Raw and unedited excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. If you are new to this blog consider clicking on the About Dave link above. Thank you for all of your kind words and shared stories of the adventures of your loved ones. XO M
The crowd of everyone… and Jake.
There were so many people in Dave’s village that the parties at our house every Friday AND Saturday were always big. I certainly had a different perspective, having lived above them upstairs for years and, of course, emptying the trashcan overloaded with empty beer bottles the next day. We, usually my parents and I loved the energy in the house from the parties and people who attended even when we had to turn the T.V. up to rise above the pulsing bass. We shut the door to the den when the singing of the imitation band down there got too loud as they belted them out one after another, plenty of Stones, but I always laughed hearing: RubberbisCUIT!! Bow wow-wow a la The Blues Brothers. Brian was on lead vocals as Jake at the pretend fixed microphone that was part of the metal trapeze bars that hung above Dave’s power-bed. It made for a perfect mic like the type that hangs from above in a recording studio. We just smiled to ourselves, hearing all those people downstairs laughing, living in the moment lifting the rafters and Dave with them all the way.
Those people downstairs were not oblivious to us upstairs, either. On occasion someone, usually, you know who… yes, Brian would sneak upstairs to try to startle us. On one such occasion, our parents were out to dinner, and Anne and I were watching The Exorcist. I was 9 or 10, and Anne was 14-15. It was showing on HBO all weekend on promotion so we could watch it upstairs which if any of you remember not all T.V.’s in a house had all the best channels in the early days of cable. This was a rare occasion; the scariest uncut rated R horror movie of probably the century was on TV, AND our parents were not home to keep us from watching it! Brian timed slamming the door to the den with THE most frightening scene of the door slamming shut and cracking from top to bottom in its jam during the building tension of the actual exorcism! Anne and I shrieked as apparently everyone in the house expected we would! Brian was laughing on the other side of the slammed door. His laughter was backed-up by more laughter coming from the chorus downstairs, including Dave’s asthmatic barking seal of a laugh. Anne had joined the laughter and could appreciate the humor at the moment much more quickly than I at that time. “You guys aren’t funny!” is the best comeback I could hurl at them in those innocent elementary school-age years before I fully adopted cursing a blue streak as my go-to reaction.
Brian was always at the forefront of Dave’s friends who were there to make the fun parts more fun but also offered whatever help possible, learning alongside and stepping up with our parents supporting Dave in the many ways he needed help, which was ALL the ways one might need help. Among common and easier things he needed help with; holding his poker cards and tossing in his chips, feeding him the edible kind of chips, holding a beer bottle just right for him to get a swig, or holding “the bucket” while he peed after having too much beer, scratching an itch.
Before Dave had an electric wheelchair, or even a wheelchair, a wheelchair ramp out of our house or a lift, my parents along with the crowd of everyone would help get Dave in and out of bed, out of the house, and in and out of his van, on a gurney. This was not a collapsible ambulance type gurney either; it was more like a very narrow crude flat padded cart with wheels. From the vantage point of those cheap folding BYO folding aluminum lawn chairs I already told you about, the guys hopped in and helped hold Dave in place in the back of that first crappy Chevy van. Again, with no safety ties in sight on Dave OR on the gurney. Big questions about this glaringly obvious oversight abound, but that was still in the days that most cars didn’t have seatbelts. No one has an answer for me, so I am theorizing an unreasonably steep learning curve; general overwhelm, and exhaustion had to be part of that oversight. The guys threw their weight across Dave’s torso, so he didn’t roll off of or tip the entire gurney over and get hurt OR land on the gross gold shag carpet in the van when they rounded corners on the way to their destination the latter probably being worse. My dad would drive and make the announcement, “Hold on to him!” as he was approaching a corner, they all worked as a team, did as instructed, and held on to him.
Being paralyzed is so completely foreign for all the rest of us able-bodied people to fathom until you witness even a brief moment in the life of someone like Dave and I don’t mean when they are lying still in bed, I mean when people are lifting, dressing, physically placing them on a device with wheels. Trying to accomplish something, anything, eating, reading, making a phone call, going to a movie, going to dinner, have something in their eye. You have no idea how many devices are needed to help a person who is paralyzed navigate safely through the world, or simply be comfortable. Dave continually laughed through all of it as one buddy or another caught him right before he either almost tipped over, nearly flew off his gurney, or rolled down a flight of stairs or when they jumped up to quickly get that “bucket” in place before he peed. The jokes about “having to tap” were never-ending. In retrospect, Dave laughed as though he was observing his life from some other perspective comfortably a bit above it. Repeating what is a pretty applicable phrase that has become my mantra that works for almost anything, “It’ll be fine!”
Brian included Dave in just about any outing he planned. Among their group of friends, someone had a speed boat, and they decided to take Dave out on Lake Perris, which is about an hour from our parents’ house. It sounded like a great idea at the time, but boats, especially speed boats, are not known for their smooth ride. The group managed to get Dave in the boat, leaving his wheelchair on the beach, a bunch of guys lifted him and walked down into the water and placed him in the low-profile boat. Brain hopped in and sat next to Dave with his arm around him to help stabilize him, hold him in place somewhat, and off they went. He laughed; they all laughed at Brian, putting his arm around him. The unforgiving, pounding, exhilarating trip was rough for Dave. Still, he was one to love being in the sun, the wind in his face from the speed, being a guy who also loved badass cars and motors and such, I am sure he loved the deep roar of the “jet” engine that was so loud you could feel it in your bones too. He could feel that sort of thing in between the ever-present intense full-body muscle spasms. He didn’t go for another ride on any speed boat, but I know he was glad to have gone because he was open to trying things like that, you know, cheating death and all.