I used to think I had a pretty rough life. Not that I thought my life was so terrible, I guess, just that things seem to happen around me. Difficult things.
Like that time my mum ran away and was gone for 6 hours on a wet Saturday night in winter and we called the police and everything because she’s old and frail and can barely walk across the room so where the fuck did she go? And the time my parents got whooping cough and were quarantined at home, but they had no food in the house for their dinner and they called me for help but I couldn’t help because I had an infant who hadn’t been immunised yet and I was angry with them for being so needy. Or that time I married an abusive psychopath who once pulled a knife on me. Things like that happen to me. A lot more than they seem to happen to other people. My family has seen more than its fair share of unexplained deaths, mental illness, dementia, and bites from rabid dogs.
And in the midst of it all, here I am … holding everyone together. Fighting with dubious doctors to find a diagnosis for the weirdness that has overtaken my dad. Answering the phone at 3am to discover that my brother has been in an accident and he doesn’t want me to worry … but can I please tell Mum and Dad for him.
Then one day something happened to change my mind.
I was told that my husband had crashed his motorbike and I should go to the hospital. I said “Okay, I’ll do that” and off I went without a second thought. But it was a long drive and suddenly I had plenty of time for second thoughts and I had quite a few of them. Like “Why is Brad going to a hospital that is so far away from where I know he was riding? How badly damaged was he? Will he even be alive when I get there?” And then because I was alone with my second thoughts, they really got out of control and I convinced myself that there were only two possibilities: either he was dead and my life would be over and how would I explain it to our two-year-old son …
Or he’d be completely fine – maybe a broken leg – and he’d be out of hospital by the end of the week and everyone would be all “Why do you panic, Gen?” and I would have no answer.
I decided dead was more likely. I’d already realised that he must have been air-lifted, and I don’t think they do that for a broken leg. So … my husband was dead. Right. Deep breath. Tears rolling down my cheeks. Let’s get down to important business. What would he wear for the funeral? Perhaps the new blue suit he bought a week ago on sale. That way he’d at least get to wear it. Because dead-Brad would be devastated to miss out on a chance to wear that new suit, right? Sorted. I felt calmer. And also kind of terrified. Deep breaths. You’re trying to drive. My hands started shaking. I wished Brad was there. He always knew how to talk me down from an anxiety attack. What was I going to do without him?
I took our son into the emergency room. It didn’t really occur to me that it might not be an appropriate place for a toddler. I overthink things, but not sensibly. And then I saw him. My Brad, lying on a stretcher, a brace around his neck, face covered in blood … moaning in pain. And I almost fainted, clutching my son tightly and wishing I’d left him behind.
And Tristan said “Hello, Dadda!”
And Brad said “Hey Tristan! Dadda goes fast!” and gave our son a high-five, and tickled his neck so that he screeched in delight.
I realised that Brad was actually still with us. He was himself. He was alive.
He was in a bad way. He was in pain. He had broken his spinal cord.
So now I’ve changed my mind. I used to think my life was rough at times but I had seen nothing yet. I had no idea how rough it could be. Things. Happen. On the bright side, at least I’ve had a lot of practice at dealing with it.