The Great Open Road

How did we get here?

I have asked myself this question more than a hundred times since August and I remain totally confounded by the answer. How did this happen? How did we end up here? With 1200 miles behind us, I asked the question again, this time with tears streaming violently and haphazardly down my cheeks as I beat the steering wheel with the palm of my hand. 

It was something small that set off this emotional explosion. Something small, in combination with a dozen huge things, and following one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I don’t know what my expectations were for the road trip up to Canada -that we would listen to music, chat like old times, and bask in our freedom? 

Minutes into the car ride it became clear that “getting away” wasn’t a single solution to our problems. In fact, the time alone, confined to our car, away from the distractions, forced an immediate and harsh acknowledgment of the battle we are up against. I was prepared to be the driver for our 3-day trip. I wasn’t prepared to be the navigator, the decider of all decisions, and worst of all, my own company. With so much going on, I don’t think I realized how truly limited TC is in his speech and comprehension. Perhaps he didn’t realize either. But in the middle of New Brunswick, Canada with nothing but wide open roads ahead of us and no one to buffer our despair, we gave into a heavy, crushing wave of sadness and fear.

We had been listening to The Great Gatsby on an audio recording for nearly 2 hours when I asked TC what he thought was happening in the book. His responses over the past few days had worried me. He didn’t seem to understand any of my questions when they were presented out of context or in a semi-complex manner. I wondered how much he had been faking it in past conversation. How many clues was he gathering from context, tone, and inflection when the words themselves meant nothing?

“Uh, it’s about a guy named Gatsby. And he’s rich. And he traveled around Europe quite a bit,” he responded.

“Yeah,” I pressed, “That’s true. But what about the favor he’s asking from Nick?”

TC stared at me blankly and shook his head.

I sighed. “Gatsby wants Nick to arrange a meeting between him and Daisy. Because they know each other from before and he’s still in love with her. It’s sort of the whole point of the book.”

“I didn’t get that, I guess,” he murmured sadly.

And I lost it. I mean, I really lost it. This man, my husband, he’s literally the smartest man I’ve ever met. He learns things quicker than anyone could hope to. I married him, in part, because I wanted to be with someone quicker, sharper, and more worldly than myself. I never, in a hundred million years, imagined myself explaining to him the plot of a book I know he’s read before. It is the cruelest of mean jokes. It is a knife in the heart that keeps cutting at us both.

The metaphor of this particular moment is not lost on me: driving on that endlessly long foreign road with nowhere to turn, no place to pull over, no one to call, and totally consumed by our overwhelming sadness. I wanted to do something, anything to fix us, to return us to normal even momentarily, but my only choice was to keep driving. This is the reality. We can only press forward. There are no certainties, no guarantees of infusions of future happiness, no readily available solutions. Life is this foreign road. And there is still so much left to travel that the destination remains out of view.

Hours later, we pulled up to our new home for the next 5 weeks: a short-term furnished apartment in downtown Halifax. I wiped away the evidence of my nervous breakdown and walked my tear stained cheeks up to the reception desk. I made small talk with the friendly building manager, who had comically been expecting an Arabic woman and not an American one (remind me to check the genealogical history of the Maslin name). He asked what brought us to Halifax and when I explained TC’s therapy program, he exclaimed, “Oh! That’s a fantastic program! We’ve had people from that program here before and they go home doing so much better than when they arrived.” I could have kissed him.

So, to return to my earlier question: how did we get here? My answer for today is that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we’re here, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and TC has an amazing opportunity to make significant progress in his recovery. I have a chance to write and sleep and heal. We have an opportunity to build a new marriage together, one that’s not based on love of each other’s abilities, but something much deeper and less quantifiable. It will be the best kind of hard work to perform.

13 thoughts on “The Great Open Road

  1. How heart wrenching. I’ve noticed life is like that, though. Stabbing, unbearable pain and then something so bright you have to shield your eyes.

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  2. Hi Abby,
    As I have followed your story, I am struck by the numbers of people who care for you and TC, even if we are only facebook “friends”. Your words have inspired folks to accompany you in good wishes and positive energy. I always give your posts time when I see them at the end of a day spent teaching. I hope that as you write, you have a sense that there is an audience who might “multiply your joys and divide your sorrows” because you have shared so much.
    Wishing you and TC peace and healing in Halifax, and offering lobster and friendship in Portland on your way home.

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  3. I hope and pray these five weeks give you and TC what you are hoping for. With best wishes for you both, Laura

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  4. There is no way to sugar coat any of this. The reality of it hits you again and again at indiscriminate moments. You are brave. I know you probably just long to feel protected and sheltered by the man you love so you can quit being strong for just a few minutes and breath again.

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  5. while our circumstances are vastly different I understand that place of agony. it is that place where you realize that no one can do it for you and that is both free ing and scary as hell. you long for t a sense of normalcy….I want to give you a hug and I wish you the best on this journey.

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  6. hey, abby, this is katie morgan, harper’s mom (from last year). i just want to become one of the MANY people sending you love. you are a terrific writer. i think of you and your family often, and i know harper thinks of you too. you are making a difference; in your life, your family, your friends’ lives, and all of us that are the ripples in your pond. good luck, but as we both know, it’s the hard work and dedication that will pull you through, along with love and support. be well, in all aspects of your life…

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  7. Abby-
    I stumbled across your previous Blog through reading a Duke basketball website that wrote about your story and I have been following along ever since. I wanted to comment and say how impressed I have been by your strength in this horrific situation. Your blog brings tears to my eyes with nearly every post and I’m always struck by both how unfair the world can be. However, there is still a lot of good left in the world, despite all the bad things that happen and it seems many of the good people have surrounded you in the past months.
    I am a couple of years younger than you and can not imagine what you have gone through, especially in such a short time. You’ve exemplified strength and composure through a time that would be trying for even the strongest of people. I hope that if I am ever in a similar situation, I can be as strong as you.
    I’m a currently a medical student and your story has inspired me to study a little harder so that one day I can help someone in a similar situation and make recoveries like the one TC is experiencing a little easier on both the patient and family.
    I wish you and your family the strength and perseverance you need. Know that lots of people are cheering for you! Good luck in Canada!
    All the best,
    Lauren

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  8. You are a wonderful woman dealing with a crazy situation with incredible grace. The road ahead may seem hazardous and unclear now, but it will lead you to a much better place. Thinking of you these next weeks and hoping the program is everything you wished for and more!

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