GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
OK, so everybody has an epic love story, because every love story is epic. You see, love is a human condition. You can't run, you can't hide - you're not too tough, too refined, too busy. So because the birds are chirping and the bees are busy doing their bee thing, from PRX and NPR, we probably present "A Love Supreme."
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WASHINGTON: Stories straight from the heart. My name is Glynn Washington. Sit back, welcome, because this is the quiet storm - this is SNAP JUDGMENT.
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WASHINGTON: Now then, if you've ever wondered if someone was right for you, if you've ever asked the universe if she meant for you to be with that person over there in the corner eating corn chips right now, we have got a story for you. And to be fair to parents, this next piece does contain references to that thing that consenting adults doing with other consenting adults. Therefore, discretion is advised.
LYENA STRELKOFF: It was October 4, 2002, it was a Friday and I had spent the night at my friend Dean's house. We had known each other already for a couple of years but had only been dating for a few months. And our relationship was very confusing to me.
Dean wasn't the kind of guy that I thought I wanted. I had this whole list, you know. I sat down and I made the list of sort of qualities that I admire in a person and who I want my ideal partner to be. And that person on paper was not Dean. And yet, I couldn't seem to walk away.
I remember waking up that morning in his bedroom and making love with him on his bed and - I'm even in the moment lying there thinking, I think that actually tops them all. And then I just wanted to get up. We had this plan to go hiking that day. We were going to check out Charmlee Park in Malibu, so I insisted that we get up.
And I just felt really uncomfortable the whole time we're driving going through all these deliberations. Is this where I wanted to be? Is this who I want to be with? I couldn't figure out what I wanted, but I needed to know and I needed to know immediately and I needed to know permanently.
So we get to the park and we find the trailhead and we start walking. And the whole time that we're hiking, I'm continuing this internal debate. We spotted an oak grove and so we left the trail and we went into this oak grove and I saw this impeccable tree. And I'd always climbed trees ever since I was little, I had never really stopped. Dean had his back to me and I just started to climb. And when he turned around, I was - I don't know - 20-25 feet up already.
And I was standing in this tree and my left hand was resting on this little smaller branch. And Dean started telling this really long joke and I was very impatient with this joke. And I hear this loud crack. I knew as soon as I heard it, what had happened. I knew that the branch my hand was resting on had broken. And I realize I'm going to go down and that there is nothing I can do about it.
If I had thought for a moment that I could have kept myself from hitting the ground, I would have fought. But it was so clear that there was nothing I could do and I let go of everything. And all that noise in my head just went silent. And this like euphoria came over me. And I became incredibly interested in everything around me like the leaves and the color of the bark. I had time to look at all of that, I had time to notice how glorious it felt. And then the planet shot up and hit me.
It was the most unforgiving, unrelenting surface. It felt to me like the ground did not give a millimeter. And it hurt like hell to hit the ground. It was instantly incredibly difficult to breathe. And by that time, Dean had dropped down next to me and, you know, was asking me if I was OK. And I said, where are my legs? And he - sort of like, what are you talking about - right here. And I saw him reach out with his hand. And so I got curious and I reached down myself where he had reached and I felt this incredibly smooth and silken surface that I did not recognize. And I said, what is that? And the color drained out of his face and he said, it's your leg.
I could hear the sirens bouncing off the canyon walls on their way in and I knew they were for me. And I was staring up at the leaves and the branches above me hearing myself say everything that you need to know about your life is happening right now so pay attention.
I had broken my back and crushed my spinal cord. So I had been instantly and completely paralyzed from the waist down on impact. There it is. The hardest part was having to admit that I had no sexual sensation. My surgeon asked me to check if I had any. And I knew before he asked me that I had no sensation. But having to admit that to another person was much harder than just knowing in my own mind. And I think it represented the magnitude of what I was losing. And it was not just a little bit ironic - here I had had literally the best sexual sensation of my life - what - four hours before that or something? And then I lost all sensation.
I went to Craig Rehab Hospital in Colorado, a specialty hospital for spinal cord injury. And it was there that - truly, there's nothing that brings home the reality of a spinal cord injury like being in a place where everyone has one. And you start to realize the club you've just joined and it's hard to stay hopeful.
I didn't want visitors from home during that time. My friends would say, you know, should we come visit? And I would say no, and Dean too. I didn't want him to come. I would talk to him every day and he even checked with my ex-boyfriend who knew me much better. And he said, just go - the ex. Just get on a plane and go, don't listen to her. And Dean, I guess feeling insecure about that advice, checked with me and I said absolutely not, that's the worst thing you could do. Don't you dare get on a plane and just come out here.
But I think what happened is what always happened between Dean and I, which is that his persistence eventually trumped my ambivalence. And so he flew in on a Monday night and I told him he couldn't see me until 10 a.m. on Tuesday. And that morning - Tuesday morning - I was put together, I was clean, I had my hair done, I had my bed raised up so that I could sit up fully. And the clock hit 10 a.m. on the nose and he walked in the door and I took one look at him and I started to cry. And I didn't want him to leave my side again. That was it. I just wanted him to stay with me. And every other night after that he spent in my hospital bed with me. But I was so hungry for his touch and the safety of that, the familiarity of it, the hope of it that my life could still be good - that there could still be something really beautiful and spectacular and golden about it.
And so it wasn't a question, it wasn't a debate, there wasn't any discussion about it, it just happened. The next thing I know we were kissing and we just sort of figured it out. I think it was affirming that we were still alive and that that mattered - that you can lose, really, almost everything, but if you're still alive and you have each other, you still have more than you've lost.
WASHINGTON: Guess what? Lyena Strelkoff and Dean later married and today they're the parents of a little, bitty boy. That story came to us from Lea Thau's amazing podcast, Strangers, supported by KCRW's Independent Producer Project. Find a link to the Strangers program on our website, snapjudgment.org.