AP Exclusive: Giffords vows return to Congress

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords vows to return to Congress in a new book that describes her months of intense therapy and her emotional struggle to come to terms with being shot in the head at point-blank range.

The memoir, titled "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," is the most personal and detailed look yet at Giffords' efforts over the past 10 months to relearn how to walk and talk, and her painful discovery that six people were killed in the Jan. 8 attack outside a Tucson grocery store.

The Associated Press purchased an advance copy of the book. It is set for release Nov. 15.

The book is written by Giffords' husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, but Giffords delivers the last chapter — a single page of short sentences and phrases called "Gabby's Voice" in which she says her goal is to get back to Congress.

"I will get stronger. I will return," she wrote.

Giffords, 40, stunned colleagues by appearing on the House floor Aug. 1 to vote for the debt ceiling deal, but she has largely avoided the public eye, focusing most of her time on her recovery at TIRR Memorial Hermann, a rehabilitation center in Houston.

In the book, Kelly recalls trying to tell his wife several times that she had been shot in the head while meeting constituents. But she didn't fully understand until March 12.

Kelly asked Giffords if she remembered being shot, and she replied that she did. When he asked what she remembered about it, she said three words: "Shot. Shocked. Scary."

Later that day, Kelly was reading to her from a New York Times article about her recovery and skipped over a paragraph that said six others were killed. Giffords had been following along and knew he left something out. She pushed him to tell her what it was.

After she learned of the deaths, Giffords was overcome with emotion and had trouble getting through her therapy. That night as they lay in bed, she told Kelly that she felt awful about the deaths. He held her as she cried.

Six months later, after being released from the Houston hospital to Kelly's home 25 miles away, Giffords wanted to know who had been killed. He warned her that it would be tough on her because she knew two of the victims.

He started by telling her that her staff member Gabe Zimmerman died, which caused her to moan and cry in a wave of emotion. Then he told her about her friend, federal Judge John Roll, and the four other people she didn't know. Finally, he told her that Christina Taylor-Green, a 9-year-old girl born on Sept. 11, 2001, was among the dead.

Kelly recounted the agonizing moments when several media outlets inaccurately reported that Giffords was dead. He grew more hopeful after learning she was alive and being treated at a Tucson hospital.

When Kelly first saw Giffords after the shooting, she was in a coma, with her head partially shaved and bandaged, her face black and blue, and her body connected to tubes. He told her he loved her and that she was going to survive.

He also describes the early days in Giffords' recovery in Texas, saying the darkest moment came when Giffords panicked after realizing she couldn't talk. Her eyes were wide with fear, and she was crying uncontrollably as Kelly tried to comfort her and assure her that she would get better.

The book also offers lighter moments, like when President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, visited Giffords at the Texas hospital. Giffords kept replying to Bush with the only word she was able to say: "chicken."

At another point, a specialist showed her various politicians to see if she recognized faces. When she saw Arnold Schwarzenegger, she said: "Messin' around. Babies," an apparent reference to the former California governor's marital troubles.

As she progressed, Giffords learned to talk again, completing phrases from the Constitution and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

The book reveals that because of her injuries, Giffords has lost 50 percent of her vision in both eyes.

The book also mentions Sarah Palin, who was criticized after the shootings for a map posted by her political action committee that showed a number of Democratic-held congressional districts marked with crosshairs. Giffords' district was among those covered by the tiny symbols, which were supposed to indicate seats that would be targeted by the GOP.

Giffords found the map disturbing. After the shootings, Kelly vented his feelings about the map to President Barack Obama. He thought Palin might call to offer condolences because of the mounting criticism, but she never did.

Representatives for Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Palin's attorney, John Tiemessen, said he would relay to the former Alaska governor the AP's request for comment.

The book also reveals that the couple was quietly trying to have a baby. Giffords had undergone several rounds of fertility treatments in the last few years and had hoped to get pregnant early in 2011.

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