When John and i visited Adam, something happened on our last morning that i wanted to write about. But i couldn't.
I was prepared for Adam to die in Afghanistan. I understood the possibility. I was doing my best to be ready, just in case. I wasn't being morbid about it or anything, but i knew that this was what he wanted to do with his life, that this was his calling, and since we all have to go sometime, why not go doing what you were meant to do? I was okay with it.
I was prepared for Adam to live, and come back with severe trauma. I was prepared for depression, for PTSD, for him to feel directionless and confused and disconnected. I was prepared for him to need lots of therapy before he could really adjust to civilian life again.
I was not prepared for him to be broken. I was not prepared for him to be injured almost to the point of death. I was not prepared for cognitive damage. I was not prepared for my brother to be anyone other than who he always was at the core.
I think he would rather be dead than be handicapped in any way. I don't want to denigrate those who have lived happy and fulfilled lives in wheelchairs or otherwise inhibited physically, but my brother lived nearly twenty years with fully functioning limbs, and he defined much of his personality by his physical health. He was active and athletic. He loved to play sports, to run, to compete and fight. I don't know how he will cope with limited movement. I don't know how he will cope with pain, with physical rehabilitation, with learning to use a prosthetic limb.
And for a long time, we didn't know what his cognitive function would be. Between the drugs and the brain injury, it was hard to tell how much of his confusion was something that would go away in time and how much was permanent damage. I didn't know if my brother would ever really be returned to me.
As i was preparing to leave on my last morning, my sister Ruth texted to ask if i wanted to talk to Adam before i left. He was pretty lucid on the phone; he tends to be clearest when he first wakes up.
Honestly, this conversation was harder than the ones when he was less lucid. When he was speaking in Chinese, when he was convinced that he was pregnant, or when he didn't recognize me, it was obvious that things were not okay. It was obvious that he was confused, and we were able to laugh a little at him. We could draw a clear circle around those moments and say, 'Here is the confusion,' and that made it easier to think that, aside from those moments, he was fine. But on the phone that morning, he was so ragged around the edges. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on in his head. I couldn't draw clear lines.
He asked if he could come visit me in Quincy, and i said, "Not yet. But soon." I promised to be back to visit again before long.
"Why would you want to do that?" he asked me. "Why would you want to come here? I don't even want to be here."
"Yeah, i don't really want to either. But you're here, and i want to see you."
"I'll just come up there."
"You can't, bud. Not for a while."
"I could if I wanted to," he muttered. My trademark stubbornness may or may not be shared by some or all of my siblings.
"You'll be out of here soon," i lied.
"Maybe. Sometimes I don't really know what is real. Is this real?"
I held back tears. "Yeah, bud. This is real."
"Are you sure?"
Painfully certain. "Yeah. It's real. But it will be over soon."
"Hey, i have to go now. We have to catch a bus."
"Okay. I'll talk to you later."
What do you do with someone who knows that they are uncertain? He was aware that he didn't know what was real. How does he cope with that? How do i cope with seeing it? How do i find my brother inside of the shreds of his mind? Will he be the same person after all of this is over?
We're still answering some of these questions. But now, Adam is helping us. He is almost always clear on the lines between reality and dreams. He is almost always aware of what is happening and where he is. He is almost completely himself. Almost.
On February 29, 2012 (Leap Day, ironically), Adam's left leg was amputated, which is the first step toward being fitted with a prosthetic.