Annemarie Eveland doesn’t easily recall the timing of events, and when she tires, the right word is slow to come.
But she remembers the year of the car accident — 1989 — that changed her life. “Before I was a type-A personality that would float different projects at the same time,” she said.
Annemarie has adjusted to her disability, compensated for it in other ways. As with other tragedies in her life, a period of despair ultimately and inevitably precedes acceptance and personal growth.
At first, the doctor’s didn’t diagnose the trauma suffered by Annemarie’s brain.
But the accident undeniably short-circuited her linguistic skills.
“If someone said I’m feeling blue today, I would say, ‘the sky is great, isn’t it?’” Friends would knock on her door, but Annemarie was only greeted by a blank for their names.
She feared loved ones would abandon her because of decreased functioning. She imagined herself left in an institution to die alone.
Annemarie eventually visited a chiropractor that diagnosed her head injury.
“I started sobbing uncontrollably,” she said. “Not because I was sad. It was that someone told me what was wrong and then we could do something about it.”
Annemarie began visiting with a cognitive speech therapist, Mary Jane Trunzo, who she credits with providing hope in the middle of tragedy.
With brain injury, the injured can remember how they previously experienced life. This compounds the misery.
Annemarie, who lives part-time in Pine, talks like a flowing spring, poetically and with much detail. She likes to make ordinary moments magical, which is perhaps why she gravitates toward poetry.
Recently, her poem “Snowflakes” won second place in the Phoenix Sister Cities Disability Awareness Committee International Competition for Writers with Disabilities contest.
“It’s easier for me to write something down,” said Annemarie. Conversations require more processing and often involve background noise, which further complicates.
Other tragedies have marred this woman’s life.
She beat advanced melanoma with the alternative Gerson therapy, which relies on natural methods of detoxification and activating the body’s immune system.
Before cancer, she survived her first husband, an animal trainer who died after a tiger picked him up by the hip and carried him around for 40 minutes. Amazingly, he survived the tiger but died after receiving hepatitis-tainted blood during the surgery that followed.
Annemarie also survived the despair of losing everything and living in her car for a brief period.
More recently, she has been recovering from a fall down 14 steps in her Pine home last summer. But Annemarie perseveres. She feels deeply connected to a force larger than herself. “I always thought I should do something really great for humanity,” she said. “I’m 65 years old and I still can’t figure it out.”
But “every time I pay a compliment even to a clerk at the store,” she added, “every time I do something like that, it makes me feel good.
“The greatest thing we can do is be a loving presence. No matter where we go, that’s the gift we give, of ourselves.”
Annemarie once had a friend who was dying of cancer. She asked the friend what her favorite childhood memory was. “Picnics. We used to go on picnics.”
So Annemarie gathered wicker baskets, hand-sewing calico and gingham picnic fabrics inside, carrying her friend outside to eat the food and playing an Autoharp in the background.
Two weeks later the friend died, but a tradition had begun. People started asking Annemarie to serve them picnics, and she eventually started a niche catering business.
Her slogan was: “We serve magic and incidentally, food.”
“It was wonderful,” said Annemarie. She would serve people fancy picnics at their weddings with menus written in French and English subtitles.
Fanciful yes, but that is Annemarie.
“It’s really not what happens to us in life. It’s really how we perceive what has happened and what we can glean from that to help us be a better person,” she said.
“In our darkest moment, there is usually something that intervenes.”
And in the depths of despair lie the seeds of the next beginning. For Annemarie, magic will always win.