Fill in the Blanks
Lori Sambol Brody
In the beginning: sound. Metal striking metal.
In the beginning: sensation. The torque of a rollercoaster. And then my car stops and I awake fully to the white billows of the air bag. Pain from my side where the seat belt has cracked my ribs. Afterwards, I wear green black and purple in a beauty-queen sash of a bruise.
In the beginning: light. The traffic signals flashing red yellow green. I’d run a red light while asleep. The strobe of the ambulance taking the driver of the car I’d hit. The haloed streetlights, each a miniature Saturn with pulsing rings.
Haloed like those saints in Renaissance paintings. I’d never seen this before.
The EMT dismisses my concerns.
I call my boyfriend and he takes me to the hospital in his Jeep Scrambler. On the way there, he asks me a question; I try to answer but the words fly away. I shake my head. I remember a convulsion. My right hand twists into a claw. At the ER, I cannot walk, because the right side of my body isn’t moving. I lean on my boyfriend’s shoulder, hop with one leg.
The intake nurse rolls her eyes, sighs. “What did she take?” she says.
Short flashes of memory, interspersed with darkness. My five earrings are removed. I slide into a CT scan, back and forth beneath the whirring crescent.
They ask me who my doctor is, and I can’t respond. I can only hold one arm up.
I am failing every test they give me. I have never failed any test and I am disappointed but I don’t know what’s wrong. In the MRI, the tube echoes with the sound of metal debris scattering. I realize that I will not be able to go to work the next day to file the brief I’ve been working long hours on. I believe I’ve failed my co-workers.
An ambulance transfers me to another hospital. I’m disappointed the ambulance doesn’t turn on its sirens to split the night open. Doesn’t speed to rush me to the hospital.
The double hospital doors swing open; Dr. Saver, the neurologist, strides in. He is in green hospital scrubs, mask around his neck, glasses reflecting cold white corridors. My boyfriend later describes him entering “like a hero.”
This image, though, must be from a television show. I didn’t witness it.
Doctors tower above me. One stares intently at a screen.
“Don’t move,” he says. “We’ll soon have you dancing again.”
A few years later, I see this doctor again for an unrelated issue.
“I didn’t think you’d ever recover,” he says. “A miracle.”
I awake to an IV taped to the back of my hand, an alarm as the pulse oximeter slips. My boyfriend’s talked himself into ICU even though he isn’t a family member. I try to talk but my mind can’t hold onto the words.
“You’ll be OK,” my boyfriend says.
The walls are so white. I can project anything on them. But I’ve got nothing to project.
The last memory before the accident:
“Jumping Jack Flash” on the radio. I’m sleepy: I’ve been working late for more than a week. I wonder if I should blast the radio to keep myself awake.
In the hospital, I learn this phrase: carotid artery dissection. When I get home, I consult the internet:
Carotid artery dissection occurs as a result of trauma injury to the neck, such as injury from a seatbelt as a result of a car accident. It begins as a tear in one layer of the artery wall. Blood leaks and forms a clot which dislodges and travels to the brain. The clot becomes trapped in the brain’s smaller arteries and causes a stroke.
The first memory that returns to me as I lie in the hospital bed:
A Transylvanian church, Braşov. I entered into darkness. Jesus haloed and bleeding on the cross. From the balcony above, voices streamed down. Choir practice. The thum of the organ beating like a human heart.
Tubes anchor me. I am restless. The nurse sits by my bed to calm me. He’s got a Caribbean accent, a shaved head. He tells me about huge animals – cows as large as elephants, cats the size of tigers – created by the winds of a hurricane. At least this is the story I remember; I may be getting it mixed up with the story a sailor on a cruise told me, right before he asked my girlfriend and me if we were lovers.
My boyfriend salvages everything he thinks I want out of my totaled car (and some things I don’t want): sunglasses, snow chains used once to drive to Mammoth, my old J. Crew barn jacket. He didn’t look in the glovebox. The previous weekend, I’d found a sea urchin skeleton at the beach, and put it there for safekeeping. It was an improbable color, the color of the setting sun, of orange Crush. I wonder if it survived the crash. I wonder if it really were orange.
I learn another new word. Aphasia: the loss of ability to understand or express speech.
“A small part of your brain that processes speech was deprived of oxygen and died,” the resident says. “But, the brain is plastic. Already it is compensating.”
The speech therapist prescribes crosswords. My boyfriend and I do the Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword over breakfast. 3 down, Russian mountain range. 15 across, Jai ___. This ritual continues for years.
In the end: I awake at night thinking I cannot speak again, imagining halos on the insides of my eyelids. I mutter into my pillow monologues from plays (the porter’s scene from MacBeth), French dialogue from middle school (Ou est Phillippe? A la piscine), prayers (Sh’ma Yisrael).
Look: I can speak; I can remember.
In the end: I return to work. The brain is plastic, it creates new pathways to deal with trauma. Lessons learned or no lessons learned, there is marriage (to the boyfriend), two daughters. Words get lost, I leave _____ as I write. Words are found. It’s hard to say if that’s any different than before.
In the end: there’s only life unspooling, continuing.
About the Writer
Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.