It’s another beautiful day, the sun is shining and spring is in the air. It is moments like these where I am able to reflect and remind myself of how great my life has turned out, given all the twists and turns I overcame.
Every now and then, I still struggle to cope with understanding why this happened to me and still wondering why I was given this burden to bear. Deep down, I know the answer, but it’s easy to forget and still wonder. So, I take a deep breath to collect myself and think of all the positives I have going in my life, and the one constant is Ashley.
A couple of years ago, Ashley wrote that she is the luckiest, but I have to correct her – I am. Our story is unlike anything I have ever heard; we’ve overcome things that most ordinary couples would not get through. I’ll never forget the first time we met – it was the day I moved into my apartment in Rhode Island in 2007 and a group of us went to a local brewery, Coddington Brewing Company, and there she was. We established an immediate connection, talking about everything from who we are, our lives, undergrad and sports, because after all, she was a Boston fan and I a New York fan. She was, and still is, quiet and reserved, and is smart as a whip, but not braggadocios. We became fast friends, relying on each other for support through the rigors of year one. We were each too afraid of taking things to the next level in fear of screwing something good up and being on our own. However, that following summer, I decided it was worth the risk.
A month prior to my diagnosis, I took her to New York City to see Jersey Boys, followed by dinner in Times Square. Little did either of us know at the time, but this was the last day we spent together until she saw me laying in a hospital bed. When she walked into my room the day after surgery, I was fully aware of who she was and could hear every word that she spoke, but I physically and mentally could not respond.
In her apartment, she had a Build-A-Bear and I constantly teased her for bringing her stuffed animal to school, so she teased me back, telling me she was going to build me my own Build-A-Bear one day. Sure enough, the day that she came to visit me in the hospital, she walked in my room with the biggest grin on her face and carrying a box. Yes, it was a Build-A-Bear box and you can imagine what I was saying in my head! But this wasn’t just any bear – it was a Yankees build-a-bear and after teasing her about hers, I still have mine. However, I was purely elated that she came to visit and spend her day with me, knowing that I was a shell of the person she had just seen. It was in that hospital room that she met my extended family for the first time and despite having my grandmother tell her “I was going to get fat” if I continued to eat my pasta carbonara that my sister brought me, she stuck it out.
As she said goodbye to me that day, I was determined to get back to Rhode Island and was willing to do everything in my power to achieve this goal and rekindle our relationship. However, neither of us knew that two days later, I would suffer a blood clot in the brain and manifest the symptoms of a stroke while the machines I was attached to were beeping nonstop. My parents called my sister and brother immediately and told them to come to the hospital ASAP. Ashley, who was back in Rhode Island at the time, learned from a frantic phonecall from my sister that I was being rushed back into surgery. Fortunately for me, Ashley did not give up on me at that time, and never has. Instead, she encouraged me to keep fighting, keep smiling with that crooked smile and right sided facial droop. Of all the guys in the world, she continued to wait for me.
We exchanged emails, which took me hours to write, and phone calls, and though I continually repeated myself and could never make it past “What’s new?”, she never complained. The day after my shunt was inserted, she was the first person I called. I was finally able to talk in full sentences again, and I wanted her to be the first person to hear it. It was not long at all after that surgery that I made a trip to Rhode Island to visit her and we spent that weekend laughing and crying together – it was all too surreal. And though I returned home to Connecticut later that weekend, I was destined to return to law school to complete my degree and as you know, walk with my class at graduation. Now that school was complete though, new challenges were presented to us. But like everything up to that point, adversity was nothing new for us.
Fast forward to the summer of 2012 when I suffered two grand mal seizures, which required a change in my medications. I was not permitted to drive, but that didn’t not stop me from visiting Ashley. With a lift from a family member to the nearby bus station, I took a Peter Pan bus up to South Station in Boston where I was greeted with a smile and a hug. Two days later, I would return to Hartford, only to repeat the cycle as often as our schedules allowed. Nothing was going to get in the way of our special connection and bond – we overcame obstacles and made sacrifices for one another.
Now, four years later, our bond continues to get stronger by the day. Though it was my parents who began this journey with me, I grew up a lot during the past eight years and fortunately, I now have Ashley as my primary caretaker. There are so many mornings where I call her to ask “I don’t remember, did I take my medicine this morning?” and she happily goes and looks for me. She consistently asks how I am feeling and knows how to comfort me when I am just down on my luck. She willingly comes along with me to my check ups and MRI appointments and never complains. I have seen marriages crumble over this diagnosis and fortunately for us, ours continues to get stronger and I owe a great deal of that to her.
So, to correct an earlier entry on this blog, I am the luckiest, not you Ash. Thanks for being you!