When I was 22, I announced in my Twitter byline that “I like to think of myself as a mix of Atticus Finch, Veronica Mars, Summer Roberts, and a dash of Huck Finn for good measure.” In my mind, these fictional characters combined to create the perfect contradiction of how I wanted people to see me, and how I wanted to see myself. I could be a serious intellect like Atticus Finch, always on the side of what was right and good. Veronica Mars, my favorite teen detective, was there for her witty, pithy comebacks. The addition of Roberts, the loveable brunette from the O.C., showed that I didn’t take myself too seriously and that I cared about fashion and the environment. And if that wasn’t enough, I added Huck Finn to lend some credibility to my supposed free-wheeling creativity.
The truth is that while I might be intelligent and likeable, I was also directionless and had serious ADHD. Diagnosed at an early age, I’ve been medicated for it since the age of 16. I was naïve enough to think that my flightiness was charming, a confidence made possible by family’s financial safety net and then my husband’s. My husband had always been the organized one. Until we met, I lived from one late payment to the next. Credit card bills were often paid in a flustered panic the day they were due and parking tickets, forgotten, stuffed in my glove compartment. My husband set alerts on both of our calendars a week before my credit card payment was due—one for me, and one so that he could remind me “just in case.” The parking app he downloaded on my phone made sure that I’d get real time alerts when my parking was about to expire, and he always paid for parking when we were together—“just in case.”
He was in a coma when the first credit card bill of our married life was due. The calendar reminder popped up on my phone, but there was no “just in case” follow-up from him. I couldn’t remember my login code and had to reset the password. I tried to remember what other bills we might have due. I didn’t even know how to pay our rent. I just wanted him to wake up so we could go home to Seattle and return to our “normal” lives.
After two and half weeks of in-patient rehab my husband “graduated” from the Spaulding Institute, but it was clear that we wouldn’t be returning to Seattle anytime soon. When you have a third of your skull removed you can’t fly. My husband’s medical team encouraged us to return to Burlington where he could attend out-patient rehab and wait for his cranioplasty (the surgery where they replace the bone flap). The skull itself was being kept in the freezer at University of Vermont Medical Center. We needed to return to the bone, and now that it was the end of September it was obvious that we would need warmer clothing. My mom and I decided that she and I would fly back to Seattle to replenish our wardrobe and clean up our apartment.
Because my husband and I assumed we’d be back after our two-week honeymoon, we’d left food in the refrigerator, window fans in windows, and dirty clothes in laundry baskets. Plus, there was a month-sized pile of mail by the front door, undoubtably containing important medical documents. My mom had warned me that it was bad luck to use your wedding gifts before the wedding, so we’d left them in their boxes, their numbers only growing during our absence. Although we only had a few days to get a lot done, once I was back in the familiar setting of our apartment I did what I’d always done when overwhelmed: I procrastinated.
I was wracked with anxiety and desperate to ignore the new reality my husband’s injuries had foisted upon me. Instead of tackling my growing to-do list, I sent my mom to my aunt and uncle’s house, claiming that I had everything under control. Then I started to knit.
Two days before our trip to Seattle I’d decided that after seven hats, one scarf, and half of a blanket that I was ready to knit my first sweater. The project was more complex than any I had done to date so I bought a kit. The kit included all the necessary materials: yarn, knitting needles, an embroidery needle to finish the sweater, and, of course, the pattern itself. I had packed everything in the kit, everything except the pattern. I was Huck Finn, though—undaunted and creative— I winged it.
When my mom joined me at the apartment after our first full day in Seattle, I proudly donned my newest creation. I hadn’t had time to weave in the ends which left strands of yarn hanging down from every seam. She could not stop laughing when she saw me. “What are you wearing? It’s horrible.” Looking in the mirror I saw what “winging it” had done to the pattern and started laughing too. What had once been described as a chic, classic addition to any wardrobe had turned into a crop top wide enough to fit three people. Soon, though, my laughter turned into sobs. My apartment was still a mess, the mail still hadn’t been organized, and my husband still wasn’t coming home.
My mom found a moleskin notebook on my bookshelf and together we sat down and started to make lists. Once we started following a plan, the to-do list started to shrink. My mom cleaned our refrigerator while I made runs to Goodwill. I put away our wedding gifts, and she wrote down who they were from. We rented a storage unit to hide all my husband’s winter sporting equipment so he wouldn’t be tempted to use any when we got home. I organized all of our mail, and my mom bought me an accordion file folder to match my moleskin where I kept all of the important paperwork. While I swapped out all of our unused honeymoon clothing for more weather appropriate sweaters and coats, my mom got my wedding dress cleaned. Finally, on the last day, I went to a local yarn store and asked for help in selecting a sweater pattern for a beginner knitter. This time I promised myself I would follow the pattern.