Let me set the scene –
It’s January 2019, I am in Daytona at my dad’s house because this starts my first month of being based in Orlando – I have broken up with Clinton (although we still talk daily & have planned for him to visit me for a date in Orlando), I am buying a home in Ormond Beach (that I ended up not buying), and it is my LAST month on reserve before having my very first line at work (redeye turns to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico).
My phone vibrates with a photo and video from Clinton of the project he’s working on after hours for/at work – see, he was working for a company that does bathroom renovations & they wanted a promotional piece for home shows, booths, etc – they’ve finished it. It hasn’t been painted yet but it’s running – the bathtub go-kart. Yes. BATHTUB. GO-KART. It is literally the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen in my life. I mean, it’s cool & quirky & weird but it is totally ridiculous. I have actually had people ask me if he makes these for a living and can they buy one? Anyways, I shoot off a text back to him that says “Nice! Ride it!” and wait for a response. I never got one. Since we weren’t really dating anymore, the lack of response didn’t surprise me. I figured he WAS test driving it then I knew he planned to go to a car show that night with our friend Miguel so I just assumed that explained the silence.
A few hours later I am about to lay down & my phone lights up with a Facebook message – this is weird because I had deactivated my Facebook about 5 months ago at this point, so I grab it & see that it’s from Julie, his step mom, whom I haven’t talked to in months –
“Call me ASAP. Clint got hurt”
My stomach lurched & I click the number she sent to call her immediately. She tells me that he’s crashed the bathtub go-kart, he is unconscious/unresponsive, and that she doesn’t know everything but will call me back when she does. She tells me he is in St. Mary’s Trauma Center in West Palm & to get there ASAP.
Ya’ll I have so much anxiety as I type this stuff out right now – my hands are cold, my stomach hurts. I hate this time period of my/our life.
Anyways, I scramble around throwing on my dirty clothes from that day & run out into the living room telling my dad “I gotta go! Clint crashed the go-kart! I gotta go to West Palm Beach!” – my dad is as dumbstruck as I was for a minute then starts saying he’ll go with me but I truly have no idea how long I’ll be there because I don’t really know everything that is wrong so I tell him to stay & I’ll be fine. In my mind he probably only knocked himself out & maybe broke a rib or something.
On my way to West Palm I’m doing a lot of praying & my phone rings, it’s Julie with an update – “honey he has swelling in his brain so they had to cut a piece of skull out to relieve it…he has multiple breaks in his face…bruised lungs…broken ribs…broke his femur in multiple pieces…” and suddenly, shit just got very real. All this from a go-kart? He loves those things! He loves speed & adrenaline & building things…he is GOOD at stuff like that.
Eventually I reach the hospital and I pull into some familiar faces & some not so familiar faces & my stomach lurches more. I park & get out & am waiting on one of these faces to approach me but they don’t…instead Brandy comes up to me & I’m so thankful it’s her and not one of these other people. I know Brandy & I like Brandy so seeing her is comforting. She engulfs me in a long hug & tells me she’s happy I’m here & we walk in together. Once I’m inside my head is spinning & my stomach is so upset & I’m hearing & seeing so much that I don’t want to hear & see. Brandy, Ash, Miguel, & I go into his room to see him & there he is – naked & covered by a gown, bloody, swollen, purple, head wrapped in gauze, tubes everywhere. It’s really something & I’ve never seen a person after a severe accident aside from in the movies. For a split second my dramatic ass believes I may pass out because it was just too much all at once. Miguel grabbed me a chair and slid it under me…I didn’t pass out. Finally, someone told me that Boyde had been asking about me so I went outside to sit with him for a bit. Everyone started deciding where they were going to go for the night – Miguel offered his house & Brandy & Ash said I could go home with them. I decided on Brandy & Ash, then Miguel changed it up & said he thought I should stay at the hospital. That was both shocking and flattering to me – Boyde said it was okay if I did. At that point, it felt like I had a weird new responsibility. I WOULD stay at that hospital & I WOULD be the best hospital stayer there ever was! I would NOT let Boyde down! So. Everyone scattered and I went back into the trauma center and sat in his room. At this point it’s about 2 AM. If we’re being totally transparent here, I had taken a melatonin back in Daytona when I thought I was going to bed although that feels like forever ago at this point & the adrenaline had fought most of that off, but I was officially exhausted and was going to be needing some sleep soon. Sometime closer to 3 AM, I told his nurse I’m going to bed & I’ll be out in my car – she lets me know that the hospital is in a bad neighborhood and to definitely NOT sleep in my car. She goes and gets me a stack of sheets and a pillow so I can sleep in the lobby of the trauma center. She also informs me that at 3:30 she’s reducing his sedation medicine in an attempt to wake him up if I’d like to stick around for a little bit! It didn’t seem like him waking up at that time would be possible but it was an exciting idea at the same time so I stuck around & we waited a bit…I watch as the levels of the sedation medicine drop on the monitors & she begins to call his name a few minutes later. Nothing. She pokes, prods, & eventually asks me to try calling his name…nothing. We have nothing. And we would continue to have nothing for 13 days.
Over the next 13+ days, it would be just the biggest shit show of just…everything. There was the possibility he was having seizures but ended up being a reaction to his meds. Brandy messaged me one day while I was at work saying he needed blood. They put a rod in his leg. He received a pick line, a GI tube, and was put on a ventilator. The emotions ran wild man, the fuckin’ emotions. Not even just mine but his family’s and his friends. Some needed to know how rent would be paid. His family moved him out of our old apartment while I was at work one weekend. We stayed in hotels I booked using my airline discounts & eventually Boyde would rent a spot on a campground & bring his camper. I kinda went back and forth between the camper & our friend Kristen’s ,whom I made amends with that sadly, I was a horrible friend to at times but luckily for me, she is clearly much better at friendship & stayed kind to me when it was truly appreciated. It was a weird time during those days – one time I messed up the hotel reservation & wasn’t even supposed to be staying there & ended up having to share a bed with Boyde. It was definitely awkward but honestly we were so exhausted from everything we retired to our individual sides & didn’t dare budge. I love Boyde, he’s my extra dad at this point, but that was the most uncomfortable I think I’ve ever been. Oh, Brandy & I shared a freakin’ tent once. A TENT. We sat outside & drank Jameson out of coffee mugs around a campfire & making fun of the oddball campground neighbor who’d come try to holla (“Look sir. Her husband is a pilot. My man is unconscious. Please don’t make me go get Boyde!”). Kristen and I had Galentine’s Day that resulted in 2 bottles of wine & both of us crying until she finally was just like “we need to just go to bed” – a few days later Brandy & I attempted a Galentine’s Day ourselves (I adore Valentine’s Day…it’s one of my favorites) & the same damn thing happened. There I was sitting outside around a campfire, giant glass of wine, and a face mask on…crying. I cried a lot…over everything…to anyone…at least once a day. I truly could not control my emotions. Piled on top of this was when February came around, so did those red eye turns to Puerto Rico. The actual flights were easy peasy – Puerto Ricans are wonderful people & red eyes mean that everyone is sleeping – except us flight attendants. The lack of sleep from working red eyes really ran it’s toll on me & so that didn’t help at all. I could barely make the drive to WPB without stopping at a rest area or a parking lot and just nap. Hell, I couldn’t even make it back to Daytona without stopping at the lone rest area on I-4 and sleeping in my car some mornings. I would talk to his friend Dustin every single morning like clockwork to help me stay awake on the drive home & if anyone knows the struggle, it’s that man. He helped ease me into participating in life many times. It was just fucking hard. And that was just on me – I at least still worked & was able to have breaks. His family certainly didn’t have that luxury.
One of the biggest causes of stress & worry (aside from the obvious like his health & well-being) was that I was worried that I shouldn’t even be there. Yes, PEOPLE wanted me there but what if HE didn’t? We had only dated just shy of a year but we had lived together most of that time & I think that extra layer of closeness got to me. However, I was convinced he would just look at me one day when he really came to and would be like “okay well Autumn this has been really nice of you but did I ask you for any of this?” – I was worried that I looked like a sad, crazy, clingy, and DESPERATE woman over the fact that I didn’t go home at all and I thought many times (MANY) that maybe I should just leave & stop coming around. No one could reassure me of anything different, even though everyone tried. Finally it all boiled down to this – if when he woke up & I was no longer welcome, that would hurt, yes, and I would stop visiting, but at least I did good things for someone I loved very much. Good karma/broken heart. Tough pill to swallow.
However, he DID wake up. And he DID want me there, so my fears started to be alleviated. The day he truly started to wake up, I had to go back to work. I went in the room & told him I loved him but I had to leave & go to work – he definitely didn’t understand me because he wrinkled his face up & looked confused. I had made it up to Port St Lucie & Kristen texted me saying “we think he’s asking for you” – mind you, he couldn’t really talk with all the new additions to his throat/neck. I asked how they came to that conclusion and she said that he kept mouthing something so Brandy leaned in close to see if she could understand and she caught “where” and “Autumn”. Brandy told him I had to leave for work but I’ll be back soon. I started bawling & asked if I should turn around and come back (haha)
Now fast forward over 1 year later. My boyfriend is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor. He has some gnarly head scars (“God’s tattoos” – grandma Shirley, because Clint is heavily tattooed), that pretty sweet rod in his leg complete with not-so-sweet calcium deposit on his knee, and lots of new hardware in his face. We have everything in our new place ranging from a wheelchair, walker, cane, splints, and a big assed shoe with a lift (“Where is my platform?!” is something you’ll hear in our house & it makes me giggle every time) He had months of therapies in one of the biggest & best rehabilitation hospitals in the country. We have dealt with meds, newfound anxiety, intrusive thoughts, eye problems, dental problems, and we have a freezer stuffed full of ice packs to help him deal with his “lava brain”. While not all of these (eyes/teeth) are brain injury symptoms just know one thing – brain injuries are fucking wild. I read up a lot now on TBI/ABI and brain health in general & I am in constant awe. He is doing so well though, damn near back to normal – if you meet him I guarantee you within 5 minutes he is going to start in with “On January of ’19, I crashed a go-kart going between an estimated 80-90 mph into a palm tree, face first with no helmet on…” and I kinda cringe and let him tell his story. I’ve heard that story enough that I can repeat it in the exact way he says it. More often than not I look at him & say “Now babe…did they ASK for all that? NO! They were offering us a free sample of cheese!” and he says “I know I know but it’s like word vomit I CAN’T HELP IT” – I have at least got him to STOP saying the part about where he believes he survived worse injuries than what killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. Holy shit, that used to kill me. This mofo and his bathtub was really out here trying to be more badass than DALE EARNHARDT.
To this day, we do not know what happened with that go-kart that caused all this. No one has even seen it! It’s in impound in WPB. The guy who he was building the go-kart with was unaware that something had even happened & a total stranger was the one that found him – his name is Ryan & according to the police report, he worked at a business in the same plaza and was around the back of the complex loading his truck. He heard the engine running on the go-kart & went to look to see what he was hearing & saw Clinton sprawled out in the damn tub (I KNOW…RIDICULOUS) & choking on his own vomit. Ryan cleared his airways & called 911. Ryan also doesn’t usually work nights or weekends. Life is crazy. One day we plan to meet Ryan but sadly, his contact information was lost.
All is pretty normal nowadays though. Our relationship is better than ever & certainly not questioned anymore – as it turns out, all you need is a near death experience to make you realize what’s important and what you really want out of life. While this method apparently works, it’s definitely a 0/10 – DO NOT RECOMMEND.
I thank you all for reading a very long post. I never wanted to write about this actually because it seriously fucks with me to have to talk about the early months of his accident ,however, he requested this piece. It was somewhat therapeutic to finally write it & I still neglected some details. I hope this post doesn’t come off as tone deaf or selfish like “my sorta/kinda boyfriend was dying & all I cared about was if he loved me!” – that wasn’t the intention at all. I was just very simply telling a story from my point of view.
Brain injury & references to his accident will come up from time to time because ,well, it’s part of our life now & I may write about something that he’s done that’s really weird & ya’ll may be like “what the fuck is wrong with her boyfriend?!” & now you know – he has a TBI bruh.
He would also like you to know before I totally sign off here that while he definitely has some PTSD involving palm trees now (unfortunate as we live in Florida), he still loves riding go-karts.
– Autumn (& Clinton)