A swarm of residents drops by and one asks if I have any concerns.  I say, I can’t read. He lowers his tablet, so I add, it’s hard to read when letters rearrange themselves within words. “Bananas” becomes “sananab,” while “We hold these truths to be self-evident” becomes “tnedive fles eb ot shturt eseht dloh eW.”

The guy to his left asks the same question. I imagine a corporate sponsor for “Any Concerns” Day. Perhaps it’s an annual event.  I say, Yes, I mix things up – like how to get a free burger at Five Guys and how long days are on Mars.

The neocortex contains 300,000,000 little regions that recognize patterns. So one little “pattern recognizer” fires when it sees a crossbar in an uppercase A. That’s all it cares about. The crossbar in an uppercase A.

Maybe this explains why I blow-dry my hair and almost spray it with bathroom cleaner. Or put a fork in the microwave. Or miss ten years of my daughter’s life, make that twelve, no seventeen. She says her mom disappeared.  In some ways, that seems true.  I am rolling Play-Doh balls.  Then I’m pounding pegs in boards. My frontal lobes took the biggest hit. They housed what was known as “me.”

When you are searching for the right word, it’s the lobe you need. It’s also the lobe most involved in long-term memories. Some common tests for frontal lobe function are: Wisconsin Card Sorting (response inhibition); Finger Tapping (motor skills) and Token Test (language skills).

I am a token. I am a token composed of a string of digits and characters. That token travels with my email address. But I don’t travel much. It’s hard to travel when you can’t read signs, decipher directions, or know if you’ve gone right or left.

Speaking of email, I received something today from “Country Meadowlands,” which, I can just tell from the name, is either something that spreads on bread and tries to taste like butter or a nursing home with a plant or two. It’s a franchise like fast food and muffler, except here folks leave feet first.  

I used to connect dots; everyone does in media. We answered questions, too. Will the sun blow its top? Should cookies be enabled? Should Grandpa be allowed to drive? Can ChatGPT write for The New Yorker?  Will there be more sub-variants to the last batch of sub-variants?  What happens to mice that are given human brain cells? Do they become fatter, smarter, highly pissed, bipolar – or all the above?

I’m glad I learned to read.  That’s how I know you can purchase a personal tank on Amazon for just nineteen thousand dollars ($19,000.). It could come in handy if there’s ever a war next door. I improve even more and can use my own tablet. That takes two years and gets me on the internet where I find the Navy has confirmed sightings of UFOs and the Pentagon has removed a hen which got past Security.

I also learn the truth about “normal sex,” pesticides, BPA, bug spray and yogurt, which might be – don’t mix them, perhaps. Meanwhile, a few continents are ravaged by fire and stripped of power, water, phone, roads. That could describe brain damage. Your infrastructure atomized.

When I began in media, we used pen, paper, and news judgment. We had Selectrics and Kodachrome days. We didn’t have online recipe aggregators. You couldn’t look for “lasagna” and get 122,014 ways to produce the world’s best lasagna, including those with 5 stars, 50 million hits, or “loved by real Italians for 900 years.” We also lacked external brains.

By the time of the accident, we used programs that calculate how many people are clicking, plus who they are, what they buy, wear, or care about, where they go next and how long they stay. That’s how we knew what to keep on the app.

The Imaginary Therapist returns and asks if there’s anything of which I am sure.  I can tell from her grammar that she went to expensive schools.

I say, when one door closes, another door closes, too.

In my first life, words held things together, things that mattered and belonged. Taking my words from me took my tool kit, my work, my play, our home.  I am asked something simple. My adrenaline kicks in, my breathing gets faster, my heart rate gets faster, I start to sweat.

My cognitive scores which swing from a low of 22 to a high of 99 present a “stunning cognitive swing.” So stunning, in fact, three major medical schools also want to place spikes in my scalp. I catapult from very not-smart to quite smart with the same “predictability” you would expect from a pinball. And with, I might add, the same sense of grace.

I also have “frontotemporal lobar degeneration,” “frequent phonetic breakdowns,” plus “articulatory groping and phonetic disintegration.”  That means I still can’t name things.  It might be a rock, a rose, a dress. A chair, a house, a mouse, a mess.

They ask me to point to a teapot, an apple, a plate, a spoon. This is called “confrontational naming” and includes questions like “What is a squirrel? What is a shovel? What is a large animal with a trunk?” First, I couldn’t do this. Then I still couldn’t do it. So they show me another picture and ask what it might be.

It might be anything, anywhere. That’s not the answer they want, so they ask again what it might be. It might be yellow or shallow, hither and yon. A duck, a place to hide, a pond. It might be nectar, twig or seed, skein, spool, thread, weed.  

My first self could make a shopping list, get to the store, pay the cashier, get home, unpack the bags, follow a recipe, and remember to turn off the pot. The new self incinerates what should have been food in what used to be pots.

I relearn to walk, talk, get up and down stairs, and to arrange my face so I don’t look as dumb as I feel. Memory is what remains of everything we’ve ever seen or heard or learned or cared about. It is who we think we are. Brain disease means losing bits of memory, just a few at a time. Brain damage means great chunks fall into the sea like cliffs.

We have the pay-no-mind type of mind, cold-shouldered, discounted, dismissed.  You turn a blind eye to minds like ours, or a deaf ear, or both.  You take a detour when you see us coming, and think we don’t notice, but we do.
In the beginning, “we” tried to get me to doctors’ appointments, outpatient rehab, out for a walk. We got me in clean clothes and boots, with cellphone and keys. What would take an ordinary person five minutes took “me” hours so “we” learned to start preparing “me” long ahead of time. Options? I could look for someone to store me, supervise me, feed me, clothe me – or I could learn to do it myself.

But back to Brain Training. We are learning useful skills like day of week and time of day. Robin forgot the names of her kids. Steve forgot his mom and dad. The new “me” had never read books I loved, never shared favorite times with my child. I couldn’t remember the sound of her voice or the scent of her hair.

The Imaginary Therapist asks how I’m feeling. I say, I want to walk like I did.  I want to talk like I did.  I want to think like I did.   I am embarrassed by me.

I got my first staff job in publishing in 1972 as a sub-junior staffer at Time.  This was way before Megxit, Brexit and my own Brainxit. People were “retarded” or “brain damaged,” not “neurodivergent” or “neurodiverse.”

Back then, no one had landing pages or earbuds or green or pink or purple hair. No one could tell the difference between Sumatran and Ethiopian.  There were fewer shortfalls of incoming empathy and none on the internet.  There was no internet.

You couldn’t google marmoset and learn they are some of the smallest monkeys on Earth but also very smart.  You couldn’t google anything.  I may write a book for kids which would star a marmoset.

Speaking of kids, my daughter has been pretty mad at me.  For 22 years. If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. Talking with her feels like trying to defuse a grenade. You can’t unless you’re a grenade de-fuser, which I’m not.

Time is a means by which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future. It is also a way to measure intervals between events, or duration, like how long you’ve been where you are. Light-years, nanoseconds or since I last saw my child.

The tester wants me to make a time line. A time line?  What is that?  Oh yes, that is when you put time on a line. I imagine my brain as a cutting room floor where thousands of frames are projected at once. No sequence, no context, no sense of time.

In my first life, I worked for Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings and Martha Stewart Holidays and Martha Stewart Kids and Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Plus, Country Home, Country Living, Country Gardens, Cottage Living, Coastal Living – which provide perfect lives. I also worked for The World’s Most Beautiful Man, so-named by People more than once.

Which brings me to electrons. It’s funny, really, isn’t it? Electrons in the world’s most beautiful man hired electrons in me. Once our electrons ate together in his office – two stuffed baked potatoes with soup. He was wearing a pale-mint colored shirt. Strange what you remember and what you forget.

I used to write headlines.  This was called writing heads. People want to know what they’re going to get and nothing tells them that more quickly than numbers in headlines. Like 5 rules. Not just any number, though, the magic numbers. 3 is a magic number. It is better to have 3 rules than 2 or 4.  5 is a magic number. 7 is lucky. 6, 8, and 9 are unlucky. If you have 6 tips, add 1 or delete. Ditto, if you have 8. 10 is excellent, above, 10, everything is worthless until you hit 25, 50, 99, 100, and a 1001.

Folks love “how to” headlines, too. How to quit smoking in 30 days or your money back. How to write a novel in 30 days or your 30 days back. How to lose weight fast and keep it off or you can kill me.

I am locked inside a cell.  That cell is inside my cells and the cells of ancestors who perished in “camps” or just perished.  I want roots and a family tree. A branch. A twig. Anything.  That is what I always wanted, maybe it is in my cells.

Imagine you have a cerebral job.  Perhaps you’re a professor, a physicist, an engineer, a genius IT guy, or imagine you’re a writer. Then something happens to your gall bladder. That is terrible, but you didn’t do your job with your gall bladder. You don’t read with your gall bladder or write with your gall bladder or speak with your gall bladder.

You don’t see or hear or get up and down steps with your gall bladder. You don’t employ your gall bladder to support your family or cross a street or do your taxes or vote or drive a car. You can use your hands without employing your gall bladder, and if your gall bladder gets screwed up, you still have your brain.  

Images shuffle in and out of focus, change proportion, shaking hard. I am asked to make sense of a story I heard a moment before. The story said:  Mr. Smith saw a rabbit in his garden and told Mrs. Smith the rabbit ate the lettuce they had planted and the carrots, too.

My version might be:  Mrs. Rabbit wore her lettuce dress.

What is remembered at any given moment creates one story. What is not recalled would create another story.  No one knows why you remember what you do and don’t remember what you don’t.  But I know that I say what I say because those are the words I have. Until I don’t have them, but I have other words instead.

I recently took my self to a gathering of a few other selves. I do this from time to time, take my self to gatherings of other selves. At first, I’m pretty coherent. But things change. Just a few flubs, at first, then more, then a few stretches like battling for breath, except I’m battling for brain. I sound tired. I feel tired. At any given point, I only have so many words to give, and I gave them.

I must make dinner for us, I mean me, but I can’t think, let alone cook. Let’s see, maybe there are tortillas. No, I’m tired. I suggest we go out, I mean I go out. I can’t sit down, I can’t get up, I can’t talk, I can’t stop talking. I lose my bearings every few words and say strange things like “fading to Bolivian.”

“Survivors” take endless batteries of tests – not to measure what was lost, but to measure what’s still there. Speaking of what’s still there, ten years after the truck, I had pelvic reconstructive surgery.  I also started dating someone.  Our combined age was 152. By a few years ago, I could speak coherently.  At least more frequently than asteroids hit the house next door.

That meant I could somewhat choose to a. reveal or b. not reveal I’m brain damaged. I didn’t want to because people would prefer you to be weird than brain damaged. Weird may be a bit scary but it’s also a bit funny. Brain damage is just scary.  So is aphasia. Especially if you have it. And super-inconvenient, too.  

You can’t say surprised. You can’t say uplifted. You can’t say inspired. You can’t say lost. You can’t say rose or tree or bird.  But there was a spark of me in me which I fanned into flame because no one else could.

How old am I? Well, the brain dates to 2006, and the body from 1949. Old enough for the little black dress to be not as little as before. Media today bears little or no resemblance to the business I worked in. No archaic procedures like fact-checking and editing. And boatloads of “alternative” facts.

It’s Tuesday and it brings 5,689,000,000 things to do, say, think, see, try, buy, eat, hear, wear or not do, say, think, try, buy, eat, hear, wear today. Basically, they fall into categories like fear or scary things you must avoid/prevent, and great things you want, plus more great things you want, and more.

Everything happens in media, everything under the sun or the moon or the sea, so all things belonged, even me.  I sent in the copy I wrote while using Downy and removing lint from the dryer.  I called FedEx to pick up the piece (this was before email and faxes), then put the wash in the dryer, wrote more copy, folded the clothes, removed more lint, picked up my daughter at school, put together dinner, and soaked up quiet time with my child.

Or I went to see clients in Manhattan. When I was with clients, I was semi-cool. They were very cool, of course. One was later dubbed “The Devil Wears Prada.” She wore shades and haute couture and was always followed by her stylist.  The universe is composed of atoms and stardust. I was composed of atoms and stardust, snugly wrapped in boots and jeans.

I’m getting old.  I remember when things weren’t encrypted, triple-buffered or hacked.  We didn’t have Chatbots, Insta-Pots or air fryers. We didn’t upload, download, stream or twerk. We also didn’t have “slow food,” or we had it, but we called it “dinner” or “cooking,” instead.

“Disabled bathrooms” were bathrooms that were out of order, not bathrooms for disabled people. Disabled people were so off the radar they didn’t need toilets – or transportation, seating, sidewalks, housing, hotels or doors.

Over the years, your body becomes a historical document, in which certain moments are memorialized in scar tissue, visible or not. So does the brain. The brain memorializes moments of trauma in scars you can’t see, as well as other moments like giving birth or falling in love, which are one in the same when it comes to your child.

Being single since she was a baby, I paid the mortgage, I bought the toilet, I bought nice toilet paper and ran out for more when it ran out. I bought the towels, the sheets, the beds and everything else. There was no partner. I was mother, father, provider in chief, quite-imperfect playmate, chauffeur, homework helper, cleaner-upper, cook.

Clocks imply that time ticks predictably forward, which is not true. Time tips, trips, rips, stops. Slips through your fingers, your neurons, your skin. Everything connects: your child, your mom, the music you hear, the books you’ve read, the poems, the theater, the art, the travels, every image in your life, every conversation, everything you learned, knew, did.  Thousands of things you can’t say bursting at the speed of light.

I’m an antique.  I’m short, too. While I formerly towered at 5’2.9 ½” as in nearly 5’3”, I am now just under 5’1”, courtesy of a few discs that don’t have cushions anymore. That’s spinal diversity, even within one spine, mine. And there’s age diversity but you wouldn’t know it from Instagram, where no one posts of old people unless we just passed away or it is Mother’s Day. You could sort us into senior varsity, very senior varsity, and invisible. I’d rather say invincible. And I’d like to build a bridge to my child.

The sky is purple at sunset. Once upon a time, my child’s hand was warm and certain in mine as we crunched across decades of shells. They were purple on the inside. The stuff that could comfort me, the stuff I loved – poems, books, photographs, pillows, throws, the kitchen sink – was gone. Perhaps I told you this before. Take it away and you might as well start life as some other person. I did. We used to be me.