SURFACING - The Hidden Injury in a Career That's All About *Show*
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
YES, I Will Rise From the Ashes!
The wonderful photo shoot I did about a year after my big car wreck as part of my triumphal celebration.
By Judith Kimbrell of Mother Nature Photography
(and yes, I am drafting the tales of this rise--see the footnotes)
By 2005, I had decisively proven the pessimistic half of my medical team wrong when they told me I would never be a professional dancer again. I had blossomed into the Poster Child of Overcoming. I was on fire with educating the world about Drinking & Driving, about TBI and injury recovery, about soul-searching and being as tenacious as a weed. I was an all-prancing, all-dancing example of the mind's power to heal the body, and the brain's ability to rewire and rebuild itself.
Countless people were inspired by my story, and I was honored to stand up and speak about these things with my first raised or my beaming face turned toward the heavens. I gave hope to other dancers who had been injured or stricken with illness. I told aging dancers or those who had never let themselves try dancing, "It's never too late while you're breathing! Dance anyway!"
And it's not too late.
I still shout these things from the rooftops.
Because of what I've been through, people believe me. I mean, I "look so good" and the way I'm able to dance in spite of my injuries? It blew people away.
It still blows me away, because I never would have obtained that kind of depth and expression without having been thrust into the Underworld for so long. I never would have learned what it's like to have to LEARN. So many things had once been as easy as blinking for me--and then, abruptly, they weren't.
Without Traumatic Brain Injury, I never would have never learned how to truly teach.
So there I was, five years out from this catastrophic blow to my life. I taught dance in multiples cities along the Colorado Front Range, and traveled to other places around the state. I had switched from restaurant dancing to exclusively stage performance--a blessed relief that allowed me to finally and truly dance the way I had always dreamed. I produced sold-out shows with my troupes and dance friends several times a year. I had become the female half of the quintessential Artist Power Couple: the dancer and the musician.
There is nothing false about any of this. These rank among some of the happiest memories I have.
And hardly anybody had a clue what was going on beneath the surface.
I learned the hard way that most people don't want to know. They don't want the inspiring myth of their Poster Child shattered. They don't want to know that, after the Hollywood Happy Ending, there is actually a life to be lived. They want me to stay forever-shiny, providing an escape from their lives. They want me to stay forever-rawr, providing a security-woobie so they can sleep at night.
Well, I'm not a fucking character in a movie.
I'm not a protagonist in a book.
Neither am I some onerous side-show act everybody wishes would stay away from family gatherings because the only thing of value I offer the world is the thrill of a little snarky jibing once my back is turned.
These are the extreme camps I am constantly thrust into. Bella...'Beast. Both are facets of me. Neither is a remotely accurate picture, for I am also all the flavors in between.
I wrote this poem on August 12, 2005. These words hit me as deeply today as they did when I scribbled them down.
Don’t you truly see?
You’re not looking at me.
You just see the mask
The pretty face and swishing hip
Curvaceous figure, sparkly lip
It’s the glitter in your eyes
The glare of spotlight
To all the truths inside.
You jump to your feet.
Can't stay in your seat.
But this is not what you think.
Don’t you understand?
It’s all slight of hand
Shimmering mirage of glamour
The truth obscured by veils
Writhes that loathsome thing.
“Will you please call and remind me? Because I’ll never remember by the time I get home.”
“No, I wish I could make your party/show/class, but my brain is too fried to drive or handle a crowd.”
“Can you give me overdraft protection? Because I transpose numbers in the hundreds column.”
“Oh, sorry, your other left.”
“Oh, sorry, can you say all that again?”
“Oh, sorry, can you go out of your way to adjust your entire way of doing things because I need so many special conditions that I won’t be able to participate in life if you don’t accommodate for all the places where I’m damaged.”
No, I’m not a flake
Not an artsy half-bake
Ignore the hues of my hair
Take your rolling eyes
All your condescending sighs
Your slow, annoyed blink that says
I’m not the sharpest in the box
In your braying donkey’s gob
You don’t get it, do you?
What’s “lyzdexic” mean to you?
Did you think I was exaggerating?
I don’t have that neuron
That connection is sure gone
I warned you from the beginning
How hard it is to work with me
But now you know the truth
“I need a thingie with a handle and two claw-dealies and a big, heavy—yeah. Hammer. Thanks.”
“We’ve really met before? We were in a play together? I was in a play?”
“I’m okay. I just tripped over my own feet in the fiddle of the moor.”
Stare-Stare-Stare…Blink-Blink… “Welcome back to the land of the living.”
Stare-Stare-Stare…Lift of eyebrow… “Can you repeat that entire thing?”
Stare-Stare-Stare…Lift of eyebrow… “Can you repeat that entire thing?”
Stare-Stare-Stare… “Too many brand names, colors, types, lights, prices that I can’t even begin to try to decipher which is the one I need and if I don’t stop staring at it all I’m gonna give myself a migraine! Maybe even a seizure!”
You who don’t know me
Would like to hug or throw me
You see Diva or Dunce
And can’t comprehend
You don’t understand
Lackluster masks authentic glow
While glitter loses shine backstage
Am not what I seem.
You who’ve hurt me worst
Are those that I am cursed
To love and grow to trust
You flutter close awhile
And promise me a smile
But once the mask comes off
You snicker loudest of all
I guess your love came with strings.
"Yeah, I'll just be over here where it's still fun, doing all my glitchy little things and playing with all my little toys in my weird little ways, with the people who truly want to play with ME."
"There are other places to dig."
One of the dances I filmed during my first divorce.
I finally finished editing it just before the second one.
My last trip to Madison, WI in 2014 marked my farewell to Izzy La Tejedora. The event had been scheduled before I realized I was going to have to stop traveling and performing on stage after my year of seizures. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to have to quit.
But by that year, I knew what had happened. In spite of my clinging to denial, in spite of so many people telling me I was being melodramatic, pessimistic, over-exaggerating--you know what a drama-queen diva I am--and in spite of a neurologist who pooh-poohed me without bothering to test me, I KNEW in my marrow and my guts.
It would take another six years to get the confirmation in my second neuropsychological exam that the punch to my face and that second car wreck had downgraded me from Mild to Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury.
So this is me. The entertainer. The artist. The storyteller. The teacher. The Muse. The real person who lives real life in this body.
Personally I think the genuine journey--the daily trek up the mountain, particularly when it is Sisyphus' mountain--is a thousand times more miraculous, inspiring, and hope-giving than any Happily-Ever-Triumphant ending that could be written about me.
I'm not frozen in time, and I'm not dead yet, so I have a hell of a lot more to say to those who are willing to open their minds, open their hearts, and walk through the scary stuff with me so we can get to each miracle. They always do come, those silver-linings. They shine a thousand times more radiantly and eternally than any stage light, trophy, or glittery lipgloss. In a journey of healing and while living with a chronic condition, you can't skip steps because it's uncomfy.
Sometimes the scary stuff IS the miracle, and every one of my silver linings has only been discovered when I stopped trying out outrun, outmaneuver, outwit, or numb out the Underworld. Gee...isn't someone else's reckless numb-out coping mechanism the reason I'm in this situation to begin with?
All it took for me was choosing I-25 instead of Nevada Avenue.
You could be me all too easily. Tomorrow. Next decade. In an hour. Or you could be my parents. Heaven help you if you have to be either one of my ex-husbands.
That's a scary thought, isn't it? It's the biggest reason why people squirm and scram when we Spoonies tell it like it is.
You probably should go put on a movie. I'm not being a smartass here. I'm quite serious. I don't blame anybody for not wanting to trudge around in my shit-show, especially anybody who has their own. I don't blame you saying, "Maaaaaaan...why can't she just get back to the pretty dancing? Or even the frothing fire-dancing?"
Actually I have been. Apparently the world doesn't know that.
I wish I could have remained your shiny, smiling poster-child. That role is way more fun than this one. Unfortunately, a bunch of other things undermined my tenuous toehold on Triumph. Because my life didn't end with the closing of that Overcomer book that got written about me. It didn't end when I took my bows to a standing ovation and the lights faded to black and we all went home.
Heck, it didn't even end when the star fell.
That's actually the start of my new favorite tale. So thanks for being here with me on this stage. We are few, but we are RAWR.
Except when we're not.
Slain by Goldfinger, Madison 2014
'TIS THE SEASON
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: DEC. 18: ON THIS NIGHT 20 YEARS AGO - The magical dinner I shared with a gorgeous musician two nights before my big car wreck.
--OR if you want to see that Goldfinger dance, It's one of the funnest ones I've ever done. And yes, in that number I am 100% Entertainer (covertly telling you things that dwell in the depths of my heart).
--OR if you want to dive into how I got my start dancing, that adventure begins here. I've been drafting the rest of that series since summer. It's an intense project that requires gobs of research and careful handling of the social issues. It's getting there.
--I'm also going through my journals from after my big car wreck. WHUFF. That's an even more intense project. But I don't have a lot of organic memories from that time period, as we've discussed for the past chunk of posts. As such, getting y'all the timeline and the important tales is a slow process. I've been documenting some of it on my Instagram: TheHartebeastie.
All the tales in all the categories can be found here: