It had been almost a year and a half since the wreck and I was still in very bad shape. My balance was off and I fell quite often. My speech was still very slow and slurry and my left arm was awfully uncoordinated and slow while my right was very shaky and my eyes were still out of focus. I took the semester off of school to give my all towards getting well. Even though a commitment to my therapies was renewed I still felt like something was missing. For the first time in my life I had to deal with my loneliness and I didn’t know quite how to do this. My friends were wonderful to me through their letters and the few times I got to visit them, but I wanted to call someone on the spur of the moment and go see a movie. It became hopeless the minute I opened my mouth though. People thought that I was missing something upstairs. Need I say that I have not had a date since the accident? I felt so alone and I refused to wear a sign on my back saying, “My name is Susan and I’m not retarded.” I wanted to be myself and have people like me for me not because or how I walked or talked.
It was obvious that my talking had improved because fewer people asked what it was that I wanted. My speech was still very slow but my main worry now was that it was extremely monotonous. Sara decided that it was time to minimize that problem. I sat down at the piano and worked on scales and sang along with different songs on the radio to give me some much needed inflection. All I can say to that is; when I learn to keep up with the songs; Barbra Streisand, look out!
Sara told me of a man who gave therapy in the swimming pool. Since I was swimming every day I decided to give Jay a call. He came to our home and asked me to float on my stomach without a life jacket. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I refused and he asked me why. I said, “Because I’ll die.” After much persuasion I finally took off my life vest and floated with my head down in the water. I took a gasp of air and instead of nice dry air it was extremely wet. When I could talk I asked Jay why in the world I did something that stupid, He said it was because of a reflexive startle response. Any time that a person becomes scared they take a big gasp of air. Being in the pool I gasped water instead of air. My choking went on for several weeks but I finally got over this fright. I swam the width of the pool. Jay taught me to take a breath of air so that I could swim the whole length. I’m getting ready to compete in the Olympics as soon as I learn to do a flip turn.
It was time for Lori to become 21 and I wasn’t about to miss that for the world. After many hours of nagging, my parents finally gave in and said that I could go to Chicago alone. This was the first time since the accident that I was allowed to go anywhere alone and I was scared to death. I made it to Chicago without falling once. Lori, Jane, Sally, and Sharon met me at the airport, it was so good to see them and not have to worry about speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, biofeedback, yoga, neuromuscular massage therapy, myofuntional therapy, aqua therapy, psychology...for a few days. I began my carefree wonderful vacation.
My plane was late getting in so the first night was very short; the second day and night was filled with shopping and speaking to old friends. The third day we prepared for the big night. It was upon us and the people began arriving for Lori’s Hawaiian birthday party, there was much food to be eaten and games to be played. One of the games required a person to tie a balloon to his or her waist and grab a partner to do the bump with and pop it. I wanted to play so I grabbed a balloon and a partner. Steve and I started to do the bump and I got very cocky and hit him too hard and was sent sprawling. Everyone ran over and picked me up and asked if I was okay. “Yes” I lied. Physically I was fine but my ego had been terribly bruised. Here was a 21-year-old lady falling down like a two-year-old little girl.
I decided to sit the rest of the games out. I grabbed a chair and began talking to Laura, a girl I hadn’t seen since high school. She said that I was doing well and looking good. She then asked me about the accident. I knew that people were curious and it didn’t bother me at all. We started talking about it and she asked me if I felt guilty about the boy who died. For the first time I realized that because I survived I deal with a lot of guilt. Jim was being a gentleman when he offered to drive Samantha and I back to our dorm room. I think that if I hadn’t gone out that evening Samantha wouldn’t have gone and Jim wouldn’t have been on the highway on September 18th, but no one knew what was waiting for us on that godforsaken road. I understand now that one can never live ones life of ifs. By all medical facts I never should have lived. So I imagined my parents’ in Jim’s parents’ shoes and it breaks my heart. I only met him two weeks before the accident and as is common with most brain damaged individuals I've lost a lot of my memory including the accident, because of this memory loss, I don’t even remember Jim. This increases my feelings of guilt. All of this would have been prevented if a person knew that if he or she killed someone due to their stupidity they would pay dearly for their dumb move. Don’t get me wrong though, I love this country. America is the land of the free; after all Frank N. Stein is out driving again while I hope to walk one day without a limp. If this never happens, all that can be said is c’est la vie.