For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part III

It was a sad week last week.

It was the eight year anniversary of my father’s death. It was also the eight year anniversary of the death of Lea’s father. He died exactly one month before my dad. Hard to believe that much time has passed by so quickly.

I lost both of my parents in May. My dad at the beginning of the month. My mom at the end of the month. It’ll be twelve years this year.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2006. Eight months later she was dead. My dad had suffered from a laundry list of ailments for years. He had stuff standing in line waiting to kill him. In the end, it was his heart. It was the only thing we didn’t expect.

I miss talking to my dad. He was a funny guy. But I miss everything about my mom.

* * * *

If you live long enough, you might reach a point where you have more friends that are dead than living. I might be there right now. It’s hard to say. I have a long list of people I knew who are no longer among the living.

One of my former patients had that happen to her. She had four great female friends. They went to school together. They stayed close even after they all got married, and had kids. And all that stuff.

They had a catchy name for themselves, but I can’t remember it anymore. They had Girl’s Night Out. Girl’s Weekend Getaways. Sometimes they took vacations together to get away from their families and decompress.

“We used to have so much fun together. And then I woke up one day, and I realized that I was the only one left. That was five years ago. I’ve been depressed ever since. Then I started drinking. I hardly leave my house now. That’s why I decided to come to the hospital. I just don’t have the energy to fight it anymore…”

* * * *

Last week, Jim Ryan passed away.

When we came here the first time to visit Phyllis, she introduced us to her circle of friends. From my perspective at the time, she was the common thread, so I called her group The Phyllistines.

There’s another name for the group. The Usual Suspects.

That’s how we met Jim and his wife, Ronni. Well, that’s how we met almost everyone we know here.

Jim was an interesting man. People who knew him better than I did might say he liked to argue. He was an attorney, so it’s what he did for a living. Arguing creates the wrong impression in my mind. Jim liked to debate.

“Hey, I ran into a friend of yours the only day.”

“Really? Which one? I have a lot of friends.”

“He was a short guy. Kinda bald. He had a camera. I think his name was Mark.”

“Yes, I know a guy who matches that description. He’s been over to our house several times. I’ve been to his house a couple of times. But are we friends? That might be open to speculation or interpretation. We don’t really know each other that well, so…  How do you define friendship?”

That conversation is a figment of my imagination, but I know this would have been true: If I somehow found myself in a situation that I couldn’t handle on my own, Jim would’ve been the first person to say, What can I do to help you, my friend.

He had also been a political lobbyist. Unlike me, when Jim talked politics, he knew what he was talking about. He was probably the only man I know that when he talked, I felt I should be taking notes.

Jim was a wise and wonderful man. He loved dogs and children. Anyone who has that on their resumé should get a warm welcome at the Pearly Gates. Jim was incredibly generous, especially when it came to children. He used to buy Christmas presents for all the children at one of the local orphanages every year. He opened the doors to his house and hosted celebrations for everyone in his neighborhood.

Jim’s health started deteriorating about a year and a half ago. He never really fully recovered once that process started, but he didn’t let it stop him. He adjusted and adapted to the things he could no longer do, and kept doing the things that he could.

In true fashion, he was pragmatic about the whole thing.

“Forty is a tough age for men. Lots of us drop dead when we hit forty. If you survive your forties, you’ll probably live to be sixty. That’s another tough age. But if you survive your sixties, you’ll probably live to be eighty. And after that, you’re just living on borrowed time.”

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I think Jim was 79. He knew that his time had come, and chose to exit with grace and dignity. As the song goes, he did it his way.

Vaya con Dios, amigo. Maybe we’ll meet again someday. I’d like that.

In Memoriam

Mother’s Day is almost upon us. I decided I’d try to write about my mom, but it hasn’t been easy. I have a million memories of my mom, but I’m thinking mostly about her death today. She died at the end of this month in 2007, and this year will mark​ ten years since her death.

You’d think this subject would get easier over time. I thought it would, until I started writing about it. I’ve had to chop this into very small bites, with a whole lots of breaks in between. At the rate this is going, I might be finished by Mother’s Day. Next year.

* * * *

It was in October of 2006. I think it was a Friday. I got a phone call at work from my youngest sister, Julie. My work day at the MVAMC was almost over, and I was checking my notes at the nursing station. Our mom had been visiting our oldest sister, Colleen, in Montana. Julie had gone to the airport to pick up our mom, but there was something wrong with our mother.

“She’s really confused and acting strange.” Julie said.

“Is she drunk?” I asked. My mom had been sober for at least ten years, but she could have had a relapse. I did, maybe a month before all of this happened.

“No. She’s just weird. I want to take her to the ER.”

“Do that. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I replied, then called my lovely supermodel wife to let her know we’d be taking an unplanned trip to St Cloud. I’m sure my memories of this are muddled, but I know I had a bad feeling about this situation, and I’m sure I tried to tell Lea that as we raced up Highway 10 to the St Cloud Hospital.

I think this is what I really said.

“My mom has cancer.”

* * * *

I wasn’t an Oncology nurse, or even a Med/Surg nurse. I was a Psych nurse, so you might think I would’ve thought my mom had had a psychotic break, not cancer. And you might wonder how I came up with that diagnosis when it was so far out of my wheelhouse, so to speak.

My mom smoked cigarettes, and she had smoked for something like unto sixty years. You hardly have to be a medical professional to know that smoking is bad for you. And I might be wrong about this, but one of the first major lawsuits against Big Tobacco was filed by a nurse, and in her sworn testimony, she stated she had no idea that smoking was harmful. If that is correct, she has to be the most stupidest fucking douchebag nurse, ever.

I already knew what the ER doc was going to say before I ever saw him. Be that as it may, I have to admit I was stunned to hear his pronouncement when he showed me my mother’s CT scan.

The first stage of the Grief and Loss process is denial…

“You’re the nurse in the family, right? Okay, well, the news I’ve got for you isn’t good. Your mother has lung cancer. She has a nodule in her lung, right there. Normally, we’d need to do a biopsy to be sure, but that’s not all. There’s another one right here, in her liver. Once cancer metastasizes there, well, I probably don’t have to tell you how bad that is. The oncologist can tell you more, but from my experience, your mom has about six months to live. Probably less.”

“What’s causing her confusion?” I asked. I think I saw my mom before I met with the doctor, and my sister wasn’t joking about mom being confused. She didn’t seem to have any idea where she was.

“Oh. That’s from SIADH.” he replied, like I’d know what the hell he was talking about. I didn’t.  So he tried explaining it to me. I tried to comprehend what he said, but even after his explanation, I still didn’t understand what he was saying. I would have to call my nursing buddy, Don Nelson, for some clarification. He had worked in ICU, and he was the only person I could think of who might be able to translate this into understandable terms, but even his explanation left me confused.

If you want to try to understand this, you’re going to have to Google it, and even that may not help. I don’t think it helped me much. This surpassed me, and it confused me almost as much as it did my mom.

Even now, I doubt I’d understand it any better. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is something like unto this: it’s probably similar to what happens when an elderly person gets an UTI. Somehow, a bladder infection more or less scrambles their brains. Treat the infection, and they’re better in a couple of days. So, I figured that would happen with my mom.

It didn’t.

* * * *

My mom was admitted to the hospital so she could be monitored and treated with Lasix to get rid of some of the excess fluid in her body, and then, hopefully, she’d be less confused. That’s what the nurses said, and they were confident she’d be better in a couple of days.

I can’t remember how many of my siblings were at the hospital that day, but we helped mom get settled into her room. She didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about being in the hospital. All she cared about was her purse, and going to the bathroom, and the first thing she did once she was in the bathroom was light up a cigarette.

She was so pissed when I took her cigarettes from her and gave them to the nurses, she wouldn’t let me kiss her goodbye.

I probably had to work that weekend. I had every other weekend off, and I know I would’ve been with my mom if I wasn’t working. She was released from the hospital on Sunday. I think Lea and I took another trip to my parents’ house. The Lasix didn’t appear to have made much difference. My mom seemed to be every bit as confused as she had been on Friday.

I have a vague memory of my mother when she returned home. She was sitting on the couch, so I sat down next to her and held her hand. Then I smiled, and said softly, “You realize that you’re fucking up everything, don’t you.”

“Yeah, I probably am. Your father was supposed to die first.”

* * * *

I know my dad asked me to be present when they met with the oncologist. After all, I was a nurse, and if anyone would understand what was going to be said, it was probably me. My dad wasn’t very medically attuned. He rarely listened to his own doctors, so why would he start listening to his wife’s doctor? Plus, my dad was essentially deaf in one ear, and he couldn’t hear so good out of the other one.

The oncologist was a nice guy from India. He outlined his plan of attack, but what surprised me the most was he seemed to think he could save my mother’s life, which I thought was a total crock of shit.

“Your mother needs this treatment, and she’ll get better as long as she stays on it. If she doesn’t agree to the chemo, or if she decides to stop treatment, she’ll be dead in two weeks.” And then he left the room while I discussed the options with my parents.

“Realistically, the best this guy’s gonna be able to do is extend her life for a few months.” I told my mom and dad.

“Well, I’m not ready to let her go.” my dad said.

“I don’t think any of us are ready for that, but it’s not your decision, or my decision. It’s her decision, as long as she understands what she’s doing.” I said, then turned to my mom.  “Mom, do you understand what the doctor said?”

“Yeah, I think so. I have cancer, and I’m going to die.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The only question is, do you want to go through chemo or not. It’ll keep you alive a bit longer, but there are a whole slew of potentially serious side effects from the treatment. This doctor thinks he’s going to cure you, but I don’t think he’s being very realistic. I think the best he’ll be able to do is keep you alive a bit longer, and you might spend most of that time feeling sicker than a dog.”

“But the doctor said he thought he could cure your mother,” my dad said. “And you’re just a psychiatric nurse.”

“Fair enough.” I replied. “But if this guy thinks he’s going to cure Mom, he’s fucking crazy. Mom has metastatic cancer, it’s already in her liver, and God knows where else it’s spread to. This is not going to be a life saving intervention, Dad.” I looked him squarely in the eyes until that sunk in, then turned to my mom. “But it’s your decision, Mom. I hope you can understand your options, and if you do, we’re going to support you, no matter what you decide.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I can’t advise you what to do.” I replied, and I turned my gaze to the floor. I may have held my breath. She turned to my dad. “What do you think?”

“I don’t want to lose you, ever.”

“Okay. I think I know what I want to do. I’ll try the chemo.”

* * * *

To be honest, I’m not sure if any of that actually happened, other than the visit. I don’t have any clear recollection of the conversations we had. Whatever it was that was actually said, my mom seemed to be able to understand the situation, and she opted for the chemo. That was good enough for me. We called the doctor back into the office and let him know.

* * * *

If you never had the opportunity to meet my mom, you would have loved her. Sally as a good old gal. She’s one of the few people I’ve known that everybody loved. She was smart and sassy, and sharp witted. She was a dynamo, always doing something, always working a project or two.

And then, in seemingly one day, that person vanished, like unto a magic trick gone terribly wrong. The person she once was made sporadic visits over the following months, but those visits were brief. What I remember most was my mom sitting silently on the couch, staring out the window at nothing, or playing with the remote control, flipping through the channels without watching anything.

One of the local hospice programs came over to do an assessment, and they were critical in helping us manage my mother’s care at home. I cannot thank them enough for everything they did for us.

They set up a pain management program for my mom that was miraculously effective. Prior to that, it was a goddamn nightmare. We had to buy a lock box to put her pain meds in, or she would’ve taken all of them at once. The hospice program also set up an adjustable bed in the living room, and that’s where my mom slept. She would fall asleep watching TV, and that was the only time she stopped clicking through the channels.

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages in the Grief and Loss process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know we all got together as a family to discuss what we going to do once we all found out our mom was ruining everything by dying. I didn’t have a lots to say, but I offered a brief rundown of Grief and Loss, and asked everyone to remember that our emotions were going to be all over the map.

“It’s not a linear progression, you bounce back and forth, and it can take a long time to work through.”

As a family, we decided to do whatever we had to to take care of our parents. My mom had taken care of our dad forever. Healthwise, my dad was pretty much a trainwreck, and all of us thought he’d be the first to check out. Even him. There was no way he could suddenly become mom’s caretaker.

We had a meeting in the dining room at our parents’ house to discuss our plan of attack. It led to the most memorable reappearance of ​my mom that I remember during those days. As we were discussing how we were going to care for Mom and Dad, and make sure they could stay in their house, my mom got up from the couch and walked into the dining room.

“If you’re planning on putting me in a nursing home, I’ll kill each and every one of you fuckers!” she said. There was real fire in her eyes.

“Mom, we’re not going to do that. We’re trying to find a way to take care of you here, at home.” everyone replied at once.

“Oh. Well, okay then.” she replied, and returned to staring aimlessly out the window from the couch.

After we all stopped laughing, two of my sisters, Denise and Julie, would walk point, so to speak. They lived the closest to our parents. They would manage everything Monday through Friday. The rest of us would fill in when we could, and on the weekends.

* * * *

Sally would go through two rounds of chemo before she decided enough was enough. It would take seven months for the cancer inside of her to kill her to death, but my mom essentially died in October, leaving a shadow figure of the person she’d once been.

We got to spend one last Thanksgiving together, one last Christmas. One more New Year’s Eve, and we got to celebrate her birthday in February. I wish I could say these were happy, joyous occasions. I don’t remember them that way. I’m not sure anyone in my family does.

My mom was drastically different in personality, and then in physical appearance. The chemo changed her so much. By the time she got dead, she was hardly recognizable as the person I knew as my mom.

It’s beyond ironic. I know people who suddenly lost their mother who wish they would’ve gotten an extra six months of time. For me, I’d probably swap places with them.

* * * *

My mom loved Perry Como. I bought a couple of his CD’s, and played them over and over on the weekends I spent as caregiver in Little Falls. Taking care of my parents wasn’t physically demanding. Our duties as caregivers mostly entailed cleaning the house, doing laundry, and cooking meals–and making sure my mom didn’t accidentally walk out the door and wander off.

As a nurse, I had cared for a lots of patients who were dying, but none of them had been my mom. I had no idea how emotionally exhausting it would be. I remember returning home from those weekends being too exhausted to even cry.

I remember one weekend clearly. I was semi-asleep on the couch. My mom was sound asleep on the hospital bed. It was about 3:00 AM, when I heard this:

“BILLY MAYS HERE, FOR OXICLEAN!” 

I just about had a fucking heart attack. I leapt off the couch, and fumbled around, trying to find my glasses. Once I could see again, I located the remote and turned the TV off.

“Hey!” my mom said, sitting up in bed. “I was watching that!”

* * * *

Times of crisis bring out the best, and worst, in people. And sometimes within five minutes of each other. It’s a good thing I had quit drinking before this happened. Otherwise, my reactions wouldn’t have been pretty…  As it turned out, the collective reactions of my family certainly had their ugly moments.

Watching our mother die took a toll on all of us. My youngest brother, Bob, couldn’t take it, and asked to be taken out of the caregiver rotation. My brother, John, couldn’t even come to grips with the fact that our mom was going to die. I can’t remember if he ever attempted any caregiver roles.

I don’t hold that against him. It wasn’t an easy task. I don’t hold what he couldn’t do against him. It’s what he did, and what he did was criticize everything the rest of us did while he drank himself into an ambulatory coma. I don’t hold his drinking against him. Drinking was pretty much the only coping strategy my family had. There was a whole lots of drinking going on during that time. If I hadn’t quit drinking before my mother died, I might be drinking still.

I remember spending a lots of time trying to reason with my unreasonable brother. And I was not always gracious, nor very professional, in my sometimes not so private interactions with John.

For that, I am eternally embarrassed, and very sorry.

About the time that my mother was dying, my lovely supermodel wife got a job offer in Phoenix, AZ. I encouraged her to accept the offer. If the position worked out, it would be a great opportunity for her. As for me, I needed to get as far away from my brother as I could.

For the longest time, all I wanted to do was kill him.

I’m better now, and I probably won’t kill my brother if I ever see him again. But I’m not going to lie. It’d probably be better if we never saw each other again.

* * * *

My mother endured two rounds of chemo. I think the side effects were worse for her the second time around, maybe. They certainly were for me. My mother no longer resembled herself. She had gained what looked like one hundred pounds on her tiny frame, and her face was bloated. As terrible as this is going to sound, she looked like Jabba the Hutt’s wife.

Her oncologist was right about one thing. She died two weeks after stopping her chemo treatments. Her condition rapidly deteriorated. Lea and I drove up to Little Falls to see her before she died, but she had already slipped into something like unto a coma by the time we arrived.

I held her hand, and told her all the things a mom would want to hear. And then we drove home. And went back to our life, and our respective jobs. And waited.

* * * *

My mother died early in the morning on May 28, 2007. It was the Memorial Day weekend. I worked a twelve hour shift on Friday, a double shift on Saturday and Sunday, and another twelve hours on Monday. I was at work when my dad called at around 5:00 AM.

“I just wanted to let you know your mother is gone. And I knew you’d be awake.”

We talked for a few minutes, there wasn’t a whole lots to say. I wasn’t the only person on my unit that lost someone that weekend. One of the nurses lost her mother-in-law. Another lost her cousin. Bad things happen in threes…

I took a break after talking to my dad. I went outside. The birds were chirping, the sun was starting to come up, a gray-blue light filled the sky. I looked up, and three Canada geese flew overhead. They honked, as if saying goodbye, and disappeared from view.

* * * *

I did my mother’s eulogy. I’m not going to repeat it here, but it was beautiful. Lea and I stayed at the Country Inn Suites in Little Falls. I had a dream about my mom the morning of her funeral.

She was driving our old car, a faded green 1963 Chevy Impala station wagon. My mom learned to drive when we were living in Modesto, CA. She drove that station wagon when we moved from California to North Dakota. When we  arrived in Grand Forks, she handed my dad the keys and never drove again. As the car neared me in my dream, she rolled down the window, and waved as she drove past. And then I woke up.

“Really? That’s how you’re going to say goodbye!” I said to the ceiling of our room. “Couldn’t you have at least stopped? At the very least, couldn’t you have found a nicer car?”

* * * *

It’s been almost ten years. I miss my mom. I’m sure I always will.

Wherever she is, I hope she’s at peace. And I hope she’s driving a better car.

From the Odds and Ends Department

Have you ever watched something on TV, or read something, and thought, Man, I could do so much better than that! You might even be thinking that right now…  Especially if you’ve read more than one of my blog posts.

I mean, all this guy writes about is getting wasted, his slutty girlfriends, and how all of his relationships fell apart! There was that story about his nympho Russian girlfriend, Ivana Sukyurkokov. And his heartbroken Chinese girlfriend, Wat Wen Wong. Jeez, his blog is dumber than putting wheels on a ball! I liked him more when he wrote about crazy people!

And I hear you. Before I started writing my blog, I thought bloggers were people who needed to get a fucking life, man. They were probably people who thought Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian were the epitome of American society and they all wanted to be Paris-ites, or biffles, or twat waffles with them or something.

I’ve started reading some of the blogs that are out there on the Interweb, and I was wrong about bloggers. Most of them appear to have lives.

Except me.

I’m retired. If I were to write about my day-to-day life now, my blog would consist of restaurant reviews in the Lakeside area, and stories about how much I love my Sleep Number bed®.

And to be honest, I probably liked me more when I was writing about crazy people, too. But those stories are relatively easy to write, and like everything else in life, it’s only when you step outside of your comfort zone that anything meaningful happens. It’s the stories I didn’t want to write that taught me the most about myself. It was the stories that hurt like hell that showed me how far I’ve come.

And how far I still have to go.

And the other thing about writing about my nursing career is not every person I cared for resulted in a story worth telling.  Knife wielding homicidal maniacs were the exception, not the rule, thank God. Most of my patients were never a problem, unlike medical dramas on TV. I’d probably hate being a TV nurse, unless my work partner was the hot nurse with the big tits…

The majority of my nursing career was pretty ho-hum. Mischief was managed. Shit got done. No one died. And that was that. But there were a lots of snippets and moments and oneliners, and if I could patchwork a lots of them together, I might be able to spin a tale or two…

* * * *

I’ve discovered that time management is still necessary once you retire. I certainly have more time to do things I enjoy now, like reading. And because other bloggers sometimes read my posts, I feel a certain obligation to read some of their posts, too. My favorite blogger is a young woman in New York who writes about her struggle to overcome her eating disorder. Her blog is called Beauty Beyond Bones. And while I love her now, I probably would’ve hated her as a patient.

Back when I was a psych nurse in Arizona, there were a couple of eating disorder treatment facilities in the little town of Wickenburg, about thirty miles northwest of Surprise. Remuda Ranch and Rosewood Ranch. She’s never come out and said if she was a patient at either of them, but I’m going to guess she was at Remuda. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying that. I interviewed at both facilities, but decided not to take a position at either one of them. I absolutely sucked at working with eating disorder patients.

Remuda is a Christian based treatment facility. One of the questions they asked me in the interview was did I think the Bible was the sole source of truth. I said no, it wasn’t, and I wasn’t even sure all of the things written in the Bible were true. After my interview, they told me I wasn’t Christian enough to meet their criteria. I told them that was okay. They weren’t the first Christians to tell me that.

A few weeks later they called me back and told me that they had changed their mind about me, and asked if I was still interested in working there. I wanted to say something like, God, you guys must be fucking desperate! But instead I thanked them for thinking of me, and told them I had found another position and I wasn’t available anymore.

Well, it was the truth…

Like most every psychological/psychiatric disorder, eating disorders are caused by a multitude of complex factors, and as with every psychological/psychiatric disorder–except dementia–the successful treatment of anorexia or bulimia depends completely on the patient. If they don’t want to change their behavior, there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do for them once they’re discharged from the hospital.

It’s like alcoholism or drug addiction, only worse. Just as the drinking and chemical use are usually a symptom of a deeper, darker pathology, eating disorders are about far more than food.

Eating disorders are incredibly difficult to treat, mostly because eating disorder patients are the spawn of Satan. I mean that in a Christian way. They are sneakier than a ninja. They can vomit silently so they can purge without anyone knowing. They stockpile food so they can binge feed when no one is looking. And if their lips are moving, they’re probably lying.

The other thing I remember most clearly about most of these women, and they were all females, is the majority of them were gorgeous. And that is truly one of the great mysteries that used to keep me awake at night when I was learning how to be a psych nurse. How could someone so beautiful be so fucking miserable?

One of my first posts was about one of my patients at the MVAMC. I called him the Piano Man because he liked to play the piano. About the time he walked onto the unit for one of his many admissions, we had just discharged a gal with anorexia. She had been on our unit for a couple of weeks, and none of the staff were sad to see her go.

After we got the Piano Man admitted, he sat down at the piano and started playing, and the piano sounded like a wounded moose. We opened the top to find the eating disorder girl had hid enough food inside of the piano to feed Hannibal’s entire army when he crossed the Alps to attack Rome. Including the elephants.

For someone who has never worked in a psychiatric setting, it would be easy to say that we, as staff members, totally sucked at our job, and I really don’t have much of anything to say in our defense. We were hardly specialists at treating eating disorders, and the fact we were so happy to see that particular patient leave speaks volumes to the level of struggle we all had with her.

* * * *

To be sure, it’s very easy to be an armchair quarterback or a wheelchair general, and criticize someone doing a job you’ve never attempted. And when you’re in a service oriented occupation like Nursing, you are never going to be able to make everybody happy. No one is that good, and people can be incredibly demanding/entitled. And it is generally the people who were making the least positive contribution to anything who were the most demanding and entitled.

You guys have to be the worst fucking nurses I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one. And it was usually a guy that you and your team had spent a month busting your asses trying to arrange housing and follow up for, who had been discharged from your unit forty-eight hours earlier, and was already back because he chose to drink as much alcohol and smoke as much meth as he possibly could before he came crawling back to the hospital.

Most of the time it’s better to just agree with someone like that, and walk away. But there were times when I couldn’t.

“Maybe you should get out more…  That means a lots coming from you…”

I said something like unto that to one of my unhappy frequent flyer guys at the MVAMC who probably spent as much time in the hospital as I did. His name was Ray. I’m going to guess that the total bill for the many, many times we detoxed him off of alcohol, sobered him up and set him up to succeed was in excess of one million dollars, and he had this response, “You used to be a good guy, but you need a new job. You’ve been inpatient too long.”

“So have you.” I replied.

He froze to death one cold December night in Minneapolis. He had gotten drunk and was walking to the hospital so he could be admitted again. His body was found propped up against a tree across the street from the hospital in the morning. He had stopped to rest before making his final stumbling trek to the ED, and had fallen asleep.

You meet a lots of guys like unto that when you’re a psych nurse. There was Charles. He was another MVAMC guy who spent an inordinate amount of time getting drunker than fifty guys combined, and the rest of his time detoxing on my unit.

We had safely detoxed Charles for the umpteenth time, and discharged him at 9:00 AM on a Friday morning. At 2:30 PM that same day, I answered the phone. It was Charles.

“Hey, I don’t think this discharge thing is going to work, man. I’ve been out of the hospital for about six hours, and I’m pretty fuckin’ wasted, man.” he slurred.

“Hey, Charles. Has it ever occurred to you that you need to quit drinking?” I decided to ask. There was a long silence, and then Charles said this,

“Is there anyone else there I can talk to?”

For one of the few times in my life, I had no response. I handed the phone to one of my co-workers. Charles would also die to death as a result of his alcohol abuse.

Sometimes the disease wins.

* * * *

You never know what you’ll see or hear as a psych nurse, and there’s a reason for that. People are capable of an infinite amount of kooky stuff, not that you have to be a psych nurse to experience the full spectrum of kookiness available out there.

All you really need to see that is a family.

But one thing you may not experience unless you’re a psych nurse is the dreaded Dissociative Identity Disorder, or more commonly, Multiple Personality Disorder. In my thirty year career, I met a lots of people who claimed to have multiple personalities, but none of them ever seemed to be legitimate to me, or anyone else I worked with.

Multiple Personality Disorder was virtually unheard of until the 1970’s. That’s when the book Sybil was published, 1973 to be exact. Three years later, the TV movie of the same name was broadcast on NBC, starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, and like magic, suddenly everyone had multiple personalities.

For my money, all of the people I met who claimed to have multiple personalities were just assholes looking for an easy excuse for their behavior.

* * * *

I was working nights at the MVAMC fairly early in my career. I was the Med nurse that night, so anyone needing any medications had to see me. Enter Sam. It was around 2:00 AM. We had detoxed Sam off of alcohol with a Valium protocol. Once someone had been safely detoxed, the protocol was discontinued.

Sam had been off the protocol for a day or two, but he wanted more Valium. I explained to him how the protocol worked, and Sam had a five star meltdown. He screamed at me, waking up everyone on the unit. One of the other nurses called the POD and got a one time order of Valium for Sam, and he went back to bed.

At 6:00 AM, Sam came up to the nursing station to get his morning meds. He was quite pleasant, and I remarked that he was much nicer than he had been at 2:00 AM.

“Oh, that. That wasn’t me. That was Samuel.”

“No kidding. He looks just like you.” I said.

Sam gave me, and anyone else willing to listen, a detailed description of his three personalities: Sam, Samuel and Sheryl. A line of patients had formed behind Sam. They were waiting to get their meds so they could go smoke. According to Sam, Samuel was the troublemaker. Sheryl was the lover, and Sam was the drunk. I listened to Sam, and gave him his meds.

“Well, the next time you talk to Samuel, give him a message.” I said. “If he ever talks to me like that again, I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ mouth.”

Sam’s jaw dropped. He turned to the guys standing behind him, “Did you hear that! He threatened me!”

“Hey! Take your goddamn meds and get the hell out of the way! And if you ever pull that shit again, if he doesn’t punch you in the fuckin’ mouth, I will.” one of the Nam vets growled.

Yeah, not one of my better moments, but Samuel never made another appearance.

* * * *

I think the last time I met anyone who claimed to have multiple personalities was at Aurora. I walked onto the Canyon Unit, and Nikki was on a 1:1. She was a frequent flyer, and I was usually her nurse.

A 1:1 is a special precaution, usually reserved for patients that are acutely suicidal. In essence, one staff person is assigned to one patient, and that patient is never more than an arm’s length away from the person assigned to watch over them.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, but it’s rarely played out that way.

I went over to talk to Nikki. She had scratched her wrist with a plastic spoon on the evening shift. She didn’t even break the integrity of her skin, and her nurse had placed her on the 1:1.

I’m shaking my head while I write this. I don’t usually like to criticize the actions of other nurses, but that was a lazy-ass intervention. If the evening nurse had taken even five minutes to talk to Nikki, that ridiculous waste of manpower and resources wouldn’t have been needed. We barely had enough staff to cover the units, let alone have one staff assigned to watch someone for no good reason.

I asked Nikki to tell me what happened.

“I didn’t do anything! It was Alexandra!”

“And whom might that be?”

“She’s one of my three personalities! She–”

“Stop. Cut the crap, Nikki. You’re on a 1:1. You can’t smoke if you’re on a 1:1.” I said.

“But they let me smoke last night, and this morning!”

“I don’t care what they did last night. This is my unit, my rules. If I can’t trust you to be safe on the unit, I’m sure as hell not going to trust you to be safe off the unit, with a lit cigarette in your hand. What if you decide to burn yourself?”

“It wasn’t me! It was Alexandra!”

“I don’t care who did it. None of you get to smoke.”

“I’ll be safe, I promise! Please!!”

Less than five minutes. Mischief managed. And I never heard another word about Alexandra again. Ever.

* * * *

There was a fairly consistent response whenever I told someone that I had just met that I was a psychiatric nurse. Their eyes would widen, and they would say something like unto, “I bet you’ve seen it all, huh.”

I would reply, “No. I’ve seen a lots of strange stuff, but the kookiness of humans is infinite.”

And that is the fucking truth.

Every time I thought I had seen it all, something I didn’t think was humanly possible walked through the door. I eventually made peace with the fact that I would never see it all, and I was okay with that. My two other personalities are still sulking about that a bit, but they’ll get over it.

Or I’ll punch them in the mouth.

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

I’ve mentioned the names of some of the guys I shared the Dental barracks with, way back when I was in the Army. It would seem my Muse, or Muses, have decided it’s time to elaborate on at least some of them.

Today’s Muse is probably Urania, but Thalia will certainly be whispering in my other ear.

* * * *

I arrived at Fort Sill in January of 1975. It was my permanent duty station according to the contract I’d signed with my recruiter, Sergeant First Class Robin Hood.

I’m not making that up.

When I arrived at Fort Sill, I had to be processed in because I was new to Army life, and the half a ton of paperwork the Army had already generated on me just wasn’t enough. I was delivered to the Main Processing Station. It was a huge building about the size of a football field with an huge office filled with desks and clerks and stuff. The rest of the building was bunks and latrines and stuff.

It was essentially a way station, like unto the Army’s version of Purgatory. Once all your paperwork was processed, a clerk from the MPS would contact your company, and someone would come pick you up so you could begin your Army career. It usually took two or three days.

I was at the MPS for a week. The clerk handling my paperwork was new to his position, and he forgot to call my company.

I didn’t mind hanging out at the MPS. I didn’t have much of anything to do except get cleaned up and dressed in the morning, and march to the nearest mess hall to eat with the rest of the guys being processed in. The rest of my day was free time, which I spent reading, or writing to Maureen.

I would’ve been happy to do that for the next two and an half years, but someone in the MPS finally asked what the hell I was still doing there and my company was notified that I had been processed, and someone came to pick me up.

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

Randy was from Los Angeles, CA. If there’s such a thing as a Valley Guy, Randy would’ve been one. Totally, man. He was a tall, pudgy guy with a huge honker of a nose. He looked like an older kid that had never lost his baby fat. Or a really tall cartoon penguin…

“Hey, are you PFC Rowen?” he asked. I was lounging on my bunk, reading. I looked up at him and nodded. “Well, c’mon, let’s go! I’m here to take you to Dental Headquarters. My name’s Randy. You can be my roommate.

“Well, okay, we won’t be roommate roommates, but we’ll be kinda roommates. There’s a shared bathroom between our rooms at the barracks. You’ll see what I mean when we get there. The room next to mine is empty, so you can bunk there.

“I’m so fuckin’ glad you’re here, man! Now you can take over my job and I can become a dental lab technician! I’ve been waiting to do that for a year…”

* * * *

I’m pretty sure Randy talked nonstop for the next six hours, like he was a manic bipolar trying to tell me his life story and everything I’d need to know about the Army without taking a breath in between. Randy’s monologue was punctuated with a whole lots of “…you’ll see what I mean–You’ll figure it out–It’ll all fall into place.” And, “Fuck the Army!!”

Well, it’s not like he was trying to do that. That’s exactly what he did. And years later, when I was a psych nurse, I’d discover Randy really was bipolar…

Our first stop was Dental Headquarters, where I would learn I wouldn’t be a dental assistant, I would become the new supply driver, and Randy would train me to replace him. James Toney, the clerk who would possibly save my ass with his testimony during my court-martial, couldn’t stop shaking my hand.

“Thank God you’re here.” he kept saying.

That first day was a blur to me. We stopped off at the barracks to drop off my gear, and Randy showed me my room, and I got to see what he meant when he said we’d be kinda roommates.

I accompanied Randy as he picked supplies up at the warehouse, linens from the laundry, and he introduced me to everyone at the four dental clinics on base. And when the work day ended, he introduced me to everyone in the barracks. They actually threw a little impromptu Welcome to the Barracks party for me in the dayroom.

Don One and Don Two. Mike. There were two Mikes, but Mike Two was called The Horne. If you fuck with the bull, you get The Horne. Tommy. Johnny. Virg. Brother Al. Lightning Bob. Jesse. Roger. And, Randy.

We drank beer and I tried to remember everyone’s names. They told me where they were from, and stuff. I told them where I was from, and stuff. And Randy rambled on philosophically about anything and everything.

“So, what do you think about your new kinda roommate?” The Horne asked me, when Randy finally did stop talking long enough to take a breath.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know. He’s too…cosmic…for me.”

A stunned silence filled the room, and you could actually see it, the lightbulbs coming on over their heads.

“Yeah, cosmic!” Roger said softly, followed by an equally soft chuckle.

“W-w-wow!” Don One said. “W-w-we’ve been trying to figure him out for a year, and you fuckin’ nail it in five minutes!”

“It’s like he has radar or something.” Don Two said.

“He fuckin’ looks like Radar!” Johnny added.

So two nicknames were born that day. Randy and I became Radar and the Cosmic Kid.

* * * *

What can I say? Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. You might think I’m overly critical of myself, and I probably am. I tend to see clearly now the things I couldn’t see at all back then, but I’ve skipped ahead, and I know how this chapter turned out.

And the things I was able to see, well, they were so obvious that probably anyone could’ve seen them.

My early adult life appears to be the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t have a plan. How I ended up faring as well as I did is probably one of the great mysteries of the modern world, but only if you don’t believe in God.

What I see looking back is a really smart guy who was seemingly addicted to doing stupid stuff. Add in loss, heartbreak, rue and regret. Gently mix in drug and alcohol abuse. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the part that kind of chaps my ass now. I really wish I had chosen to do something differently sooner.

* * * *

So, I moved into the barracks and essentially disappeared for about a month while I painted and decorated my room. I hated the pale puke green color the interior of the barracks had been painted back in World War II. I picked up some cheap ass carpeting and folded it to fit the two parts of my room.

Then I went for a cross country night march in the rain and broke my ankle. Randy and I started spending a fair amount of time with each other while my ankle healed, and we talked a lots.

“Wow. You might have a lotta book smarts, but you really don’t know much about life, do you.” was the Cosmic Kid’s assessment of me. I couldn’t really argue much with that.

We hung out with Roger and I unknowingly became his student.

Maureen and I broke up, and my free fall into Hell began. I started smoking pot, and because it’s a gateway drug, the Doorway to Oblivion opened, and I walked through.

Hashish. Amphetamines. PCP. LSD. Cocaine. Psilocybin mushrooms. Codeine. Oxycodone. Peyote. Mescaline. Heroin.  I eventually added all of them to my resume.

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

Some of my cousins did a family history, tracing back our ancestry to the 1700’s. I discovered that I come from a long line of suicidal alcoholics. The successful people in my family tree were the ones who kept drinking.

So, the question is, would I have wandered down the path I chose even if Maureen and I had stayed together? The answer is yes. I wasn’t a leader back then, I was a follower. And seeing how all the cool kids in the barracks were doing drugs, and I wanted to be cool, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up where I did.

The only other question is, would I have embraced the drug culture as fully as I did if I hadn’t gone completely rudderless in the prevailing currents of the time?

I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe. Probably.

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

As exhausting as being around Randy could be, given his manic energy and cosmic consciousness, we ended up becoming good friends. We played Frisbee. We became storm chasers during tornado season. We played pool and fooseball in the dayroom. I helped Randy paint his room.

We drank and smoked and snorted and popped pills while we did all of the above.

Randy bought me a set of Mickey Mouse ears when he went home on vacation, and I wore them one day when I made my deliveries.

I went to dinner with Roger one evening and became a superstar the next day. I was found innocent of all charges when I was court-martialed, and became an even more legendary superstar.

“You have done well, my son.” Randy said. “Maybe you should go back to reading books…”

* * * *

“Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” – Freewheelin’ Franklin

* * * *

The life of a marijuana aficionado revolves around weed. When it’s abundant, life is good. When it isn’t, there are no words to describe the indescribable hell that life becomes.

Back then, pot wasn’t legal anywhere, and you had to know a guy or twenty to make sure you could almost always get it. Thanks to Roger, I knew a lots of guys, and after he left, I became the guy everyone came to see when they couldn’t get what they needed.

I never became a dealer, but I became a great middle man.

There came a time when no one had any pot, and there was a great drought of weed, and a terrible famine lay all upon the land, and all the people languished.

“Man, you gotta do something!” Randy said to me. “I’m fucking dying here!”

“Let me make some calls.”

From Roger, I knew I had to be smarter than the cops, and you never knew who might be listening in on your conversations. So I invented a code word for weed with the guys I dealt with most. I would say I was looking for Bob, and had had they seen him lately?

It was perfect.

But the cupboard was bare at the home of every dealer I knew, and none of them had seen Bob in awhile. One of them said he didn’t know who Bob was anymore, and even I started panicking.

I decided to call a guy I had met once. I tended not to deal with guys I didn’t know very well, but desperate times require desperate actions.

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

“You know, weed.” I whispered into the phone.

“Oh! That Bob! I’ve got one ounce. Forty bucks. You get here first, you get it” Click.

I have no idea what an ounce of pot sells for now, but back then the going rate was twenty bucks, so what this guy was asking was ridiculous.

“I’ll split it with you.” Randy said, handing me a twenty.

I had a little trouble finding the guy’s place. I had only been there once, but he still had the bag when I got there. He was a Mexican guy named Felix or something. There was only one problem. The weed he wanted to sell me didn’t look like any bag of weed I’d ever seen before. It looked like dried beans sprouts or something. And the baggie wasn’t half full, it was totally full, and was as fat as a proverbial singing lady.

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

“If that shit doesn’t knock you on your ass, man, I’ll give you your fuckin’ money back.”

Drugs never come with a money back guarantee, so I gave the guy forty bucks and drove back to the barracks.

“What the fuck is this shit? This isn’t even dope! What is that? Bean sprouts?!? Give me my money back! Let’s go back to that beaner’s house and beat the shit out of him!!!”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t we try it first.”

“Well, it doesn’t taste bad…” Randy said as we smoked a bowl. “Actually, that tastes pretty good!” he decided. “Holy shit! What is this stuff? My head feels like it just floated away…” Randy said, and his voice sounded like it was floating away with his head. “Jesus, man! I think you better take me to the Emergency Room…”

I turned to look at Randy. He was pale as a winter morning, and drenched with enough sweat that he looked like he’d been standing outside during a monsoon. Swarms of beads of perspiration were literally running down his face in waves.

“I’m serious, Mark. I think I’m going to die. You gotta do something, man.”

“Where would you like to be buried?” I asked, then started laughing as if that was the funniest line ever spoken.

“Goddamn! That’s cold, man! I can’t believe you’re gonna just sit there and let me die! You’ve become a real bastard, man!”

“Hey, Cosmo, take a couple of deep breaths and get a grip. I smoked the same stuff you did, and I’m not dying. Suppose I take you to the ER. What am I gonna tell them? Well, doc, we were just sitting around the barracks, and we weren’t smoking pot or anything, when all of a sudden my buddy decided he was fuckin’ dying? I’m not taking you to the ER, try taking a cold shower or something. Maybe that’ll help.”

And, it did. Fifteen minutes later Randy returned, and he no longer looked like the world’s worst weather system.

“What’s that?” Randy asked, as I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

“You said you wanted your money back.”

“I changed my mind. Give me my half of the bean sprouts, bitch.”

I have no idea what the fuck was in that bag, but I know it wasn’t pot. And even if it was bag of baby pot plants, those suckers had to have been laced with something, but again, I have no idea what.

Whatever it was we smoked, it was enough to get to get us through the drought, and there was much rejoicing.

* * * *

Life can be unpredictable when you’re in the military, but one thing that you can count on is the people you’re stationed with are only temporary. The Old Timers started leaving. Roger left, then Don One, and Don Two, and Mike. The Horne, Virg and Lightning Bob were gone. The FNG’s came in to replace them.

Tommy, who had never been part of our group–he’d hung out with the Dons and Mike–started hanging out with me and Randy.

“I at least know what to expect from you two. Nothing but trouble. But it’s better than getting to know someone that just got here.”

Tommy was a good old boy from Texas, and that was his given name. Not Thomas or Tom. He was a big man, and he didn’t look anything like a Tommy.

Tommy and Randy actually became real good friends, I wasn’t at the barracks a whole lots by that time in my life. I had become a legendary party animal, and I had rounds to make in my community.

Randy was next up to depart, so Tommy decided we should take him out for dinner, seeing how we were the only three Old Timers left. We decided to take Randy to a place somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. And seeing how it was the last time we’d ever be together, Randy decided to pull a nothing but trouble prank on Tommy Boy.

I know it wasn’t in Lawton, it was an out of the way place that you had to know about to find, but just where it was I have no idea. It was a big place, one of those family style country restaurants that serve Mom’s Home Cooking kind of meals.

The huge restaurant was packed. The tables were filled with families, Mom and Dad, a lots of bunches of kids of every age. Gramps and Granny were sporadically dotted around the tables in the restaurant.

We had drinks. We had appetizers. We had a down home meal with all the fixin’s, and dessert, then Randy unleashed his surprise attack.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 70’s when drugs were cool and paraphernalia was even cooler, you could buy strawberry flavored rolling papers that were an electric pink color.

The only thing anyone ever smoked in a paper that color was pot, but Randy rolled a tobacco cigarette in an electric pink paper, a good old big one, and put it in his pocket.

“Man, that was a damn fine meal. Good food, good friends, cold beer, man, I can’t think of anything else that I need right now. Actually, there is one thing. The only thing that could make this better is a joint. Oh! I have one right here in my pocket, and I’m going to fire this bad boy up!”

He reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out the electric pink cigarette. You could smoke cigarettes in restaurants back then. Tommy’s eyes just about jumped out of his skull.

“Randy! Jesus! What the fuck are doing, man!” Tommy whispered furiously at Randy. “What are trying to do, get us arrested?!?” as Randy put the monster pink cigarette to his lips. “Randy! Have you lost your fucking mind!! If you light that–”

And Randy lit it.

I wish you could have been there to see it, the range of emotions that raced across Tommy’s face as Randy lit that cigarette. Surprise. Shock. Stunned shock. Fear. Anger, rage and then relief, followed by,

“Oh, you sonuvabitch! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you for that. Did you know about this, Radar? I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, too!”

* * * *

Randy left in early October of 1976. Only Tommy and I, and Raoul remained of the original barracks bums.

We sent Randy off in the evening, he got off to a late start for a guy that was getting out of the fucking Army! But then, he wasn’t the most organized guy I’ve ever known.

“I’m gonna miss that cosmic motherfucker.” Tommy said.

* * * *

I wouldn’t have to. Randy and I stayed in contact for years. He called me all the time when I was still in the Army. He even came to visit me once, driving from California in an old pick up truck. He couldn’t believe Raoul and I were best friends.

He’d call me at work when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC. He called me at home. My lovely supermodel wife would shake her head and leave the room when he called. Randy moved to Wichita, KS, got married, had a daughter.

He called me at home early one morning after I gotten off of a stretch of nights. This was probably in the mid-ninties. He said he was depressed. He had a loaded gun, and he was going to kill himself.

“Where’s your family?”

His daughter was in school. His wife was at work, but she’d be home at noon. I kept him on the phone for four hours until his wife came home and convinced him to go to the VA for help. He was assessed, and sent home.

I called to see how he was doing the next day.

“Oh, they told me I was bipolar or some bullshit like that, and they wanted me to start taking a bunch of fuckin’ meds, man. I told them to go fuck themselves, and they told me to go home.”

* * * *

He called several months later at work again to tell me he had six months to live. He had cancer. It was a Friday in April. I told my horrible boss what my Army buddy had just told me on the phone, and  I was driving to Wichita as soon as my shift ended, but I’d probably be at work on Monday.

“Go! Let me know if you need anything!”

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

Lea and I arrived in Wichita at 4:00 AM. We checked into a no-tell motel, got a couple hours of sleep, took a shower, then went to see my dying buddy. His wife answered the door.

“Hi. I’m Mark. I’m Randy’s Army buddy–”

“Mark!! Oh my God! I’m so glad to finally meet you! I’ve heard so much about you! I feel like I’ve known you all my life!” she said, giving me a bone crushing hug. She was a big woman. “What’re y’all doing in Wichita?” She saw my wife, so she stepped outside to hug her, too.

“I’m so sorry,” Lea said. “This must be so terrible for you. Randy called yesterday and told Mark he had six months to live. We jumped in the car and drove all night, but we’re here!”

“What? Six months?? There’s nothing wrong with Randy! He’s not going to die!”

“The hell he isn’t!” my wife said. “I’m going to fucking kill him myself!”

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

“Oh God no! The doctor told him he needed to quit smoking, or he’d die from cancer…  I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you. Thank God you’re here. Thank God!”

I explained to Lea that Randy was bipolar, and she decided not to kill Randy. She finally calmed down, but I don’t think she’s ever forgiven Randy for that.

We spent the day with Randy and his family. As evening fell, Randy and I went for a walk so I could explain Bipolar Disorder to my friend, and the treatments available. Randy actually listened to me without interrupting every five seconds, and he appeared to be thinking about what I’d said.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked. We were sitting on a picnic table in a park near his house.

“Yeah. What was it like fucking Raoul’s wife? Man, she was hot! Jesus, Rowen, you should see your face! You look just like Tommy did when I lit up that fake joint in the restaurant!” Randy said, laughing as if he’d just uttered the funniest line ever spoken.

I have no doubt that my face perfectly mimicked Tommy’s face that night. And for a moment, I thought I might kill Randy myself.

My affair with Nadina had happened just before Randy left. I know I didn’t tell him I was tapping Nadina while her husband was out of town. Did I?

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

“Because you went over to her house every day after work that week Raoul was at Fort Sam, and you didn’t come back to the barracks until the sun was coming up! What else could you have been doing? Playing cards? You should have seen yourself, man, you looked like you were going to die, man! And every day you looked worse! By the end of the week, you could barely walk!”

“Who else knew?” I asked, when I could finally speak.

“Only me. I was kinda your roommate, remember? I knew when you were home and when you weren’t. I didn’t tell anyone, I promise! Not even The Horne, or Tommy. And I sure as hell didn’t tell Raoul!”

I was able to breathe again, and that was good, but I couldn’t stop shaking. I stared at the ground for the longest time, unable to even think.

“Hey, are you okay? Jesus, maybe I should take you to the ER. Or maybe you should take a cold shower…”

Yeah, maybe…

I eventually looked up, and found that I could smile.

“I gotta tell you something, you’ve got the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever known. And the most guts. Remember when we met? You were that naive kid from Montana who didn’t know the difference between pot and acid.

“You were the FNG who walked halfway across Fort Sill on a broken ankle, man! We went tornado chasing in the dark because you said you’d never seen one in person! We goddamn near died at least twice, but you never let a little thing like almost dying to death stop you!

“You were a heartbroken trainwreck that tried to kill himself and couldn’t smile for a month, and next thing anyone knows, you’re dating strippers, smoking weed, dropping acid, snorting drugs and popping pills like candy, and getting drunker than everyone else in the barracks, combined!

“You were the ultimate party animal, man! No one could keep up with you! You beat the fucking Army at its own fucking game! You took those fuckin’ fucks in Headquarters on, and you won! Remember that!

“You didn’t have a clue who you were, but you became the leader of the barracks. You fucked with The Horne, and you put that fuckin’ loudmouth in his place! Man, I still can’t believe you did that!

“And to top it off, you make love to the most beautiful woman on the planet, and then become best friends with the guy whose marriage you destroyed, and you didn’t even blink! If that doesn’t take balls, I don’t know what does!

“And look at you now, all straightened out, registered nurse, married to a fucking supermodel! You aren’t human, man. You have to be some kind of a god!”

“Oh, I’m not all that straight.” I finally replied. That was a lots for me to take in. “I still drink, and smoke pot. I’m human, man. Just like you. Just like everybody else. I don’t see myself in the same light you do. It seems pretty dark to me now, looking back. I have no idea how I survived.”

“Dude, no one else does either! I’ll tell you something, I never knew if you’d be dead or alive when the morning came. None of us did! We were going to have a pool on how long you were going to live, but Roger wouldn’t let us.”

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

“We all did, he was the best. But you became even better than him.”

* * * *

I never saw Randy again. We talked on the phone frequently. His daughter grew up and went to college. His wife left him, she told him she couldn’t take it anymore and had to get off the roller coaster.

After that, I don’t know…

A friend of mine who reads my posts once commented that I have lived a crazy life. Well, I did hang out with a lots of crazy people.

If you ever want to know what’s happening on a psych unit, ask a patient. Randy was never one of my patients, but he had a psychiatric disorder or two. He never missed a trick, and he never forgot anything. Randy’s assessment of me was spot on.

I’ve been blessed with a lots of really tremendous friends, even when I probably didn’t deserve the kind of friendship they offered.

Thank you Randy, for your honesty and candor, and your cosmic viewpoint. I credit Roger the most for helping me become the person I’ve become. His humility and common sense were qualities I’ve tried to incorporate into the man that I am.

Okay, I haven’t done so good with the humility part…

But there’s a part of Randy in me, too. That’s the part that looks at almost everything from a different point of view. The part that looks for other solutions than the accepted ones. The part that seeks the Truth. The part that keeps searching in the dark, even if it’s dangerous.

Hey, you can’t let a little thing like the threat of death stop you. You only live once, and we all have to die from something.