The Beauty and Care of Disabled Friendships

By A. H. Reaume: For More Info, Go Here…

“I can’t do language right now,” I told Cathleen as we edged along in stop and go traffic. 

Getting these words out was difficult. They came slow and halting and hurt my brain. In the quiet that descended after I spoke, I wondered how I would explain what was happening to me if she asked — unsure if I’d be able to string the right words together on my now heavy tongue.

There is something deeply vulnerable about suddenly losing the ability to talk and process what others are saying. I never quite know how to navigate it.    

After my brain injury, I had to relearn how to walk and talk at the same time. I would open my mouth and the words either wouldn’t be there or they would come out halting. “Want… strawberries. Brain… injury… can’t… talk,” I once told a vendor at a farmer’s market a month and a half after my injury. The vendor smiled in sympathy and placed the strawberries in a bag. 

Back then, people were understanding.

But what’s been harder than the physical effects of my injury is trying to navigate relationships that also always seem in danger of boiling over. Because despite my efforts to educate friends and family about the intermittent and unpredictable nature of my disability, many have struggled to understand. 

This year, I had to cut a family member out of my life since, among other things, they would sometimes call and yell at me if I told them that I wasn’t physically capable of talking that night. 

“You’re lying,” they would say. “You just don’t care about me.” 

It is not okay to not be okay, is the message that I’ve gotten time and time again. Or I keep being told that I am actually okay and that I’m just faking it.

So, I didn’t know how Cathleen would respond. Our friendship was still fairly new. I’d met her just over a year before at a writing workshop she was leading and had had her over to my house a few times for dinner. I sat there waiting for her to sigh in disappointment. We had just set off on a two-hour road trip. Who knew when I would be able to talk or listen again? She’s going to be annoyed with me, I thought.

But Cathleen just smiled and turned off the radio.

“I’m glad you told me,” she said warmly. “You just rest your brain. I’ll leave it to you to start talking again when you’re ready. But take your time. The drive is beautiful and its fine if we both need to be quiet the whole time. I like the quiet, too.”

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