LOVE YOU HARD: A MEMOIR OF MARRIAGE, BRAIN INJURY, AND REINVENTING LOVE
By Abby Maslin
Dutton, $27.00, 306 page
Literature, like life, is full of surprises. The most inspiring book I have read in many a month begins with a brutal act of thuggery that nearly kills the narrator’s husband, and leaves him severely brain-damaged. Illness, injury and pain fill many of its pages. Much of the action takes place in hospital intensive care units, and a second major character, the narrator’s father, dies a long and wasting death. Yet “Love You Hard,” public school teacher Abby Maslin’s memoir describing all this sorrow, is a magnificently life-affirming true story.
It begins in Washington D.C. on a muggy August night in 2012. Abby’s husband, “TC” Maslin, a promising young energy consultant, is mugged on his way home to their Capitol Hill apartment after a Nationals game. Suddenly, the world of a successful young, happily married couple with an infant son is turned upside down. It was a particularly savage attack — TC’s skull had been smashed by a baseball bat — and it has left him physically and mentally wounded. Wounded but not defeated.
Blind in his right eye, his right arm paralyzed and his right leg only gradually restored to use, TC might have remained hopelessly crippled for the rest of his life. Through sheer guts and determination, he wills himself out of his hospital bed, out of his wheelchair and, ultimately, is able to walk again without the aid of a cane.
Even more heroic is his dogged and ultimately successful struggle to regain his ability to talk and read. He could never have come back from the verbally dead without the help of a series of dedicated health professionals, but it his own single-minded determination — and that of his wife Abby — that make it possible for him to succeed.
Abby’s teaching experience working with elementary school children, some of them troubled, proves invaluable in her new role as care giver and therapist. Once she realizes that she can never restore her husband, herself and their way of life to exactly what they had been before that horrible night, she sets about rebuilding a new TC and a new life with the material at hand. In the process she also builds a new self.
In some ways, her individual experience is not unlike that of many military wives who have seen their husbands return from war physically maimed and mentally damaged. Things can never be exactly as they were before the war, but a new life can be built on the foundations of the old one with patience, determination and love. The help of family, friends and community all play a part, but the core dynamic is the willingness of man and wife — victim and care giver — to stick together and stick it out.
There are two other crucial factors that Abby Maslin describes in some detail: Faith and the incredible recuperative powers of the human brain. Some scientists refer to the latter as “neuroplasticity,” the capacity of even a severely damaged brain to change and evolve, to find new ways of re-accessing or re-stocking lost knowledge and lost physical function. One of many milestones is TC’s regaining the ability to dream:
“In the middle of the night, he bolts upright and scrambles for the journal next to his bed. ‘The words!’ he says one night, gasping. ‘The words are coming back!’ He describes his dream: words falling from the sky and lining up on top of one another. People’s names suddenly flooding into consciousness. Fearful that his rediscoveries might slip away, he clamors for his journal, scribbling down every word he can remember.”
“Moments like these are magical and powerful,” Abby adds, “as if his recovery has been granted an infusion of divinity.”
Of course, all is not sweetness and light. There are plenty of bursts of anger, resentment and despair as these two strong, good people — and those who love them — struggle on the road to recovery. Recovery and discovery. “At first I thought I needed the old TC to be happy again. Then I understood I must embrace a new one. And finally I am seeing another piece to this puzzle — that marriage is not the successful melding of two individual lives. It’s two successful, individual lives choosing partnership with each other. If I am not whole, we can’t be either.”
By book’s end, we have witnessed the birth of a new TC and a new Abby sharing a new love, including the birth of a second child, a daughter. “Impermanence is the only rule the universe abides by,” Abby concludes. “Things will be broken. They will also be put back together.”
• Aram Bakshian Jr., a former aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, has written widely on politics, history, gastronomy and the arts.