Monday, December 7, 2009


June, 1978 + West Roxbury, MA

Case #5; The story of Big Red is not ours, directly. It does, however, show how bad things can get.

Red was big, as you'd expect, probably 6'2", 275 lbs. Red was a biker. He was the real thing. He had a big, chopped, totally turned out Harley, lots of big, bad biker pals and biker chicks with leathers. 'Born to Lose' tattoos, patches, and long, unkempt hair. They were angels, after a fashion. He also had a diminutive lady love, Irene, who couldn't have weighed 100 lbs, decked out. Red loved her desperately, like Raskalnikov loved Sonia; she was his salvation and his sanity. They had been inseparable partners for years, mates without marriage.

As she goes, he goes. She was going. We all knew it. Their love just couldn't hold up under the crushing weight of his spinal cord injury, from which there was no reprieve or pardon. His injury was more severe than mine. I was hurt at vertebrae level C-6, Red at C-5. (The lower the number the worse the injury). He would never ride a bike again and most likely, never drive a car again. Or live alone, never dress or undress himself, never bathe alone, never write or brush his teeth by himself.

At the best of times, Red had almost no interest in dealing with his injury or doing simple exercises or learning what he could to reclaim what little independence was left him. Red could barely feed himself, and then it was usually a disaster, like a food fight in the school cafeteria. He was completely incontinent on all fronts. He was a poster boy for "Leave me the fuck alone'. Red was depressed a lot, which took its toll on Irene. All this was before his heart broke.

They had simply lost too much. Some of us tried talking to Red. You know, empty emotional platitudes such as 'Don't give up', 'Be positive', 'Keep trying'. Words don't mean much when you can't feed yourself or shit by yourself and the love of your life is walking out the door for the last time.

It would soon be over; Red was dying on the inside and out. He gave up completely on anything and everything that had any chance of improving his lot in life. He let go of what little hope he had. he talked about Irene incessantly. All that any of us could do was listen. He barely ate, hardly ever got out of bed, was surly when anyone suggested he come back to life. He was driving everyone away.

He was yet another lamp barely flickering in another quadriplegic life, soon to die out for want of fuel. This would leave darkness and unspeakable sorrow in its wake. Unprepared and emotionally unequipped loved ones bailed out time after time under the crushing weight of piss and shit scenes, irreplaceable loss, and relentless need. This left me weary and sad and sorry for all of us. Empty.

Red gathered all his interior resources for one huge final roll of the dice. He convinced Irene to to try one more time: a dressed-up, all-out date and night on the town, complete with an expensive, never-before gourmet restaurant, roses, even dancing. Red arranged everything; reservations, champagne, rented vehicle, and attendants. He was like a frisky, new-born Clydesdale, high-spirited, eager, happy. I felt all mixed up: how sweet to watch the enthusiasm and see Red feeling young and excited. How bitter, dreading that Red was headed over a cliff, for what, if I may mix metaphors, Dylan called the 'timeless explosion of fantasy's dream'. When it goes bad in the quad ward, a night out is hardly going to fix things. It's not as if it were something he said.

The night came. Red looked handsome, all scrubbed and decked out, every hair in place, dark suit, tie, and all. He even wore a white carnation. If this didn't work, it wouldn't be for want of effort.

Irene pulled up to the curb outside the hospital in a rented black Lincoln, very classy. She wore a stunningly sexy, decolletage cherry red translucent spaghetti strap dress. She looked like a teenage prom date and a sensuous water nymph, ephemeral. Irene was beaming, as if she knew full well how great she looked. Red was transfixed with joy, pride, anticipation, hope, anxiety, and fear. We all knew what was in the balance.

Red aligned his big, black, electric wheelchair for the transfer into the shotgun seat. He positioned attendants for the lift and slide onto the transfer board, across the space between chair and vehicle, and into the car's seat. They grunted, lifted, and swept Red onto and across the board. As he was finally taking his seat, his bowels completely let go. Right there, in that beautiful black Lincoln, next to that gorgeous nymph, on that night of nights, rampant diarrhea.

Red tried to hang himself that night. Even that failed, but not for want of effort.

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