Excerpted from Part III, Chapter 2: Will the Real Debra Please Step Forward
Denney and I continued to spend time together, but our relationship was becoming increasingly strained, and one night
in late summer things came to a head.
“Denney, I just feel like as I get better, things between us are getting worse. It’s as if you don’t want me to rejoin the
“That’s not it, Debra. I’m just so…frustrated. I’m so…” Denney was struggling for words, and his agitation was evident. I
had never seen him like this before—this emphatic in his expression of emotion.
“You remember San Rafael Swell?” he continued. “When I couldn’t find the turn-off and you raged at me? Do you
remember that?” A fiery edge was barely reining in his words.
“You raged, Debra. I was stunned, speechless. To me, that was the beginning of the end.”
Storming into the house, I turned on him, livid. “Denney, you have no idea. You have no idea what it’s like being inside a
head I can’t even depend on anymore. It’s not like I have a choice in this, Denney. This is what I can do. This is all I can
do. You forget that I don’t have an endless cup of pennies anymore, Denney; and there were no pennies left in my cup
that day. None.”
Words were spewing out of me, fueled by a lethal cocktail of emotions that had remained bottled up far too long. My
emotions threatened to dissolve into tears that might wash away the anger, but which could leave nothing in its place
other than a mountain of pent-up fear.
“Debra, just…try to understand from my perspective, okay? I knew you only a few weeks before the accident. You were
vibrant and perceptive and alive and funny. That’s what I knew. I knew what I saw when you interacted with children, and I
knew what I saw on the few hikes we took.
Now you display these moods. It’s like you’ve erected an emotional moat that I can’t get across. I don’t know what to do
with that. Is this the real Debra—were you like this before the accident—or is this the TBI and something that will get
better? I don’t know how to tell, Debra. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do...”
Denney’s voice trailed off as he looked at me, and I felt a profound sadness accompany this understanding of what I
was causing him to experience. How could I explain that I am the real me, and yet, not the real me? That every
undesirable trait I have seems magnified a thousand times since the injury.
Magnified a thousand times and a million times harder to anticipate or inhibit.