Transcript — What People Say When They Don’t Know What to Say by Adrianne Haslet-Davis at TEDxBeaconStreet.
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Adrianne Haslet-Davis – Professional ballroom dancer
I remember the morning of April 15, 2013. I woke up a morning unlike any other. In that wonderful state between awake and asleep, I heard the familiar sounds of the milk being pulled from the fridge door and the sound of the coffee being poured into the French press. And I lay there in my sort of awake, sort of slumber, and I think to myself, “Yes. My cats have finally learned how to make me coffee!” Yes. I am so happy about this discovery.
So happy in fact that I opened my eyes and standing before me is even a happier discovery: a tall, very handsome man that is familiar yet unrecognizable. And he has two coffee mugs in his hand, and he says, “Babe, I made you coffee.” And it all comes flooding back to me. Christmas alone. Thanksgiving alone. Valentine’s Day alone. My husband had been gone in Afghanistan, and he was home now. So we cuddled on the couch with our coffees, and we turned on the television just in time to see the elite runners cross the finish line, and just in time to hear the words, “Lelisa Desisa has just won the 2013 Boston Marathon. It is his first Boston marathon.” And I thought, “Of course, why not win the first one you try?” Why? What? I’m going to, right? Certainly.
And I turned to my husband and I said, “You know, we should really do something with our day.” We’re still in our pajamas and this guy’s done 26.2. So we got up, we got dressed, and we went to lunch. And he looked at me, and he said, “Do you remember? Babe, do you remember?”
And I said, “Remember what?”
And he said, “This is the same table, this is the same restaurant where we had our last meal before I left for Afghanistan. Where we talked about what it would be like if I didn’t come back. Where we talked about what it would be like if I lost a limb. Where we talked about what it would be like if I were injured in any, any way at all.” We ordered a couple of cocktails, which I will be later very glad that I ordered.
And we cheered, and we started to make plans the way only a military family can make plans when your loved one is home safe. And he looked at me, and he said, “Let’s go watch the marathon.”
And I said, “Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Absolutely.”
We crossed onto Boylston Street and “Bam!”, we heard a loud bang, and next thing we knew, we were on the sidewalk. I was looking down at a waterfall of blood that used to be my left foot. My husband covered in shrapnel. And I thought two things. Number one: there is not a single man on this planet that I would rather be lying next to, in this moment. And two: this is it.
And just when we started to say the things that only married people can say in a time like this, Boston’s bravest came and swooped me up and took me to the nearest hospital. And there I was — lying there, no longer the bronzed, beautiful, ballroom dancer bedazzled, ready to perform. I was cut up, shredded up, stapled back together, sewn up, glued. No plastics saw me, let me tell you. I lost four inches of hair. I looked like a troll doll. I was covered in other people’s fabric, other people’s blood. And it was a mess.
And I had visitors. I had visitors with mouths, and those mouths had opinions. And I learned something: that people say a lot of things when they don’t know what to say. And we were told, at an early age, that when people say things when they don’t know what to say and when people say things to make you feel better, it comes from a place of love.
And I got confused; I thought, this nurse that’s telling me, “You better get it together. You better get it together because your family needs you. It has already been four days. Get over it. Your family needs you. It is on you to make them feel better.”
Or every other person that looked right at me and said, “I would have come sooner, but I had no idea what to say,” which is a shining billboard for those of us that are suffering that says, “You are so awkward to be around I can’t even be in the same room with you,” which turns me into the person that needs to make you feel better. And turns anyone lying in a hospital bed to make them feel better. So I start to plead, “Friend no, I’m OK, I’m OK, I’m going to be fine. I’m going to dance again. I’m going to do all of these things,” even if I don’t believe it because I feel so badly that I am that awkward, and that mangled, and that messed up.