NAVIGATING NEW WATERS
COMMUNITY STORIES | 01.02.19
BY DEREK DABKOSKI
When you’re young, sometimes the least important things are the things you miss the most. Like that summer night in 2006, for instance. I was dressed in my freshest clothes: my vintage World Champion 49ers trucker hat (you know it was legit because it listed only four Superbowl victories) and my sweet “Writers Do It With Imagination” t-shirt, with the ‘I’ in Imagination a pencil with fireworks shooting out of it. One of the first thoughts I can remember when I woke from the coma, was how angry I was that they both were ruined during the assault that would change my life forever. But that’s your logic right after you have a TBI at 22. I didn’t realize until later, when my mom chose the words “blue boat” as the password to visit me in the rehab hospital, that I wouldn’t be shooting “The Blue Boat,” which would have been my undergraduate thesis film. It didn’t cross her mind that every time I heard those words, I would be reminded of that fateful night of July 17th, 2006.
That night, as I walked to my parents through North Beach after celebrating the successful location scout for the film, the passenger of a van tried to rip the messenger bag from my back. His attempts were unsuccessful, and I was flung to the ground, hitting the left side of my head. Rushed to San Francisco General Hospital, they performed an emergency craniotomy, where I spent the next 11 days in an induced coma, then the remainder of the summer and fall in the rehab hospital. As you can probably guess, The Blue Boat was never filmed.
But I’m not telling you this story to highlight the intricacies of hipster fashion or re-live feelings of regret or disappointment. I’m telling it so that I can remind myself and teach you how important it is to move on; that you are no longer the same person you were before your TBI. You may have some of the same goals you had before, but it’s important to put things in perspective. Are these desires as important as trying to live your life to its fullest extent, to extract as much enjoyment and wisdom from all the challenges you face as your new self?
I met my wife on the ferry in 2011 (What’s up with me and boats, you ask? Well I’m not done yet.) I was in full gimp regalia, with my cumbersome hand orthotic and AFO exposed from underneath a t-shirt and shorts, respectively. I guess a little disinhibition comes in handy sometimes. There she was, minding her own business reading a book and looking cute, while I’m over here in a ratty t-shirt and shorts. But I didn’t care, I just had to talk to her. I found out she was going to spend the weekend at her friend’s in San Francisco to see a concert. Of course, I hadn’t heard of the band, but acted like I knew. I was trying to be subtle, and got her email, not her phone number, but seeing as she was a full time nanny in Marin and I was only there to spend the day at my grandparents, if I didn’t act on it, I wouldn’t see her again. So when we disembarked, I hobbled after her. My college friend’s dad was waiting to get on the boat going the opposite direction, and he tried asking me how I was doing, but I told him, “Sorry, I can’t talk, I have to catch this girl.” I caught her and got her phone number, and we went out the next night.
It was like fireworks from then on, and we spent every weekend together, going out and eventually learning how to sail with the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors. There you have it. Boats.
We were married in 2013, 2 weeks before we moved down to LA so I could start grad school at USC film school. After three years of 12 hour production days and crappy food, I got my degree. It’s been a struggle, as someone with a disability, to compete against young people willing to get coffee and lift heavy things to start their careers, but she’s been by my side the whole way, supporting me as I figure out how to find my own path as a screenwriter and documentary filmmaker. And now, we have a beautiful 14 month old daughter who lights up our world.
As you can see, I’ve made it a goal to be grateful for what I have, and to look at things like this: I made it through the hard part of surviving a near fatal injury, so now I owe it to myself and to those who have supported me through my recovery to live my new life in the healthiest, happiest, and most productive way possible.
I believe LoveYourBrain shares these values, and they have attempted to nurture and promote a mindset of acceptance and healing through yoga and meditation. I personally haven’t had much experience practicing either, but staying as active as possible has helped my recovery. Whether playing basketball, learning to sail, or making movies, I try to cultivate habits that make living with a TBI as rewarding as possible.
I challenge you to do the same, I believe in you.