I had been in quite a few relationships for a young woman of 19, the year I met Maddog, my Joe. Our story isn’t that grand or different, but when we met, it was magic.
I had been around bikers and veterans for most of my life so it wasn’t strange that I happened into a biker bar called Bonnie and Clyde’s. Joe was in the bar, playfully asking for kisses from all of the woman. That was back when it was safe to do that sort of thing. I was drinking seven and sevens and not feeling any pain. Joe came up to me and said it was his birthday and asked if I would give him a kiss and the rest, as they say, is history. Joe and I go married on October 4, 1975.
Before we met, neither of us had an easy life. We both suffered from wounded spirits. Joe was (and still is) proud to be a Vietnam combat veteran, but he had suffered both physically and emotionally from his time there – 1968, during the Ted Offensive and the heat of the conflict. When we found each other, everything seemed possible again. Joe was my life-line and my healer.
Skipping ahead, the early years together were fantastic. Joe had a life-long dream of becoming a photographer, but his responsibility toward his family was strong. He stayed employed as a waste water treatment mechanic in order to put food on the table, placing his dream to the side until our sons were grown.
By the year 2005, we were looking ahead toward retirement. Our sons were older and it was finally time for us. We had an Electra Glide Ultra Classic Harley and we planned to travel the country, just us, our bikes and an Airstream. Joe had taken courses at the New England School of Photography and the Art Institute of Boston. He would finally get to become the photographer he always wanted to be. Given his pride in the USA, I can only imagine the beautiful photographs he would have taken while we toured cross-country. We both had dreams and plans, but, as so often happens, they were taken away from us by a senseless accident.
On August 17, 2005, at 3:45 p.m., Joe was riding his Harley home from the Veteran’s Administration when our lives changed forever. He had stopped his Harley at a red light, waiting patiently for the light to turn green. An elderly woman blindsided his Harley, throwing Joe 30 feet in the air. She later claimed she didn’t see him. Joe spent the next 2 ½ weeks in a coma, suffering from a blow to the head that caused a pseudo-aneurysm.
After he awoke from his coma, Joe spent a month in a rehabilitation facility then he was sent to a state nursing home to recover from his injuries. This nursing home supposedly specialized in neuro-rehab, but they did a poor job. The staff there didn’t deal well with bikers, either. We are a different breed of people. All they did was drug him up. It took me 16 months to get him out of that hell hole, but I fought every day until they finally released him home. Fortunately for others, this nursing home has since shut down.
We often live as shut-ins now, but, as my elderly friends say, at least we can rent a van and go places for the day. As far as friends go, we have zip, nada, none. Once Joe was injured, they all disappeared. So we are alone again, like in the beginning. Only, I get lonely for my Joe. Joe was always a strong-willed man, and he still is, to some degree. I miss the intimacy and the closeness we once had. I have always had a hard time with other woman so Joe has always been my best friend. When times are tough, I keep thinking in my mind what would Joe have done in this situation? As a Vietnam combat soldier, Joe endured the horrors of the Tet Offensive. It took great strength and endurance, for which I am so proud. I remember the Joe I used to know then I plod through, trying to take each day in stride. That’s the influence Joe has had on my life.
Joe inspired his sons to be anything they wanted to be. I guess you would call them successful. Our youngest became a marine and a war veteran and our eldest son is a vice-president for a pharmaceutical advertising agency in New York. We are proud of both of our sons. Mostly though, our concern was that they grow into decent human beings. The thing about life is, there is more to life than work, there is also your life! I think they learned this lesson well.
My advice to caregivers is simple. Take a deep breath. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, but if you love unconditionally, without reservation, and have faith in your own abilities, then you will be OK. You will have to deal with state and federal morons – that is a given. It is a very lonely lifestyle. If you can handle the abject loneliness, then you will be alright. You have the toughest job, but there are rewards. For me, my Joe is my world. He healed me, and now I have his back. My love for my Joe runs very deep. No lousy accident will ever change that.