I emerge, caught in slow motion, out of the thick sidewalk foliage. In classic Bryant style, I’m running ‘cross the road to the one bakery that blessedly appears to be open at 5AM, ignoring the steady stream of cars sprawled out across the road in front of me. I make a dash for it, and immediately black out as I’m hit – my memory thankfully, blindly cuts out there, perhaps attempting to preserve my own sanity and what’s left of my dignity, except for a few strange cuts of the piece: my body flying through the air, limbs akimbo and a perpetual forward motion faster and with more strange grace than anything I’ve experienced in my life.
I suppose the advantage to being blind drunk when hit is this: your body remains blessedly relaxed throughout the entire process.
Children and adults (far too cool for the memorial) swarm in tiny groups clustered tight around me, simultaneously leaping haphazardly from concrete pillar to concrete pillar and disappearing out of view, legs waggling like groups of tiny Pac-Man ghosts and bodies sprinting at top speed back and forth ‘cross the ground’s uneven cobblestones. I move a metre or two forward and a couple, tongues locked and smacking, turn to glare at me, drooping lines of sacrilegious spit across each other as they turn.
Behind me, a small child screams, arms jutting out in violence towards my frame: “BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD, HA.”
I don’t have the energy to argue with him.
By the time my parents arrive at the hospital they find me wide-eyed and shaking uncontrollably, on the floor, holding desperately on to the side of my bed but apparently unable to lift my wilted frame up onto it.
“Oh my god. Are you okay, darling?” Mum asks as she helps me up.
I don’t reply, eyes jutting wildly from side to side and my own impressive line of spittle drooling out the side of my mouth.
Unbeknownst to my parents, I’ve been put on a secret dosage of anti-psychotic drugs overnight to keep me “calm” and ready for sleep (read: to stop me moving around so that the night nurses could rest and relax, although all brain injury recovery books mention night movement in patients as a legitimate stage of unavoidable recovery) and said drugs haven’t agreed with my brain’s chemistry. The nurses, in their legitimacy, begin to bandy about words like “epileptic” in apparent attempts to save their own skin.
“Strange,” Mum replies, “he was never epileptic before being admitted to this hospital.”
It is perhaps the 35th night we’ve been there. A large Polack nurse squeals “DINNER” as she totters down the hallway with much too much excitement and I sit at a small table with my mother in grim displeasure. “Here you go,” she smiles, placing a plate down in front of me.
This is the incredibly appealing German delicacy known as “abendbrot” – a mix of bread, meat and sliced cheese – and perhaps the 35th time I’ve had to eat said “abendbrot”.
“Enjoy”, the Polack nurse simpers as she slaps down a slice of bread and prosciutto and spreadable crème fraiche.
“I’ll try,” I simper back.
Apparently, I later heard, one of the hospital’s older patients had to go through a course of intensive vitamins due to the overall low quality of the hospital’s food.
My parents’ house, now.
I am repatriated back to Australia, though still in need of therapy, attempting to avoid my father’s friend who sits at our kitchen table noisily slurping down a coffee.
“So!” he barks, turning around. I pause in my tracks, but five steps from blessed freedom. “So, what’d it feel like, eh?” his fingers reach with sudden violence to rap at his own skull noisily, head twisted and bird-like in its inquisition.
“I don’t remember,” I lie blankly, looking for an out, a solution, freedom.
“Ahh,” he replies sagely. “Ahh. You’ll go right, in the end. They always do.”
I am lying on my Australian bedroom floor now, arms and body shaking in shame. As a test of myself, I had attempted to do twenty push-ups – the usual amount – to see how my arms would take it. They wouldn’t, apparently, and in glorious, embarrassing slow-motion I’d managed to do ten in a row before toppling unceremoniously onto my face. I’m now caught in the push-up position, stuck, in pain, unable to move down or up.
“Come on,” I think. “Come on you weak piece of piss, fucking do it. do a goddamn push-up.”
My arms refuse to comply.
I’m perched in a wheelchair with my family, navigating through the hospital’s greenery past other patients, gnarled and twisted and leant unceremoniously in over their own wheelchairs.
“You’re so lucky,” Mum murmurs. “so, so lucky to be alive.”
I take this in, and to my surprise, the swelling inside my chest practically takes me over: and for perhaps the first time in my life I do feel genuinely lucky just to be alive.
I’m lying, now, in absolute agony, jammed in an ambulance bed being wheeled quickly across cobblestones. My right testicle is perhaps four times large & thicker than it has any right to be, & throbbing uncontrollably: as such, we’ve been sent out of the regular hospital to a more intensive doctor-shelter.
An hour later, a gruff, bald doctor arrives with an ultrasound machine held like a futuristic weapon in hand:
“Please,” I ask, spilling thick, fat, hot tears from my eyes. “Please, please be gentle, oh god.”
“Of course,” he breezes, and promptly reaches down with malice to squeeze brutally at the offending testicle as I writhe in ridiculous pain.
“Please,” he barks towards me. “Please just let me actually inspect you. Oh God!”
My arms twist tendons brutally around the metal frame of the hospital bed, attempting in vain to distract from the pain.
I walk haphazard with my therapist through the hospital, head held high, shoulders back, chest puffed out.
“You’ve made such good progress,” she smiles at me as I walk tall with her out the door to the garden. “See? I don’t even have to hold you up anymore!”
And that old familiar swelling in my chest, like an unruly grin, that signals within me a genuine, pleased and big way of holding myself I’ve never before experienced.
And I’m sitting in front of a messy writing pad that holds countless scrawls of my own name, now, my own ridiculous name repeated time and time again by my own incomprehensible scrawl. I stare at the clean white line underneath the lines of my scrawl and whisper to myself: “Do it. You’ve done it a million times before, so just do it. Write your own fucking name.”
Possessed, I reach down with the navy blue BiC wrapped in my hand and, of course, in one motion, fuck it all up.
It’s somewhere between Dateline and Lateline that I realise: despite all of these horrid occurrences, I am, for the most part, incredibly happy – and genuinely so for once, perhaps for the first time ever. One of my favourite nurses, not long after this, comes to say goodbye to me – she’s leaving the hospital all-together.
“It’s my belief,” she smiles at me, “that sometimes, in our lives, we get the chance to properly step back from everything and assess the direction we were headed in, where we were headed, and so on. I think that’s what you’ve been tasked with. Goodbye, and good luck.”.
With that, she leaves, and my heart somehow soars out of my chest and up around my head, throbbing stronger and happier than before.
The four of us step quietly and determined out of the hospital gates, my arm wrapped around my mother’s; a large bag strapped to my back. It’s Leaving Day. The sun beats pleasantly down around our necks, beating as hard as our own pulses that sit tight and insistent in our throats. We live in fear of Dr. Von Helden – perhaps the most Germanic sounding Doctor in existence – catching us out; the only doctor in the hospital to fly into a rage at the suggestion we might attempt to leave a day early.
“What’re you going to do?!” Dr Scheffner, our knight in shining doctor’s outfit, had snarled in mock-derision, discussing Von Helden. “It’s a hospital, not a prison, eh! You can’t make them stay against their will.”
But apparently, if you wanted it enough (or were simply scary enough), you could.
We’re moving across cobblestones towards the gate, now, my heart in my mouth and heart-rate pounding, mercilessly, brutally pounding in my chest – and then. And then?
And then, nothing happened, of course. We crossed the threshold event free, my heart pulsating in my mouth joyously, and for perhaps the first time in months I feel, bag in hand, grin stupidly, blissfully adorning my worried face, genuinely and blessedly free: we’ve made it. We’ve actually made it.