Clear up and stop raining.
It was raining when I woke up at 7. Back to sleep. Was raining when I woke up at 8. Tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. At 9, went down to breakfast, hoping it would stop raining.
Was raining even harder at 9:30. Pouring. Sky was totally black. There were a couple of older guys sitting at the hotel’s bar/restaurant. For breakfast, they had red wine (lots of red wine) and croissants, and dipped their croissants into their red wine. Dipped my croissant into my coffee.
The guy at the hotel desk told me there would be storms all day, so told him I was staying another night.
None of this is surprising. I mean, come on, what a cliché: It’s June 13 and this is the 13th day of my epic bike trip. Maybe I’ll be lucky and some guy wearing an ice hockey mask and wielding a chain saw will jump out and kill me. And, to make this scenario even worse, there’s a black cat living in this hotel. He (or she) is quite friendly. Spent a lot of time today in the lobby, drinking tea, reading Lonesome Dove and writing in my journal. The cat kept me company.
He (or she) sure made me miss Penny.
BTW: Most French hotels have a cat or two. They’re friendly … and strut around like they own the place.
BTW: Chat is the French word for cat.
It’s 10:47PM and it’s been a long, boring day, saved only by Lonesome Dove and my new friend the cat. Already about halfway through the Dove, and it just keeps getting better and better. Evidently there’s a TV miniseries starring Robert Duvall as Gus and Tommy Lee Jones as Woodrow. Who knew? Will have to watch it when I get home … or figure out a way to stream it on my laptop over here.
Damn, that’s something Maddie was great at: figuring out the computer stuff. She was in charge of all our IT needs. I just don’t have the patience for this sort of stuff. Maddie does. Or did.
Guess now’s as good a time as any to try and figure out what the hell is going on with my life. A rainy day will do that to you. I know this French bike trip is my way of escaping everything that happened back home. Eventually, I’ll have to go back. But to what? There’s no Maddie. No job. No place to live. There’s nothing.
My life changed forever at 11:47AM on Sunday, April 20, 2014. Know the time because it’s in the police report. The guy was drunk, and high, on all sorts of drugs. At 11:47AM. On a Sunday morning.
Maddie and I were so excited about our bike trip to the Loire and had decided to get to work on getting Maddie pregnant when we got back home. Or maybe we’d get started in the Loire. That would be a cool story, about how our son/daughter was conceived in Blois/Amboise/Saumur.
“We can call him – or her – Chateau,” I suggested. “It works for a boy or a girl.”
“Maybe not,” Maddie said.
It was this abstract concept, something that happened to people a lot older than us. Certainly not to Maddie, who was 30 on April 20, 2014. She was kind and caring and loving and patient and beautiful and amazing. The kids at her school adored her. Everyone loved Maddie.
“We’re lucky,” Maddie would say from time to time, for no particular reason other than the fact that we were lucky to have found one another.
We were, we really were. I’m not saying we had some sort of storybook romance for the ages, like in The Princess Bride, and that our relationship was better, purer and more important than anyone else’s relationship. We had our share of problems from time to time, and arguments. And yeah, I could be stubborn and tended to pout after an argument, especially when I was wrong, which was usually the case. The thing was: We were totally happy and liked and loved each other and that’s a rare and beautiful thing. The plan was to spend a long, long time together and live happily ever after.
It’s a little more than a year later and I still don’t know the answer to this question. What I do know is death is no longer an abstract concept. It’s real. And it can happen in the blink of an eye without warning even if you’re in perfect health. One minute you have life figured out and you’re happy; the next minute your wife is dead and you’re lying next to her unconscious, ripped to shreds and barely alive.
Was busted up from head to toe, and the doctors kept telling me how lucky I was to be alive. This didn’t really sink in until months later. Guess I was too depressed about Maddie and in denial about how badly I’d been hurt. Plus, I was on a lot of really strong drugs and not thinking very clearly.
OK, here’s the list of my injuries, starting at the top:
The scalp lacerations, which I’ve already described.
Underneath the scalp lacerations, the fractured skull and TBI. Two fractures around my left eye: the orbital bones. Was lucky and didn’t need surgery to repair them. They were non-displaced. My chin/jaw didn’t break, but were totally black and blue … and numb. Could barely open my mouth for weeks. Think it was from the chin strap of my bike helmet.
“It looks like nerve damage,” one of my doctors said of the jaw thing. “It could take a year or more for the numbness to go away.”
It’s still numb.
Nerve damage is sort of like a TBI: The doctors all say it will take a year or two to get better, but they can’t say for sure how much better it will get.
Had so much bleeding/swelling in my head that they put some sort of drain in. Don’t remember it, but they told me about it later. Have a nice lump/scar where the drain was attached. And lots of other lumps and scars up there.
Collapsed lung (left one) and seven or eight broken ribs (left side). Because of this, and all the internal bleeding, was on a ventilator the first two days, and had a tube in the left side of my chest to drain out all the blood. Don’t remember the ventilator or chest tube, but have the scar on the left side of my chest as a reminder. Probably a good thing I was so out of it the first few days and don’t remember the ventilator. Would have been terrifying to wake up and be on a ventilator. Don’t like thinking about it.
Wasn’t exactly in a coma, just unconscious at first and then so out of it from the TBI, all the other injuries and all the drugs that I have no memory of the first few days.
My sister took a few pictures of me in the ICU, but haven’t been able to look at them. They’re evidently pretty graphic.
“You’ll need them when if you sue the bastard,” she said.
One of my friends, John, visited on Day 2. He was so shaken up by the way I looked that he had to leave. After like a minute. He told me later that he sat in his car in the parking lot and cried.
Had a broken left shoulder and shattered left elbow. They went in and fixed my shoulder and elbow while I was out of it, putting some sort of rod in my shoulder and a steel plate and a bunch of screws in my elbow. Can feel the plate and screws in my elbow. It’s uncomfortable, especially when I rest my elbow on a table. Feels like there’s something between the table and my elbow. Can pull the skin around my elbow tight and see the outline of the steel plate and the little rounds heads of the screws. Weird. Can get the plate removed if I want, now that the bone is healed, but I’m in no rush for another operation. Can’t feel the rod in my shoulder, but my shoulder makes clicking, grinding and crackling noises whenever I lift it over my head or rotate it in a circle.
It’s like that old joke: Hey Doc, it hurts when I go like this.
Doc: Then don’t go like that.
My neck got a pretty bad case of whiplash – and also makes clicking and grinding noises. Can you have whiplash anywhere other than your neck? Probably not. Used to think whiplash was a made-up thing that unscrupulous people claimed to suffer from in order to sue someone after a car crash. Trust me: whiplash is real. And it’s really, really painful. There are times, like for an hour or so, when my neck feels perfectly fine and normal. And then, it doesn’t. At first, could barely turn my head, which made driving difficult and probably dangerous. After lots of physical therapy and several massages, my neck’s range of motion is now pretty close to normal and it doesn’t hurt so much. Most of the time. Until it does. And, every once in a while, I get spasms in my neck and have to remain very, very still for several minutes to convince them to go away.
Compression fractures of three vertebrae in my lower back. Still don’t really understand what a compression fracture of the vertebrae is, but it’s supposed to be the least serious kind of broken vertebrae you can suffer. A broken back, wow, that’s scary. I had a broken back. Could have been paralyzed, or needed several operations to insert rods and all sorts of other stuff to put my back back together. Was lucky and it healed up on its own. It’s OK for the most part, but, from time to time, it acts up.
My entire left side, from under my armpit to my knee was one big multi- colored bruise, a case of road rash to end all cases of road rashes.
Do they call it rue rash over here in France? Rash de rue?
Had the broken left ankle. My right ankle was also bashed up pretty bad, but didn’t break. Both my ankles are still sore from time to time. Like when it rains! Or when I do a lot of walking.
Think that’s about it. It’s more than enough.
Rumors were flying around, and someone told me she heard I’d broken every bone in my body.
“No way. If I broke every bone, I’d be dead. It was only about 20.” “Only,” she said. “I don’t think only is the right word.”
“It could have been 30.”
Spent nine days in the hospital, seven days in a rehab place, then a week at Mom and Dad’s before I was able to go home to our condo and manage on my own. Was really hard to be back there, all alone, without Maddie. Her stuff was there, exactly as it had been on the morning we left for a bike ride. Kept thinking it was all a dream, a horrible, terrible nightmare, and Maddie would walk through the door any minute and everything would be back to normal.
On the bathroom sink was her Burt’s Bees ultimate care body lotion with all-day moisture and a Burt’s Bees Radiance facial cleanser with royal jelly. The first time I saw them, well, I just sort of sank down to the floor of the bathroom and couldn’t move for like half an hour. I’m not sure why these two tubes set me off, but they did. Actually, I know why: They reminded me of Maddie. Duh.
Think I cried at least once every day for the first month I was back home.
On the night table on Maddie’s side of the bed was a bottle of her Young Living Lavender essential oil. It’s supposed to relax you and help you sleep, and every night, Maddie would dole out two drops onto my left palm. I’d inhale the vapors and then rub the lavender on my feet. It had to be the left palm because “it’s closer to your heart.”
Brought a bottle here to France with me and, every night, rub two drops onto my feet.
Started physical therapy on July 8. Two grueling, exhausting and painful sessions a week. It helped. A lot.
Went back to work on August 4. Three days a week for a month, then four days a week for another month, then full-time in October. Was good to get out of the house and to be around people, especially my fellow reporters. But all the things I used to be able to do easily, like whacking out a breaking news story on deadline, or writing two or three articles in a day, were now stress-inducing tests of my stamina and resolve that by the end of the day left me battered and beaten and exhausted.
Spent the evenings and weekends in recovery mode, resting and trying to exercise and get my body and brain right. Rarely left the house and slowly began to sink deeper and deeper into my misery. People wanted to come visit or take me out to lunch or dinner, but I made excuses: I’m tired, I’m busy, have to go to physical therapy. My parents would come over most Sundays, and bring dinner with them. My sister made me come over to dinner at her place every couple of weeks. This was about the extent of my social life.
It’s been more than a year, and I’m still not fully recovered, body or brain.
Went on eight bike rides before I got here to France, a total of 214 miles. And yes, was totally nervous and scared about getting back on my bike (a new bike, of course, as my old one was as broken and battered as me) and riding on the road. What with all the cars. And minivans. And trucks. Any one of the people who flew by me could be drunk. Or texting. Or fiddling with their radio. Or not paying attention. Or could be one of those assholes who doesn’t think people should be allowed to ride bikes on the street, and has decided that it’s OK to ride by us really fast and really close because, well, we somehow deserve to be hit.
So, because I was so nervous about riding on the roads, did something that sounds kind of crazy, but might actually be brilliant. Bought one of those baby holders/carts that you attach to the back of your bike and pull your baby or little kid around in. Some people put their dogs in them. Have always noticed how cars/trucks slow down and give these baby carts a wide berth whenever they pass one – and then speed up whenever they pass an adult on a bike. It’s OK to drive too close to, speed by or even hit an adult on a bike. But hit a baby? No way, that’s barbaric and cruel and goes against every and all of the societal norms. And, to make the whole scenario more realistic, bought a life-size and life-like doll baby to put in my baby cart: A Paradise Galleries doll for $89.95. According to the website: “Renowned artist Michelle Fagan has created our little bundle of joy ‘Tall Dreams Ensemble’ with the heart-tugging realistic details of a real baby, from her delicate face, sweet and innocent brown eyes filled with love, down to her tiny toes and feet.”
Her toes really were kind of adorable … and sure enough, drivers slowed down and gave me an extra-wide berth when they passed. Felt sort of, kinda, almost safe. But still anxious and nervous.
Only got busted once. Was stopped at a red light. Someone on a bike pulled up next to me and looked in the back of my baby cart.
“Cute baby,” he said, smiling.
“I know, she never cries. Sometimes I forget she’s here.”
Was tempted to get a baby cart over here in France, and still might.
Could put my panniers in it. Have seen two people doing this. But don’t think I need one over here. All the French drivers treat you as if you were towing a baby cart – with a real baby in it – behind your bike. They’re so damn respectful of cyclists and pass so darn safely. Feel comfortable riding over here. Thank you France.
BTW: Didn’t (couldn’t) ride by the spot where the murderer hit us. Haven’t been able to drive by it in my car either. One day. Maybe. Then again, probably not.
People (Mom and Dad, my sister, and the two or three other people I told) thought I was nuts to go on this bike trip, and tried to talk me out of it.
“You’re not ready,” they all told me. “Maybe next year.”
Jeff was the only one who understood. “Do it, you have to do it, what the hell do you have here?” he said.
He was right. It’s not like I had a job, a place to live, or Maddie. This was the perfect time to go. Needed to get away. Needed to do something. Needed a change.
And the hell with that murdering bastard who took Maddie from me. Fell in love with cycling back when Uncle Steve took me on our first trip, and I’m not going to let the murdering bastard take this away from me too. Screw him; I’m doing it. I’m going to France and bike, just like Maddie and I planned. Well, not exactly like we planned. But close enough.
And I’m glad I did.
Starting to feel stronger, a little bit more like my old cycling self. There are times, when I’m on a quiet road with no traffic and the scenery is beautiful, that I forget – for a few minutes or so – that Maddie was murdered and that my head and brain hurt.
And then I remember.
Was always the one thinking ahead to what’s next, where we had to be and how we were going to get there. Think that’s from being a newspaper reporter, or maybe I was already that way and it’s why I became a newspaper reporter. Maddie was the one to say: “Marc, take a breath and relax and enjoy the moment. Be present. Be here, with me, now.”
She was right.
So, for Maddie, I’ve been trying to be here and now on this bike trip. But the “with me” part is gone.
I’m trying Maddie, I’m really, really trying. But it’s hard without you. Really, really hard.