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Into the Light by Peter Kahrmann

Starting Over – All Over Again

In late October 1984, I found myself sitting in my Lower East Side living room with two close friends only six weeks after I’d been held up and shot in the head, which left me with a brain injury and a bullet lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain.

In six weeks’ time, I’d been shot, lost my ability to work, learned that I had no health care coverage and, last but not least, had my girlfriend, overwhelmed through no fault of her own by the vicious realities of the shooting, end our relationship. I was also living with an injury that, then and now, could abscess at any time and, in doing so, inflict more damage to my brain, or kill me. It felt as if I’d lost everything, including my sense of being safe in the world. But, as I pointed out to my two close friends, if indeed everything had been lost, that meant the slate had been wiped clean, which in turn meant I could rebuild my life any way I wanted. And so, I told them both, I planned to leave the city, live in the country, in as secluded a setting as possible, work on a farm, and write.

I was starting over, and as my closest friend, Michael Sulsona, said to me then, “Hey, how many people get a chance to start over in their thirties?” He was right.

I am happy to report that all three components of my plan came true. I left the city in 1987 and soon after worked on a horse farm mucking stalls and, soon after that, began landing work as a freelance journalist. I did not, however, relent on my commitment to live in as secluded a setting as possible. I never did, until now.

While I am not in a position where I have again lost everything, I am, for the first time in nearly 25 years, willfully moving back to a community setting. I will be taking a ground-floor apartment in a seven-apartment building in the Berkshires. In other words, I will have neighbors.

I am 58 and, once again, I am starting over and planning change. And, as Michael said, how many people get the chance to start over? I am a lucky man.

And what are these planned changes? First and foremost is a rigorous daily writing schedule. Second, and perhaps most important of all, I plan to become involved with the community. Am I scared? Yes -- out of my wits, or nearly so. I live with brain damage and a hefty dose of PTSD. Fear of being shot again is very real, but it is time to relieve this fear of some of its decision-making power. It is OK to be afraid; don’t let it scare you. I tell myself that nearly on a daily basis.

I know many people who live their lives with at least one hand tied behind their back, meaning they don’t give themselves permission to be who they are, at least not fully.

While I do not know what awaits me in the coming weeks, months and years, I do know I want to live them all as me, as fully me as possible. And if starting over is the “on” switch, then so be it. What will or won’t get published is not up to me. What is up to me is what will or won’t get written. And as for community involvement, there is no doubt I will form new friendships, and that is a good thing.

I know of no one who wakes up in the morning complaining about having too many friends in life.

Peter Kahrmann is an advocate for people with disabilities and writes a blog on disability issues. He resides in New York state.

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