Rancho Los Amigos 1974-75

Unedited excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down for previous chapters. Thank you all for reading this far, for all your comments, and for letting me drop all these words on the world of you. XO M

At some point about a year after being in the hospital, Dave had made as much of a recovery as he was going to. Staying in the hospital was not what he needed. It was decided that he would go to another facility for disabled individuals, Rancho Los Amigos, in Downey, California. He was there for rehab, to learn how to live the rest of his life as a quadriplegic, a “quad,” a completely paralyzed man. It was at this place that he was fitted for his first electric wheelchair and learned to use it with his mouth operated controls. This facility supports those with life-changing disabilities, so I am sure they serve people beyond spinal injuries, but I don’t recall anyone walking around.

He was there for months and eventually began coming home on the weekends. I am sure these weekends were preparing my parents to care for him more than anything. I rode with my parents to pick him up for the weekend. There was what felt like to my 8-year-old self at that time, a lot of intense energy in this place, especially compared to the oppressive silence of Wing 700 at SBCH. You had to pay attention to what could have been a freight train of mass flying one way or the other, paraplegics who could use their arms, were racing each other in traditional wheelchairs down long hallways, shouting competitive jabs at each other laughing as they wheeled themselves down the hall neck-and-neck at breakneck speeds if I dare say. Who would have thought those words would be put to use in this way before…but I witnessed it, and it was fine. It felt like a frat house, minus the booze and chicks. No one chose to be a member, but the spirit of the place was pretty pleasantly wild.

He eventually transitioned to being at home full time with my parents caring for his every physical need. Of course, everyone else, family or friend(s) helped out with simple things like feeding him, filling his water thermos, holding the phone to his ear while he talked, scratching an itch, wiping his eyes with a cloth, turning on the radio, putting on a record, or changing the channel on the TV way before the days of remote controls. We didn’t usually bathe him, dress him, or put him in his wheelchair, but on rare occasions we did. Our parents carried out that more personal care. He didn’t get up in his wheelchair every day, but he had a sponge bath and a change of sheets on his bed every day. My parent’s personal care for him kept him bedsore free for the entire time they cared for him, which was more than 35 years. For those who understand the nature of bedsores and paralyzed people, this is a big deal…no bedsores, 35 years. By comparison, Christopher Reeves reportedly suffered with bedsores in his brief life following his accident… plenty of money, just not the right care. That is how well cared for Dave was. When Dave heard about “Superman” having bedsores, he tried to figure out how to get in touch with him or his people to shed some light on how to avoid bedsores but didn’t get through. By the way, the secret is understanding moisture and friction are what cause bedsores. My parents used a combination of lambs wool and lots of baby powder to wick away moisture from his body.

His friends continued to visit him daily when he returned home. Our house swelled on the weekends into THE party house. There was always beer and music. There were usually 20-30 people every Friday and Saturday night. Romances budded. Poker games were hosted. There was so much beer and always great music.

I loved hearing the guys sing the lyrics to Shattered by the Rolling Stones… they mumbled through most of the complicated early rap-like verses but always managed to shout ‘and sex and sex and sex and sex and look at me….I’m in tatters! Shadobee, I’m shattered, what ya say? Shadobee, I’m shattered.” Or another favorite of theirs (and mine) lyrics from Miss You, also by the Stones. The Imaginary Band as they, his friends referred to themselves, belted out the chorus “Who who ooo ooo oo oo, who ooo ooo oo oooo oo oo, Lord I miss you!!” In sloppy drunken harmony.

Saturday mornings, it was my job to empty the trash. I mentioned previously my five-minute job that I managed to take all day to complete, was to empty all the trash cans in the house. Sunday I also emptied his trash can again. He had a large metal trashcan that was designed to look like a Coors Beer Can. It is a good thing it was metal, and it was a good thing it didn’t leak. His trash can was always very heavy with stinky, leaking the dregs of those beer bottles. It was an expected outcome of so much fun. Our house was healing. I was so happy to once again live in a house full of laughter, actually, more laughter than ever.

Annie Stubbs came by my parents’ house to visit with Dave too, she called to check-in on him every now and then. She sent him a card on his birthday with $5, forever. They had such a sweet appreciation for each other, it was lovely to witness. I would sometimes answer the phone to Annie asking to speak to David. In the early years, I would hold the phone up to Dave’s ear while he spoke to her. His excited to hear from her side of the conversation would sound something like this, “I’m just FIIIIINE Annie! How are YOU? Oh, ya, I can’t complain either. I’m just layin’ around (giggles at his joke about himself) watchin’ the boob tube. What’s new with YOOOU? That sounds nice. (PAUSE) Oh, that is so very kind of you to check on me, thank you so much, Annie, Ok, thank you again, Byyyyye.” You could hear the smile and appreciation in his tone as he spoke to her. I just loved hearing my brother talking to this sweet little old lady.

My parents had a den upstairs where they retired after dinner to watch television. When Dave first came home, they, my dad, had to go downstairs to answer the door every evening to let the first person who arrived in. From that point on, whoever was in Dave’s room would answer the door for the rest of the evening.

Over a very short period, my parents had extra keys made so they would not have to go all the way downstairs to answer. I have no idea how many keys floated out and about among his friends. I had no idea of this brilliant tactic until many years later when Brian let himself in the front door ahead of me with a key from his key ring as we were both heading in the door. I remarked, “Oh, you have a key? ” He said with an obvious tone that conveyed, Of course, I’ve got a key when he said: “Uh, I’ve had it for… decades.” I loved finding that out. I told Dave about it later, and he had the same tone of duh, “Many keys have been handed out.” Made sense. My parents really were smart. This was the extra sandwiches make life easier logic in full force…but morphed into house keys.

After Dave left the building, it was suggested that my mom really consider changing the locks and she did so making all those keys obsolete. Brian was given a new key. My son has a key. I don’t think I have a key.

1973-74 Wing 700

Raw, unedited excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to read previous chapters. Thank you all for your love and support. I love and adore you all. XO M

Back at the hospital, After Dave was stabilized, he was moved from the Intensive Care Unit to Wing 700. He was the shining star of the hospital. Everyone loved him because he was pret-TEE lovable. He had a great attitude and faced every day the best he could. He didn’t bitch about anything. He had so many friends come to visit him every day that even in the days of stupid and strict Visitor Rules, the staff moved his room closest to the entrance in the wing. They advised his friends to just tap their keys on the glass doors so they would be heard…someone would let them in whatever time they came.

And they came. Every day, every evening, someone or more than one person was visiting with Dave. On the weekends thirty or more people would be in his room with the door closed and his brand-new swank stereo system cranking some classic Rock. They pulled pranks on the staff with fake spilled beer cans and fake barf or fake dog poop here and there. None of the staff ever complained. They seemed to appreciate the dedicated friendship they witnessed in that room for that lovely young man. They knew he was special, that his circumstance sucked and they took good care of him. He met people in the hospital both staff and patients who became part of his life forever.

One patient, Vince who had ended up partially paralyzed due to a suicide attempt was so despondent from surviving his suicide attempt, then waking up paralyzed on top of whatever drove him to try to take his life in the first place, I can’t even imagine the pain of all of this. The staff thought they should connect him somehow with Dave. They asked Dave if he would share a room for a brief period with Vince to help him come around. Dave agreed.

They shared a room, and Vince benefitted from Dave’s amazing spirit and all the kind young people who came to visit who completely brought Vince into the fold of their collective friendship. There were whoopee cushions, fake turds placed tastefully here and there, fun artwork taped to the walls, along with Dave, his people, and the music and laughter. I remember coming across a photo of the two of them in their room showing off wildly colorful (hideous) silly socks with individual toes that my mom’s sister, my Aunt Francie had bought for them, they were both utterly and completely cracking up. I loved seeing their laughter immortalized on film. Vince had a great experience being with Dave, and he did find his way out of his depression. They were friends from that point on which is how every friendship with Dave came about, introduction, lifelong connection. Vince had full use of his hands. Years later, he would stop by my parent’s house to visit with Dave. He drove with a specially designed van which I thought was the coolest thing…way cooler than any James Bond gadget at that time. I just loved to hear them laugh. Vince was Dave’s first official foray into talking someone off the ledge, professional counseling…he just didn’t recognize it as his life’s calling at the time.

The hospital staff bonded with Dave. He was such a gracious and beautiful being exuding such humanity, to begin with, but was so appreciative and respectful to them for their care.

One nurse must have spoken about Dave to a family member who thought he sounded so interesting that she wanted to meet him. That is how Annie Stubbs met Dave. She was an older African-American woman who would bake something for him and come to visit him in her Sunday best, just to check on him. It was so touching that this older woman was compelled to connect to this random paralyzed 18-year-old kid in the hospital and for the rest of his life. She was as beautiful a human as he was so it really makes perfect sense when you understand the birds of a feather principle retroactively and can clearly identify all the birds and feathers that surrounded, and filled his entire life.

ADWH

Raw, unedited excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Sorry for the hiatus, life, business, painting, celebrating family in town, hosting birthday bashes, you know how it is. I will post four posts to get back on track. Love all your comments, love all of you. XO M

After Dave Was Hurt, initially, our house was a somber museum of antiquities compared to its former joyful bustling home loaded with kids and gameboards. I am sure this is not surprising to anyone. Our house became a different kind of busy. Someone was constantly at the door: dropping off food, offering a kind word or inquiring if there was any good news or anything they could do to help.

People spoke in hushed tones as if the bad news were any easier to digest when whispered. Occasionally when enough adults were present concurrently, they sat around our dining room table drinking percolated coffee and got updates of Dave’s condition that was unchanging, still as bad as could be. Sitting under this table eavesdropping while the adults talked is how I gained most of my intel about Dave’s injury. When you are paralyzed like that you don’t recover. It takes time for that reality to settle into our understanding since most injuries heal, and people get “better.” This was not most injuries. There was no “better” to look forward to.

We no longer had a house teeming with friends and laughter or fun. Dinner was quiet, Dave’s chair was empty initially, but never moved away from the table. Forks barely made noise on our plates, no one chatted about their day. A sadness hung in the air and sound may have released it, so we just kept quiet as mice.

My mom was not always with us at the table in those early days. Sometimes my dad was not with us as he may have gone from work directly to the hospital skipping dinner in the middle.

My sister Anne who was 12 matured unnaturally rapidly, took over maintenance of the house, cooking and cleaning up after everyone, living with headphones on in her room when not doing everything else.

Linda and Scott, who were very busy teenagers before Dave was hurt, remained so. They had social lives to live, were of driving age or had friends of driving age, and not unlike teenagers everywhere, they were out anywhere else with their friends.

Dave was in the hospital for more than a year and never ate hospital food because our mom took breakfast, lunch, and dinner to him. I am going to stop for a moment so that can sink in…he NEVER ate shitty hospital food. My mom made a ton of food TOGO, like over a thousand meals… TOGO… throughout that time. There were no more sporting events to attend, no more social calendar existed. There were no more family vacations. No more extra sandwiches.

My parents were with Dave almost 24/7, emotionally, physically, and didn’t have a day off until their 25th wedding anniversary, one of two mini weekend vacation getaways throughout the rest of their lives. The house no longer seemed like a strong imposing beautiful concrete structure but that of cards where we all held our breath so as not to bring it all down.

Genetics (About My Mom) Part 3

Excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down for previous chapters.

My mom was the youngest of nine children. Unlike my dad, she came from a house of plenty. Plenty of food and even more joking and laughter. She grew up eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with sterling silverware on fine china with tablecloths and linen napkins. Her china and silver patterns were picked out for her when she was born. Her family had a live-in cook, maid, and nanny.

Marrying my dad, she left all that pampering behind, rolled up her sleeves and learned to do all things domestic: cook, clean, care for children, referee, separate the proverbial dog and catfights, feed the actual dog and cat, discipline, shuttle, shop, pay bills, maintain a full house as detailed further below.

She ran our house like a military ship. You have to be efficient when you have a big family, or you might die under an enormous pile of dirty clothes, trash or worse, dog doo. We had a predictable, jam-packed life with the many moving parts that come with five kids, 15 first cousins (just on my mom’s side), ailing grandparents, their large group of friends from high school and their growing families, lots of friends from school and our neighborhood: baseball, basketball, football and volleyball games, paying the bills, “put the cat out,” Cub Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, softball, Church and Sunday dinners with extended family, guitar lessons, gymnastics, family (including cousins) vacations, “Boys! get off the roof,” “Boys! keep your hands to yourself,” piano lessons, “Boys! don’t throw things in the house,” Holidays, “Damn It Boys! I told you a window would get broken!” hosting slumber parties for wild screaming middle school girls, “Boys! keep your hands off the walls,” birthday celebrations (roughly every two weeks someone in our extended family had a birthday that we celebrated), “Boys! I said keep your hands to yourself,” laundry, grocery shopping, making lunches, friends over for dinner, “Keep your swimsuit top ON,” baseball in the street, a family member here and there living with us, “Did anyone let the cat in?” broken window repairs, “Take it upstairs with you” stitches and broken bones, parties sanctioned and secret while they were out of town, dentist appointments for five, pets and vets, orthodontist, parent-teacher conferences, dusting and vacuuming and mountains of dishes and everything in between that is not directly outlined above.

There was always enough mayonnaise, Roman Meal bread, margarine (didn’t everyone eat margarine back then?), Skippy Peanut Butter (Chunky), toilet paper, soap, towels and clean clothes. It takes a LOT of organization and effort to keep everything in stock and running smoothly. So yes, my dad worked long hard hours in retail management but look at my mom’s work life seven days a week and she had to deal with all of us too! Lucky him!

When I say our house was like a military ship, I mean it was efficient. It was always tidy. You would never know how many people lived in their house because my mom never allowed us to drop our junk by the front door. We were not allowed to slow down until we dumped our stuff upstairs in our rooms. And if there was anything sitting on the stairs like clean towels or toilet paper we had to take that up with us because we were “going that way anyway.” The house was always clean because she wanted it that way and for a brief window of time, she had an army of five children to dust, vacuum and clean every Saturday. She also cleaned the two bathrooms EVERY day. You HAVE to do so when you have 3-5 males on the premises.

Our mom figured out how to run this organization very efficiently, and she, well they both had expectations. My mom tried to raise us to be proper and fancy, we all know how to set a table and what fork and spoon to use but have you heard my language? For the record, I did not learn my varsity level cursing habits at home. The general house rules were nothing unrealistic. “Pick up after yourself. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Those kind of things. Pretty simple rules really. The things you need to be able to relate to people in the real world.

Like all of America at that time we too had to be home by the universal time that the street lights come on. We were expected to be present at dinner. General good hygiene was also expected, “Wash your hands before dinner.” As previously mentioned, Strict rules were imposed at the dinner table including properly asking for things to be passed to you at the table “Please pass the (fill in the blank)?” And “Thank you.” So while all the rules and maintenance of life stuff sounds stiff and uninteresting, for clarification she was consistent, you have to be with this sort of job but always quick to laugh.

My mom was the infrastructure of everything related to general house operations. Her supportive planning and steady execution of everything in every area of our lives gave all of us the platform to succeed at home and out in the world. I forgot to mention picking up dry cleaning above, my dad’s professional wardrobe was meticulously cared for.

My mom made everything about dinner happen as was common back in time. After my dad’s last story, my mom coordinated having us clear the dishes away. One of the older kids had an assigned night to do the dishes. This is when the majority of any bitching by the children about anything in our house began…regarding whose night it was to do the dishes, followed by trade negotiations. “If you do the dishes tonight, I will do them tomorrow.” I was too young when the house was so full to ever be in the dishwashing bitching, negotiation and rotation schedule. I just remember the arguments that my parents let resolve themselves about whose night it was. Someone WAS going to do those dishes.

I know I used the word military previously, but our home, the home my mom created was not militant. It was a vibrant, loving home with plenty of giggling and running around happening as well. The very beautiful 1920s vintage historic Spanish style home was constantly teeming with children. People were always curious about what the house looked like inside. Once inside they wanted to stay not because it was beautiful, but it was a fun place to be.

Any day of the week there was always at least one extra kid in the house, either a friend or a cousin or two or all the above. It was not uncommon to have a friend join us for dinner on a school night, Brian comes to mind, or anyone else who happened to stop by close to dinner time. Our dining room table when expanded could seat 18 but also converted to a card or ping pong table with the addition of a net attached to the table in the center with the turn of a wingnut screw. There was always room for an extra person or ping pong around the world silliness.

Someone was frequently hitting a tennis ball up against the garage. The boys (and cousins) played catch across the street, not by playing on the other side of the street, by standing one on either side of the street, throwing the ball across the street and over cars as they drove by. When someone missed their catch on our side, the baseball hit the garage door with a loud bang. My mom rolled with all of it.

On occasion, our house was a haven for a runaway child who was at odds with their parents for a day or two. Slumber parties were wild but rare and usually saved for two special occasions a year, birthday parties for the older girls. Our parents’ friends often visited. Usually with their children which meant all sorts of wild play, games, hide-and-seek both inside and outside of the house. My mom was perpetually putting a pot of coffee on because there were always people stopping by. But given everything she had to accomplish in a day she had to have needed that coffee too. I remember she drank coffee up until maybe 8 o’clock at night. Now she has one cup in the morning, that is it.

Our parents were booster club members for everything. But really, mom’s ARE the booster club, working all those volunteer hours in the snack bar or hosting the fundraiser du jour. We attended all the many sporting events by loading up our wood-paneled station wagon, the woody with ice chests, bleacher pads, and blankets. You need a large vehicle when you are a family of seven.

We were always attending some sporting event somewhere. The boys and our cousins played Little League on city teams like boys all across America, and we all played sports organized by our Catholic school too. Three of my siblings were in high school at the same time. Dave was a senior, Linda a Junior and Scott a freshman. Each played a sport or two. Dave’s football activities in high school were the most storied because an entire community comes out to watch football and his sport was by far the most talked about in our house. Boys sports overshadowed girls sports by far back then.

His storied time on the field was not exaggerated. He played center. He was wide and solid from the shoulders down. He was the perfect wall of muscle to put in front of a quarterback. He made the varsity team his sophomore year, was named the All-star athlete for the region that year and was team captain his senior year. No one sacked the San Bernardino High School quarterback, and subsequently, the team always did very well. He also played Baseball, Water Polo, Wrestled and was on the Track team (shot put). There was a snack bar at the football games and our mom, ever carrying out her momly duties definitely had her time in the snack bar pit.

I was very little and bored to death at most events, but I liked going to high school football games because they were at night and I got to stay up later than normal. I would have been between 2-6 and remember climbing the underside of the bleachers like a jungle gym, parents allowed us to be out of their site back then. I could hear my mom’s familiar cute outbursts of laughter rise above the mixed noise of the crowd now and then and stopped momentarily when I heard announcements over the PA. “And Linane sacked the quarterback.” “And Linane blocks the kick.” And Linane-(fill in the blank).” It felt so official because the announcer sounded like someone from T.V. I was less than five…don’t judge. All I could tell is that it sounded like my brother was all over the field saving the day again like last week and the week before that. That was my first awareness of feeling pride, I was proud to hear his name, our shared imprinted name over and over.

Some of my mom’s more brilliant moves:

Our house was large with five bedrooms and all the other typical rooms you expect in a house, living room, dining room, but we also had a breakfast nook and a loft area that was a den. I know it sounds fancy but we just happened to live in an older home that had such rooms.

Every Saturday, my mom employed her army of five to clean the house from top to bottom, and we did. The older kids vacuumed, moved furniture around, mopped. I had the pint-sized task of dusting a certain room usually mine because there wasn’t much I could break or if I did break something it would be my own. When I was older, I emptied the trash throughout the house. The army helped keep the house clean and taught us all how to care for our things and ultimately, a home.

My job of trash lady, of course, took me ALL day Saturday. A job that probably should have taken about 10 minutes tops. I fully employed whatever that law is, now I have to look it up, Parkinson’s law (I swear it is a thing) states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. I wasn’t wise enough yet to have figured out that if I did my job quickly I would be given another task, I simply was pouting about what I deemed as an awful task that a princess such as myself should not have to do and I just procrastinated all day rather than just be done with it. No one told me I was a princess, trust me, I was more likely referred to as a pill because of my incessant inquisitive nature. I just deduced I was from all the princess books I had read and because we lived in a beautiful home that looked a little bit like a castle. I know, I’m ridiculous. My mom and husband both gave me the same book one year, the Princess and the Pea, my favorite from childhood and somewhat autobiographical. Ok, maybe I still refer to myself as the princess and the pea when it comes to the desire for creature comforts.

With a live-in grandparent or aged uncle here and there from my mom’s side of the family, yes, she cared for her mother and a few siblings too. So, yes with the influx of ailing adults the kids had to share a room. My mom had us change rooms every six months.

All rooms were not created equal which meant one, two or three people to a room or the very lusted after commodity among children…the one small room in the house, a room of one’s own. My mom’s plan of everyone changing rooms every six months meant no one had to endure an unpleasant dreaded paring with a sibling that long and someone would get the coveted room of their own, at least for six months. In this transition, we had to move all of our furniture out of our room, go through all of our clothes and toys and get rid of things we no longer used. It was brilliant, for deep cleaning, pairing down like you need to do to maintain control of the volume of crap five children can amass and keep the kids from complaining about the unfairness of life with “fill in the blank” having the best room to themselves.

Our vacations were typically a week beach house rental in Newport Beach in Southern California. Not a long drive, not an extravagant expense and cheap entertainment with the ocean keeping us busy and wearing us out all day. My favorite bit of brilliance, we were allowed to bring a friend on vacation with us. That friend was almost always a cousin of similar age. The woody somehow fit loads of people, before seatbelts of course. In retrospect, after having my one and only child, I asked my mom what in the hell she was thinking taking 10 children on vacation. She responded, “Oh honey, it was so much easier to make 10 sandwiches than it was to listen to five children bitch about being bored.” Seriously, brilliant!

Genetics and other announcements in the background (1)

Excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to read from the beginning. Thank you all for reading and for your comments. XO M

Part 1.

Dave was the oldest of five children. The son of a world-class athlete, our dad Tom and our world-class mom, Sandra. They were married 52 years, the Linanes. A world-class pair who created a world-class quadriplegic. By the end of this book, I think you will agree about all of them.

Our parents met when they both moved to Redlands, California in the summer of 1946 when they were twelve. They began dating at 16 and married when they were 20 in 1954. In the next six years, they had four children…under the age of six. I am going to pause for dramatic effect to let that just sink in. And further, they almost had five sets of Irish twins under the age six but one pregnancy did not make it to term.

Then I came along five years later. Just when they thought they were done…they were not. My mom was pregnant when I was seven but this pregnancy ended as a result of a dangerous condition called Placenta Previa in the summer before Dave was hurt. She would have been due about the same time as Dave’s accident.

I thought I wanted twins when I was pregnant, a boy and a girl, pregnant once, one of each. Boom, done. At the age of twenty-seven years, I produced my one and only child and retroactively realized how crazy their house must have been with all those babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers, elementary school age children finally and then another baby right after they got rid of all the baby stuff…and almost another baby dealing with Dave’s accident. I don’t know what I was thinking, Twins? And for my mom with what probably felt like quadruplets and my friends out there with twins…I raise my glass to you. OMG. Is it nap time yet? I meant for the adults?

I asked my mom what my dad’s reaction was when she told him she was pregnant…AGAIN. She said, “Well, (she giggled) he was never surprised.”

Talk about bad fucking news

Excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. To read previous chapters, scroll down. Love all the love you are giving me with your comments, follows and likes. Thank you! XO M

The phone rang. I remember being in the kitchen. The connecting room to my right, the breakfast nook is where one of the three phones in our house was located at the time. My dad had been reading the paper. He hopped up from the table away from his paper to answer the phone.

I remember feeling something change in the room. I didn’t hear one word from my dad after he said “Hello? Yes…” It is not often that we recognize such a definitive moment in our lives as it is happening. I knew then, I felt it, the split-second joy had been sucked out of our house. It was as if a portal into deep space had been thrown open in our kitchen and the entire existence of our family was scattered beyond to the ends of the universe by the vacuum of nothingness, to oblivion.

My seven-year-old eavesdropping antenna was all the way up along with something else I had never before experienced, true fear. I paid close attention with my peripheral vision so as not to look directly at him. I had never overheard a phone call quite as silent as this one or felt the room so heavy with something I could not identify, something unnatural. He hung up the phone. I tried to search his face for clues of something in that half-second, whatever this unnatural thing was, only to discern that his gorgeous bright blue eyes had lost their beautiful energy. He hurriedly left the room in one quick turn. His sunny disposition, his entire being, everything about him had been washed over a dark gray.

Minutes later both he and my mom rushed out the back door into the garage. Wait, what about dinner? Where are you going? I wondered but remained silent, taking it all in. I didn’t understand where they were going or what was happening. I just knew something bad ushered or followed my parents out the door in a rush. Whatever it was I was very afraid of it.

It was rare that both of our parents were not home for dinner. I do not recall a parentless dinner prior to this day, but neither of our parents was present at dinner this night and many nights to come. I remember eating in frightful silence with my sister Anne, she was 12 at the time.

I know they would have given anything including their lives to have been at the table with all of us like normal that night. I know they would have traded places with Dave rather than face the fire of the worst news of their existence in the Emergency Room at San Bernardino Community Hospital. But we don’t always have the option of choosing our fate.

My parents were met at the hospital by a neurologist who explained in a flat tone, “Thomas (Dave’s actual first name) has experienced severe trauma to his spinal cord.” The neurologist slapped an x-ray up on a lightbox in front of my parents, people with no medical background getting their first of many accelerated med-school by force lectures. My dad took one look at the film and dropped to his knees with a stunned overwhelm that anyone could imagine looking at the horrifically obvious misaligned vertebrae of your child. My mom stood fast facing that fire. Her immediate reaction was to catch my dad from falling to the ground completely, along with the doctors and help him up. The doctor coldly asked if they understood what the x-ray was depicting. My dad clarified, “Yes, my son’s neck is broken.”

My parents began a frightening and heartbreaking path that afternoon that I watched my dad turn from a vibrant glowing soul to a shell of dark gray presence, our house was shrouded, an unspeakably broken home, a broken-hearted home.

 

 

November 6, 1973 (fan meets the shit)

I have always envisioned the way this event unfolded in my mind’s eye from the safety of a birds-eye view drifting on a vent of wind far above the action as this is as close as I could ever allow myself to get, even now. I am way above the football field at San Bernardino Valley College. I see players and coaching staff on the field, its a typical afternoon of practice. Players are running through drills and scrimmage line ups are tested.

The defense lines up against the offensive line. The ball is snapped. The play has run its course of bodies crashing into each other. The practice has come to an unusual halt. Something is wrong down there. A large circle has slowly closed in around a player, Dave who is on the ground. He doesn’t look right. He is laying on his back, with his legs unnaturally folded up underneath him, his cleats are digging into the flesh of his backside yet he is not moving around in reaction to what looks like a painful landing.

The coaches jog over to assess what has happened, why he has not shaken off this hit and simply gotten up. It is determined immediately that something is wrong, very wrong. Someone sprints to the sports office to call an ambulance. Most athletes at the college level have all experienced an injury at some point, but they don’t expect to go to practice and leave in an ambulance. The energy of the crowd of players shifts quickly to shock and grave concern for their teammate because none of what they see looks to be anything but ok.

The ambulance arrives in minutes and enters the field through a large chain link gate near the north parking lot of the SBVC campus and drives right onto the football field grass as everyone present steps aside, opening the protective circle of concerned players on one side to allow its approach.

He did not lose consciousness, he explains what he thinks has happened, clearly remembers being hit, a delayed hit. He looked up to see his opponent to determine the reason for the delay. At the moment he looked up his teammate tackled him, basically over the top of him. His head was in the completely wrong and unprotected position of looking up. Instead of the energy of the impact going through the helmet, through his spine and body like it should when the head is tucked down, his head snapped backward, the back edge of his helmet dug into his spine.

He described feeling something like an electric power panel lever being thrown in a lights-out manner of speaking before hitting the grass. He was confused because he had no sense of his body as he lay there, he asks where his arms or legs were situated. He could tell he was in an awkward position but felt nothing physical, only concern for the unknown whatever in the hell this was. He conveys the above-outlined steps he moved through that led to this moment to the coaches and again to the ambulance crew as they too, quickly assess the critical severity of the situation.

An ambulance in an odd location like the middle of a football field draws attention. Brian, Dave’s best friend, is leaving campus for the day. He is heading toward and enters the same north parking lot directly adjacent to the football field. He notices the ambulance and crowd on the field because the unusual spectacle is not anything one would miss. He stops momentarily, concerned about whoever was obviously injured enough to need an ambulance at football practice, but he is too far away to be able to discern anything. He continues as he was, on his way to his car and heads home.

Bruce, another close friend of Dave’s, is in shop class, also adjacent to the football field on the west side. The doors to the class are open because it’s a hot day. Among the noise in the shop, Bruce and other students also notice the ambulance on the football field. Like Brian, Bruce felt some mild concern about what may have happened on the field that required an ambulance response, but he too was too far away to really see anything one way or another. He goes back to his work at hand as the ambulance crew is working on someone.

An isolation board is slipped under Dave in an effort to avoid moving him and possibly causing further damage. He is strapped in place and quickly loaded into the ambulance. His friend from way before junior college, Steve Avila jumps in the ambulance to be with his friend who may be in serious trouble. The ambulance heads off the grass carefully out of the parking lot and north toward San Bernardino Community Hospital a short drive away. It was in the later part of the four o’clock hour leaning toward five.

From up in the sky above the college I can see our rooftop six miles just north of campus to the middle of town, where dinner was being prepared when the phone rang.