21 Again

I just turned 21 again, in a fashion.  Today is Homecoming for my high school.  On Homecoming Day, 1990, something happened that had a major impact on my life.  Literally and figuratively.  Only two other events have played a larger role in shaping who I am.

I was in 8th grade.  We had been let out of school after a half day, so we could celebrate Homecoming.  The parade route went right past the end of my street, so my mom and sister had gone to the end of the street to watch.  I, like many of my schoolmates, was riding my bike around the neighborhood while we waited for the parade to go by.  Something someone said to me got me upset, so I decided to burn off my anger by riding as fast as I could.  The way my sub was set up, there was a very convenient loop, with a gradual rise with a sharper drop, with the parade route only about 50 feet from the end of the loop.  Riding a ten-speed, I was able to really build up some speed.  Until I decided to go as fast as I could going down that hill.

I realized my mistake as I made the turn at the end of the loop nearest the parade, which had just started passing by.  To be more precise, as I tried to make that turn.  I was going too fast, and couldn’t make the turn.  And for the second time in my life, the handbrakes on my bike failed as I braked too hard.  Which left me a choice: I could hit the parked car, or I could hit the oak( or was it a maple?) tree that was about 3 feet in diameter.  I choose the car, as it was less solid and frankly, less vertical.  Which wasn’t that bad a choice, as it turns out: I didn’t hit the car.  My bike wrapped itself around the bumper, sure, but I sailed over the car and landed on my chin, knocked unconscious.

Fortunately, the ambulance was just a block away, part of the parade.  So it turned at my street rather than continue in the parade.  (I later got a nice card from the fire department, apologizing for not being there – they had already passed my street).  A neighbor saw my mom, and said she’d take care of my sister so she could go to my side.  When I came to several hours later, I had total amnesia.  I didn’t even recognize my name or my mother’s voice.  Over the course of the next eight hours, I regained memories chronologically.  Not many, but it was definitely in a chronological order, and I acted like I had at that age.  My first memory is of the doctor asking what month it was.  I was only off by about a month at that point.

When I returned to classes the next Monday, I learned what it was like to be an idiot savant.  My first academic class was a math class, Algebra if I recall correctly (I was on an advanced math track, in any case).  The teacher had me do some problems.  It was weird – I had no idea what these strange symbols meant, but I knew the correct symbol to write and the correct spot to write them.  By the end of the week, I regained my knowledge of what letters and numbers represented.  I had other problems those first days back.  I used to have beautiful handwriting, but I struggled to print even simple sentences.  Speaking was a problem as well.  I could partially visualize the words I wanted, but getting them out of my mouth was nearly impossible, and very frustrating.

I have never fully recovered.  Most of my memories never came back, and I have trouble retaining new ones.  My time sense is skewed, and time passes for me almost as if I were thirteen years younger.  While I am very good with math, I don’t remember how I learned to do anything before Algebra – I can do it with ease, but the basic underlying theory is just not there.  Speech and language was a major problem for many years, though I am much better now than even 14 years ago, when I met my wife, and to this day I will often struggle to properly form words (for example, saying cut instead of cot – I even know that I’m doing it).  Learning a foreign language is likely an impossibility at this point.  I have trouble parsing what I hear – often I have to ask people to repeat themselves be causeI matchedthe pho nemesincor rectly.  And most pertinent to this blog, writing is like wading through molasses.  A paragraph takes half an hour to write.  A report for work can take a day or more, where someone else would get it done in an hour at most.  One of the reasons I keep trying to keep the blog going is in hopes that by forcing myself to write, I will get past the block the damage created.  And it has worked to some extent already.

And that, while true, is only part of the story, the part that I tell people.  Read on for the rest of the story.

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New Glory

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

Tonight, I did something I haven’t done in 15 years.  I stood up, placed my right hand over my heart, and sang all the lyrics to the first verse of the National Anthem.

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

It was 1996, and my country had just done something despicable.  How could I proclaim pride in the symbol of my country and look myself in the mirror?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,

After a long, bitter fight, liberals caved to social conservatives hatred of homosexuals.

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

The result?  First, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in late 1993, and then the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, twin beacons of bigotry.

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Since the National Anthem is about a military engagement, I choose it for my protest of DADT.

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

I choose a silent protest, in honor of the soldiers forced into silence.  Though silent, they were still there, protecting my freedom even though their own freedom had been denied.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

But we never gave up fighting for their freedom, and on September 20th, 2011, DADT was finally repealed.

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

So tonight, I can proudly honor the symbol of our country, now that the brave are finally free.

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