Courage To Live

Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: Linda Hudson Hoagland

On May 7th, Mike was fifteen, a teenager, and a young man on the brink of adulthood.

May 8th brought with the new day a new experience that Mike never, ever wants to relive. How he got through it the first time was something he still doesn’t understand, but he would rather die than repeat any of the events of that specific day.

Only two more weeks and school would be out for the summer. He was going to jump on the community bicycle and go for a ride. It was called the community bicycle because it belonged to no one in particular. It happened to be in his possession that day so he was claiming it as his.

“Hey, watch this!” shouted Mike as he moved both of his feet up to the handlebars of the bike.

“Mike, where you going?” shouted Little Skip the moment he spotted Mike riding the bike.

“Just riding around.”

“You going down by the store?”

“I can.”

“Give me a ride to the store. Will you?”

“Sure, get on the handle bars.”

As Mike started down the incline that led out of the trailer park, he discovered there were no brakes on the bike.

He saw a flash of an oncoming car.

He shoved Little Skip off the handlebars into the bushes along side of the road.

He hoped with Little Skip’s added weight off the bicycle that he could race through the intersection without a problem.

The impact of the bike hitting the back of the yellow car threw Mike several feet into the air where he hit against the roofed cover of the gasoline pumps in front of the little store at the bottom of the hill.

Mike slammed into the pavement.

He knew nothing for days. He was in a coma and many who had seen him had little hope that he would wake up.

When he surfaced from the coma three days later, he was angry. Why he was angry, he had no idea, nevertheless, he was angry.

“Mike, do you know where you are?”

“No, well, maybe a hospital,” he answered as he clutched at the thin white sheet covering his body.

“Where do we live?”

Anger raged in his eyes.

“Where do we live, Mike?”

“In Twin Valley, in Ohio. Where do you think?”

“No, Baby, we live in Virginia. We have been living in Virginia for two years.”

Mike turned his face from his mother. He wanted to see her or talk to her no more. She was the reason he was here, in this bed, in this hospital. Wasn’t she?

He reached up to touch his head. His hair was gone. He beautiful long dark brown hair was shaved completely off the top and each side of his head.

What had she done to him?

Linda remembered gazing at Mike taking in the outward signs of the damage that had been done which included a skull fracture; she had mixed feelings about her precious eldest son finding his way back home from the bitter darkness of a coma. She was worried about the fact that Mike might not be the same Mike that had dived into the depths of that coma. If he wasn’t the same Mike, her son Mike before the accident, she wasn’t sure she wanted him to surface from the coma.

She reasoned that the loss of memory wasn’t too bad. It was about two years from what she could see. They could get passed that. With her help and the aid of his stepfather, brother, and grandmother, they could fill him in on what he had forgotten.

Mike lay on his bed wondering why he was there. What was wrong? He hadn’t done anything that would require him to be hospitalized. Did he?

He wanted to go home. He wanted to see to his papaw. He needed to talk to his papaw to find out what was happening.

He pushed his sheet back and started to climb out of his bed.

It was so high. Why was it so high? The floor was so very far away. There were bars, rails, blocking his need to get up. He would climb over them.

“Mike, lay down. You have a broken leg, Mike. Please lay down……..Nurse!” Linda screamed as she tried to gently shove her son off the bed rails.

“I’ve got to go home. I want to see papaw.”

“Papaw’s not at home. Papaw’s dead.”

“I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to see papaw. He’s not dead. I’ve got to see him.”

His broken leg was flopping as it dangled over the bed rail.

Linda was afraid to touch the leg. He had already suffered so much. She couldn’t bear the thought that she could cause him even more pain. The doctors had not set the leg yet because they were waiting for the swelling to go down.

“Nurse! Help me!”

Linda had no idea how she was going to convince Mike that her father, his grandfather, had died during those two years that had vanished from his mind.

Mike developed a blood clot inside the front portion of his skull. The added pressure of the blood clot was making him harder to handle. The doctor directed the nurses to strap him down to the bed.

The doctor explained what was happening with Mike the best that he could.

“The area of the brain that Mike damaged causes aggression. He will strike out at those who are closest to him. We will try to dissolve the blood clot with medication. He should heal with, hopefully, only a small amount of residual damaged. Healing takes time. It could happen next week, next month, next year, or five years from now.”

“Five years?” Linda questioned.

“Yes, more than likely it will be you that he blames but he could also blame his brother and every one else in the family.”

“Why? We didn’t do this to him. He shouldn’t have been riding that bike without brakes down that hill into on coming traffic. He did it, doctor. We weren’t even there.”

“That’s the problem, I would guess. You weren’t there to stop him.”

“He’s fifteen years old. My mother was home and my husband and I were working. He wasn’t alone. He was actually still in the mobile home park. It wasn’t our fault.”

“I’m not blaming you. Mike will blame you. You didn’t do anything wrong. He is old enough to know that he shouldn’t have been in that place at that time on that bike.”

“What will happen now?”

“Time needs to pass. He needs to heal.”

Linda could see that Mike wasn’t the same Mike he was before the accident. He had changed into a mean, ugly teenager for whom she could do nothing right. He lashed out at her and his brother with all of the hatred that consumed him.

“I hate you. You paid that woman in the yellow car to hit me. How much did it cost you?”

After he tired of slinging angry words at his mother, he would start on his brother.

“This should have happened to you. You’ll get yours. I’ll make sure you don’t live through it, little brother.”

His aggression towards them was so bad Linda sought help from a psychologist specializing in childhood trauma. The psychologist placed him on a mind control drug along with Phenobarbital.

Mike attempted suicide leaving a note saying that his head bothered him and the voices told him that he had to do something.

Linda was again standing watch over her son wondering if he should live or die. She knew Mike wanted to die. She also knew that Mike hated her for trying to save him.

Mike woke up.

He tried to return to school but was so paranoid about what others thought about him and his memory loss that he was placed on homebound teaching. He struggled with his memory daily. He could read his assigned homework and by the next morning it was gone.

“I can’t remember anything. How can I go to school when I can’t remember anything? They laugh at me. I see them laughing at me all the time. I can’t stand that.”

He had no recollection of ever having picked up the textbook. He could not pass a test because he couldn’t remember having read the assignment.

His homebound teacher would allow Mike to read his assignment and then test him immediately. That was the only way Mike was going to be able to get through school.

“Where are my tapes?” Mike screamed.

“You loaned a whole bag of them to Brian.”

“No I didn’t. I don’t loan my tapes to anybody.”

“You did, Mike. He walked out of your bedroom with a bag filled with tapes.”

Mike’s friends took advantage of him. They borrowed things from him and then denied ever having the items when Mike wanted the items returned. Mike really couldn’t remember if he had loaned them to his friends or not.

His paranoia led to a belief that his best friend, Ronnie, was going to kill him when he reached the age of eighteen. Ronnie told Mike that he had impregnated his sister and that he was the father of the baby she was carrying.

“Ronnie said I’m the father of Tessa’s baby.”

“What do you think?” Linda asked her worried son.

“I can’t remember. I have to believe him.”

“When did this happen?”

“About a month after I got out of the hospital.”

“It couldn’t have happened then. If it did, you aren’t the father. You had a cast on your leg that ran from covering your foot up to your hip. You couldn’t have done it, Mike. They’re lying to you. They must think you’re going to be getting some insurance money and they want some of it. They’ll be truly disappointed to find out that what little money you’re getting will be put in a trust fund and doled at to you at two hundred dollars a month for ten years.”

His girlfriend dumped him. He almost didn’t make it through that crisis without permanent damage.

Mike graduated from high school and Linda and family were as proud of him as was humanly possible.

Linda had been advised to apply for Social Security Disability for Mike so that he would never have to face a working situation. She couldn’t do that to Mike.

He found a job with a steakhouse with the help of the Department of Rehabilitative Services. That job led to another one at Food Lion.

Almost five years to the day, Linda discovered that she was no longer afraid of her son. She wasn’t afraid that he would get up in the middle of the night and try to kill her or his brother. He had tried on a couple of occasions to go after his brother but Linda, a light and worried sleeper, caught him as he was searching for the butcher knife.

She wasn’t afraid anymore.

It was a courageous struggle for Mike to survive and return almost completely to the Mike he once was.

He was a full time employee at that Food Lion, a job he has held for seventeen years. He is now a coal miner and that was totally his choice of occupation. Regardless of where he earns his living, Linda will be happy with his choice.

Linda is glad her son has the opportunity to choose his way of life and especially glad that Mike had the courage to live.

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