At seventeen, my friend suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. The impact shattered our youthful sense of invulnerability and changed the trajectory of her life. For me, it was an early lesson in the uncompromising physics of head injury: the collision of innocence and painful experience, the evaporation of dreams and certainties, the gradual coalescence of a new identity in a changed reality.
You and I
Growing up, we were inseparable, you and I,
Twin stars in a firmament of our own design:
Castor and Pollux, partners in crime,
fish and chips, gin and tonic, fruit and wine.
Then you slipped out of our orbit
and into your boyfriend’s car.
You sped incandescent through the night,
a glowing comet with a tail of light,
until Gravity, the Prince of Entropy, cast his net,
sent you spinning head-long into a ditch.
They scooped you up and brought you in,
glassy-eyed and gasping on a gurney,
post-ictal, post awful, grazed and confused.
Post trauma predictions, guarded bad news.
The nurse stamped our passes to Life’s waiting room.
I sat by your bed, day after day,
surveying the vacant strangeness of your lovely face.
I set lines for you every morning,
to draw you back from the deep unknowing.
Every night I manned the lighthouse of good hope,
to steer you clear from the rocks.
Every hour I willed you to build a raft and come flying home,
across the uncharted sea that lay between you and I.
At last, sunlight reached the obsidian depths
where you slept in still oblivion.
You rose through languid pools of grey-green light
as they carefully reeled you in.
They unhooked you and you wriggled free,
but you didn’t remember me.
Your thoughts rolled back to you like fronds of kelp,
from the briny forests of your tangled mind,
you grasped at them with your shaking hand,
and lined them up on the beach,
to help you remember.
The doctors said that you were getting better.
But, cast adrift, I scanned the horizon
for the shimmering bits of you still missing:
the bits that shone like a freshly caught fish,
the flashing brilliance of a passing shoal,
the quick-silver subtleties of your soul.
I matched my stride to your ataxic gait,
as we combed the beaches of your battered brain
for neural flotsam, from another time and space.
But the waste of it all flapped in my face,
like the sound of one hand clapping,
and slowly, with the water gently lapping,
we drifted apart, you and I.
– Nicola Pereira
Nicola is a Paediatrician with special interests in Diabetes and Endocrinology, and Palliative Care. Originally from Zimbabwe, she has worked at Midcentral Health for the last thirteen years. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in the Manawatu.