Mike’s Story

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Tell me what your life was like before your brain injury.

Well, I’m married to a wonderful woman, Emily. Got two daughters from previous marriages, and I was a union sheet metal worker — designed, built, and installed HVAC systems. That was my day side, if you will, but I was also into more of a darker side of society. I was doing drugs and selling them. Was also into beating people up.

And I am Native American. Warm Springs and Klamath. Growing up I got into it at powwows with other kids doing stupid kid stuff. You know, getting smacked around, getting cracked in the head with rocks and stuff. I was always trying to prove that I wasn’t afraid. That stems from some of the abuse that I received as a child, and that was a big reason why I joined the army. I had a very chaotic life, and a chaotic childhood.

When did you get your brain injury? Or have you had more than one?

I’ve had a bunch. After basic training I went to jump school, and I was an 82nd Airborne for most of my enlistment. Got deployed to Panama for training, then Haiti, and then Saudi Arabia. got knocked out on a jump — it was a routine thing, a routine jump for us, you know, with all your gear. But it was high winds. I landed feet, ass, head, and woke up to the worst face and voice I could ever imagine.

Another time, I was out of the army doing an escort job. It was when I was doing security for bars, and personal security and escort stuff. I worked for the asset protection team. We broke a line and someone tossed a big bottle. It was weird — it hit and bounced off me, and shattered on someone else, and they got cut. It cut up his forehead, his nose, cheek. Missed his eye though.

But the one that left me blind was my stabbing. It was Father’s Day, 2014, and at the time I was lost in drink, and cocaine, and my criminal life, and I couldn’t figure out why everyone was falling away from me. I think, looking back on it, I can see that everybody saw that I was self- destructing. I was missing my kids, and my really good friend was dying.

Anyway, I started that fight — me and the other guy were actually drinking together at a bar that night. But at one point we were outside, and a switch flipped. I pushed the guy down a few times, trying to get him to throw the first punch, and after the third shove he pulled out a pocketknife to defend himself and then ran.

So, how did you get through that portion of being in the hospital, where you realized I’ve got another brain injury AND I can’t see?

I was chained because I had started to come out of the medication and I started ripping everything out — my tubes, my chest was still open, so there was part of me that thought I was in jail. I remember seeing my wife’s face. It was all fuzzy and blurry, and I touched her, and I said, you look like an Ewok.

I bet she loved that.

But I asked what happened, you know? And they said, you were involved in a fight, and I said, did I lose? Who was he? ‘Cause I’ve got quite the list of people from my bouncing days, from working in security, from different gangs.

I really wish I could meet that man. If I could, I’d fall to my knees and ask him for his forgiveness for putting him in that situation. You know, I have a lot of remorse for how I used to be because it wasn’t really me.

When and how did you finally find that fire in your belly, where you’re saying I don’t want to be just a brain injury victim? I don’t want to just exist — I want to live?

When I learned through my association with BIC, and you, and the boys, that as unique as my situation or circumstance is to me, it happens to so many other people. I would really like more people to understand that when you crack your head — you know, you only get one brain.

And a lot of this is because of my wife and everything I put her through on my spiral of destruction. All the stuff she just said oh you know it’s from the PTSD, it’s from the drugs. And then realizing that I don’t really have a good concept of everything that’s going on.

What are some of your goals?

Overall, I would like to continue my quest for knowledge and Jujitsu. I would love to keep pursuing that. Another goal is that I want to be as physically fit as I can. But more importantly, I want my wife to be happy and not have to worry about me all the time.

I have not yet taken the necessary steps to help me retain my goals, but I’m fixing to! Emily’s been very good about prodding me, and you have also, and also a man by the name of James Shroeder who is my orientation and mobility instructor. He’s the guy who taught me how to walk around blind. He’s also my friend now. He always encourages me to make notes and stuff.

Do you have, for today, any closing statements that you want to make?

To remember that, one: I’m not alone. Two: I want to be better.