• Drew Clayborn

Let’s Stay Together

Blogging has been as much for me as it is for all of you. It’s great to give everyone an inside look into my life but it also gives me a chance to reflect, reminisce, gain a new perspective, and work through things I otherwise wouldn’t. I hope everyone that reads them is able to look at these things through my perspective. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted and part of that is because I know what I want to talk about and I’m contemplating how to go about this next topic. I said in the beginning that I will stay true to myself and I’m absolutely going to do so even if I’m worried I might rub some people the wrong way that I love and care about.

I want to talk about my family through these 8 years, how we’ve grown and shaped to where we are now. This really should’ve been the first topic I talked about because nothing is possible without their support. Without them I am in a nursing home somewhere slowly dying from preventable illnesses, secluded from the world in a virus like state festering mentally and physically within myself as I cease to exist. Unfortunately this is the reality for many in my circumstance. Even for people with less drastic diagnoses this can be the life that’s presented to them. I fully acknowledge that this would be my fate if it weren’t for the true foundation of having my family.

Prior to my accident my family was separated. My brother, JR, was 20 living in Chicago figuring out life. Struggling with addiction, street life, and going to school. My mom lived in a suburb of Chicago about an hour away from the city with her girlfriend that she ended up being with for 10 years. She’d been there a couple years after a heated custody battle between her and my dad. We’d take the train to visit her once a month and over the summer.

My dad, sister Desirae, and I were together here in Commerce Michigan. It had been about a year post-separation of our dad and stepmom Barbara, who had been together my entire life. After they split we were actually much happier as the three of us. When they were together we were having house rumbling arguments.

Thinking about when it was the three of us reminds me of these song lyrics from Sister Sparrow,

"Good things come free

Do what you can and be what you need

We never had much, but we figured it out

Cause when you've got nothing, there's nothing to bitch about

Say, ‘You got money, you got something’

Oh, oh, just hit me with love

You ain't got love, then you ain't got nothin"

We had plenty of love to go around. Dad was working extremely long hours so that me and Desirae could do whatever and be a part of whatever activities we wanted to at school. He made sure to be at all our events if possible. Basketball games, cheerleading competitions, band concerts, there were a lot, but I knew if he was able to he’d be there cheering us on. There were also many times if he couldn’t be there we’d be there for each other. I loved being the annoying little brother being the loudest voice in the crowd screaming YEAHHHH DESIRAE!!!! I would get up early in the mornings so that I could get in the shower first and make our lunches before school. Dad was usually still asleep when we left for the bus (aka Desirae’s boyfriends car even though we weren’t allowed to drive with him) so one of his rules was that we had to come kiss him goodbye each morning even if he was knocked out.

When my accident happened it forced us all to come back together. It just happened that mom and JR were with each other at the movies seeing How to Train Your Dragon. Dad was at work with his phone blowing up about me. Desirae was at school with me, walking to her locker to see my limp body on the ground, puke pouring out my mouth. One day I’ll do a post about that day and how my accident came about; but this is what forced my family to drop everything and come to my side.

My mom and dad weren’t even speaking and now they had to make life changing decisions about their son together. With my injury being at the very top of my spine so close to my brain stem, C1-C2 cervical vertebrae, operating proposed a risk of giving me brain damage as well and there’s even a chance I could’ve died on the table. Later on one of my favorite ICU nurses would tell me stories about my dad and mom going at it in the hallway and then a doctor would undermined them or say something stupid or do something without asking them and all their anger and attention would immediately go at that doctor and they’d lay into them. I love my parents.

My family never left me alone in the hospital. JR told me about how that first week before I was conscious dad and mom would be getting pulled all around and he stayed next to my bed constantly. I kept waking up asking questions about what happened, he’d tell me, I’d look sad or disappointed for a second, I’d fall back asleep, and then wake up asking the same questions again. Later on everyone started taking shifts staying with me so that there was always someone I could call to help me or watch what the doctors were doing to me. What the fuck you talking about? What the fuck you doing? What the fuck is that? My grandparents would come stay with me so people could get away. Aunts, cousins, friends’ parents, friends, there was always someone I could call.

Things got to the point where everything was very normal. It was like a 3 month hotel stay. Dad was often off trying to learn everything about what was to come, raising money to figure out how to get the things I was going to need along with being with me a lot. Mom and JR were with me a lot along with Desirae when she wasn’t at school. We were coexisting in this hospital environment where everything I needed was easily accessible. There was one weekend we kicked dad out to go get away. That was actually the weekend when our friend that coined the term The Drew Crew for us introduced and tried to setup my dad and now stepmom Tracie. We were coming closer as a family unit constantly every day with a common goal of taking care of me and learning everything we could that will lead to me walking again. Then came time for me to come home.

Since then we’ve gone through many waves of struggles, growth, and love. Early on there were still tough moments between my parents. We were figuring out how to mesh between family and nurses, how much my family needed to be around and with me. My dad has struggled with the loss of his independent son, how to give me the same opportunities I had prior, how to make sure we have security if something changes, how to get the most from insurance and health services so that I don’t have to rely on family and friends as much and can live my own life as well. There’s been times we didn’t have any staff and dad would be with me multiple times a week. My mom has had many struggles as far as relationships, money, living situations, professions, and more. Desirae has struggled with life without her brother as she knows him, how to live her own life and still feel like she’s helped her family. JR has continued with the struggles he had before my accident along with the butting heads with dad which they’ve done my whole life, relationships, court problems, and now children. Tracie has always been in this with us, figuring out how to be with someone who just had a life altering event happen, how to support him, support us, love and take care of us, living through the happy moments along with the sad moments with us. This is continually evolving and changing for us but I believe we are a much stronger family because of these challenges.

The turning point was when I started college. My freshman year I was commuting with my nurse Sugar, who had been with me all through high school. Half way through the year we had to part ways with her because the situation was so different and difficult on her family. All we had was one night nurse and my brother JR had just moved home from Florida after some bad things had happened in his last two living situations. He came home with the thought that he’d be with me during the day at school. Along with it just being dad, JR, Desirae on the weekends as she was going to OCC, and our night nurse Starchild, we wanted to try having me live on campus during the week for the first time. Starchild was with me on campus 4 or 5 nights, dad was doing the other 2 or 3 nights, and JR was with me every day from 8am-11pm along with packing me up coming home every weekend and back to campus on Monday. We did this the whole second semester of freshman year. Later my mom moved back from Chicago again after her and her girlfriend had broken up. We figured out how some family members could get paid like being an aid, and my sophomore year I moved into a much nicer dorm and I had a couple more nurses and family being with me throughout the week. This continued for the next three years as I got through school. These three years I believe were the closest my family had ever been. Then dad figured out how that we could get more nursing hours and after that I had primarily nursing with family filling in the gaps. Since then everyone has started to spread once again. Sister lives in Ohio with fiancé and his family. Brother lives in Ypsilanti with his fiancé and has two adorable babies. Mom just moved to Ohio, still somewhat closer and much cheaper. I absolutely love this for my family and I want them to do the best they possibly can and live their own lives. I would be lying however if I didn’t say how much I miss them.

The thing I’m scared about is if something changes with how things are. With how the country is, how insurance works, and how things have been going who knows what can happen. It’s not something I should worry about but I do. Part of it could just be that I miss everyone. I think about life and death sometimes as well. It’s extremely unlikely but it’s still a possibility that something can happen and I could die today. The average life expectancy for my level of spinal cord injury is 5 years and I’m going on 9. Once again it’s not something I should think about but it is. No part of me is suicidal but when I think about death I’m very contempt with it. I’ll say again, I AM NOT SUICIDAL, there are many things in this life I want to experience and are going to experience. But when I think about being here and not being here they both sound fine. Dad no longer has to work so hard to take care of me and can do more for himself and Tracie. Mom, JR, and Desirae don’t have to feel constricted to me and everyone can go do their own things. I would also not have to deal with all the things I do (more accurately, can’t do) every day. So if today is the day I go I want to say something to each of my family members.

Dad. You are the strongest person I can possibly think of. You do more for me than I could imagine and I love you so much. I know that you have shown me how to do whatever is necessary to take care of myself. When people say you look like Denzel Washington I always say you are a mix between him in John Q and Training Day and you really are. I know there is nothing that would stand in the way of you taking care of your kids and family. You are that dad that when there’s parties and there’s obviously other fathers there, you are the universal dad that anybody can call dad and everyone knows they’re talking about you. Not to say anything about anyone else but you are the epitome of what a father is. I hope that you continue to take care of yourself as much as you take care of others. Keep learning new things, keep trying new things, and reach out of your comfort zone. My fondest memories of you will always be us tinkering with things. Whether it was remote controlled cars, XMODS, fantasy football teams, I always like tinkering with you.

Mom. I love you so much. I know you try your best to be with me and take care of me. It makes me so sad that you don’t have your mom or dad anymore, I never got to meet my papa, and that you don’t feel the same family presence that I do with cousins and stuff. I know you’re getting closer now and I hope you’re able to go home, reconnect, and be with the family you do have. I don’t know what it’d feel like if I never had those nostalgic moments of driving through areas that brought back memories of when I was younger. I do hope that you’re able to get back home more often just for that reason alone. I miss you a lot, I miss all the days in my dorm hanging out. I hope you’re able to find what you want to do and can stick to it until completion. I know the risk of success or failure is scary but you haven’t really done either recently because you haven’t really followed through where you could fail. I think you’ll surprise yourself with the results. My fondest memories of you will always be me laying on the couch listening to you talk. Whether you and Desirae are at the table gossiping and screaming five octives higher or you’re on the phone with a girlfriend rubbing my head until I fall asleep I just like those moments when you’re completely yourself.

JR. I miss you so much. I miss all those mornings of us walking over to the dining hall or doing something on campus or sitting around talking. I will always be the little brother that looks up to you higher than you can possibly imagine. I think you’re capable of so much more than you can believe. Over my five years at Michigan there’s been many moments when you’re in a room full of smart people and one person stands out and everyone in there just gives that look like, okay this is what smart looks like. That’s you, no matter where you go. I have spent a lot of time with you and I’m very observant and I know you deal with things inside that you can’t control and haven’t told anyone. Just know that that’s not something that you should let hold you back. I hope you could talk to someone about it one day in a way that’ll relieve some pressure off your mind and lift a weight off your shoulders. My fondest memories of you will always be us talking about life, some of the stories I’ve already told in these blogs, and many more. You always knew what I needed to hear at the right time.

Desirae. I love you so much and I miss you so much. I miss my twin that I used to do everything with, getting excited when we had the same lunch together, putting our schedules together so we could try to have a class together. I hate that one backflip made it to where you can’t be with me without having to take care of me to some degree. I miss sharing an upstairs with you. I miss being so irritated with you we punched holes in the wall. I will always be the little brother you loved carrying around like a show and tell item. I hope you know how much I look up to you as well. The millionaire mentality you have and the goals you’ve set for yourself are 100% possible and I think you could do more! My fondest memories of you are all the incredibly silly moments we’ve had. Like when we were home and we’d do crazy stuff like blowing condoms up like balloons, watching tv and just spit balling stupid stuff that comes in our head as if we were high even though we weren’t, going through your closet to put crazy stuff on for spirit week, you putting my onesie on and pissing yourself because you couldn't get it off quick enough, screeching out a hakuna mutata duet sing along just because we’re on a webcam, and everything in between.

JR and Desirae. This is probably common for many youngest siblings but I feel like up until a year ago, 99% of the friends I had were all made through you two. Whenever we’d be somewhere on campus everyone liked you guys so much and then you’d talk me up and they’d be like, huh who’s he? What’s his deal? Even through high school Desirae you always tried to show me off. You guys always made me feel cool or interesting even with all my social awkwardness. I miss you guys a lot. I hope your families are doing great and Desirae I know you’re secretly going to have a kid or two, don’t play.

Barbara. I know you and dad might not have had the best relationship but I hope you know how much I love and miss you. I have so many memories of me as a toddler that reminds me of you. I make salads the way you used to still. I hope one day you’re able to take care of all the things you want to and can live how you want to, traveling wherever you want. My fondest memories of you were when you’d be cleaning the house listening to your Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and Mary J. Blige CDs. The house would smell like pinesol and comet. I can’t tell you how many times teachers from school or friends parents would call and then they’d meet you and they’d be like I could have sworn she was black and shit like this is exactly why. You were my soulful momma. R&B is still my favorite thing to listen to when I’m working on stuff.

Tracie. I saved you for last but absolutely not the least. I love you so much. Unfortunately we don’t really spend much 1 on 1 time together and you didn’t know me before my accident but I don’t feel like you needed to. You have gone through this absolutely crazy journey with us. You and dad met about a month after my accident. Through all the good and bad moments, struggles and triumphs, there hasn’t been one moment when I thought you wouldn’t around. I hope one day when this is all behind us you and dad continue traveling the world together enjoying every second of life. My fondest memories of you have been all the little moments seeing how happy you make my dad. It’s so special that when you guys are with your friends I see them watching you two, making the same face I make when I see you together. You guys light up each other in a way that I’ve never seen before and I love it! If you were to spend time with 100 married couples I’d expect less than 5 to have the natural sparks and electricity that are always exploding from you two. I love you and I love seeing you with my dad.

If you made it all the way through this I commend you. This is my family. We're not perfect by no means but we know if we have nothing we have love, that's all we need. This is absolutely my perspective so I hope I didn’t say anything troublesome.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

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