That part gets me every time, and it got me good this Christmas. Like George, I get to live again. I better not fuck it up. Getting so close to my own mortality reminds me that it’s there, and that it’s waiting patiently for me. One day, hopefully a long time from now, it WILL get me, just as it will get all of you. Death remains undefeated.

But before Death gets his bony fingers around me for good—before doctors once again crack my head open and feast on the goo inside—I wish you all peace and joy. I also hope you are loved and that you love others, and that you have a crew to smuggle Kettle Chips and fresh bagels and bibimbap into the hospital as needed, because all that love and all those foodstuffs saved my life. I know it as certainly as I know my own CAT scan.

And take care of your brain. I spent all this time worried about my heart, taking my idiot brain for granted. Don’t you make the same mistake. I am now at a heightened risk for dementia, but perhaps you are not. Keep it that way if you can. Do crossword puzzles. Read a lot of books. Avoid playing professional football. Know the warning signs of TBI and stroke for you and your family. Watch out for your brain because your brain IS you. It’s your intellect, your memories, your personality … it’s all you got. Why, it’s a marvelous little engine, and no one gets to use yours except for you. I injured my brain and it felt like I injured every single part of my body. So love your brain and use it to love others.

I’m home now. When I walked through the door after more than a month away, my dog—who had no idea what happened to me and no idea if I would ever come back—was shaking with joy. I sat down and he immediately leapt into my lap, like he’d been waiting a lifetime to do it.

We had to install extra guard rails on the stairs so that I wouldn’t fall down. At first, I had to get around using a walker. The walker sucked ass. I hated it. We put little skis on the bottom of mine instead of tennis balls to keep it from scratching the floor, but I sure as hell didn’t feel like some Aspen stud while I was toodling around with it. My wife jokingly called the walker a stroller, and that’s the exact sensation it conjured. My kids were no longer babies, and yet here I was dragging a fucking stroller around again. The outpatient physical therapist talked about me graduating to a cane. I didn’t end up needing one because I can now walk on my own again, but I DID envision getting one and a pocketwatch to go with it, then taking my rightful place as an underground mafia kingpin.

For three months, I was not medically cleared to drive a car, travel alone, or even take ibuprofen for pain. I qualified for a handicapped parking placard, but I was too proud and too paranoid to routinely use it. I was also not supposed to cook at first, though I gleefully violated that directive. Off to Smokeboys Anonymous with me. My wife considered installing an old fogey chairlift to bring me up the staircase, but I nixed the idea. This isn’t a fucking Gremlins sequel. I can climb stairs just fine now, thank you.

Moving around can still make me lightheaded, so dropping things can prove troublesome for me, so of course now I accidentally drop shit all the fucking time. I dropped a pen the other week, put it back, and it rolled right back onto the ground afterward. Tell me that’s not clear proof of God being a complete prick to me. You cannot! My wife has asked me to not scream out FUCK whenever I drop something, but that has proven impossible. I mean really … FUCK!

I’m more irritable than I was pre-coma, but I can’t always tell if that’s because my brain is still swollen or because LIFE is more irritable at the moment. Real tossup there. I’m off the sauce (doctor’s rec), so that probably doesn’t help when it comes to relaxing. A lot of edge builds up when you can’t take the edge off. It could be similar to one of those old episodes of House where a lady takes an arrow through the dome, but the only damage she suffers is that she can’t stand opera anymore. But I do know that I’m different. Still me, but not quite. All the pieces of me aren’t all lined up exactly as they were, and I haven’t fully accepted this yet. I liked who I was before all this. I’m not sure about this new fella.

My right ear has gone deaf. In crowds, all the noise becomes a raucous blur and I get overwhelmed. Sometimes I snap my fingers by the dead ear to test it, in the false hope that it’ll magically heal itself. I have no echolocation, meaning I cannot tell where sound is coming from if I cannot see its source. This is fun when you have loud children and can’t find them to tell them to please pipe down.

I get tired easily. My skin is thinner. Bad news, be it personal or national, gnaws at me more than it used to. I deleted Twitter off my phone. No need for my wife to compel me to do so. I didn’t beat the Reaper just to look at recycled Jack Nicholson gifs or read about Matt Bevin claiming vaccines make you gay or have trolls in my mentions telling me they wish I hadn’t survived. I’ll probably fall off the tweetwagon and download the app again in two weeks, only to re-delete it and then re-download it 50 times over. There goes my reliability again.

The stitches have dissolved and my hair has mostly grown back. If you saw me now, you wouldn’t know that anything had happened to me. But I know. I can still trace a line along the scars running up the front and the back of my head. If I trace them simultaneously, my fingers almost meet at the top of my scalp. When I was in the hospital, the dissolvable stitches were still there. One night, I pulled one of them out and placed it on the bed beside my pillow. It was a coarse, wiry thing, like a whisker plucked from a small dog. For weeks, this mighty little stitch had performed the vital task of helping keep my scalp together. Now it was nothing more than biodegradable garbage.

Eventually I fell asleep, this time for one night only. When I woke up in the morning and checked next to my hospital pillow, that stitch had vanished entirely.