All Garrett Ebling wanted was his life back.

He lay in a Minneapolis hospital, wires holding his mouth shut, his right eye swollen shut. Tubes protruded from his stomach and neck. Casts immobilized his feet. Straps kept his arms at his side. The shattered bones in his face were the worst the doctors had ever seen.

He remembered leaving a company picnic in St. Paul late in the afternoon of Aug. 1. He had proposed to his girlfriend days earlier, and she'd said yes. His life was taking a new direction.

On the drive home, the taillights in front of him suddenly fell, then he felt weightless. He understood right away what was happening.

When he came out of sedation, it was Aug. 19. He didn't realize how badly he'd been hurt.

Doctors assured him he would be OK, eventually.

Broken bones. Six weeks, he assumed, and I'll be back to normal.

A year later, he wonders if he will ever know normal again.

Ebling was determined to recover quickly. When physical therapists wanted him to muster 10 steps with a walker, he'd force himself to walk 20.

"I'm going to march through this and everybody's going to go, 'Wow! Garrett, he's such a trouper. ... Look at him go.'"

With each milestone, he expected change.

When I get my cast off my leg, I'll feel better, he thought.

Then: When I get the wires out of my mouth and my mouth is back to normal, I'll be fine. I'll be in a happy mind-set ... then I can move forward.

As each goal passed, Ebling was numb. Others were living -- working, laughing -- and he felt like a ghost, going through the motions of life.

He grew surly and controlling, fussing at his fiancée over simple things such as when to do the laundry. There was so much he couldn't control that he needed to control something.

Finally, his fiancée, Sonja Birkeland, persuaded him to go to therapy. He was reluctant: "I'm a guy. I don't want to talk about feelings."

Now, after more than six months in therapy, Ebling is realizing how the collapse continues to affect his moods, his happiness, his life.

Physically, he looks almost like his old self. His nose is a little flatter, his right eye closed slightly. He can walk again, although he's reminded of the bridge with every aching step of his left foot. He's back at work.

He and Birkeland will marry Aug. 3, a date they chose to reclaim that time of year and make it happy.

He realizes that normal may never be what it used to be. "I don't know where the finish line is," he said. "I don't know what it looks like."