This is part of an ongoing series called Graveyard Shift. It can be read alone or you can roll back in my archives and start from the beginning.
Jimmy McInerney stood on the curb outside of O’malley’s impatiently waiting for his ride. He had interviewed all 3 bouncers, 2 patrons and Mike was still not back. Where the hell is he? How long does it take to give a drunk chick a ride home? Jesus. As if on cue his radio crackled. “Unit 7 en route to Mercy Hospital.” “10-4 Unit 7”, dispatch responded. Jimmy reached for the radio mike on his left shoulder and squeezed the lever. “Unit 7. ETA ?” “Be there in 5.” Jimmy looked around the Main st. Last call was in effect and all of the bars were emptying out, including O’Malley’s. Between Mike clearing the crowd outside and Jimmy shaking the place inside out everyone had left . He marveled at how the patrons had cautiously steered way clear of him as they exited the bar. They’re not supposed to be scared of me, they’re supposed to trust and feel comfortable around me. That’s the way it was these days and Jimmy hated it. He had always, despite the road blocks in his career, tried to be the cop that people waved to when he drove by. A police officer that was a resource to the community and not something to be feared. Andy Griffith always came to mind when he was on this topic. Maybe it was only a TV show but he wished that the people in town felt towards him and his fellow officers as the people of Mayberry did. They trusted Andy, they gladly sat next to him at the coffee shop and welcomed him into their homes as a friend. But that was not to be, forever relegated to the status of TV Land reruns, police were regarded on a whole different level in recent years. It wasn’t entirely unearned, Jimmy knew some bad cops. But he also knew some good ones, Mike and himself included, that took this job upon themselves for the right reason. Community, helping people, keeping them safe. Yet people, even in this town…HIS town, bought into the narrative that cops were racist and corrupt and not to be trusted. Maybe banging my nightstick on the bar a while ago wasn’t the best way to reverse that dumbass, he scolded himself. Maybe, but the damage has been done. He exhaled and reveled in the cool early morning air. Mike pulled in moments later and Jimmy jumped in. Before Jimmy could fasten his belt Mike noisily sped off. “What’s going on?” Jimmy asked him. “We’re going to Mercy. That wasn’t a routine drunk chick. I ordered a Tox. Med 2 is on the way with her and I want to be there when they get the results”. He stuck a Marlboro Red in his lips, lit up and slowly exhaled. “Something stinks in Mayberry.”
It is not only a new year but also a entirely new decade. As I mark the halfway point of my 5th decade on this glorious spinning ball we call earth I have to say that the last ten years have easily been my most tumultuous and unpredictable to date. It is said that it is better to forget the incident and focus on the lesson. I need to do just that. If I was to take anything away from the last ten years, it is that I have learned a lot of lessons.
In 2010 it was determined that I would need a Kidney Transplant. Without it, dialysis would be my only option. One that I absolutely hated. The lesson was that, despite my remarkable skills of denial and putting on a brave face, it was time to take my health seriously.
2010 also saw the culmination of multiple bad financial decisions and living beyond my means in the foreclosure on my house and a bankruptcy. Despite finally landing a great job in 2008 it was too late to stop the inevitable and my family dragged ourselves to our new home, a small 3 bedroom apt where the rent was as much as our previous mortgage and we were actually tripping over each other. The lessons were many. I learned to curb my spending. I learned to downsize. And as we banged around in close quarters I learned that the smaller the space, the closer the family and as a family we achieved some much needed closeness.
In 2011 a co-worker and friend offered to give me a kidney. Her selfless offer caused a chain reaction at my company culminating in a fundraiser for my medical expenses. I felt like the luckiest man alive and I was blessed with a huge support system. I received my transplant in December. I was grateful and empowered. The lessons were many. I learned that a blessing can come from any source and to be open to it and be grateful. I learned that people are good and plentiful. I also learned that there is a catch to everything. My GM, who coordinated the fundraiser for me was going to play that card to manipulate and attempt to compromise me for years to come.
In 2013 I lost my father to Parkinson’s. It hit me hard to say the least. I still wonder if he died knowing how much I appreciated and loved him. The lesson, and there are many, was to tell the people in my life how I feel about them. I have committed to always leave people as if I am never going to see them again. Regrets are not part of my current game plan.
2013 also was the year I joined the wonderful fraternity of Freemasonry. I found a passion to pay forward my recent gift of a Kidney Transplant and Freemasonry allowed me access to great men who do great deeds. My commitment to be a better man each day than I was before has forever changed my life. The lessons are many. Selflessness, charity without expectation of recognition, love of community and the confirmation that there are a lot of good people in the world, you just have to know where to look.
Professionally, it was a wonderful decade. In 2008 I had fallen into the job that would not only introduce me to a lifesaving donor, but I found my niche in my career. The company groomed me for a couple of years and then gave me a department to build and I can say, without hubris that I knocked it out of the park. My background and personality served me well in our business model and I became a crucial “go-to” team player valued by our customer base and a frequent resource and problem-solver. Every day was challenging and different and I found myself in a position to help people. The lessons were many, chief among them was to listen to those around you and help them whenever possible. Also, be the worker and coworker that when you take a sick day, people miss you.
I would say that 2016 was the worst year of the decade. It began when my kidney failed suddenly in February. I was floored. Upon receiving my transplant I was a new man. I began my recovery immediately and I committed myself to keeping the kidney for at least the 15 years I was told it would last. I worked out hard. I did P90X, I biked and hiked. I took care of myself and dropped weight. When it suddenly failed after only five years, I was angry like never before. Where were my 15 years? Why did I have to find out on my own that my disease was the only kidney disease to return and infect the new organ? I would later deduce the lesson. You never know what the future holds so get out there and live now. If the Dr.’s had told me that I may lose it in 5 years would I have achieved all that I had? No, if I had sat around waiting for the shoe to drop I would never have climbed those mountains and savored the view.
In 2017 the bottom really fell out. My company closed, taking my dream job with it. My health deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t keep another job. When the job was gone so was the money and that was when my marriage officially collapsed. It was inevitable, we had been strangers for years but it hurt nonetheless. I suppose you know the rest. I moved in with my mother. I applied for Social Security Disability. I was denied. I went on dialysis and I am to this day. That’s the bad.
But here’s the good. I started this blog and if you are reading right now then I made a good decision. I also focused on creating and maintaining solid relationships with my children. Today, we are strong and their love sustains me. I also committed to getting along with my ex. I have not to this day experienced the closure, the explanation for the rejection many years ago and the giant wall that formed between us but I remained friendly with her for the children, for us and for the sake of tranquility. I would like to think that I am setting a good example for the kids on how to be an adult.
2019 served as a year of tying things together and trying to formulate a plan going forward. It was a year of many setbacks and achievements. After nearly dying in September 2018 I emerged from a medically induced coma with a “bucket list” mentality. I focused more on what I could do and less on what I couldn’t and in the process found that I could do a lot of things my detractors said I couldn’t. One of them was buying a motorcycle. Everyone said no, as had my wife and family for many years. But it was in my blood and as an homage to my father I was on two wheels again. The freedom and love of the open road has changed my life and, second to my children, is a thing that keeps me going on those dark sleepless nights when the pain is so bad that I consider the darkest of thoughts…ending it.
My greatest achievements of the 2019 was the transformation of my entire attitude. I like who I am. Finally.
It is true that a man has to hit rock bottom, with nowhere to look and go but up, before he truly discovers what is truly important. Brutal self-examination led to self-improvement. Physical challenges awakened the fighter in me. Having nothing to lose empowered me to rise from the ashes and shine my light instead of lurking in the shadows. It was then the lessons became clear.
For every high there is a low. People do not suck. Life is to be lived not viewed out a window from a recliner. The words “no” and “can’t” are to be treated as a personal challenge. Sometimes we all need help and that’s when we discover who our friends are. Pain is temporary while regret is forever. Be charitable to a flaw with your time if not your wallet. Only look down on a man if you are helping him up. Be nice. If you can’t do that then be quiet. Don’t ever let someone tell you what you can’t do. Make every day count as if it were your last.
In closing, I hope to be around long enough to do another one of these ten years from now.
October 4, 2018 I woke up to a team of Doctors standing at the foot of my bed. It was early. or at least it seemed like it was. I hadn’t slept much the night before. The head doctor began listening to my lungs, feeling my legs, being a general nuisance as the rest of the white smocks scribbled frantically on their notepads. “You won’t remember me, sir but I’m the doctor that was on duty the night you came in.” He was looking me dead in the eye. “I’m having a hard time believing that I’m looking at you right now. You were that close.” “That’s what I keep hearing.”I said. “I must have been in bad shape.” “Bad shape doesn’t begin to cover it. You were on the edge of death. How do you feel now?” “Grateful.” “You’ve been given a second chance . Take advantage of it. You may be going home in a couple of days if you feel up to it. You need to walk for me before I sign your release.”
I rolled out of bed, with difficulty of course, struggled to my feet and began to slowly walk out the door. The team followed me out and watched as I walked to the nurses station and back. I was wobbly but I did it. The doctor asked me when I had mastered that, to his knowledge I had failed the day before. “Last night while everyone was sleeping.” It was then that I noticed Olivia had joined the group. “Bill is a determined one” Olivia offered. I smiled at her. The team left my room. “I want to go home.” I told her. “A couple more days I think. Your fever is still erratic.” “I can’t take being in bed anymore.” Her concession was to sit me up in a chair where I spent almost the entire next two days. I continued to try to put the pieces together.
It was my ex wife that filled in the holes for me. She painted a vivid picture for me of what it was like to see me like that. She had visited me every day, I was impressed. At one point or another all of the kids had come to visit me. Unfortunately they all came when I was sedated. The sight of me with a breathing tube, unconscious was a bit much for my youngest daughter. My oldest son, who was on his way to visit his girl friend, was told to turn around. He asked why he couldn’t come in the morning. He was told “Because your father might not make the night.” Of course he rushed there.
October 6, 2018 I was released in the morning. Mom came to pick me up. When I got home I sat on the deck, enjoying some natural sunlight for the first time in 11 days, and opened my mail. The first letter I opened was from Medicare. My health Insurance had been cancelled. Effective that day. Turns out my SSDI had gotten approved and I was now fucking rich and wasn’t eligible for state assistance anymore. I tore it up and went inside.
I had just fallen asleep in my recliner only to be woken by my mother’s best friend Arlene. “I didn’t think I would ever see you again, Billy. Welcome home you tough bastard.” “Was I really that bad?!” I asked. It seemed I was asking that to a lot of people. Her face said it all. Many more townsfolk would say that very thing to me in the ensuing days. They all thought I was going to die.
There are lot of takeaways from this whole incident. I was grateful and impressed with the Hospital. I was thankful for the support of family and friends. I awoke one morning in the dialysis room only to find one of my 3AM buddies Jeff next to me patiently waiting for me to wake up. He had been there for 45 minutes watching me sleep. Now that’s a friend. Later that night two more great friends and their wives visited me. They sat for hours with me, they walked the halls with me, supporting my weight when I wavered. Of course I’m haunted by the way they were looking at me. The words “Dead Man Walking” came to mind. They were scared and it was disconcerting. But overall I am moved and eternally grateful to them for the visit. It really meant the world to me.
Another takeaway is that I am proud to have been gifted with toughness and a survival instinct. In order to survive, one must have a reason. I must have had plenty of reasons to defy the odds, as I was told so many times that I did just that.
I’m a fighter. I’m stubborn and I never quit. This incident is just more evidence that it wasn’t my time. I’m not ready for a dirt nap. My life is compromised but it is not over. I have weddings to go to and Daughters to give away. I have grandchildren to meet and motorcycle rides with my boys. I believe that in my lifetime there may be a cure down the road for me. I want to be there if it does.
My last takeaway? Even if I wasn’t awake, my ability to fight death is there and it is stron. Even unconscious, I do not fear dying.
I fear not living. And that is a powerful thing.
I’m also grateful to be here to tell this story, and that is also a powerful thing.
On day 2, as the farters and snorers began to stir at about 7 AM, I found myself with a decision to make. Do I haul my sleepless ass out of bed and risk major personal injury or illness and go on the ride and get out of the trip what I had hoped or puss out and stay at the motel?
I chose to go with the guys and make some memories.
After breakfast we put on our gear, warmed up the bikes and headed up Rte 9N, a beautiful scenic road that would take us through our little corner of NY and into the farmlands of VT. The first stretch of road was a long climb followed by a hair-raising downhill full of treacherous curves. My riding buddies were going too fast around the corners for my taste so I took my time. When I came to the bottom I found them at a rest stop taking off their helmets. We socialized with each other, I was still getting to know them and we mingled with other travelers as they pulled in as well. The stop was on Lake George and were all getting pictures when an enormous Military Transport Jet appeared over the lake and gave us a show at not even 1000 feet over the hard deck. It was quite a sight. We buzzed about that for a while and then started traveling again.
The next stop was Fort Ticonderoga, a major landmark which I had never seen before. Then, an hour later we came to Lake Champlain and took a ferry across the lake into VT. I was wiped and found myself sitting on the hard concrete floor of the ferry next to my bike, enjoying the scenery. 30 minutes later we were in VT.
We spent the next 3 hours driving through the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. Under the canopy of a cloudless sky we weaved through farm country as far as the eye could see. There were barely any cars, quite a few bikes and no people. We stopped for lunch at a cute and very busy roadside burger joint and I slurped down 2 cokes to stay awake. We discussed our route and the boys decided that it would be best for me in my present condition to shave a little off of the trip to give me a break . I was grateful. We soon grabbed the ferry at a different spot and re-crossed Lake Champlain.
The remainder of the ride was challenging. Charlie number 2 and Rick took off when we got to the highway and Charlie and I didn’t want to drive 100 miles per hour so we lost them (or vice versa). We rode 80 miles of highway so remote that the only traffic was trucks hauling grain, feed and oil. We then found Rte 9N again and made our way back. We never did reconnect with Speed Racers 1 and 2 so we took our time. We got back to the hotel just as it turned dark. We went to the bar and sure enough, there they were. We chatted for a while about our 320 total miles and the highlights that we saw but I was fading fast. I decided that I was going to find a motel room in the 5 mile strip of completely booked rooms and get some sleep. At that point I felt as if my life depended on it.
I went to Trivago and found one. It was right down the street and only 92 bucks! I immediately booked the room, told the fellas not to be offended but I needed sleep, and set out. The boardwalk of madness ensured that my 1 mile commute would take 30 minutes but I made it. I went in to find that I had booked for the following week. I asked the cute little Asian attendant if there was anything available. There was, a double at twice the cost. I handed over my credit card and said I’ll take it. Fuck it.
I couldn’t sleep at first. But somehow I scraped out 6 hours and before I knew it I was checking out and meeting the boys for breakfast. Today was to be a bit of a break. We were parking the bikes and walking to the car show.
I pulled into a gas station in Meredith, NH at exactly 12:30. You can catch part 1 here btw. Charlie wasn’t there yet so I went inside and bought some essentials to offset my sleepless night. 2 cokes and a Snickers. A sugar high was what the doctor ordered. When I came out, Charlie was waiting for me. We briefly discussed the route, 220 miles to Lake George with a stop to meet the other 2 guys who were coming from MA. We then took off.
The ride was beautiful. The sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We whipped and weaved through the winding roads of Western NH into VT. Through our frequent stops, a virtual comedy played out as our compadres continued to fail to meet us at arranged stops. They were lost, despite having done this ride 10 years in a row. We finally met up in Killington, at a gas station where I first met Charlie (another Charlie) and Rick. I liked them immediately. We took off for the last 80 miles of our journey.
We stopped for dinner at a diner in the Adirondacks. As soon as we got there it became clear that they knew everyone there. A complimentary round of beers came to the table. I gave mine away and asked for a coffee. I was dead dog tired and fading fast.
The last leg of the trip was cold and a bit white-knuckle. My crew was more experienced than I and were going too fast for me on the dark roads. I barely kept up with them. My nerves were frazzled after almost 6 hours on the road.
When we finally got to the Village of Lake George it was evident that we had arrived at the party. The streets were full of classic cars, muscle and vintage, Street Rods, Rat rods, you name it. The streets were lined with people in lawn chairs cheering on the cars as they drove the strip in a loop. Apparently, the village issues a temporary permit for Thursday through Sunday for all the cars, street legal or not, to cruise the one strip and drive like maniacs if they want. The police just stand there and watch. I had never seen anything like it as we negotiated the bikes through the crowd blocking the motel entrance. I was overwhelmed.
We checked in and I was less than thrilled to find out that the four of us were sharing two beds. I am a terrible sleeper and was not looking forward to sleeping with another guy. I shook it off, hoping that a couple of drinks would knock me out enough to override what I suspected was going to be a massive snore/fart fest. We went to the bar.
It was like Cheers the TV show for these guys. They knew everyone and everyone knew them. Several rounds of drinks showed up at our table and I imbibed a little. We went back to the room and everyone passed out in their clothes. It was exactly the snore/fart fest that I thought it would be. I was up all night. I knew I was in trouble.
After breakfast I asked what the plan was. The plan was to do about 300 miles of beautiful riding through NY and VT. I had a decision to make. Do I take a chance and do the ride on no sleep in 2 days and risk getting real sick or do I puss out and stay at the hotel? They knew my situation and said they would understand if I couldn’t make it.
I thought about it for a while and decided that I would definitely regret not going. I had made it this far, I was going to experience all of it regardless of the cost. I showered and packed for what was going to be a really long day.
I have gone on record as being divided on how I feel about Social Media, Facebook in particular. I hate the politics and the pursuant hatred and vitriol from idiots with “keyboard balls”. I hate the vague statuses in which some attention hound posts “ooh I’m so mad!” so all of her friends will reply “What’s the matter honey?”. Then there’s the 50 year old housewives doing duckface selfies. Enough already.
The one thing I have always liked about FB is catching/keeping up with old friends. I have deeply enjoyed this aspect of it. Having graduated HS almost 36 years ago I love that I can see what people who I don’t actually see often (or at all) are up to. One such person is Tim. The last time I saw Tim was after we had a fistfight after school in 9th grade. I don’t know to this day why we fought, but it was over quick and he moved soon after. That was 38 years ago. He and I connected on FB about 8 years ago and have been very friendly but never gotten together.
That changed this week. I posted a pic of my new (to me) motorcycle
and several minutes later a IM popped up. Want to ride? Hell yea, I replied. We worked out the details for Monday, the weather was looking fine.
We met at a restaurant we both knew. He had come from 50 miles south of me and the plan was to ride into the White Mountains of NH where, I think it is safe to say that God himself designed these roads for Motorcycles and merely allows cars to use them as needed.
He pulled in right on time. I knew what his bike looked like and a fair idea what he did as well. He got off his bike, took off his helmet, lit up his trademark cigarette and just said, “Billy Mac. You haven’t changed a bit.” “Well, gee Tim. I would think I’ve changed a little since 9th grade.” We talked for a bit, mostly small talk and we then saddled up. I told him I was a bit of a Rook so I would follow him. Off we went. There are certain rules to follow when riding in a group, even if the group is two. I learned them from my dad. Don’t ride side by side, ride staggered. If the leader is occupying the left side of the lane, stay in the right so that another driver doesn’t try to occupy the lane. Don’t get too close. I was nervous at first but I did fine. At the first stop, Tim likes to stop frequently and have a smoke and talk, he asked how long I had been riding. “Less than a month.” “Wow”, he said. “You’re doing great.”
At the next stop I asked where we were going. He told me we were going up Cathedral Ledge. I asked more questions and he said to just follow him. Before long we were taking a left into Cathedral Ledge State Park. We then began an upward climb on the windiest road I ever saw. Cars were crawling up and we had to pass a couple because if we didn’t we would have rolled back down the hill. It was that steep. We reached the top and there were hundreds of bikes and cars. We dismounted and I followed Tim to a clearing. Where I saw this…
The view was breathtaking. We talked for a while, got into a little more detail about our lives, elaborated on things we knew about each other from Facebook posts. Finally, he said. “Dialysis, huh?” “Yup. If you look over there (I pointed to a clearing not visible in this pic), that’s my clinic right there.” “They’re there. And you’re here, huh?” “Absolutely. When I’m not there I’m living.” Tim’s a quiet guy, a man of few words. “You sure as hell don’t look like a dialysis patient to me. Not that I actually know what one looks like, but it ain’t this.” “Thanks, man. That’s the point.”
We left, descended the hair-raising winding road and set out on the last leg of our journey. We ended up on a very winding stretch of 29 miles that begins with a sign “no gas or services next 29 miles.” The first 3.5 miles were straight up. Then the curves began. I followed Tim’s lead and we began a stretch of snake curves where you need to lean your whole body into the curve or you wouldn’t make it. It was do or die time for me. I summoned my courage and went at it.
Part of me wanted to slow down but I didn’t. I rolled with every turn, mimicking every move Tim made. The wind blew us about, the noise in my helmet was deafening, the adrenaline was pumping. I was exhilarated in the place of fright. At one point I screamed over the din of the engine to no one in particular “LIVING!”
No mortal man heard me, it was for the ears of God alone.
At the next break we talked about the rush of that section of road. I was in heaven. I felt accomplished, I felt like I had performed above my pay grade. I felt alive.
Tim and I later parted ways with a commitment to do it again. We will. I can’t wait. It’s days like yesterday that remind me why you have to deal with the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. The bike, good friends, good conversation, the outdoors on a beautiful Spring day, adrenaline. That’s the good stuff.
I may be stuck in a dialysis chair 3 days a week. But on the other 4, you’ll find me out doing something that someone told me I can’t or shouldn’t do.
Saturday I went to the wedding of the woman who destroyed my marriage.
How’s that for an opening line?
I would like to say that I am overstating it. Maybe I am, but not by much. Lisa, the bride, is the best friend that my wife essentially abandoned me for, adopted as her support system and downgraded my role in her life to inferior paycheck and roommate.
It’s a hell of a story and surprisingly, I haven’t touched on it much in my blog. That is because it is a very complex scenario. First, it needs to be stated that it is not Lisa’s fault, she didn’t ask my wife to choose her for all of her emotional needs. I admire her as a person. It further complicates things that her new husband is an old, dear friend that I love like a brother. He has stood beside me all these years, equally perplexed at the bizarre relationship that developed between my wife and his and he has been very supportive of me.
When this longtime couple with 4 children and 3 grandchildren decided to get married for the noblest of reasons, to adopt a special needs baby that has been in their care, I couldn’t help but be happy for them. I tasked myself with sucking up my bitterness, reconciling the bizarre relationship I have with this couple and enjoy the day. I’m glad I approached it as such, because so many beautiful things occurred and some wonderful memories were formed.
The wedding was beautiful. Their grown son was the best man. Their oldest daughter became Certified Ordained in order to perform the service. All of the children and cousins had a role and it was very touching.
My children all had their significant others with them and they did not disappoint. My handsome boys had their beautiful girlfriends on their arm, my gorgeous daughters escorted by handsome and well dressed men. I was in awe of how my boys turned out to be such gentleman, seeking commitment over the player life. My daughters in turn are faithful, loving companions that respect themselves and demand nothing less from their men. It was a magical moment as a father watching my fine young adults laughing, dancing and canoodling with their dates.
At the beginning of the reception my youngest daughter asked me if I would dance with her should there be a Father/daughter dance. I hate dancing, and pictures, and anything that draws attention to me, but I promised her I would. As luck would have it, I was in the men’s room when it happened. My daughter was a bit peeved with me that I missed it, she told me that she wanted to get a preview of what it would be like to dance with me on her wedding day. As she walked away to join her boyfriend I was struck by a powerful realization.
Like it or not…I might not be around for her wedding.
It was at that moment that I decided that the time to be a non-smiling in pictures, hiding in the back of the room, non-dancing introvert was over. I asked myself how many moments like this did I, or anyone, actually have?
The first slow dance, I grabbed my daughter from her boyfriend’s arms and I danced with her. She teared up but smiled through it. She was so amazed and happy. I then requested a country song that the groom and his brother (another amazing friend) loved and dragged them both onto the center of the dance floor and we belted it out together to the joy of the room and the amazement of my family. When that song ended and the applause died down, a Motown classic started up and my kids surrounded me and I, for the first time ever, danced like no one was watching.
After, enjoying a cigar with my boys and friends, I was asked how many beers I had drank. I told them two, that alcohol was not a factor. I had just decided that it was time to show them all a side they had never seen before.
It was unanimous that everyone, including me, really enjoyed that side of me. The amazed looks from my wife pleased me as well.
It was a good day, with the exception of one comment that my wife made that had the potential to ruin my day…and almost did until I chased it off. It is still bothering me even as I write this but it is a topic for another blog entirely.