My Second Birthday (no, not born again)

At midnight on this day seven years ago, I had just finished a marathon snacking session with my boyfriend and my little brother. We were sitting on the back of my pickup truck, chugging Slurpees and eating Cheetos by the handful. We were giddy, cranked up on sugar and artificial preservatives. We weren’t high and we hadn’t been drinking. We were eating all the horrible junk foods I would never eat again if something went wrong the next morning.

I never really talked about my own fear of the coming surgery. My parents were terrified, and my siblings and boyfriend were equally distraught. It was brain surgery, after all. Common procedure, the doctor kept saying. Nothing to be afraid of.

But it was brain surgery. And if something went wrong the side-effects ranged from headaches to hydrocephalus—treated by the installation of a shunt, from loss of feeling to total paralysis. Or worse.

 My mother, boyfriend, and two sisters all accompanied me to the hospital. I wore my favorite Nightmare Before Christmas pajama pants. “They’re going to operate on my skull,” I kept saying, pointing to the pattern of Jack Skellington’s head on my pants.

I remember having to say goodbye to Amber and Averie when we went into the little room. I remember Dave going into the bathroom for a minute, and then realizing he was bawling in there. I remember holding it together, quipping jokes and laughing, until the nurses told me only one person could accompany me into the prep room. Then I wept in my mother’s lap.

In the end, she and David took turns visiting me while the nurses, and finally the anesthesiologist, inserted the IVs.

I remember everyone told me they loved me. And I told them I loved them, too. Then the nurse told me I should count to ten. The double doors in front of me were dark.


The room I woke up in was dark. More than half the day had past, but I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that technically I had already seen my mother, in a hallway after the surgery. I wish I remembered that moment. To be alive and safe with my mother moments after the surgery. I suspect I’ve never been happier.

The brain surgery in December of 2004 changed my life. Before that day, I was, by habit, a dark and cynical person. I always saw the glass half-empty--and I had a list of suspects of who drank the other half. I masked my own insecurities with a pretentious air of superiority, demeaning anything that threatened me. I had no faith in others, and even less in myself.

Let’s put it this way: I was not the happiest person in the world.

But when I woke up in that dark, cold room--after doctors had removed part of my skull to make room for my overly-long cerebellum tonsil—and found that I could feel my fingers and my toes, I made a decision to be a happier person. Every day that I could stand up, walk, talk, and hold something in my hands was a day to be thankful for.

I haven’t been 100% successful. Everyday life has a way of pulling you down, like quicksand you don’t even know you’re in until it’s up to your chest and your friends are all screaming for you to grab the rope. I haven’t always been able to remember that promise.

But I am still so grateful for every day that I get to try.


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