I wrote this about a year ago after coming home from the hospital where I ‘vacationed’ for three months. We’re all better now, it’s a family affair you know, but it’s true what they say: you can never go home.

The Mountain We Climb

I was riding the Peloton today, a climbing ride with Christine D’Ercole, and in between urges for faster and harder, she said something about mountains. Of all the Peloton coaches, she’s the philosopher of the group and does this often. Anything she says can have two, three, or five meanings. You think she’s being clear, saying one thing, but then, she says, “You think I’m talking about bicycles, don’t you?” and smiles that mouse-eating smile, and you know she’s talking in layers. It keeps your mind off how you feel and how you know you’ll feel tomorrow when your body recuperates.

She did that today in the middle of the climb. I’m paraphrasing – the blood was rushing too fast through my brain to remember nuances – and she started on about how your partner, the one driving the car, shouldn’t be the hill but should help you up the hill. Huh? Shouldn’t be the hill? What does that mean? She opened the door a crack: “Do you think I’m talking about the mountain we’re climbing?” I think she spit out a couple of mice.

I wondered about it, pushing watts on the bike, and it dawned on me: I do know what she’s talking about. I’ve seen that mountain. I’m on that damned mountain. 

Maybe everyone thinks they’ve been on the mountain when they return home from the hospital. Not Moses’ mountain, where questions are finally answered, but the mountain of pain and recovery and heartache. I get it. I’ve been on the mountain. Lord knows I’ve been on the mountain. But, my wife was really hoping for a helper to get over the hill, and not another hill when we finally came home. I joke with her that my hospital stay was a breeze: I was comatose for five weeks and dreamed I was on vacation in France. I even dropped to hill-climbing weight since I was unable to eat for a time. But, I know it wasn’t easy for her. Love is a burden sometimes, and she made decisions daily for me that she hoped would lead to life and healing. That’s a chore for anyone. Now, with me pieced together and home, she wants a break. She needs a break. She wants to relax and luxuriate in the bed for an hour extra.

It’s working, I think, my recovery, but it‘s a slow process. For my wife, though, it’s still a slog. We expected roses when we came home, but we’ve both changed. I’ve come to rely on her for everything. I can’t trust myself and wonder about every decision knowing that my brain has been wonky for months now. I’ve been vetted by a half-dozen therapists who are surprised at how well I work again, but self-confidence in my workings lags.

Dennis MItton Wife

Mal and the girls. A few years ago.

My wife? For months now, she’s moved from my help-meet to my main support. To the pillar of our family. She will do it, but she’s ready for me to share the load again. For a year now, she’s taken care of the home, the yard, the finances, the children, me, our future – and she’s changed, too. How do you not change when you tell your children that dad might not come home and you don’t know what to do?  She has held our entire life in her hand, knowing if she squeezed too hard, something might break.

Now, as I recover, it’s hard for her to let go. Hard to give the family reins to someone who once complained of seeing odd things dart across his vision. Therapists told me to hang on for about two years. One is done, and it feels like ten. My brain works fine, and my body does what it’s supposed to. I’ve tested for those things. But how can you be sure of what you can’t check? If I could test for ‘mountainness’ I’m afraid I would be a nasty peak to climb, hilly and bare, with a cold wind howling. And us without a jacket. We’re all waiting for a glimpse downhill, toward the pass, to the trail back to base camp where we take off the heavy clothes and relax.


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