Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


I pulled away from the gas pump—


I looked to Joyce. “What the hell was that?”

“I think that must have been the nozzle.”

I drew a blank. “What do you mean it was the nozzle? Which nozzle?”

Joyce shrugged. “The gas nozzle. I guess you forgot to take it out.”

My inner volcano, usually dormant, erupted with a massive explosion as I slammed on the brakes.

How dare Joyce accuse me? I forgot to take the nozzle out? “I asked you to keep an eye on it while I was in the store!”

“I guess I didn’t hear you.”

Of course she’d heard me. Hadn’t she nodded?

Lava spewed over the edge of the crater—she had nodded. I knew she had.

I yanked the steering wheel all the way around to the left and stomped on the gas pedal. The car shot forward, tires shrieking. I circled the gas pump, tore back into the spot I’d just vacated, and jerked to a stop.

Joyce reached for her door handle. “I’ll go get it.”

“I’ll get it!”

I yanked on the door handle, flung the door open, erupted out of the car, slammed the door shut, and stormed over to the nozzle. I bent over, picked it up, marched over to the pump, shoved the nozzle onto its stand, and replaced the gas cap. I wrenched open the car door and threw myself into the car seat.

“Maybe I should drive.”

I clenched my jaw. “No. I’ll drive.”

“You sure it’s a good idea?”

“Yes. I’ll be fine!” I jammed the keys into the ignition.

A wisp of thought floated clear of the ash filled mood—I should have checked the nozzle when I got back from the store. Billows of smoke engulfed the thought. It was her fault.

A tendril of reason wafted out of the crater—I shouldn’t drive like this.

I’ll be fine.

I had the steering wheel in a death grip. I unclamped my right hand to put the car into Drive, and another tendril struggled to escape the blackened atmosphere—I should stay parked until the ashes clear.

I took a deep breath, willing the thought to stick. A light breeze blew several wisps of reason my way, then several more, until I could no longer ignore their message.

By the time I pulled away from the gas pump, I regained my sanity, though keeping the cap on the volcano was a struggle. Minutes later—though the minutes felt like an eternity—I was able to make eye contact with Joyce and apologize sheepishly for my loss of control.

This wasn’t the first time since the brain surgeries that my emotions completely overpowered me, suppressing all reason. It wasn’t even the worst.

Sudden eruptions of rage are not uncommon among us brain injury survivors. Brain injuries often damage and sometimes destroy our emotion-monitors. Conservative estimates indicate that about one-third of traumatic brain injury survivors exhibit aggressive behavior, including explosive rage. I’m one of the lucky ones—though I am more prone to rage than I used to be, I have never fully lost control, nor have I caused irreparable damage.

As my embarrassment over my explosion at the gas pump waned, it was replaced by resentment. I felt cheated—once more the bloody brain had betrayed me. It had been three or four years since I’d lost my temper like that. I’d allowed myself to believe that maybe, just maybe, I was far enough along in my recovery that I was past such things.

I should have known that such a level of recovery was wishful thinking on my part.

When I thought about it some more, I realized that throughout those years there had been plenty of times when I’d gone from being a bit upset to red hot fury in a nanosecond. But I had managed to regain control within seconds—fast enough that no one noticed my true state of mind.

The bloody brain blindsides me over and over again. I’ve ascribed it to my poor memory: if you can’t remember, you can’t learn what to avoid, what to watch for, what to do differently next time. If I remembered my difficulties from one eruption to the next, perhaps I’d learn some anger management techniques.

But recently, I realized that “poor memory” is an oversimplification. Wishful thinking carries as much if not more of the blame.

Though I try to be realistic, deep down inside, I keep hoping that the plasticity of the brain, the ongoing healing, will bring me close to the neuro-typical norm.

Issues such as sudden explosions of rage, sever sensory overload, and incapacitating headaches now occur much less frequently than they did during the first couple of years after the surgeries. Often, when there is nothing or no one to jog my memory, I start believing that I have experienced a long rough patch-free spell. And whenever there are signs of improvement, or lack of signs of deterioration, I tend to be optimistic. More often than not, overly optimistic.