Dave was always looking out for and counseled people way before he was paralyzed. Our parents did not admonish any of us to look out for each other; it was just inherent with Dave. Maybe some of the examples will seem expected of older brothers or siblings, but in our house, like everywhere in life, there was a wide continuum of sibling characteristics and interactions from Dave at the protective end of the sibling continuum to my other brother Scott-eight and a half years older than me if you recall, who for the most part took the greatest pleasure from hiding in the dark and scaring people, scaring me until he moved out at the age of 20. My oldest sister Linda, ten years older than me, was a typical moody teen, and everyone just avoided her. My other sister Anne was five years older than me and, like Dave, had an intrinsic drive to help-but more along the lines of keeping herself busy with chores; she was always quick to laugh but somewhat of a reserved conversationalist or giver of advice-when we were children. Being so much younger, I interacted very little with them-because most older kids, for the most part, are simply looking forward, not back.
Some people hit the ground running when they land on this Earth, knowing what they want to do or be when they grow up; it is a small number, roughly 10 percent, who always knew and just moved everything in that direction until they reach their goal. Then, the rest, 90 percent of us fall into work by happenstance, at randomly found employment and often stay too long or maybe forever, without taking any chances exploring what we might like to or even ought to do. Some of us get lucky and find our niche or calling along the way.
Retrospectively looking at Dave’s life path, it is clear what he was destined for… he really was a counselor (mentor, life coach) all along. His formidable years were filled with newspaper articles covering only his physical prowess in sports; that limited view is how he saw himself; as a one-dimensional physical force. After surviving his injury, with time-decades, he came to recognize this other aspect of himself that had always been visibly front and center to everyone else; the counselor he became was so much more aligned with the essence of who he was at his core. It only took breaking his neck to allow the completely overshadowed part of his biggest gift, so much more powerful than his physical body, to be seen by himself in the light of day.
As I visit ancient recollections, it is interesting to visualize the many times he talked me off more than one ledge or advised me of how to do things. Building street cred as a counselor requires both the foundation of trust to be built and the right chemistry. That combination comes from more than just talking during a crisis; it includes being comfortable saying nothing, explaining the maintenance of life things as applicable, or just shooting the shit with interesting observations that align with our own or expand our views. These facets substantiate a connectedness worth forging, trusting, and returning to for more guidance for sure, and plenty more shooting of the shit. These traits are what Dave ultimately brought to his counseling career that I say began decades before his degree and official career. The following essays reveal brief moments of building evidence; small gestures that laid a strong foundation that supports my personal assertion of who he always was, a helper in this life, a brother, a friend, an uncle, a generous guide, later a professional counselor.
On Saturdays, T.V. revolved around kids’ shows. There were cartoons in the morning and old black and white comedies in the early afternoon, followed by scary black and white movies in the later afternoon. I suppose daylight was a better time for scary old movies if kids might be watching.
On this Saturday, a few years before Dave was hurt, he found me watching T.V. alone in our parents’ room, which was patently unheard of since we didn’t spend time watching T.V. in our parents’ room but further, being the youngest, I RARELY if ever had control of what was on T.V. because my wants as a baby to the older kids were invalid. But I had control of the T.V. all alone for the first time in my life, and the movie that had come on was a scary movie called The Creature from The Black Lagoon; it didn’t matter, it was Saturday, this was the ONLY thing on, and I was determined to watch.
I was between three and four years old. It is not likely everyone has seen this old black and white b quality movie. I had no business watching a scary movie at all-this was also a first for me. Their bedroom had a door on either side. Dave walked through the room, making his way from the back of the house to the living room by way of our parents’ room and found me terrified and rapt by the stereotypical building tension technique of the scene; the scary creature had boarded the houseboat and was slowly, step-by-step, inch-by-inch, making his way dramatically down the outside hallway to equally dramatic music, in a desperate attempt to find the beautiful blond female lead and do God knows what to or with her!
Dave stopped beside me; I felt him towering over me out of the corner of my eye as he watched between me and the movie for a moment; He then sat down in the chair next to me and encouraged me to join him on his lap. I do not recall any other time that I sat on his lap, but I was glad to do so. He put his arm around me to comfort me and began explaining that everything on the T.V. screen was not real. He made me look even though I didn’t want to as he pointed out that the monster was not real; it was just a man wearing a costume, pretending to be a scary monster. He repeated that none of it was real, and there was nothing for me to be afraid of.
In theory, everything he said was true, and I did believe him to be telling the truth, but at three-plus years old, it was going to take more than one conversation like this that was partially blowing my little mind and also not helping that much at the moment because I was still scared and he arrived mere minutes before the credits. I could have used some of this insight about an hour ago, but I looked at future scary movies slightly differently. I had never thought of anything as just a story. That was the very first “film” we watched together, something that would not happen again until long after his accident and return home, maybe five years.
With more than a decade between us, it is surprising how frequently Dave noticed me without prompting. Most teens are pretty self-absorbed and notice nothing around them, and rarely do they stop to help anyone without an adult pointing things out to them and forcing them to do the appropriate, helpful thing. I am still grateful and a bit creeped out as I think of that scary movie scene like I just saw it yesterday. *Shudders again.*
I was between 3 and 4 years old when I taught myself how to ride a bike, which was way too big for me. Younger children in a family always aspire to do what older kids are doing; I was no different. I wanted to ride a bike as they did.
I noticed an unused, crappy, discarded, and unloved bike that was stuck in a dark, spiderweb occupied corner of our garage. I have no idea whose bike it was, I didn’t at the time and still don’t to this day, but it belonged to our family. After all, it was in our garage. If you knew our mom, she did not store anything that wasn’t actively being used. I was determined to ride it.
This bike was not handed down to me per se, and it was way past gently used. It was a girl’s style blue beach cruiser type bike, meaning there was no crossbar between the seat and handlebars. I could not get on any of the boy’s bikes because they were at least a decade and a half, way too big for me to begin with, and definitely impossible with that crossbar that made them a boys’ bike.
I spent the better part of the morning running next to the bike, gaining enough speed to be able to time hopping on one pedal, the left pedal with my left foot, my right foot hanging behind, standing and balancing there while the bike coasted until it ran out of momentum. I watched my siblings get on their bikes like this a bazillion times. If anything, I am observant.
As the bike slowed down, I would hop off and repeat the process. As the day progressed, I was able to balance on my left foot, and coast as well as attempt a few extra pushes with my right foot as the bike slowed down somewhat like I was riding a skateboard. I also was able to get the bike rolling fast enough to stand and throw my right leg over the seat, and pedal around.
The only problem, and it was a pretty big problem, was that I couldn’t reach the pedals if I sat down on the seat. I could half-pedal one side until my leg was too short, then pick up the slack from the other pedal as it came up by pulling it up the rest of the way with the opposite foot, then pushed it down as far as I could reach. This is not the worst part of the problem because I could pedal well enough to get the bike going, but I could not reach and put enough pressure on the coaster brakes to stop the bike. Wait; at this point in the story, I knew nothing of the brakes. So there were two problems, and this was the bigger of the two. Apparently, I was not observant enough to have replicated the most important part of cycling-stopping. Instead, I hopped off the seat, my feet hit the ground, and velocity came to a screeching halt when the bike ran into my unfortunate pelvis, pubic bone, to be more specific. And yes, that crash course in physics hurt.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, right? Well, I was a determined little kid. Riding a bike was no exception. I was not going to let a little pain (ok, it was a LOT of pain) in the crotch get in my way. I mentioned I was a VERY determined little kid in every way. I continued riding and the painful physics lessons stopping the bike with the skeletal structure of my lower body the rest of the day. I didn’t realize how completely banged up I was—down there.
Parental supervision was pretty lax if that isn’t already obvious when I was growing up in the late 60s-early 70s; being the last of five means your parents have come to the realization that children, namely, you are tougher than you look and will be fine…most of the time, and they let me figure the proverbial it out on my own.
You would not believe the very dangerous shit I did as a kid; I climbed on the rooves of two-story houses, fell off said two-story rooves without telling anyone, and walked around with serious internal injuries to my female organs for years after because I didn’t want to get in trouble for climbing on the random two-story house. I thought I did more dangerous things, but I guess that was about the most dangerous thing in the broad category of dangerous things I did as an unsupervised kid growing up.
That night someone started a bath for me. I got in and played with the soap for a relevant amount of time to qualify as having taken a bath. My mom helped me out and was drying me off when she startled me with a shriek as she saw the horrible bruises I had from here to here on my upper thighs and pelvis and general “pyoob” area; dark purple and black bruises. I can honestly say that I was unaware of them until that moment. They didn’t hurt unless you touched the area with a bike frame. I hadn’t noticed because a bike was not currently running into me, we didn’t have a full length mirror in our bathroom, nor one I could even see myself in at all and what little kid looks in the mirror at their naked body anyway? I was oblivious. I have not had bruises anywhere on my body that bad since, and I have taken some pretty bad falls, skiing, skating, playing sports, car accidents. It looked like I had been in a trainwreck, and on such a tiny little body, I am sure it was horrifying for my mom to see.
She had no idea I had had such an adventure riding a bike from the spider-webbed-up corner of our garage that was way, way, way too big for me all day. Dave was downstairs in the back part of the house near her bedroom, where she was drying me off, and overheard my mom gasp. He came to offer help and saw at least some of my bruises before my mom quickly covered me up. He and my mom began asking me questions in a state of panic like good cop, good cop as to WHAT HAPPENED? I excitedly announced that I had had a thrilling day teaching myself to ride a bike!
The two looked at each other in disbelief because all the bikes in the garage were way too big, but they also knew from other ridiculous things I did at much younger ages, like repeatedly climbing the six-foot fence to look out at the kids playing outside our yard when I was less than a year old, or riding my tricycle at less than two years old with a broken leg in a cast, tossed over the handlebars pedaling with the other available leg. I was definitely that kid who would decide without discussion with anyone to teach myself (fill in the blank) whatever I decided to do, not unlike writing a biography. I probably weighed less than 20 pounds at 3 feet tall and spent the day learning to ride a typical heavy framed beach cruiser that likely weighed 15 pounds meant for a child of 10-12.
They stood over me, stunned, silent with mouths open at all this information. I looked back at them, grinning with pride from ear to ear. The moment was broken when Dave said nothing at all, but his face had turned what I could only assume was angry. He turned and went into the garage, which I thought was a weird response. I briefly worried that he was going to dismantle (murder) the bike. My mom, on the other hand, said nothing; here and I had championed bike riding and everything, which I thought was a pretty big deal, but nope, there was nothing further. She resumed getting me dressed; I was whisked off to bed. End of discussion. Goodnight.
The next day Dave brought the bike out of the garage and rolled it in front of me. There was a white hand towel wrapped several times around the offending bar taped in place with many strips of black electrical tape so I would not hurt myself further in the process of learning about physics the hard way.
I remember thinking, that doesn’t look very pretty, and we girls are all about the pretty things, but it was SO nice that my brother was so thoughtful to wrap that hideous bar up and protect me from getting more bruises, and I thanked him. He then showed me how to use the coaster brakes-making the towel unnecessary, but I still thought the entire gesture was so thoughtful. He must have been about 14. Again, no one asked or directed him to do anything. He was compelled to protect me from myself, show me how to safely ride, and I was grateful. I had commandeered this bike that no one loved and had made it mine. No one said I couldn’t. I felt the towel was a full endorsement of my new-to-me bike ownership. Thanks, Dave, Success!
A Vicar, A Lifeguard, and a Horse walk into a Bar
I was five or six when Billie and Jim Daniels’ daughter Jamie got married in 1972. It was a big wedding, and the reception was a great party in their storied back yard where many fine parties had been hosted before and after, but this was an extra special event because it was their only daughter’s wedding.
Everyone was over the moon for the young couple. There was a Texas-sized amount of food and booze and cake, laughter, dancing, the perfect blend of friendly people celebrating a joyful milestone event. Relatives of their family drove from faraway places, namely, Texas, where Billie and Jim were born and raised; It was the first time I heard a legit Texan accent escape the mouths of children. I was very intrigued by that, and honestly, this was the biggest party I had been to at their house, so everything was Texas-style big on a beautiful California dreaming day.
The line for the rope swing-for-one was at least five children deep, so I decided, as I frequently did, to find my own entertainment. My introverted and ever-inquisitive nature piqued my interest in what lay beyond the back hedge at the perimeter of the yard and the energy of the party. I wandered away from the festive group of way more than a hundred people, up a set of stairs to the top of a terraced area to find horse paddocks on the gently sloping hill that continued above their home.
I knew they, the horses were nearby, and I was driven to see them. I admit, if you have horses that live on your property and you host a wedding reception at your home, it is not the same thing as a horse walking into a bar, as the title suggests, but there wasn’t a vicar either; it was just funny. Dave brought the closest truth to the title, being a lifeguard. I am equally sure these horses didn’t expect a five-year-old guest to show up in their paddock either but show up, I did.
At first, I just needed to see where they lived. They were such beautiful creatures I was madly in love at first sight. Then I HAD to touch them. There were two horses in separate paddocks. I walked up to one of them, and much to my delight, she was very responsive to me. She came right over to see who the little person was putting her hand through the fence. She sniffed me with the might of her enormous lungs and breathed out hot pleasant-grassy smelling breath on me that hinted at freshly mown lawn on a hot summer day. I felt her soft lower lip with a few bristly hairs thinly distributed across her chin and was instantly madly in love with her, smitten, in deep smit.
I decided that NOW was a good time to get in the paddock with her in my party dress and shoes. I don’t know what I was thinking-I was five. I considered trying to get on her by climbing something, but there was nothing to aid my horrible idea. I was a very small five-year-old and barely came up to her stomach. There was no saddle, bridle, or even a halter on her like I could possibly have figured any of that out. It’s funny to think of now-but I looked for them anyway. I had been on my cousin’s horse a few times before, already knew I loved horses and was faintly familiar with the tools of the horse life trade.
With nothing to lead her or hold on to her, I had to settle for talking with her and petting her nonstop for quite some time. She followed me as I walked up the hill in a ridiculous exploration of nothing-it was a fenced paddock of which I could see the entire enclosure-there was nothing to explore. But I could not believe my luck that this gorgeous creature was playing with me. I was completely enamored as she followed me, much like a faithful but really, really BIG, 800-pound friendly dog.
I trotted around the paddock, and she delicately trotted behind me; I could feel her hot breath on my neck the entire way. I ran in circles and straight lines, again and again. To my sheer delight, she was the big dog I always wanted and was effortlessly tiptoeing in my footsteps, holding herself back deftly, all the way. I ran uphill, back down, made more circles, headed uphill and down again until… I stumbled in the soft and uneven dirt and fell with her still directly behind me. She had nowhere to go to avoid me. She tried to jump over my little body and almost made it, ALMOST but nicked me in the back of the head with one of her hooves.
You get a real sense of ratios and proportions when an 800-pound animal clips you in the back of the head with a properly shod hoof that is hard enough to hold up one-fourth of her 800 pounds. I was not scared in the least, but my head hurt more than any pain I had felt before-even more than the bike in my pyoob region, and I desperately needed curse words that I didn’t know existed in my short little five years of life-to-date. I can still hear the patterned sound of hooves behind me and her breath. The moment I fell, there was a silent break from the rhythmic sound of her hooves hitting the ground and her breath as she lept over me- the sounds of all of it I can hear in my mind now, including the horrible noise from inside my head when her hoof or the horseshoe hit the back of my skull like a single very loud knock on a door, then her breath bursting out of her body in a chuff as she landed heavily in front of me.
Ya, it hurt. I cried. I crawled out of the paddock on my hands and knees in the colorful dress that matched my mom’s; twins, we were back when such mother-daughter dresses were popular. I crawled out and sat right outside the fence and felt the heat of her breath snuffing the back of my neck where my skull was pulsing with blinding pain and what had to be the beginning of a concussion.
I had dirt and tears and snot on my face and dress and shoes and socks as I sat there howling in characteristic five-year-old form. The party was just a bit down the hill. Thick Eucalyptus trees and shrubs surrounded the immediate backyard and party, so no one from down there could see me behind all the greenery. The noise of music and laughter made it impossible for anyone to hear me. I wasn’t crying that hysterically, but that shit hurt. My eyes were closed; I didn’t attempt to go back to the party; I was curled in a loose ball, hugging my knees to my chest, with a hot-breathed horse nose at the back of my head. I remained that way for a few moments until I realized I was being picked up off the ground. I opened my eyes, and I was being situated in Dave’s arms as he straightened my filthy twisted dress.
I didn’t ask him if he heard or saw me head up there. I was not in the state of mind to ask questions then or later as to how or why he left the party, but he did. I am going to blame it the blind madness of my new love affair with this horse or my hoof inspired injury-take your pick. He hugged me gently, encouraged me to stop crying, and asked me to explain what happened. In between catching my erratic breath from crying, I told him I was inside what I referred to then as the stable because I didn’t know what a paddock was, running with the horse and fell, and she jumped over me and kicked me in the head.
He turned and looked at the horse, who had her head stretched out over the top of the fence, our direction, leaning as far as the fence allowed, with a manner that conveyed what seemed to be concern. Yes, I anthropomorphized the horse to have human understanding of the situation. Dave pointed out what a kind horse she was to jump over me, that she could have accidentally trampled me, or my head injury could have been much worse-that I could have been killed. He moved us closer to her and petted her. He asked me to pet her gently to let her know that it was not her fault, that she was a very good horse to make it ALMOST all the way over me. He asked me to apologize to HER. I felt a bit like this was unjust because I was the hurt one here. But I clearly had no business being in the paddock even with well trained, gentle horses. When I think of it now, she could have broken her leg, and yes, I easily could have been killed given the 800:30 pound weight ratio. Oh-ya, THIS is one of the other dangerous things I did as an unsupervised kid besides falling off that house-I thought there was more than that. Wait, there was one other time I almost drowned that year. I already have said it was a different time. Dave was not present for the falling off the house or near-drowning incident. Just these few brushes with death or discomfort and that’s it.
He helped me reframe the moment almost instantly into an appreciation of the horse for being as careful as possible with me. I was irritated with him briefly for this redirect-the horse was stealing my sympathy thunder, but then the horse was so gorgeous everything dissolved when I pet her again. And don’t anyone think that event changed my love of horses one bit; it made me love them more. They are much more sentient than we give them credit for, anthropomorphized or not. These examples are early guidance counseling sessions with Dave, and I didn’t realize it until writing this book.
No one wants to face their fears or mistakes, no one. People don’t just wake up in the morning and plan their day around facing fears or mistakes, least of all me. Some of us spend a lifetime avoiding fear and pain, and I suppose writing this book off and on for the past decade has been some of that, avoiding facing the fear of my grief.
If we listen to our inner voice, it will tell us what we need through small or large nudges of intuition or desire to do something when we are hurting, like create art, go for a walk, listen to specific music, read certain books, or write-which for me has been the best mechanism to have been able to quietly examen this grief. If we listen further, it will help us find our calling. I can still hear his voice counseling me one hilarious bite-sized story at a time.
Ridiculous foot note, bite-sized is not to be confused with those FUN-sized snickers bars, Dave and I used to rage against the machine when those came out in 1979. They were not FUN at all; they were frustrating and depressing-anything but FUN. You had to wrangle with WAY more packaging to get that stupidly tiny bite of candy. I could not unwrap two fast enough for both of our chocolate devouring needs. That quote “bite” was so unsatisfying. We complained and joked and theorized about who these were made for because honestly, who eats just one? The aftermath of a FUN-sized feeding frenzy leaves nothing but depression when you realize you ate at shatload of way more FUN-sized candy bars than you would have if they were regulation-sized and you want to projectile vomit. He would have to say, “Do NOT give me ANY MORE!” There would be a pause while we both tried to pretend we were done; then, he would say, “Ok, just give me one more.” We would laugh until we wretched because the M&M Mars candy company had won, the packaging psychology had worked on us, we were so full of chocolate. He never advised me against chocolate, good life advice by way of omission. There was a very important message there among the pile of skeletonized fun-sized candy wrappers; life is short, have fun, eat the FULL sized candy bars and leave it at that for God’s sake.
If you would be so kind to leave me a note to tell me where you are reading from, love to know I am accomplishing what I told Dave would happen…that his life story would help people in some way all over the world. Thank you.