Memories Are Erased but Love Remains

A husband shares the amazing real-life love story told in the movie The Vow.

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Posted in , Jun 19, 2012

Kim Carpenter and his wife, Krickitt

“I’m not married,” she said. Not married? Then who was I, standing at my wife Krickitt’s hospital bedside since our car accident, praying during the three weeks she’d spent in a coma?

“No, Krickitt, you are married,” the rehabilitation nurse said gently. She asked again, “Who is your husband?”

My wife stared blankly. “I told you. I’m not married.”

But we were! We’d said vows before God and family, “till death do us part.” This felt almost worse than death.

We’d met just a year earlier when I called to order jackets for the college baseball team I coached, the New Mexico Highlands University Cowboys, and a cheerful sales rep with an unusual name answered. I was smitten.

I called Krickitt “to follow up on my order.” Eventually she gave me her home number in Anaheim, California.

Krickitt was actually a nickname her great-aunt gave her at age two, back in Phoenix, Arizona, because she kept hopping around. She hopped her way to becoming an Academic All-American gymnast in college.

Maybe what attracted me most was Krickitt’s faith. She wasn’t just a Sunday morning Christian. She saw God’s plan in every aspect of her life.

She told me a knee injury her senior year of college was a sign for her to quit gymnastics and help poor communities in Hungary on a church mission trip. Every day, she recorded her thoughts about God in a prayer journal.

I was a Christian, but I’d never had her passion. It scared me a little, fascinated me even more. I began to understand. God had brought us together.

She flew out to meet me and we hugged at the airport like old friends. That night we talked until the sun came up about faith, our lives, our dreams. Krickitt gave me a gift—a Bible, with my name embossed on the cover in gold lettering.

“Have you ever read the Book of Job?” she asked, turning to the story. “Life isn’t fair. Everybody has times when they feel like God’s just not there. But he’s always there, bringing you closer to him.”

She read the passage, and warm waves rippled through my body, as if her faithwere flowing into me.

I visited California, met her family and friends, even her pastor. That June I proposed, and we married in September, a large ceremony at Scottsdale Bible Church in Arizona.

“I promise to love and respect you fully,” I vowed, “to devote myself to your every need and desire. I promise to be the man you fell in love with. Thank you, Jesus, for the blessing you have provided me.”

Krickitt was driving us to her parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner that November when she swerved to avoid a slow-moving truck. Another truck hit us instead.

And now my wife had forgotten me. How did that fit into God’s plan? I stormed out of the recovery room and punched the wall. The pain barely registered. My heart hurt worse.

Krickitt’s neurophysiologist took me aside. “The injuries to the frontal lobe of Krickitt’s brain caused retrograde amnesia,” he explained. “She’s disoriented and seems to have lost memory of ever meeting, dating or marrying you. The effects could be permanent.”

I returned the next day with photos. These will jog her memory, I hoped.

There was no emotion looking at the photos. Only a dazed and empty stare. If she doesn’t know me, I thought, how can she love me?

Krickitt learned to walk again and worked with a speech therapist. I spent every day by her side. She didn’t seem to mind my presence. But when I tried to push her in physical therapy, giving in to my coaching instincts, Krickitt lost it.

“Why are you bossing me around?” she shouted. “Leave me alone! I don’t know you.”

Then one afternoon Krickitt made an entry in her prayer journal. “Therapy is very confusing. But I know that’s the way things are. And I know the Lord has me safe in his right pocket.”

Krickitt’s faith was still strong. Her brain was damaged, but maybe her faith lay somewhere deeper, a place that couldn’t be injured. Faith brought us together once. Could it do it again?

Krickitt moved back to her parents’ house in Phoenix while she completed outpatient therapy. Familiar surroundings were supposed to help her recover. Everyone agreed I should return home and resume coaching.

During the week she was in therapy. I flew in to see her and help with the rehab. Krickitt seemed healthier each time. She seemed to accept what everyone said—we actually were married. Still, the intimacy we’d shared was missing, that interlinking of two souls.

I longed to feel her embrace me the way she once did. With love.

Finally, Krickitt was deemed healthy enough to come back to our apartment. “She is very eager to return to her husband in New Mexico,” her progress report said. Did she really feel that way? I was ecstatic. My wife is coming home.

Yet Krickitt couldn’t recognize the furniture we’d picked out, the china patterns she’d spent weeks deciding on. Her vision was cloudy sometimes; she tired easily. Rarely a day passed without her accidentally breaking something or us arguing.

Krickitt got a part-time job as an exercise technician at a hospital fitness center, but I worried about her leaving the house and getting lost.

“Maybe you should have someone go with you to work,” I suggested.

“Stop treating me like a child!”

“Stop acting like one!”

My athletic director noticed how worn out I was, and suggested taking time off to see a therapist. I was incredulous. Krickitt was injured. Not me.

One afternoon I returned from work and Krickitt was standing in the kitchen, looking lost. I asked what was wrong. Krickitt broke down. “How did I do the wife thing? Did I cook for you? Make you lunch? I don’t know what to do!” What you did was love me, I wanted to yell.

I lay in bed beside Krickitt that night, wanting to hold her, but afraid to. I felt like I was sleeping next to a stranger. In the darkness, Krickitt’s words from what felt like long ago came to me.

“Everybody has times when they feel like God’s just not there. But he’s always there, bringing you closer to him.” Were Job’s difficulties as baffling as this? Lord, help me to accept what happened. Help us to move forward and lean on you.

I resigned as coach and before long got into therapy. “Why do you think Krickitt married you in the first place?” the therapist asked in my first session.

“Because of the way I treated her,” I said. “She helped me grow in my faith, and I looked up to her for that. I loved her for that more than anything.”

The therapist stared at me. Of course. Faith was the key to the bond between Krickitt and me that could not be destroyed. “Maybe you should start over, rebuild your relationship as before,” the therapist said. “Start from scratch.”

Krickitt and I went for long walks through town, shoe shopping, dress shopping, her favorite activities. We went out for pizza, bowled, took in a few ball games. All the things we did when we first courted.

One afternoon we went to Walmart, and like two teenagers, filled a bag of candy and ate it as we shopped. We had long talks again, about faith and the Bible. We prayed together again. We laughed more.

We stripped away everything except why we fell in love in the first place—our shared love of God, a love that can never be forgotten.

“I hope I’m proving why you liked me the first time around,” I said one night as we cuddled on the couch.

Krickitt turned to me. “I do know now,” she said. “I do.” She gave me a kiss. “I just wish I remembered our wedding.”

“We can make that happen again,” I said. So on Valentine’s Day 1996, two and a half years after the accident, I proposed to her again.

A few months later, Krickitt and I renewed our vows at a rustic country chapel in front of 30 of our closest friends and family. A much smaller affair than our first wedding. But more meaningful in many ways.

Our love had been tested in a way we could never have imagined. Yet memories are a record of the past. Like Job, we move closer to God by going forward, to a future with new memories.

We forged my old wedding ring together with a new one. In a way, we’d been reforged ourselves, into something greater, stronger than ever.

 

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