Andrea took these photos for herself, of course, and also for her fiancé, Michael. Michael is her partner and her world. he is everything to her. She quotes song lyrics to him- I think I was blind before I met you. She had been married before and thought that love for a spouse had conditions and limits, that it was nothing at all like the love for children or love in movies. She divorced her first husband and met Michael on an internet dating site. It was immediate and encompassing, total and true. She told him she loved him after one week. They fell in love during hurricane sandy, powerless for two weeks, cold and happy, spending every night together. He never left. It was then that Andrea began to watch him sleep. It became a favorite pastime and a way to help her calm down from the day. He has the most beautiful eyelashes and she would count them while he slept. They adored each other.
Years went by and they decided to have a baby; a real life tangible object of their love. Michael Junior was born and is as perfect as his daddy.
Last summer, when Michael, Jr. was one and half years old, on July 15, Michael was driving home from a long, hot day at work in Riverhead. He had a car accident on Nicholls road. His truck flipped over twice, into the median, and he was thrown from the car to land in the middle of the other side of the highway. Michael broke his cervical spine in three places. He suffered a hematoma in his brain. He broke his clavicle and many ribs. He was not breathing well enough on his own and was put on a ventilator. He was in a coma for weeks while they attempted to bring down the swelling in his brain. Eventually they had to do surgery to remove fluid from his brain and for two weeks they struggled to bring down his brain pressure. For two weeks they didn't know if he would live or die. When they finally managed to control the swelling they discovered that he had absolutely no left side sensation or movement. They told Andrea that he may never walk again. They also told her the injuries to the frontal lobe were so severe that they couldn't tell if he would speak, or remember her, or his children. She nearly lost him so many times in the ICU. And she never left him. From the moment of the accident she became his primary caregiver. Her incomplete nursing education allowed her to take some care of him in the hospital. She cleaned the blood from his body. They allowed her to bathe him. That became her favorite ritual; she could touch all of his skin, not just parts not covered in by tubes and a hospital gown. She learned that you don’t realize how badly you need the person you love to touch you, or to feel them, until you cant anymore. She helped to turn him to prevent sores, she exercised him arms and legs. she did more for him- things that no man ever wants his wife to have to do. But she did it all because no one else could do it well enough, because no one loves him the way she loves him. And because love is an action. True love is a verb. She swore to him that he would never be alone. She would never leave him, no matter what.
After some weeks he was woken from his coma. He remembered her, she thought, but couldn't move his left side or speak. The deficits would gradually show themselves. He ended up spending two more months in the hospital- one in the ICU, and then transferred to a rehab where he could learn to speak and hopefully walk again. Andrea was there every single day for months. She did everything she could for him. She fed him, held him while he cried, helped him try to speak, try so sit up on his own for even just a moment. Those months she spent more hours than she can recall just staring at him, praying praying praying while he slept, and counting his eyelashes while his body fought to live. She felt her presence could tether him to the earth somehow, keep him for slipping off and leaving her forever.
Rehab went well. Michael is truly the strongest human Andrea has ever known. He was scheduled to come home. It was around this time that Andrea was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She wasn't eating, sleeping. She was unable to focus and cried almost all of the time. Her eyes were always swollen shut. She began to fear everything and had trouble driving. Every sound of an ambulance passing caused panic attacks. Every mention of a car accident eviscerated her. She ate lunch in the hospital one day, early on, when news of Michael’s accident came on the cafeteria television. She saw his ruined truck. She pictured his ruined body. She prayed God to take her, if He was determined to take him. Inside she was in pieces, and it only now, with his homecoming, could she begin to get whole. But it would be so much harder than she thought to emotionally recover. Michael finally came home. It was joyous, but frightening. Andrea had nursing training, so his care would be left to her, and she was afraid she would make a mistake, or that he would get hurt while she tended to their baby. She realized on the day he came home, as she helped him to slowly walk into their home with his cane and neck brace, that she had gone from wife to caregiver. She didn’t mind. She would do everything he needed and he would be ok. She was determined. As he slowly got better, things began to return to normal. Day to day life became what would be their new normal. Michael went from patient to husbands but Andrea still found herself stuck in the role of caregiver. The role of caregiver is not a sexy one. Their intimacy suffered. She did not feel beautiful. She did not feel like someone to be lusted over. She felt like a nurse.
Andrea believes God gives us what we need when we need it. At church she was approached by a friend who asked her if she would like to take boudoir photos that she was hosting at her house. She showed Andrea photos of her own, and they were so lovely that she decided to try it. At least it was an excuse to wear lots of makeup and some high heels. Andrea did not have high hopes for the photo shoot or the outcome. The stress and pain of the last year had her self esteem at a severe low. The trauma had broken her, therapy and yoga was only slowly helping her to recover some soundness of mind. She spent a week picking out the perfect outfit. She spent a week picking out her makeup. The shoot was a fantastic, uplifting experience. Shannon made her so comfortable. She made her feel so sexy, like a woman again. Andrea felt like someone worth looking at, someone worth wanting, someone worth something. She was sexy again.
Since the shoot she has been amazed at the change in their intimacy. She accepts his compliments. She allows herself to be appreciated. She allows herself to get lost in their moments. Things have been so different for her. Upon seeing the photos, life has only gotten better. She walks taller. She feels beautiful when she leaves the house. She feels like a woman who has birthed three children, cared for a man from near death all the way back to living. She is a woman who has balanced education and motherhood; she is a woman worth something. She had no idea a simple photo shoot could change so much of her perspective, and then, her life. Sometimes we need to see ourselves the way other people see us, through a true lens, not a lens clouded by pain, trauma, self doubt, criticism and hurt. Sometimes trauma keeps us from seeing who we truly are. She was so wounded that all she saw when she looked in the mirror was damage- bruises, exhaustion, and pain. She can now look in the mirror and see the beautiful woman in the photographs. At first she kept thinking, wow, look at how good I look in these photos. But, no. She knows the truth now. She isn't only beautiful in the photographs- she is just beautiful, and she has always been. She is worthy of good things and she always has been. Life is about perspective, and thankfully God sent her the perspective she needed to love herself again. He sent her the perspective she needed to help cover the scars of trauma with the moments of joy, graciousness, and intimacy with the man she has loved since the beginning of everything; since God placed her on the earth with a love for Michael just waiting for its moment to arrive, and a love that will continue into their forever.