November 9, 2018
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend flipped over the handlebars of his bike, hit the pavement, and it shook around in his head. So I shifted out of bed in the morning carefully, because his brain was squished. I made my way into the hallway, slipping by the sheet we were using as a makeshift bedroom door.
It was the final days of longer-ish November light before Montreal’s harsh winter began, but our tiny apartment was pitch black and silent. My boyfriend had, so far, spent half-a-month without stepping outside of our home. For a long time, people thought if you slept with a concussion you would die. That’s not true, but we still know pretty much nothing about brains.
In the kitchen, I dropped two eggs in a pot to boil, too aware of the clangy echo they made as they plopped in. A crack formed in one of them, and I panicked as I watched yellow goo oozing into the water.
I thought of the time the four-year-old I used to nanny learned to make hard-boiled eggs with his dad. He stood on a chair to reach the stovetop, and we hovered around to make sure he didn’t fall. When he broke them open with a spoon, they were perfect.
I always seem to get impatient and scoop them out too early. Nothing feels more desperate than trying to reboil an underdone one, willing it to toughen up within its delicate shell. How can you take care of another person if you can’t boil an egg?
When they were maybe-ready, I ladled them into a bowl, cut a grapefruit and brought them to our bedside table. My boyfriend woke up and made thank-you noises. He hit them against the edge of the table with his eyes closed, feeling around the surface for the break. Eggs freak me out sometimes, so I didn’t have any. I made a coffee and went to work.
Once I got there, I stared at bright screens and sent some emails. My co-workers spoke to me in normal decibels. I had lunch in the park despite how cold it was. At evening rush hour, people packed into the metro and we all tried to forget about our bodies.
The sky was nearly dark by the time I got home. Everything in the apartment was the same as when I left. I grabbed the bowl from the room, the remnants resting gently on top of each other. I opened the freezer door to dump them in the compost. Weeks had passed when I had forgotten to take it out, and transparent bags brimmed with shells, rinds, and coffee grounds.
This was a problem, I knew. Soon, we’d be competing with our neighbours to balance the bags of waste on steep snowbanks, hoping they’d be picked up before disappearing under more snow or freezing to the sidewalks. I left the bags in the freezer anyway.
I had to go to the grocery store. There are two around the corner from our house, about a block apart—the close one and the far one. Both are owned by Lebanese-Canadian families who speak to us in French. We like the far one better, for no reason at all. When I walk by the window of the close one with a grocery bag, I feel a pang of guilt and try to hide it.
But I started going to the close one more often after my boyfriend’s accident. I wasn’t the one with a head injury, but every task still felt a little harder, distances a little longer, every noise outside heightened.
I bought more eggs and grapefruits; I grabbed a bag of chips too (Honey Dijon to shake things up). When I paid for them, the man behind the cash asked where the guy I’m usually with had gone. “Away for awhile,” I told him.
Later, as we ate the chips in the darkness, my boyfriend asked, apologetically, if I could chew a little quieter. The crunching was hurting his head. “It’s a chip,” I whispered. This is how you fight when someone is concussed.
I put the bag away though, trying not to crinkle it, and reached for a fresh grapefruit. Slicing it in half, it fell open, exposing the pink pulp. It looked like a brain, I realized.
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