Love You Hard: A Memoir of Marriage, Brain Injury, and Reinventing Love320
Love You Hard: A Memoir of Marriage, Brain Injury, and Reinventing Love320
When Abby Maslin's husband, TC, didn't make it home on August 18, 2012, she knew something was terribly wrong. Her fears were confirmed when she learned that her husband had been beaten by three men and left for dead mere blocks from home, all for his cell phone and debit card.
The days and months that followed were a grueling test of faith. As TC recovered from a severe traumatic brain injury that left him unable to speak and walk, Abby faced the challenge of caring for—and loving—a husband who now resembled a stranger.
Love You Hard is the raw, unflinchingly honest story of a young love left broken, and the resilience required to mend a life and remake a marriage. Told from the caregiver's perspective, this book is a daring exploration of true love: what it means to love beyond language, beyond abilities, and into the place that reveals who we really are.
At the heart of Abby and TC's unique and captivating story are the universal truths that bind us all. This is a tale of living and loving wholeheartedly, learning to heal after profound grief, and choosing joy in the wake of tragedy.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.20(d)|
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If a love story can be bigger than two people, if it can also consume the air those people breathe, the trees that produce the oxygen, and the city sidewalks traveled by the footsteps that merged two lives into one, it's fair to say that my love for TC is bigger than us both. It is, at the very least, as big as Washington, D.C., the city in which we've built our life together.
And this is where it begins: in the northeast section of the city, on the concrete stoop of our hundred-year-old redbrick apartment building, knees pulled to my chest, my fingers trembling around the pink silicone of my iPhone case. The phone I have just used to dial 911.
Or maybe this is where it ends. It doesn't matter anymore, really. Beginnings and endings are one and the same-harsh, unplanned delineations marking the passage of one life chapter to another. The Before. The After. And the giant, screaming gape between.
The midmorning sun warms my face as I look out at the Capitol Hill sidewalk just beyond our building's wrought iron fence. And even though it's Saturday, my attention turns to the corner, half expecting to see TC walking the last footsteps of his evening commute, his tanned face and warm brown eyes smiling outward from a sea of happy families and young professionals.
But he doesn't come.
Instead, I scratch at my ankles, willing the pesky mosquitoes to vacate the premises so that I can continue my rapid descent into shock without further bloodshed. However, in the grand tradition of sweltering mid-Atlantic summers, the mosquitoes show little consideration. They buzz about my bare calves, landing and biting every few seconds, ignoring my hand waves and persistent scratching. I suppose a woman in shock is no different from any other warm-blooded body they might choose to feed on.
The policeman who's responded to my call keeps his distance from me, maintaining his post on the sidewalk while he scribbles unknown notes on a tiny pad. I scratch at a fresh bite on my ankle as I watch him work. Is this a joke? I wonder. My husband is MISSING. What the hell is a single cop on a bicycle going to do about it?
The reality is that TC's been gone for only hours. Well, actually, I don't know how to calculate how long he's been missing. Does the countdown begin at midnight, when I discovered I was sleeping alone? Does it begin two hours earlier, when my worry dissolved into panic and the well of comforting rationalizations ran dry? Or does it begin last evening, at 6:30 p.m., when he kissed me on the cheek, smiling and excited to head out to the baseball game, as I fed the baby dinner and the door to our apartment swung shut behind him?
All I know of police is what I've learned from television and the small collection of speeding tickets I've acquired over the years. But this much seems to true: cops take you seriously only if you report a person missing after twenty-four hours. Maybe I should just be grateful to have this officer's attention at all. Maybe I'd be wise to listen to the part of my brain instructing me to quiet the screaming in my mind. After all, the last thing I need right now is to be labeled a "difficult" woman. Still, I feel compelled to convey my terror, the seriousness of the situation. I need this gentleman, this officer, to understand that my husband is not the type to go missing. I need him to feel the weight of my life in his hands.
He avoids my gaze and begins to ask me about TC.
"His name is Thomas Maslin," I explain, offering my husband's legal name, which I haven't used more than a handful of times in the three years since we stood in line at the St. Mary's County courthouse applying for our marriage license.
What was he wearing? I try to conjure an image of TC last night, in the moments before he headed for the ball game with his younger brother. "He was wearing shorts, I think. Khaki, maybe. And a T-shirt. It's sort of a purplish color with a graphic that says Memphis."
The vision of my husband's shirt appears in my mind with perfect clarity, just as it did the first night of our meeting. His style has not changed much over these seven years; his closet remains full of twenty-five-cent shirts and frayed cotton shorts. TC is as stubbornly frugal now as he was at twenty-two, when he was fresh out of college and content to live on a single loaf of wheat bread and a jar of crunchy peanut butter every week.
"And what about his footwear?"
I pause, taking a breath to visualize the four pairs of shoes that sit in a dark pile at the bottom of my husband's small, messy closet. "I believe he was wearing flip-flops."
As I speak, my mouth twists in an involuntary half smile. TC's brown sandals are the quintessential example of his low-key personality. He is oblivious to the fraying leather and the deep blackened grooves made by his feet. The flip-flops are well loved, much in the same way I might describe one of our son Jack's ratty stuffed animals: utilized to the point of deterioration.
It is all part of TC's larger life philosophy. He clings to the simplicity that marked his early life as if upgrading his lifestyle might threaten his very livelihood. The suggestion of glass ceilings and climbing the ranks, designer suits and name-brand anything, repels him. In a city like Washington, where too many people are mostly interested in who you know and what you can do for them, TC is determined not to stray from his humble roots. It doesn't matter that in many ways, he's just like them: an overachiever with an impressive career trajectory and a windowed office overlooking Dupont Circle. In his mind, he is, and will always be, just TC Maslin. Helping his mother scrub church floors on Saturday mornings. Catching toads in a backwoods creek in the mountains of West Virginia.
The policeman continues to prompt me for more answers. "And what was he doing last night? When was the last time you spoke to him?"
"When he left for the Nationals game. With his brother, Sean." I think back to TC's good-night call at around 10:30 p.m. and the empty side of the bed that was even more alarming at 7:00 a.m. than it had been at midnight. The white duvet laid flat in the morning light, still tucked under the corners of the mattress; his pillow was free of any indentation.
This is normal, I told myself, even as a feeling of unease began to take hold in my belly, and my thoughts flitted briefly toward darker explanations. TC's absence was unusual but not an immediate cause for alarm. I assuaged myself once more. Things like that can't happen to you.
But as I sit, scratching my ankles, tying and retying my sneakers in an attempt to distract my hysterical fingers, my lies lose oxygen under the crushing weight of an inevitable truth that will not be ignored.
My husband never came home. TC never came home.
As I hold myself steady on the concrete stoop, I fight back tears. If I stand, I will fall. If I rise, I have nowhere to go. So I sit, praying for some logical answer, some explanation to assure me I have not stepped into a nightmare-that the reality and safety I've always depended on will return momentarily.
Our life is ordinary. It is of the utmost importance that I convince the officer of this underlying fact, as if our ordinariness is somehow the Get Out of Jail Free pass that will allow everyone to dismiss the situation as one giant misunderstanding. There is an infinite number of small details I could share to help prove this point, but I don't know where to begin.
I could explain that I'm Abby Sullivan Maslin, a fourth-grade teacher at a D.C. public school, ten blocks west of here. Daughter of Marty and Kate, sister to Bethany. Still defiantly attached to my maiden name, having since adopted it as my middle one. Or that I grew up all over, New York to Arizona to Maryland, the flexible existence of a museum director's child. I could give a history of how I came to live on the Hill, all the jobs I tried out before finally finding a home in my elementary school classroom. Or I could explain that my thirtieth birthday was ten days ago, an occasion for which my husband took me out for sangria and tacos-a milestone I actually looked forward to, having never forgotten my mother's promise to me many years ago. Of all the decades, your thirties are the best, she insisted. These were the words I clung to during the tumultuous ride of being a twentysomething, and as I'd blown out the candles, I felt ready for my magical decade to arrive.
I could say just as many things about TC. I could explain that we've been a couple since the first day we met. And that in those seven years, we've had three major fights: two about where to live, and one about money. I could explain that the worst thing about my husband is how annoyingly easy everything in life comes to him. That he seems to have been born under two competing stars: the one that destined him to a childhood of rural poverty and the one that ensured he'd be victorious in every attempt to escape it.
It might behoove me also to explain that he is a workaholic, a quality not reserved just for his career. Most days he doesn't seem to be able to sit still. If there's a dirty dish or an unmade bed or an electric bill somewhere waiting to be paid, TC is on the job before I can blink, a quality that has a twofold effect. One, it's made me quite lazy. And two, it makes me feel ever so guilty for those hours in which I long to collapse in a Real Housewives of New York City marathon.
But I should probably start here: by explaining how excited TC was to go to the baseball game last night. The Nationals were playing the Mets, and they were giving away retro caps, which TC wanted to be there early to claim. Beyond that, it was his first time spending time with friends in longer than I can remember. He'd nearly backed out a few days earlier, plagued by the guilt of being away from Jack.
"That's ridiculous," I told him. "Your son is nearly two. You don't need to be at home every single night."
But it was pointless to argue. I'd watched the way fatherhood had changed my husband, had brought up all the questions and traumas of his own childhood. After Jack's birth, TC developed a renewed interest in his own biological father, the one he hasn't seen since he was ten.
"Maybe I'll drive out to West Virginia and try to find him," he remarked offhandedly throughout the summer, exploring the idea aloud.
I bit my tongue. There was no right response. From my perspective, TC's interest made no sense. He'd been fine without his biological father for all these years. Better than fine. Yes, things had been hard at first in those days after his mother took the boys and left. They had no money, no immediate place to stay.
But eventually, Ruth remarried and life began to settle again. And during that time-those two decades that separate TC's last memory of sipping root beer on a barstool beside his dad-his father has reached out only a handful of times, in the form of a handwritten letter.
I hoped it would pass, my husband's existential need to reconcile the past. There was so much to be grateful for in this very moment; I hated the idea of TC being too preoccupied to enjoy it. For instance, he'd just gotten the big job offer from a competing firm in New York. And as if that weren't enough, his current company had fought to keep him, offering a generous promotion that would root us in Washington. TC was a rising star in the renewable-energy field, even if he was too modest to admit it.
I'd never met anyone who learned things as quickly as my husband. From the way he'd taught himself to play the guitar as a punky middle school kid, to the way he'd pushed himself at Duke while he was studying for his master's, the drive and focus TC dedicated to learning something new was a jolt to my aimlessness. For although I'd been a bright and ambitious kid, young adulthood had zapped much of my natural curiosity and ambition. They had disappeared, somewhere in that space between self-awareness and self-criticism, where dreams go to die. Maybe this experience is a by-product of growing up. Or growing up female. In any case, TC somehow managed to avoid the loss.
I ponder these disparate memories, struck for a moment by the possibility that I could be wrong about something. Perhaps missing some vital clue that would explain why my otherwise reliable husband failed to crawl into bed with me last night by midnight as promised.
What if TC drank too much? Not just enough that he passed out on a friend's couch (which is what I'm still holding out hope has happened), but enough that he's made some deeply regrettable mistake. What if he's with another woman? I force myself to imagine it for a moment: TC tucked under the thin sheet of someone else's warm bed, his long, tanned legs intertwined with the limbs of someone who is not me.
But it's impossible. I know my husband. That's probably the line all women say just before making the shocking discovery of their spouse's infidelity, but I know. Know in my gut.
And so I tell the officer this instead: I tell him about yesterday. The day TC went missing.
Yesterday morning-Friday-he woke up early to go running. With characteristic discipline, TC set his alarm for 6:00 a.m. and left the apartment before sunrise. I woke up only after he returned, as he stood sweaty and breathless in our tiny bathroom, preparing to take a shower.
"How far did ya go?" I asked, standing on my toes to kiss him on the cheek as his mouth overflowed with toothpaste foam.
He bent over the sink to spit. "Down to the Tidal Basin and back," he replied. "I don't know how far that is. Maybe seven or eight miles?"