November 8, 2006 was the day our lives would start to change again. I drove back to the Centre for Neuroskills from the Sheraton hotel in Bakersfield, about a 20 minute drive, and I remember feeling the craziest sense of panic. I wanted to see Terry but I wanted to run away too. My hands were shaking and I felt like throwing up when I got to the apartment complex.
The apartments are gated to keep the residents safe, you have to push a buzzer and tell them who you are to be allowed on the grounds. A disembodied female voice identified me and a loud buzz send the gate whirring and clanking open. I pulled slowly in and parked my rental car in the carport. In a normal apartment building it would have been full of cars. Here it was empty except for me and two stacks of chairs, the kind you see in cafeterias. I wondered idly why two stacks of blue chairs were sitting in a carport? I turned off the key and just sat for a minute; breathing and getting myself to the point where I could smile and talk and make sense.
I rang the doorbell of Terry’s apartment and the door opened on a noisy non-verbal patient and helpers bustling around the living room and kitchen.”Come in, come in! We’re getting ready to go and Terry is waiting for you.” I was pulled easily into the morning bustle of getting ready to go to the center for a day’s work. Terry was dressed and standing in the kitchen, shoulders hunched and looking bewildered, the first day in a long road back had just begun.
This is the piece I wrote after that morning.
Red Lunchbox/TBI 2
They gave you a red lunchbox,
your name printed on it
in bold magic marker.
You knew it was a lunchbox
but not what it was for.
“Let’s make a sandwich”,
I said in my fake-cheery voice,
because I would not cry and I would not
share my sadness with you
like a drive in movie
where emotions are ten feet tall.
The butter knives were locked up
and I had to request one
like it was King Arthur’s mayonnaise sword.
47 minutes of careful direction:
walk to the refrigerator
take out two slices
lay them on the counter
can you open the jar?
it’s in that package.
You constructed your sandwich slowly
you were building the Taj Mahal of sandwiches
for your red lunchbox.
I left you there getting help with your coat,
your first day of therapy still ahead
I sat in the rental car and cried
for both of us and wondered who would help you with your sandwich tomorrow.