And a Scholar

If you are new to this blog of the upcoming book Viking Funeral, celebrating the life of Dave Linane with booze, words, and fire, welcome.  The timeline above shows you where we are in the book. While each chapter can stand on its own if you wish to read from the beginning, click here.  More info is available, About Dave or the FAQ section explains who the book is about and the arc of the storyline. If you found me through a grief group, this page of my perspective of why we are all here in this place right now may be helpful. XO M

***

Dave was beyond done dealing with unhelpful counselors deciding his fate for him. College counselors altogether different, but he didn’t meet with them either; my parents just got a course catalog and signed him up for one of the boring general-ed classes everyone has to complete for any major discipline.

It was the mid-80s, my mom drove him to the place where he broke his neck, San Bernardino Valley College more than a decade earlier, accompanied him on campus as needed to open doors, get him situated in class, take notes, and help him with exams.

Time progressed slowly. He chipped away at those boring general ed classes one at a time. Reruns and daytime T.V. were watched in between classes. More days were spent sitting in the sun, watching the grass grow, or be mowed. He went through the motions of the same pointless obligatory annual meetings with his caseworker(s), mentioned his interest in earning a college degree only to be told once again, to forget about it. He ignored all of them and their professional opinions about what was possible and kept at his turtle pace on his own.

Dave’s second van, acquired at some point in the late 70s, was a 60s era International make, commercial step-van, a better fit for Dave. It had taller doors and interior headspace so Dave could enter without having to duck. He could also sit upright without having to crimp his neck to the side or be tilted backward, propped up on a tire to fit to avoid hitting his head, and he could see out the window. All impossible with his previous van. The doors for the driver and passenger slid open like those on a U.P.S. truck, but it was smaller like a milk or ice cream truck.

So many people were always inquiring about Dave, looking out for him for things they came across that might serve him well, thoughtful problem-solvers, and inventors like my dad. The crazy way Dave was freighted from one place to another was pretty rough. A friend of a boyfriend’s friend of a son of a liquor distributor was replacing the van in their fleet because it was really, really old. I am going to go ahead and say it; they were getting rid of it because it was a Piece Of Shit. It should have been retired, crushed, and recycled into something useful, but instead, Dave bought it because it was better than what he had. Lucky buy. It’s always, who you know, right?

It was white, and for quite some time, like years it seemed, it still had the marketing billboards on the side from its former life as a literal booze delivery device. They were from the era when such advertisements were hand-painted. It featured the label from a bottle of “MacPherson’s CLUNY Premium Scotch Whiskey” in large r-e-a-l-l-y shwanky black letters with gold trim, accompanied by a large liquor bottle. The billboards were enormous, like six feet wide and four feet tall, one on each side of the van, and well, it was both a hilarious and a hideous ride. We called that van from day one, “The Cluny.” In a word, the Cluny was hideous. The juxtaposition of that P.O.S. with those billboards parked in front of our gorgeous home was just so funny. If Dave wasn’t adored by every single one of our neighbors, I am certain they would have complained to the city. Woo-woo! Lucky us!

Dave had the Cluny more than a decade before returning to school. It was a three-speed standard transmission that shook, and I mean seriously rattled if you drove too fast. It was cold in the winter, hot as hell in the summer, had lights AND brights so dim you could hardly tell they were on when you were driving at night, and it was prone to break downs.

The old beast needed a few changes made to accommodate him. There was a cage separating the cargo area from the driver and passenger seats that had previously secured the booze that had to be cut out. A lift had to be fully engineered and installed, including beams for support welded in place.

There were still no safety restraints for wheelchairs or the people in them because they didn’t exist for the general public yet. The State of California didn’t enact a mandated seatbelt law until 1986. Wheelchair tie dows in passenger vehicles were not mandated until 1996, so it was the wild west in the back of the Cluny. We would lock the wheelchair once Dave was inside, in place, his outstretched feet shoved between the two front seats, but a locked wheelchair can still move if you slam on the brakes. Dave always had to pay attention to the ride and had to counteract the motion forward and back by applying counteracting measures with his mouth control if the chair moved.

At some point, our neighbor Bob welded a shin killer in place so Dave would have something to at least brace his wheelchair up against. It was at least something. But man, when you were moving around in the back before or after Dave got in or out, you had to pay close attention to the fact that that damn thing was there, or there could be blood, and definitely, there was cursing if there was blood.

As priorities would have it, the other important thing that needed to be addressed, he had a stereo installed because you “gotta have music on the road.” The sound was so lost in that rattling bucket of bolts; a thin steel cargo hold is not conducive to quality acoustics. With the road turbulence and mechanical noise, we should have had headphones with intercoms because you also had to shout to speak to each other, but it is the little things, you know?

I laughed so hard when he had an alarm installed. I stopped laughing…as hard, when Dave clarified, “It isn’t for the van, it’s for the stereo.” “Oh, ok, well that makes sense then.” I assumed he paid more for the stereo than the van itself. He was terrible with money and shiny things that way. The engine kill switch was an over the top, Dave loving gadgets indulgence. The Cluny didn’t even lock, so I suppose someone could have stolen it if they were super desperate. I mean, Really, REALLY desperate. The alarm was motion-sensitive, so if you touched it, it would go off. During Santa Ana wind events…the alarm would go off. Again, we were lucky everyone in the neighborhood loved Dave.

Dave never missed school. If the Cluny crapped out, which it often did, he went with Plan B and drove himself. The college is five-and-a-half miles from their home, 11 miles roundtrip through the busiest and most dangerous streets of San Bernardino…I will repeat again for emphasis, a pretty gritty town.

For clarification, it wasn’t dangerous just because it was far or because it was gritty. Most people visualize Dave using sidewalks to travel the world. Nope. It was almost a decade before the American’s With Disabilities Act was signed. Curb cutouts were a future fantasy that evaded even the corner where Dave, probably the most visible quadriplegic in the history of San Bernardino, lived for 38 years, almost two decades after the A.D.A. was passed.

To this day, almost 30 years after that law was passed, no curb cut out exists, across from a busy Cathedral and large school. So, ya, our city had NADA on the order of curb cutouts back then. Dave had to travel many four-lane roads with morning rush-hour traffic flying by almost side-swiping him. It was incredibly dangerous. He drove as far off to the right as possible, in the parking lane. The exception being when he had to navigate around parked cars, which required that he venture out into the traffic lane with cars traveling upwards of 45-50 miles an hour with his wheelchair at a comparative merging top speed of six.

I have described that he controlled his wheelchair with a chin control. If he hit a particularly rough section of the road, that might trigger full-body muscle spasms that could jerk him away from his controls. His wheelchair might momentarily fade off course to one side of the lane or the other while his body worked through that spasm, so that was also a thing. It takes about 15 minutes to drive to the college in a car, but it took Dave well over an hour, one way, risking life and limbs to get there. For the record, there were months at a time that the P.O.S. Cluny was in the shop, or the lift was broken and waiting for parts. So for months in the rain, heat, or cold, Dave was driving himself to Valley College at the south end of San Bernardino two hours minimum daily, round trip.

Besides a constant state of worry for the above-stated reasons and obviously more, our mom also lived in a constant state of exhaustion. I have covered the getting Dave ready for the day undertaking already. I also covered the stuff she needed to do to care for the rest of us and all that god damn laundry for seven she tackled every day. Once Dave decided to return to school, she drove him and attended with him on top of all of her life’s other work waiting for her when she returned home in the afternoon. Then they, my parents, helped Dave back to bed, made and fed him dinner, supervised dinner clean-up, and then, she sat down, usually fell asleep with her eyes open “watching” something on T.V. then Dave’s final bedtime routine before lights out.

Unfortunately, on top of all that, I interrupted her sleep nightly with sleep disturbances that began the day I saw Dave with those fucking bolts in his head in the hospital when I was seven. The nightmares lasted well into my adulthood. I am happy to report I no longer sleep with my mommy; I have a darling husband who has taken up that task, but good news, the nightmares have disappeared completely. Society didn’t realize how trauma in the family could affect young children profoundly.

She calmed me back to sleep every night around 2 a.m. by walking me back to my bedroom and getting in my twin bed with me. Between the few hours of actual allotted time for her sleep, and climbing in a crowded twin bed with me and my fitful sleep, in the middle of the night, none of that was restorative sleep. Her little dogs got the most rest in our house. She, like so many dog owners, pretzeled herself around them in bed so as not to disturb them. They enjoyed stretching out on her formerly designated side of the bed even though I believe they secretly hated that I commandeered my mom away from them. So, few and broken hours of sleep by dogs and needy children, that kind of shit takes a toll on your overall energy operating levels and well-being.

Not surprisingly at all, she describes herself as repeatedly falling asleep during class, essentially the moment she sat still. When Dave noticed her head nod out of the corner of his eye, Dave would nudge her with his elbow to wake her up with, “Did you get that?” He would repeat himself at the next head nod, “Did you get that?” She would startle awake and continue writing. The two would giggle through this repeated tango between exhaustion and trying to recap the gist of the lecture of the day from where she previously fell asleep with her eyes open.

During one particular lecture, while she took notes, she closed her eyes, but just a little bit. She was still actively listening, but with her eyes just a little bit closed like-ya-do. She dutifully continued to trudge along with her purpose for being there, note-taking. She woke herself up this time with a snort and quickly looked around to see if anyone heard her. She realized that her hand was still moving, taking notes. She had no idea how long she had been asleep but looked down to find that she had filled an entire yellow note pad with notes, just not actual helpful notes in English. Her hand was on cruise-control and kept on taking those notes, keeping the Earth spinning without service interruption because she was always on call, even in her sleep. Trauma affects parents that way; they never fully go to sleep again.

As she woke up more fully, focused on her notes, a long series of scribbled humps like cursive sign waves of connected wwwwwwws and grasped what she had done, she got so amused that she started giggling at herself. Dave’s attention was peeled away from the lecture to her. She tried to contain her giggle inside her closed mouth physically, but her body, shoulders betrayed her and were still shaking with internally held laughter. Dave gave her an inquiring, raised eyebrow look. She just held her yellow pad so he could see her notes.

I don’t know what it is about having an observer to our hilarious absurdities that exponentially compounds the difficulty of being able to hold back a wall of laughter, that combined with her exhaustion made her too weak to hold it back, she was experiencing that growing wave of potential energy building now that Dave saw the proof of her special talent for himself. She giggled harder, which made Dave giggle mostly from watching her laugh at herself than the evidence of her dismally failing magical note-taking 101.

Their control began to waiver, and there was a breach with audible snickers that escaped them. People were starting to look their way, which horrified them and made them genuinely try to stop. They spent the remainder of that class giggling and reeling it back in, trying to avoid making eye contact with each other for fear of more giggling. They were cool for a moment, then thinking it was safe to look at each other again, only to find it was not, or the mere thought of those sine wave wwwwwwwws on the yellow legal pad of obviously tired notes, they had to fight off holding back the laughter again. This is my mom’s predominant memory of assisting Dave, (sleeping through college) one class at a time for years, in her spare time.

Dave pushed himself, even though he never admitted anything of the sort, a paralyzed body is delicate and can breakdown if you are not very careful with hydration, exposure to heat, or cold, direct sunlight. A paralyzed body doesn’t sweat or maintain its heat efficiently and can reach heat stroke or hypothermia rapidly, dangerously so. They do not feel sunburn, so that can be critically dangerous too. All these components were added to the danger of driving that far outside the narrow range of 75 degrees Goldilocks weather conditions that rarely exist in San Bernardino. He drove those 11 miles round trip to get himself to Valley College without a cellphone, which he didn’t own for roughly another ten years at least. It was physically exhausting; for Dave and our parents who were by that time in their 50s, all of it.

When you don’t have a major or plan in place, it is emotionally hard to attend college, not knowing what it is all for? How long will this take? Can I get through this endless thing? College is not so much an intelligence test, but one of stamina. And for a time, Dave decided to hold off and stopped attending.

One afternoon late in the day, a man I didn’t know appeared at our door. He was Dave’s most recent caseworker at whatever agency he was being counseled. We will call him Tom because none of us is sure about his name at this point but have leaned toward Tom. Tom was the first of Dave’s counselors in ten plus years to question in front of Dave why things weren’t being given to him as that was the purpose of the agency, to help individuals with special needs. His questioning Dave’s request to attend school further up the food chain got him fired, that day.

He told my parents of the horrid thing that had been happening to Dave and the other clients of the agency. Upper-management had earned bonuses by spending less money on their case clients, ultimately by denying them services they were entitled to. The caseworkers were told to deny everything. Tom was fond of Dave, left his former office, and drove directly to our house. He advised our parents to get a lawyer because they could sue the pants off the State of California for violating Dave’s rights and keeping him from attending college as he wanted.

The next day my dad called the agency and only had to threaten to get an attorney when suddenly all the doors opened for Dave to attend college with their full support. This meant making sure he had a working lift in his vehicle so he could be safely driven to school. They would make sure someone helped him get in and out of buildings, classrooms, someone who stayed awake while taking notes for him, and helped him with the testing process. He was connected with the right counselors to help him develop an education plan and graduation projection.

He was not only given but asked to be a beta tester of the software Dragon Dictate now known as Dragon Naturally Speaking, that he could dictate to. Subsequently, the software would transcribe his dictation in Word documents. That software laid the groundwork for talk-to-text features that most of us have on our cellphones these days. Being a beta tester for that software was both a great help to him most of the time. Still, also he was helping the company as he met with reps and software designers to perfect the software, which would, in turn, help other people with special needs like him, you know, one of the first steps of Dave doing something meaningful with his life!

***

The consistent natural talent that blossomed and revealed itself over time was Dave’s ability to listen. His disarming smile, his warmth, and comfort within his own paralyzed skin allowed others to relax within theirs around him, to open up and bare their heaviest of hearts and souls to him. He collected a lovely group of new friends from casual passings to long time friends who would call to both check on him because they adored him and pour their troubles out to him without prompting. Once he had his pilot’s headset, people were calling him all the time, talking to him for hours. I would go into his room thinking I might watch something with him on T.V. and he would be on a call. I would leave to give him privacy, come back an hour later, and he would still be on that call, talking someone off a ledge of somewhere.

I have mentioned people stopping by when he was outside, his former coach, Bruce, Barbara stopped by and chatted from her window briefly, mostly to just say hi. But some people would stay and chat for very long “sessions.” My mom would ask me to check on Dave to see if he needed a sandwich or more water in his thermos. I would go out the side door and find him deep in conversation with someone I was or wasn’t familiar with. I would leave him to continue chatting. Later he would come to the kitchen window that was very close to the sidewalk, to get our attention and confirm that he would like a sandwich or needed a water refill.

While I would be feeding him if I didn’t know the person he was speaking to, I would ask, “Who was that?” I am not exaggerating when I say; he usually didn’t know them either. He cracked me up with a surprised, “I’ve NO idea!” Yet they unloaded to him for more than an hour or longer sometimes. He described a common scenario; someone would drive by, slow down, pull over and ask, “Hey, what happened to you?” Dave had a variety of responses he provided from a series of different crashes, “Plane Crash, Car Crash, Train Wreck, Sky Diving, to the truth; I broke my neck playing football.” Soon after that question was behind them, the stranger would then proceed to tell him something challenging that was going on in their life. Usually, he just listened, smiled, and patiently nodded. He didn’t really offer any observations or advice. I called those drive-by therapy sessions.

When I shared chapters of this book and photos of him on social media in raw and unedited form, I had more people say, “I used to walk or drive by and to talk to him all the time, he was the nicest man!” I assume they were some of those people Dave didn’t actually know. This pattern carried on for years, from the first days that Dave began sitting outside in his wheelchair until his departure. He was a source of comfort to those who knew him and those he didn’t know.

Our family, extended family, his friends, our parents’ friends all shared their observational opinions with him, “he should become a counselor because he was such a good listener!” Dave’s response was consistently one of surprise and disinterest, “Why on Earth would I want to lie around all day listening to people complain?” People repeated this statement to him as often as people hear, “When are you going to get married?” When you have been dating someone for longer than ten minutes. Or “When are you going to have kids?” Once you have been married ten whole minutes. He could not see this talent in himself, yet he had been listening to people for years and didn’t feel as though people were complaining, he felt like he was helping them by simply being present. Again, he didn’t offer advice that often, mostly listened.

***

He transferred to Cal State University, San Bernardino, as per the graduation plan. After spending time with the counseling staff and developing his Bachelor’s concentration, his eyes were opened to the fact that he was very well suited for this thing called counseling. He ultimately majored in Vocational Rehabilitation Counselling.

He attended Cal State at a pace of roughly part-time due to both his and our parent’s stamina. He was in his mid-thirties and still drove himself on occasion to that campus when the Cluny or the lift, again, crapped out. There was only one company within maybe 50 miles that was qualified to work on the lift, and took forever to get an appointment when the lift broke.

CSUSB was in the north end of town, also required him to travel on very busy four-lane streets but slightly closer at 4.5 miles one way. His round trip travel time still took well over two hours to cover that nine-mile trek out in the elements. He joked that by driving himself in his wheelchair, he didn’t have to wait for whoever drove him to find a parking spot and unload him, so that saved time.

During the years he attended Cal State, his wheelchair was aging and began breaking down out in the world. My dad had to go on more than one Dave Scavenger Hunt to find him stuck on a pothole or with a burned out fuse just in the road. Thankfully, Dave was a big guy and pretty visible. He said he never worried about a car running him over when his wheelchair crapped out in the middle of the street. Someone always stopped right away and offered help. Most often, he would ask them to call his dad.

When he finished his Bachelor’s degree, he immediately began his Master’s degree also at Cal State S.B. in vocational rehabilitation counseling. Because it took him longer than most to complete his education, he got to know so many people at Cal State, students, support staff, professors, the president.

Graduation was approaching. He had to work several volunteer positions and a set number of hours as part of his training, and it is no surprise everyone he worked with loved him. Through the people and the connections he made as a volunteer, he lined up his first professional job as a counselor serving students with disabilities.

Dave was ecstatic to be done with school, finally, and be able to have a job helping students like himself, find their way to a fulfilling life! That job was located at San Bernardino Valley College, the place where he started college, quit the football team, and left in an ambulance never to walk again, only twenty-two short years earlier. Such irony. Such FUCKING GRIT. Someone call the Grit lady, Angela Duckworth, someone should write a book about this guy! I am going to formally state for the record that he was one determined badass.

Congratulations, first-year students at Awareness University! By the end of this book, most will have at least a working understanding of what it is like to live the challenging and possibly amazing life of a paralyzed person.

© Mardi Linane Copyright 2020

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