IT HAPPENED TO ME: My Boyfriend Had A Brain Injury And I Still Tried To Be With Him

We were together less than 6 months when he had his accident, and I stuck to my word and moved over 900 miles to be with him.
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Chelsea Kellerhouse
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We were together less than 6 months when he had his accident, and I stuck to my word and moved over 900 miles to be with him.

I fell in love with Derrick* very quickly. He was one of the hardest workers I had ever met, and had a wild side. 

One of the first times we hung out, he put me on the back of his motorcycle, tore down the road, and popped a wheelie with me behind. I was immediately hooked. He wasn’t scared of anything, and would ride horses with me like a true cowboy. 

When Derrick said he wanted to move from South Carolina, where we had met, back to Maryland, I didn’t question our relationship. I supported him, and told him I would follow him after I graduated next semester.

Into the unknown....

Into the unknown....

In March on Friday the 13, Derrick totaled his car. It had just started raining, and eye witnesses said that they saw him race down a very bumpy road, going close to 100mph, catch air and crash into a telephone pole. He was lucky that those witnesses saw him, because they pulled him out of the car just in time before the car caught fire.

There is nothing and I mean nothing, that can prepare you to see the person you love in a coma. I flew up the next morning, walked into his hospital room and immediately broke down. 

He had a neck brace on, a breathing tube down his throat, a “bolt” in the side of his head, his arm in a sling and he was just so swollen, everywhere. The bolt, in his head monitored his brain pressure, to make sure his brain wasn’t going to swell in his skull.

I stayed up north for as long as I could, and sat by his side everyday. Every few hours the nurses would come in and take him off of his sedatives and painkillers, and ask him to open his eyes or wiggle his toes. For those four days that I was up there, he never once opened his eyes or wiggled his toes. After my time was up and I had to fly back, I told his mom I would call her every night for an update, and I did.

After two weeks, Derrick finally woke up. He was still pretty sedated and out of it but his eyes were open and he was looking around. Talking to his mom every night was my sanity, but it was still so hard being away. 

I was his girlfriend, I should be there, but I couldn’t. Was he wondering where I was? Did he even remember me?

As Derrick got better, his friends would post things on Facebook about his recovery. Not only was I not able to be there with him everyday, I had to see on Facebook when another girl posted that she, “sat with Derrick and held his hand. He squeezed it and looked into my eyes!” 

I cried for two hours over that post, when I should have been studying for a Spanish test. This girl, that I had never met, never even heard of was sitting in a hospital room with my boyfriend, in the spot that I should have been in. I think that jealousy is a wasted emotion, but that hurt me so much. I should have been there.

After two months, I had finished school and graduated with my bachelor’s and Derrick was out of the hospital. His mother said I could move in with them, and help with Derrick, while I looked for a job and a place to live. 

I packed up my apartment and drove a 12-foot moving van by myself from South Carolina to Maryland. A week later, I flew back and drove my car and dog up. My dog, horse and I moved in with my boyfriend’s parents.

Ziva, not very excited about our move up north.

Ziva, not very excited about our move up north.

Things went smoothly, for a while. I got along really well with Derrick’s mom. We had the same sense of humor, watched the same shows and of course we both rode horses! I felt very comfortable in their home and helped out where I could. 

His father was incredibly shy, and I think he felt a bit awkward having me there. But I tried to stay out of his way and make our encounters as least awkward as possible.

Derrick was out of the hospital, walking and talking and eating like normal. But he wasn’t normal. He had no short-term memory; he couldn’t remember what he did the day before, much less a few hours before. He would get confused easily, and he forgot how to do basic things like wash the dishes. His actions reminded me of a dementia patient, easily frustrated and constantly confused.

Everything I ever owned, stacked neatly in and 8x10 storage unit.

Everything I ever owned, stacked neatly in and 8x10 storage unit.

Something about his eyes were different. He was always very wide-eyed, I don’t know how to explain it. He just looked different, like someone else. He remembered me when I first moved in, but eventually he started to forget things about our relationship. 

He didn’t remember how we met, our first kiss, our first date, any inside jokes we had or any songs we loved. He basically forgot our entire relationship. Even the way he kissed me was different.

Then he started thinking that I was his cousin Sara, and would argue with me about it. He was convinced that I was messing with him, and he didn’t understand why. 

When I told him I was Chelsea, he told me that I wasn’t. He said that Chelsea was his ex girlfriend from South Carolina and she was a bitch. Even when I pulled out my license, passport and credit cards he didn’t’ believe me. This went on and off for about two weeks until he finally remembered that I was, in fact, his girlfriend Chelsea.

Me, Chelsea. Yes, it’s really me.

Me, Chelsea. Yes, it’s really me.

Then he started messaging other girls. He would text them, when I was sitting right next to him, and say how he missed them and wanted to see them. He unblocked his ex on Facebook, and started creeping her on other social media.

I read his messages to her and he swore to her that he wasn’t with me and that he missed her. Mind you, before his accident Derrick absolutely positively hated this woman. 

He never in a thousand years would have messaged her anything like this. I eventually messaged her and explained to her what was going on. I wasn’t jealous or upset with her, I just felt like she deserved an explanation. 

When I asked Derrick why he did this, he said he didn’t know and said it was because he “was stupid” and his brain was “mush”. The next day he didn’t even remember talking to her. I knew this wasn’t really him, and I stuck by his side (after blocking and deleting some people).

I lived with them for two months. I was averaging about three job interviews a week but was starting to get discouraged when I wasn’t getting anything. I had applied to a job on a horse farm, even before I had moved, and was surprised to get an email asking if I was still interested. 

The job was an hour away from Derrick’s parent’s house, but it included housing and utilities for me and board for my horse, plus a salary. They ended up offering me the position and I was ecstatic! I would be able to support myself and my animal babies and I would be doing what I love to do!

When I first found out, I told Derrick’s mom. I trusted her and wanted her input on how to tell him. The only thing she said to me was that Derrick was going to be upset. She never congratulated me on the job, or told me what a great opportunity it was. 

So when I told Derrick, I was prepared for him to be angry. But he was beyond angry. He accused me of just wanting to leave him. He said that I just wanted to find a new guy and I was going to cheat on him.

I was incredibly upset. I had done everything for him. I supported him when he wanted to move from South Carolina to Maryland. I packed and moved all by myself to be with him. I moved in with his parents for crying out loud and mind you, we weren’t even together a year! What more did I have to do to show him I loved him?

The next few days were a roller coaster. Derrick was angry with me and wanted nothing to do with me. The worst part was that his brain injury made him dwell on things. 

No matter what I said to him or tried to convince him of my point of view, it always went back to me “leaving him.” You know when you fight with your boyfriend and you both explain your points of view? You made me feel this way. Or this hurt my feelings in this way. This is how you can fix it. When your boyfriend has a brain injury, there is no back and forth discussion. His feelings are the only feelings he can mentally register.

I thought that with his brain injury, even if they didn’t support me, his family could help Derrick understand why I was doing what I was doing but instead his family completely supported him being cruel to me. 

The first night I had told him, the entire family went out to dinner and left without saying a word to me. I walked out of the room to take my dog out, to an empty and dark house. 

The next day I confronted his parents and begged for them to understand how I had to take care of myself. Did they really expect me to live in their house forever? I told his mom that he could come up on weekends and stay with me, and that I could come back to visit. 

His mother only told me that she didn’t want Derrick to get hurt and that she didn’t see me coming down every weekend to see him. She said it wasn’t going to work. His father wouldn’t even look me in the eye. You would have thought that I had been the one driving that 350Z, by the way they were treating me.

I couldn’t take his cruelty any longer. He was telling me to get the fuck out and how I didn’t love him. I made arrangements for my friend to pick up my horse, and I was going to stay with my aunt until I started work.

When I told Derrick I was really leaving, his attitude changed. He became sweet and sorry for his actions. My friend couldn’t pick up my horse until the next day, so I decided to stay in a hotel for my last night and get out of the house that I was no longer welcome in. I invited Derrick to stay with me and he said yes.

Right before we left, I went to tell his mom the plan. I guess all of the feelings she had been bottling up inside, and letting out in passive aggressive ways, were bubbling to the surface now in very aggressive ways. 

She yelled at me about how I was moving and how it wasn’t going to work. How I was just going to hurt Derrick. He couldn’t just come stay with me at a hotel. He HAS A BRAIN INJURY!! He’s not going to know where he is!!!! 

I let her finish and starting crying, saying how I wasn’t trying to make things worse for him. I didn’t feel comfortable staying there anymore and just wanted to spend a night with him, alone. I told her it could work, and that I had even planned on coming back down next weekend. 

She shot me the most horrible look and said no. I asked her what she wanted me to do, should I just stop talking to him? She said no that an occasional, “How are you?” was OK. I wiped my tears, and nodded and Derrick and I went to dinner before I dropped him back off at home. I said goodbye and told him I would see him soon.

The next day I came to feed my horse and retrieve a few more things I had forgotten from the house. Derrick’s mom was taking him to his outpatient therapy, so I knew there wasn’t going to be a run-in with them. 

When I walked up to the front door, my things were on the porch. She had locked the deadbolt so I couldn’t get it. Was she really serious? Did she think I was going to rob them or something?

I had lived with them for two months, and had a key, what did I do to make them think I was a horrible person? I grabbed my stuff, left their key under the mat and sent his mom a text, nicely saying that my friend couldn’t pick up my horse until later in the afternoon and I apologized for that. She never responded to me and I haven’t talked to her since.

After about a week of staying with my aunt, Derrick began texting me. He said that he missed me and that he had been in an accident. We Facetimed and he told me about his accident and showed me his scars. 

He asked me where I was living and what I was doing. He forgot that I had even moved in with him and his family. I was going to be in his area the next day, so I told him I would pick him up and take him for ice cream. He said yes and was excited. 

I didn’t care that he didn’t remember, I was actually relieved. I wouldn’t have to have the same argument with him over and over again. I could just see him, and support him, without any negativity.

The next day he texted me in the morning asking if he could visit me when I moved Pennsylvania. I said, yes of course. When I was getting ready to go pick him up, I texted him asking if he was ready. No response. I called. No response. I texted again. No Response. 

After about a half hour he finally said, "I’m with my mom." I said, "It’s OK if you’re busy and don’t want to see me, just tell me." He said. “If you wanted to see me, you shouldn’t have ever left me.” 

I knew at that point that his mom had reminded him that I had “left” him. There was no point in trying anymore. I couldn’t mentally handle having the same argument with him again. She didn’t want me in his life, and she could make sure that I wasn’t in his life.

I tried so hard to do everything right. I put Derrick first so many times and the one time I put myself first, I was punished for it. But I couldn’t let this opportunity go, I needed to take care of myself. I didn’t think an hour was that far away.

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I don’t understand how his family could just shut me out of his life after everything I did for him. We were together less than 6 months when he had his accident, and I stuck to my word and moved over 900 miles to be with him. It was as if my feelings didn’t matter. 

I know that he could not mentally be in a relationship right then, but that did not mean I couldn’t stay a supportive friend to him. I hope that someday, Derrick can read this and he’ll know that I didn’t just leave him and I sure as hell didn’t want to give up on him.

* Names have been changed.