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Video: The real-life story behind “The Vow”

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TODAY books
updated 2/10/2012 1:13:28 PM ET 2012-02-10T18:13:28

Imagine that within the first blissful months of marriage, the person you love most in the world miraculously survives a near-fatal car crash,... and awakes with no memory of you at all. In "The Vow," Kim and Krickitt Carpenter recount this incredible experience. Here's an excerpt.

Chapter 10

I was living with a stranger. I had been so thankful to God for the miracle of Krickitt’s recovery, and looked forward to her coming home with such joy and anticipation. To have my wife—my friend, my companion, my lover—with me again every day had been my constant prayer for months. I never dreamed the reality of her return could make me so frustrated and sad.

By the spring of 1995, I’d resigned myself to the fact that life would never be normal again and that the old Krickitt was not coming back. Continuing a now-familiar pattern, there were tantalizing glimpses of what I thought was the preaccident Krickitt—moments that pulled me in two directions at once. On one hand they returned me for a split second to the good old days; on the other they were heart-piercing reminders of the life I had lost.

The most encouraging part of Krickitt’s recovery was that somehow her faith had remained intact. She had praised God and prayed to him shortly after being charted out of a coma. Later, when she was living with her parents during outpatient therapy at Barrow, she told her mother that she had a nagging feeling something was missing in her life. Her mom took her shopping for a prayer journal. That seemed to be the answer. As mixed up in the head as she was, she’d felt the absence of prayer in her life and wanted to make it a regular part of her routine again.

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She never recovered her memory of our meeting, engagement, marriage, honeymoon, or anything of our life together. (Krickitt was not even fully aware of her unrecovered memory until a year and a half after the accident. She was extremely confused because she didn’t know that she didn’t know me.) But everybody kept telling her we were man and wife, and she’d watched the video of our wedding and looked at our honeymoon pictures a thousand times. That feeling she had as she looked in the mirror that time back in Phoenix stuck with her. Her life wasn’t a bad dream she would eventually wake up from.

It was the new reality.

And as much as she rejected me sometimes, she had a sense that I was there as her protector and companion, and realized that I went out of my way to be with her and help her. “I figure if I fell in love with this guy before,” she observed, “I guess I could do it again.”

Her spiritual life seemed miraculously intact—as her brother, Jamey, had said early in her recovery, she had a rock solid “core of Christianity” that even this terrible experience couldn’t damage. Could that faith be combined somehow with her faith in our marriage to close the gap between us or at least keep it from getting any wider?

One big mystery for me was still what Krickitt was thinking from one minute to the next. Her mood swings were so wide and unpredictable. Unpredictable described our whole relationship. What was her real personality now and how much of it was getting to the surface? How well was she communicating what she thought and felt inside? Were we seeing the new real Krickitt?

Maybe she knew how to behave, knew how to act with me, how to control her anger, how to be affectionate and forgiving, but couldn’t put her knowledge into practice somehow because of her injury. Or maybe she had no idea about any of that. I didn’t know what Krickitt was like spiritually and emotionally any more, and didn’t know whether her true self—whatever that was—was represented in her actions, or whether there was a disconnect between what she thought and what she did.

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Some reactions of hers surprised her as much as they did me. One day she asked me to rub her feet. I said I would, and she plopped them down in my lap—but accidentally so hard and in such a place that I experienced sudden and severe manly pain. It hurt so bad I threw up. At the sight of my distress, Krickitt started laughing and couldn’t stop. Her reaction was tough for me, but it was frustrating for Krickitt too. I don’t think she actually thought it was funny; she just couldn’t control her emotional reaction. It was a typical response for head injury victims, and one more reminder of how far we still had to go.

Adding to the tension was the double-edged financial sword of relentless calls from collection agencies and the ongoing legal battle to settle with our auto insurance company, which was dragging its feet every inch of the way toward a payout. Up to the time of our accident, I’d never talked to a bill collector in my life. The only rubber check I ever wrote was because I once put a deposit into the wrong account by mistake. We had faithfully paid our premiums specifically to avoid a financial meltdown in the unlikely event of a serious accident. Now the meltdown had happened, and we were getting nowhere with our coverage. Nowhere was another word that described my whole life with depressing accuracy at times. Some days the problems were overwhelming, sweeping over me like an ocean storm. I was drowning in stress and confusion and anger. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t coach like I wanted to, didn’t know how to be a husband to my wife any more.

Then other days life seemed less black and hopeless. The one rock for me then, the one lighthouse beam in the darkness, was faith. For all her gonzo behavior, I think Krickitt had faith, too, as much as I did. In the depths of our nastiest shouting matches, there was a tenuous thread that connected us somehow.

What could I do? One thing I had to do was get the counseling Rob Evers insisted on.

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It felt weird to think of going to a counselor by myself after so many counseling sessions with Krickitt. At this point, though, I had nothing to lose. I had been sure I could hold myself together, nurture Krickitt along, and get us back on track. I’d worked at it for more than a year, and I had failed. We weren’t getting anywhere. I had done all I could. I had to leave the rest up to God. I really think God needed to break me. I had to give everything to him. Lying in bed late one night with Krickitt asleep beside me, I came face-to-face once again with the fact that I was helpless without God and that only he could heal our marriage.

Staring at the ceiling, listening to the noises of the night, hearing and feeling Krickitt’s relaxed, steady breathing beside me, I rolled these thoughts around in my head. What was God doing with my life?

What was he doing with my vow?

Excerpted from “The Vow” by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Copyright © 2012 by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Excerpted with permission.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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