Bob, the stranger I married, is back. My mom just drove us the 3 and a half hours from Boston to Burlington, VT, and I’m tired and am sure he is too. As I unpack our clothes in the Marriott suite that will be our home for the next few months, Bob tells me that marrying him was a lucky break for me. “It’s a good thing the accident happened so you can prove your worth. If you hadn’t met me you’d probably still be living off your daddy.”
I fold his shirts, separating the soft t-shirts from the scratchy t-shirts the way he likes it as he directs me from the bed. His medical team ordered him a wedge pillow before we left rehab to keep his head elevated at night, turning the bed into a makeshift throne.
Adjusting his helmet, he looks up at me as he says, “If I divorce you you’ll have to move back in with your parents. You’ve never made a penny in your life.”
“But wait—” I start to say. I’m crying now. He interrupts me. “I don’t know why you’re crying. Stop it. You’re the problem. It can’t be the brain injury. I don’t have this problem with anyone but you. Just get a job and make some money.”
I quit my job because Bob is dependent on me. My job does not offer any disability benefits, so now I depend on Bob, or more accurately, Bob’s paycheck. Neither of us is happy with this arrangement. I’ve made plenty of pennies, though. It’s the bigger denominations I have trouble with. I want to defend my honor, list my many jobs, tout my independence, but I don’t. None of them will impress Bob. None of them impress me.
He does not like our new shower chair and scoffs as I put it in the bathroom. I like it. He’s not supposed to be left alone yet, so when I continue to cry I run to the bathroom, running the water so he can’t hear. I don’t want to upset him anymore. Bob doesn’t like crying. It’s not as spacious as the family room at Spaulding, but it’s nice to have a chair to sit in.
Locked in the bathroom, I think about my lucky break and Bob’s accident, specifically his skull fracture. Doctors told me that his fracture may have initially been helpful in alleviating his internal brain swelling. Eventually, not even the fracture could keep the swelling down, and he had to have a decompressive craniectomy. Still, I see it as his own lucky break.
The atmosphere in the hotel room is unsettled and unstructured after our time at Spaulding. Out-patient therapy doesn’t start for two days, and the sessions will only last a couple hours a day. The neurosurgeon does not know when he can safely perform the next surgery. We don’t have a timeline. We don’t know what’s next. I am not sure what I will need to do. We’re waiting.
Eventually I stop crying and turn off the water in the bathroom. When I get back, Bob is opening and closing all the cabinets in the kitchenette, inspecting the contents. “I made a list of things we need from the grocery store. It’s nice to have things back to normal now that everyone is gone. It’s just the two of us, like a marriage is supposed to be.”
“I have a phone call to make” he says, pulling out the pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream he insisted we buy before checking in. I’m so tired all I want do is sleep. I want to say there is a very nice chair in the shower that he’s welcome to use, but instead I bend the rules slightly and let him have some privacy for the first time in a month.
After he promises to wear his helmet the entire time and call me as soon as his call ends, I put on my running shoes and head out. I spent enough time at Spaulding pacing hallways, so I go outside.
It’s 9:00 PM and October in Vermont. It’s dark and cold and there aren’t any sidewalks. I take laps around the parking lot, which will soon become a nightly ritual. I’m scared at first, but I remind myself that I’m being silly. What’s the worst that could happen?
I walk for an hour and still haven’t heard from him. I start to get worried, but when I get to the hotel room, he’s already in bed. I smile when he says “thank God, you’re back,” and try to tell him that I was safe outside. “No,” he interrupts, “I need you to fill up my water bottle.”
“Why didn’t you tell me the phone call was over” I ask, filling up his water bottle—one third ice, two-thirds water.
“It never happened,” he mumbles, almost asleep. I quietly place the bottle on his bedside table, before heading back into the bathroom to get ready for bed. I don’t want to wake Bob up.