Averil Gleason

I measure time in moments-turned-milestones.

It’s housewarming parties and bad dye jobs and global pandemics and first kisses and broken backs and everything that happened either before, during or after those memories.

That’s just how I tell time.

Did this happen before or after we went into lockdown?

Was I a brunette or a blonde?

Was my spine still in-tact?

Wednesday marked my two year anniversary of one of the biggest memories-turned-milestones in my life.

I was in a spine-shattering accident with my family, and when I think about it, I’m lucky that was the worst thing that happened to us.

On our way back from my cousin’s wedding on the darkly lit streets of Tyler, Texas, my dad missed his turn, sped over a dangerous dip in the road, pulverizing my Lumbar 1.

Thus, I began to tell time by these benchmarks.

For example, before I broke my back, and after.

The months following the accident were a painkiller-induced haze mixed with Vampire Diaries reruns, walks to the mailbox, and enough tears to swim in.

It was hard to remember things. Moments. My little sister’s prom and graduation, my best friend running a half marathon in Galveston, the first time I was honest-to-goodness stood up on a date, that really terrible ending to Game of Thrones.

All these moments categorized in a Pre-Back and Post-Back folder.

At the time, it was hard to think anything would ever be placed in the Post-Back folder, though.

But after a while, I could do more than lie in bed and simultaneously binge trash TV and Swedish fish.

My first time driving to work by myself, my doctor telling me I would need a second back surgery, another doctor telling me surgery wasn’t necessary, dating a boy who broke up with my on my actual birthday.

Time is funny. I used to think my life was so much better before I broke my back.

My hair was atrociously bleached, my sister and I weren’t friends, I spent more time couch surfing than I spent at home.

But breaking my back was objectively terrible, right? It was supposed to be the worst time in my life, right?

I mean, I couldn’t sleep through the night without waking up in screaming pain. I couldn’t bathe on my own. I was confined to as far as my legs would take me, and at the time, that was only to the end of the street and back.

And yet, my sister became my rock. She tethered me to reality. She helped me smile and sat beside me through the first few seasons of that truly terrible CW show.

Family dinners became a thing again. And sure, they were forced because I was literally stuck at home. But they were grounding. And energizing. And helpful in remembering that through the bad, good can come.

My friends showered me with love and only made fun of my back brace sometimes.

I was whole, and then I was broken, and then I was stitched back together.

I cried a lot that summer. But the thing about tears is whether they’re happy or sad, they’re all salty and wet and incredibly cathartic.

I lost a lot, I gained a lot. I learned a lot. And I taught myself to measure time in moments-turned-milestones.

Two years it’s been since I broke my back. The more time passes, the less I romanticize the Pre-Back days.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe breaking my back two years ago was the best milestone I ever hit.

Contact Averil Gleason at agleason@fbherald.com.

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