I used to have a relationship with my mom that many other women in their early 20s could relate to. You could say we were closer than some, but there was nothing particularly unusual about the mother-daughter bond we shared.
On an overcast morning in Los Angeles, an act of God, a moment of hapless timing, a twist of fate — whatever you want to call it — changed everything. On October 6th, 2011, a car slammed into my motorcycle on my drive to work.
I’ll spare you the grisly details of my protruding pelvic bones and the particular string of profanities I screamed as I waited for an ambulance, or death, or both. The point is, I wasn’t in good shape. Grateful as I was to find out that I wouldn’t die or be paralyzed for life, you can imagine opening your eyes after six hours of surgery to find your arm in a sling, your leg in a cast, a breathing tube down your throat and iron bars jutting from your hips.
The damage was severe. I had broken my ankle and shoulder and shattered my pelvis in no fewer than 10 places. The iron contraption holding my crotch together had to stay in for six weeks. Six weeks of no standing, walking, showering or wearing real clothes. It took an agonizing seven days in ICU before the surgeons told my mom that we were “good to go.” She and I looked at each other and both thought, Well, now what?
Over the next two months, I experienced infancy for the second time in my life (as a fiercely independent 22-year-old, no less). My mom left everything behind to come take care of me. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself — she had to hold a bedpan in place while I peed and then wiped me afterwards. Every single morning, she had to clean the open wounds that had crusted over, inject my stomach with a blood thinner that made me cry out in pain and clean the intimate areas that I didn’t want to subject the nurses I barely knew to. She had to exercise superhuman patience as I wept like a teething baby because I felt indescribable amounts of pain and couldn’t do anything to fix it. Neither could she, but she never let on to how helpless she felt.
Unlike the simple needs of an newborn, mine were unyielding. I needed my mother’s soothing as I screamed in anguish in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. I needed her to move my leg an inch to the left when I was uncomfortable, and then move it back when the adjustment made the pain worse.
I needed space when I thought I would hurl my wheelchair off the balcony from frustration over staring at the same four walls for weeks on end. I needed to be told that — despite the stench of the hospital that didn’t leave when I did, and the bedsores that had formed on my body, and the cringe-worthy injuries that made others turn away — she still thought I was beautiful.
A driver’s moment of distraction gave me an experience few can have. A baby can feel its mother’s love when she holds it and her brain releases oxytocin, yes, but the infinite reach of that devotion is beyond an infant’s comprehension.
When I surrendered my pride and modesty so that my mom could take care of me, I gained something bigger — the true understanding of her love. Even today, I’m floored by her selflessness. If you were to ask her, she would say she was just doing her job as a mother. But she’s not just my mother anymore. The relationship we gained is the one beautiful thing that came from a tragedy. And I’m grateful for it every single day.