Out of Sight: The Invisible Wounds
I was in a long snaking grocery line, the kind that leaves you certain you won’t get out of there by tomorrows breakfast much less tonight’s dinner. Most of my attention was going to my youngest grandson who was doing his best to imitate a lemur by swinging off the grocery cart and hanging upside down from the handles.
Then it happened. The woman in front of me said hello and asked me, in a tone that suggested she knew me, how I was. I had no immediate recollection of who she was. I hate this aspect of my injury; even people I know well don’t immediately register visually. Like over 200,000 other U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds of thousands of American civilians, my invisible wound is a head injury.
After we exchanged a few words; like I’m great! how about you? it sunk in that she was my neighbor down the street. She said she saw me on my fancy new bike. She was referring to my relatively new 3 wheeled bike, upright, with a beautiful big basket in the back. The 3-wheeler is the ultimate consequence of another aspect of my injury that I have a hard time accepting, terrible balance. I look sideways, or turn around and I lose my balance, tipping into grocery shelves or falling over on the sidewalk. At that moment I’m positive everyone is looking at me and they all think I’m drunk or high.
I love my bike though. It’s not anywhere near as fast as the 2-wheeler and it definitely doesn’t take corners as well, but I am still out there riding. It took about two weeks to adjust to people staring at me with kind and pitying expressions. I could hear them thinking, “Oh isn’t that sweet, someone bought that poor mentally handicapped person a bike.”
Then I pulled in to a Starbucks one day and sitting out on the patio, head tipped against the chair back, long legs stretched out, shades down, was my friend Dave. I turned. He looked up.
All he said was, “Nice ride…”
This from a Vietnam veteran with two leg prosthesis. He knew exactly how I would be feeling and was trying to put me at ease. My self-consciousness faded to nothing. Every time there is even a faint whisper of it in my inner ear I conjure the image of Dave saying, nice ride…
Almost every one of us has some invisible wound. Find your Dave… nice ride…