'Love You Hard:' Memoir Tells The Story Of Learning To Love Again After Trauma
LAUREN GILGER: A few years ago, Abby Maslin's entire life changed in one night. A random act of violence left her husband, TC, with a traumatic brain injury, unable to speak or walk. And the months and years that followed became a brutal test of faith of their marriage and their love. The Valley native went from being a young wife and mother, to a caregiver. And they both had to relearn how to love each other again as their new reality unfolded. It's that story of healing that Maslin has documented in her new book, “Love You Hard.” And she came into our studios recently to talk to me more about it. She begin with the night her husband didn't come home.
ABBY MASLIN: I woke up the morning of Aug. 18, 2012, and my husband wasn't home. He had gone to a baseball game in Washington, D.C., the night before and I hadn't heard from him since about 10:00p.m. that night. I just went into a state of denial. I said, you know, he drank too much, he slept on a friend's couch, there are 100 reasonable explanations for what could have happened. And by about 8:30, 9 a.m., I was out of reasonable explanations. I had called everybody he was with the night before. They hadn't seen him since he had started his walk home. And when I called my mom, she said, "That is not like TC. You need to call the police now." So I did. I called and I filed the missing person's report and everything just became totally out of body, surreal, at that point.
GILGER: So when did you find out where he was?
MASLIN: I was sitting outside the stoop of our apartment building and I was trying to find somebody who could take my son, who was 22 months old at the time, and he had been sitting there watching me kind of dissolve into shock. And I called a friend, and as I was calling my friend, I realized her husband is an emergency doctor and so I had him check in at the local hospital to see if anybody matched TC's description, and he was there.
GILGER: And he was there. Wow.
MASLIN: He had been found seven blocks from our house seizing and unconscious on somebody's front porch. He had been there for eight hours. They knew he had sustained some kind of blunt force trauma to the head and he, at the time that I received the call that he was in the hospital, he was already undergoing surgery to have part of his skull removed. But it took weeks to figure out what had happened, and what had happened is that, he had been assaulted on the way home by three young men who had hit him with a baseball bat and hit him in the eye with the butt of a gun, and he had tried to walk home. He had tried to walk home and get help and along the way, he had passed out on someone's porch.
GILGER: My gosh. So when you realize he's in the hospital, this is why he didn't come home, that he's in brain surgery essentially and clearly has been injured, what did you think?
MASLIN: I was just praying he was still alive, you know. By the time my mind had started to accept something bad had happened, it immediately went to he's been murdered. And so even the idea that he was in surgery was a huge relief because there was a chance that he might make it. And when I got to the hospital and then had an opportunity to talk to the neurosurgeon, I realized just how serious it was. I was told that if he made it through the next 72 hours, there was a chance he was going to live. But that was a big “if.”
GILGER: So what was the initial prognosis, like what were you told?
MASLIN: Yes this is a really complicated injury, brain injury. It's an injury I knew nothing about before that day. So the prognosis was, you know, about six days after his assault, the prognosis was I think he's going to live. He is likely to be incredibly different than the man you knew. He is unlikely to speak again. He's unlikely to walk. His personality may be very different. He may be aggressive, he may not know you anymore. It was just a huge "what if" situation. There, every possibility was on the table.
GILGER: So were there moments, were there any grains of hope in this for you that kind of drove you to continue to work toward him healing?
MASLIN: Yeah I mean, what I learned, you know, at many points in this journey is that hope is what sustains us, and we are pretty good at taking whatever morsels we can to carry us through. And about 72 hours into this experience, TC squeezed my hand, and that really kept me going for days. And so it was just taking these tiny moments, you know, the twitch of the leg or, you know, blinking an eye and hoping that there was going to be more. But you really had to learn, I really had to learn, how to appreciate those tiny milestones.
GILGER: Yeah. So this is obviously been a very long journey since and probably very hard one. But give us a sense of what you and TC had to go through here, like he had to essentially relearn everything.
MASLIN: Yeah. So, you know, my belief at the beginning of this was that the physical recovery was going to be the hardest part because getting him to speak again, getting him to walk again, that all seemed incredibly daunting and it was. It took months before he was walking. It took months before he was out of the hospital, and then, as he became more physically able again, it was clear that his speech was just demolished and I was worried that he was not going to have an opportunity to participate meaningfully again in society unless he was able to communicate. So my mission became helping him to learn how to speak again and helping him learn how to read and write. And so the first year of this experience was really just about survival. The second year was so much harder. The emotional recovery from this injury and the trauma of surviving, you know, such an abrupt experience that was where a lot of the recovery had to happen, and that had to happen individually for us. We had both been changed, down to the wiring of our brains — him in a way that was as a result of his attack, but me just to mirror the changes that were happening around me. I had to change, too. So that second year was about figuring out who we were again and whether we could stay married, whether there was still a relationship that we could salvage.
GILGER: Yeah. How do you do that? What was the — I mean obviously this is a long process, but when did you realize that like this is going to be a new beginning or an end?
MASLIN: Yeah, it was the acceptance of this experience as a true death. In order to move on, I had to acknowledge that the husband that I loved was not coming back. You know, I thought I had made that shift in my mind at many points. And I really hadn't. It took about two years for me to accept that and to look at my husband again and say let me learn this new person. And he very much saw me as a new person. This turned me on to my life in a way that I never expected. So he's looking at me now like, you are so much similar to how I was. You're very much like the person that I was, and that makes total sense to me because at every point in this journey, I was asking myself, “What would TC do?” And I started to take on his qualities. You know, he was a very curious person. He had just a zest for learning and reading, and I began to adopt all of these habits as a way of really bonding and grieving the person who I had lost.
GILGER: That's so interesting. So does he remember what he was like before and recognize that he's different now?
MASLIN: He does. And that's hard. And that's the part that we work very hard at, both of us, is just letting go of that comparison. It's never going to be like it was before. And that's okay. In many ways our lives are so much richer now than they were before. We didn't have an appreciation for all of the little miracles in our life that we see in front of us every day. It's just a practice of learning to stay in the right now and not to try to live in the past.
GILGER: So what did you do? Did you start going out on dates again, introducing yourselves again? How did it work?
MASLIN: Yeah I mean, it was funny because I think our parents, their well-meaning attempts to help us fix our lives kept telling us to go out on a date night, and they didn't know how much pressure that felt like for me — to go on a date with someone who didn't know me anymore, was still learning to speak again, it felt like an enormous pressure and so what we did is we gave each other space. I think this is going to surprise people — the learning to love again was really letting each other go for a little while and allowing him to begin that process of healing his own trauma and then me being able to do the same thing for myself. And in a beautiful way, it led us back to each other, but it had to be an individual experience.
GILGER: So you say like he's a different person now, you're a different person now, which makes sense. But if you still love each other and relearn to love each other, do you think there's something that was still there in terms of your connection?
MASLIN: Yeah. You know, TC has always been an incredibly tenacious, hard working person. He had worked really hard to get himself into college. He was the first person in his family to go to college and then to get himself through graduate school. He'd always had this spark in him. That spark continued to be just ever present in his recovery. And I was able to see it so much more clearly. That experience of watching him be so determined to do these things again and to never see himself as a victim along the way, I just found that to be so incredibly attractive, and I had before, but just I had a new appreciation for that quality.
GILGER: Alright, Abby Maslin is the author of the new memoir, "Love You Hard." Abby, thank you so much.
MASLIN: Thank you for having me.