The Scenic Route

This is absolutely not where I planned on being in life in 2013. It hasn’t been all bad, but I will admit my luck has made me sort of afraid of success. It seems like anytime I get even close to taking my life in the right direction, some sort of disaster happens & causes me to start all over again. Sometimes it takes a disaster to get pointed in the right direction, and that’s how I got started on what I’d call the scenic route.

I’ve always had horrible luck with concussions. I had my first three in a span of ten months when I was 13. I suffered my 8th one when I was 17, and it was in the life changing variety. I still know the exact date: it was October 5th, 1992. My friends & I played football every day at lunch, rain or shine, we didn’t care. We didn’t use helmets or pads, or any of that safety crap, we didn’t care. It was wasn’t like any of us played on the actual team at Wasson, we had no reason to worry about getting injured.

I was always the tall, skinny, scrawny guy who just wasn’t as skilled as the rest of the guys, it took some overachieving for me to accomplish anything on the field. On one particular play, it was thirds down & ten, all of the other receivers were covered, I was the only option to throw to. A short pass was thrown my way, and I wanted that first down so bad, I was willing to do anything to get it. A guy who used to play linebacker for Palmer was running right at me, and i decided I was going to hurdle over this bigger, faster, stronger player to get that first down. I actually almost made it because he was trying to go easy on me. I got into an all out sprint & i jumped up so high, my knee clipped his shoulder.

i went down head first, at sprinting speed, and the impact was so loud, I was absolutely certain there was a car accident right next to us! From what i’ve heard, my head hit the ground, I bounced forward, hit someone’s knee with my head, and then ricocheted off the ground again. I remember laying there thinking, “somebody needs to go check on those people, that accident sounded bad”. I couldn’t do it though, I was just laying there not knowing what was wrong. After about a minute I found myself thinking, “Was that my head? That couldn’t be the case, I’d really be hurting if I landed on my head”. I immediately got this jolt of pain that ran up my spine & into my brain, i’d never felt anything like it!

I was somehow able to walk off the field, and I tried just sitting out for one play. I went back in after they couldn’t convert on first down, so they threw me the ball again on second down. The only problem was, when I went to catch the ball, only one side responded to my brain’s command to use my hands! That’s when I knew something was wrong : I tried to catch the ball like I normally would, but my right side was unresponsive!  I went in to go see the school nurse, and i wound up getting sent home. After a couple of hours laying on the couch,  I suddenly realized that I had regained the feeling on my right side. It turned out there was big lump on my spine; I had a spinal contusion, but neither myself or the nurse would have thought of checking my spine after a head injury.

My brain has been about as brittle as a crystal chandelier ever since that incident. I’ve averaged about a concussion per year since then, and that’s if you call the other four TBI’s in that time frame a “concussion”. The concussions haven’t been the only obstacle though. I spent most of 1999 drinking twice a week after discovering I could actually sing. I started out doing heavy metal songs, but I wrote in frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” as a joke one day, and actually pulled it off! I figured people would see the title & think, “Oh great, more metal”. Instead, it went so well, I started doing normal music instead of yelling & screaming. I started out just drinking two beers per night. By the time I quit, I was staying five hours, and drinking two pitchers, two bottles, two pints, two shots, & two mixed drinks. Amazingly, I only had one night that left me waking up the next day going, “I’m home? How did I get home? I don’t even remember leaving the bar. That last thing I remember it was 12:30, there should still be an hour & a half of karaoke left”.

I quit drinking & smoking for my Y2K resolution, and I kept the resolution for eight months. I went back to work for a restaurant I loved, and we turned our location into their flagship store in a matter of months. I re-joined them on February 29th, and by summertime we were their training store. I can’t even count how many GM’s we trained there; at one point, we had three trainees, and two of them became GM’s right after leaving.

After about a year, I got bored, and felt like I had hit the proverbial wall at work. I took a promotion to another of their stores, and that was when the series of disasters started. Two weeks after the promotion, I had a very close encounter with a bear on the way home.Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any scars to show off from it. However, when it’s 3 a.m., obviously pitch dark outside, there’s a bear not even 30 seconds away, and i smell like a hamburger, it’s easy to assume that i’m a goner.

 A month after that, I was nearly electrocuted at work. There was a torrential rainstorm going on, and a leak in the ceiling sent water running though the roof. It started running down a cord that hung from the ceiling & plugged into one of the heat lamps. I was afraid one of the stoners on my crew would get themselves electrocuted trying to stop it, so I ran over to unplug it. I pulled the cord & quickly looked away so I wouldn’t have to see myself getting fried.By the time i turned my head back around, there was water dripping off the metal prongs that were just in the wall.

In August of 2001, my mom caught us all off guard when she suddenly got pneumonia, wound up with a blood clot in her lung, and died suddenly after only a couple of days in the intensive care unit. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.I put in my notice that I was going to quit & take some time off to put my head back together. I had been working 55 hours a week because we only had myself & the GM as managers at this store, so I could afford a short break.

i didn’t expect the next disaster that happened on September 11th. I didn’t even know anyone hurt or killed on 9/11, but with all the other stress I had going on, that pushed me over the edge. by the time I quit, I had reached the point where my hands were shaking as I was counting down the drawers at the end of the night. I did make a difference in that store, I could see it clearly, I had a whole crew that ran as hard as I did. I just needed to take some time off, put my head back together, and basically go, “O.K., now what?”

I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in fast food. A year managing at the best in the business helped me see that even that wouldn’t be fulfilling enough for me, I needed to do something big.That was when I gave myself the best advice I could give anybody in that situation. I still find myself saying this to high school graduates: find something to do that you enjoy doing so much, you could do it for the rest of your life& never complain.

It was then that I decided to go get my GED, and go back to school. I went back to working at the restaurant that i helped turn into a training store, but as a crew member this time so I could devote all of my free time to studying for the GED. I spent six months reading the 300+ page book that I bought, from cover to cover.I took the test in June 2002 when i finally felt comfortable enough to feel like I could meet my expectations. I wound up scoring 3050, and I found out that if I had taken it at PPCC, I would’ve gotten a $1000 scholarship for scoring over 3000.

It was then that I decided i was going to go to college and study to become a psychiatrist. The comeback story would be awesome: I blew off high school because I though my band  was gonna become the next Pantera. We never even made it out of the basement. I just never thought about what to do after that until my mom died.  I guess I can credit her with helping me find some direction.
 I wound up finding out on the Friday before the start of the Fall 2003 semester that I had been approved for financial aid. I wound signing up for Psychology 101, English 121, vocal performance, and Pre-Algebra 060. I felt reborn when I first stepped off the bus & walked through those double doors. Everything seemed perfectly set up, but I couldn’t even imagine the next disaster that would slow me down.  I ‘ll start with that story on the next blog entry.


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