I died two years ago. That’s the easiest way to describe what happened. Being alive and sharing Thanksgiving with loved ones is more special now than it’s ever been. That simple.

Middle of September 2013, on a Wednesday, working as a General Contractor, I started my first day on a new job for a new pair of clients doing some light demo. Later that afternoon my friend and architect, Matt, came by with a fresh set of stamped permits from the city. I was good to go. I told the clients I was taking Thursday and Friday off but would be back on Monday to start making some serious headway. Quick weekend trip. After all, I was going to be in my friends Chris and Kathleen’s wedding here in town in a couple weeks. I stashed my tools on the side of my clients house and was off. The next morning I kissed my wife, Gerri, goodbye and headed out on a plane to Arkansas with my long time friend Tony, to see my friend from high school, his wife, and joining us from Brooklyn another high school friend who I shared my first voyage from Ohio to California with in a 1969 Cadillac convertible upon graduating from high school.

During a layover in Texas, my friend and bandmate Scotty, who I was in a band with that Chris and I started about 2002 and had become quite busy playing a lot of shows, European tours etc., called to tell me that he and his wife, Sasha, also in the same band, were separating. He said that he didn’t know what it meant for the band, but I told him that it shouldn’t be a concern. I was was there for he and Sasha, because I love them both, and this was a bigger deal than the band.

That first night in Arkansas we all had too many beers, enjoyed catching up, and a late night bonfire. Tony made a good decision to head to sleep, but my friend and I hopped in our host’s flatbed pickup truck with him on a joy ride on rural dirt roads. I was standing upright in back. I don’t remember what actually happened, but apparently I was thrown from the truck at a fair speed, slammed my head on something solid, slid across gravel on my back, and ended up in a ditch. A broken vertebrate, cracked eye socket, swelling and bleeding brain, a seizure, coma, and I stopped breathing. I’m no doctor, but I think I died. Tony later apologized for cradling my head between his knees with a bloody towel over my face during the trip to the hospital. I told him I felt like he saved my life. At the first emergency room it was determined that my injuries were too severe for their facilities so I was transported to another hospital farther away.

I was intubated so I could breathe, I believe they were concerned about a bruised liver, and they induced another coma for medical reasons. It was probably good that I don’t remember them wire brushing the crud out of by back. I bet that hurt. I still have scars.

Tony called Gerri that night and it took the whole next day to gather concrete information from doctors and a flight wasn’t available right away, so as soon as possible her and Tony’s wife, and bandmate with Gerri and I, Becky, dropped everything and were on a flight to Arkansas.

Once they arrived Gerri realized what a big mess this was and how severe my condition proved to be. She originally planned to be there for a few days, thinking I was probably better than she thought,  but instead she ended up there for two weeks. On top of taking care of me, she had to deal with major issues in my personal life, try to figure out how to manage my workload that existed mostly in my head, and she only had emails and texts to filter through. Not to mention sorting through the normal activities like paying bills, all the while not knowing what the future held. This was incredibly hard on her. Her current job was stressful and earlier that summer her mother was diagnosed with Leukemia which was an ongoing worry.

One night, the nurses forgot to set my bed alarm and when I decided I needed to use the restroom, but couldn’t walk, I fell and hit my head in the worst possible spot. I could’ve died. After that, my friends went on shifts watching over me every second. This whole time I was crazy and barely slept. I often wasn’t even lucid and had angry fits and outbursts that everyone was conspiring against me. I thought I was in different places. Once a nurse came in and I asked her how it sounded. I thought she was running sound for a show my band was playing in London. My friend Tim flew out to help. I barely knew he was there. I’ve heard that a few people around me died while they were there, making the stay that much more strenuous for everyone. I’ve only heard stories of the craziness they all went through and these days I feel so humiliated. It’s so clear and easy for me to see now what a complete jackass I was for so many things, including putting myself in that situation, and how incredibly strong Gerri was, but me at the beginning stages of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Gerri in the middle of sorting through these horrible events, it was hard to have a clear perspective. We were both just trying to survive.

Gerri managed to get us a flight home, which was no easy task. The hospital wanted the room, but I was in no shape to be discharged. I couldn’t walk and would switch between being happy to angry at the drop of a hat. Very unpredictable. Basically a flying medical ambulance was arranged because I was too messed up for a commercial flight. Here in Sacramento, I was admitted to a rehab facility and was starting to come-to a little more. I was in there for another week, then upon conditional release that I would be monitored 24-7. Once back home it was touch and go. Physically I was still shaky and mentally I had very limited short term memory, as well as other difficulties.  I had a series of appointments with all of the therapists; cognitive, behavioral, physical, etc.. I was a mess. I had to be careful taking a shower. Once, the physical therapist asked me to do a figure 4 with one finger on my head. I did. He asked me to switch sides and I fell over! I couldn’t believe it! He seemed unfazed as he was taking notes. I had no balance. I wasn’t able to walk alone outside of the house initially, but even once I was, it seemed like I wasn’t able to drive for a long time. Once I asked a therapist if I could ride a bike, she thought it would be too dangerous. So I walked, a lot.

Doctors said that there is no clear way of predicting a recovery. I seemed to have a fairly light TBI and should end up 98-99%, but everyone’s recovery is different and there was no way to tell what would come back and how much. They described it as bell shaped, with the most recovery happening quickly, then slowly tapering off. It could take about two years. Two years! And it did. This whole time, there was no guarantee that I would fully come back. My development could stop at any time.

I returned to work slowly, not being able to put in a full day at first, and for the first nine months I had Hyponatremia, which threw off my sodium balance pretty hard. I could only take in about one quart of total liquids per day to keep my sodium level from sinking too low. After being a coconut water junky and dehydrating myself for a long time I finally got that taken care of. I was also on anti seizure medication for about a year.

By this time I was tired of this constant recovery and thought that I had to be close to being back. My friend Tim and I took a trip to Denver and I wanted to feel like everything was normal. First time I had been without Gerri since the whole thing happened. But I still wasn’t right. Physically I was doing well and I could feel the slow mental development and had mostly come back, but I understood this weird recovery and what it truly felt like, and it was different than anything anyone who’s never been through it can relate to. Some memories of how to do things was natural, some memories and relationships took a lot more work. I wasn’t 100%. Today I still struggle a bit with my speech. It’s minor, but I feel it. I told Gerri early on, and I still believe now that I’m a different person. This changed something in me.

I remember a one year follow up appointment with my Neurologist. He ran a bunch of tests and very cheerfully said, “You’re all good.” To which I replied, “No, I’m not!” I talked about how I understood this process now and I knew I was still transforming. He was real with me and explained that even though he’s studied the hell out of this sort of thing, unless you go through it, you can’t understand it the same way. He admitted he never wants to go there. I agreed.

Gerri’s mom had a bone marrow transplant late in 2013 and began slowly getting better! This is so good and is the best thing to have happened. We shared a moment last Thanksgiving that went without much discussion, but we had mentioned that it was extra special to be around to enjoy the family. We understood each other on a much deeper level than perhaps others could.

This last year has been so much more trying, but still more eventful than I ever could have imagined. I still would spend time thinking about what I’ve been through and how all of this has changed my life, every single day. I think interspersed with great shows with Arts & Leisure, the band that Gerri and I are in together, a wonderful two person art show with a great gallery, the Elliott Fouts Gallery, which I’ve been with for over a decade and enjoyed creating a bond and friendship with Elliott, a few wonderful shared moments with close friends, and a dynamic career move to boot has been a treat. All combined with the weird low feeling that my band, the Alkali Flats were broken up and relations outside of the married couple became strained.

Gerri decided to get a job with the State of California as we both really started looking at our future. As an independent, I always relied on her benefits, and without them I’d be bankrupt after my little mishap. Also, there is no way to save for retirement and charge competitively. I started the process of looking at the state for employment.

The dream job, the one that never comes up, came available. I did everything I could and was able to land that job as a restoration specialist. I don’t have to worry about paying the bills now that I have consistent checks. I get to ride my bike to work, have an office in a historic building, a fantastic work shop, and great structures to work on all day, and benefits.

And yet, only recently, I feel like I am done. I am recovered. Finally. A large part of this comes from the brain finally reaching that 98-99% (some folks have asked, “would anyone be 100% the same two years later normally?”) but then I think another part of it is finally moving past the trauma. I’ve been in a daze for so long, felt unsure of everything, constantly evaluating everything. It was exhausting.

throughout my life and during this process I know I have done dumb things, acted strange, confusing, and unfairly to friends. I have to live with that. It’s part of me and my story, but I try to understand, move on, and try to be a better person going forward. And this constant analysis has the plus side of forcing one to wake up to things that you’ve swept under the rug for years – unhealthy relationships, how you spend your time, energy, and what you truly love and what you think you should love, but don’t. Evaluating this stuff super slowly as you relearn to walk, talk, and think is beneficial, but please, don’t try it, it’s not worth it.

What it all comes down to is I feel thankful as fuck this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that I can appreciate being alive and aware to enjoy Gerri, the friends who have stuck by me as the person I was and the person I am now, loved ones and small moments of everyday life, things I try not to take for granted. Being thankful to just be here. Happy Thanksgiving all!