What Are You Waiting For?
I listened to Viola Davis’s Oscar-winning speech yesterday morning.
Talking about how the stories that she wants to tell as an actress need to be exhumed from the graveyards — they die with us.
It’s funny, I wrote a post on Sunday with a couple of quotes, including the one by Andy Warhol (at the end of this post), but I chose not to post it. I felt I’d laboured the point in terms of the message for the day.
Then, my old mate, David popped into my head. That’s his real name. I won’t use his nickname.
Then I went into judgement about how his life was too dark a story to tell.
How it wasn’t an inspirational, motivational “live the life you want to lead,” post.
But a “Sh*t, I hope that never happens to me,” post.
A scare tactic. To invest in the hope it doesn’t happen to me. When we buy from that place, it doesn’t feel loving. We can even feel resentful.
In coaching, we talk about people who are motivated to move towards their goal or those who are motivated to move away from their pain.
I don’t want this piece to be either of those, yet Dave’s story popped up, wanting to be told.
I grew up being “one of the lads”, and Dave was one of the funny ones amongst them. I would say “us”, but I’m no longer part of that group.
He was short, smart, good looking and a charmer when it came to the ladies. It’s probably his Liverpudlian origins — even if you couldn’t hear that unmistakable accent, that Scouse charm was still felt.
He dressed well and got ribbed for it. On a night out, he’d wear his Armani “pulling” jeans to help his desirability go off the scale. He felt good, smelt good and looked good — inside and out. You knew you were in for a good night, full of laughs when Dave was in “top form.”
We lived in a Lancashire town where nothing much was happening and so, Dave, being adventurous, left to join the army. We’d talk enviously about him being posted to Belize, “The jammy git’s topping up his tan!” Although we’d visited him in his army barracks, we never thought about the realities of war as he sent home photos of him posing in his shorts, leaning against a palm tree.
In time, Dave left the army and came back home.
Over time, the group wasn’t as tight as we once were. The responsibilities of settling down with kids, or getting serious with their girlfriends meant we drifted apart, yet, we’d still come together when needed.
One of the lads got in touch. “Dave’s in hospital”.
He’d been knocked off his bicycle on his way home from work.
There were no witnesses to say whose fault it was (I’ll leave out the gruesome details), but that meant he wasn’t compensated for his time off work, nor his injuries.
Dave had no recollection, but, he knew that he always rode straight down the hill from work.
It was thought that a car was waiting to turn right, and as Dave cycled down, an impatient driver overtook that car on the inside and she’d knocked him flying.
He fractured his skull.
He was lucky. He had a scar down his forehead, but his charm remained unscathed.
About 18 months later, the message went through the lads’ network — Dave was in the hospital again.
When we were allowed to see him, he was in a coma.
He’d been found, barely alive. His parents had visited his home, saw the key in the lock and thought he was, “entertaining a girl”.
His mates had knocked on his door, to see if he was going out for a few beers, but got no answer. They thought he was visiting his army mates at the barracks.
It was only because of his impeccable work attendance, that his employer rang his parents to say he’d not turned up for work two days running, that his parents went to his home, let themselves in and found him.
He’d had seizures; vomited; his brain had been starved of oxygen.
His parents encouraged us to talk to him, in the hope that something we said would trigger him to wake up. That’s the least we could do for our mate.
Yet the weight of expectancy was heavy, almost palpable, as his parents sat in the back of the room, hoping that one of the stories we told, that were really inappropriate to be repeated in front of parents, was the miracle that would make him stir.
He didn’t wake. It was a long, slow, slog for him, and testing for us. A lesson in perseverance.
A one-sided conversation with an unrecognisable friend. His body wasting away, contorted into the foetal position.
And, still, we talked. At times, the only thing that broke the silence was the whirring of the fan cooling the stifling temperature in the room.
Then one day, he opened his eyes.
His parents said he could hear us.
I wasn’t sure.
Have you ever tried talking to someone who’s dead behind the eyes? I found it a little unnerving if I’m honest. He barely blinked. When he did, those eyelids closed in slow motion, only for him to stare blankly into space again.
Gradually, he started to blink more frequently. His parents said he was communicating with us. It looked involuntary to me, but, of course, they were right. It just took a couple of days for us to be convinced. Then we had the poor lad blinking again, and again, as his mum asked a question to prove he was still in there.
One day, he moved his toe. It was so slight, we’d have missed it, but his parents, who’d never given up on, “Our David” hadn’t.
His mum had him entertaining us, “David, show Tricia what you can do”, and he’d duly move his toes. Then it progressed to him moving his leg up the bed. It was knackering for him, but it was also a form of physiotherapy, I think.
With time, he started to walk, or rather, shuffle. He was moved out of his side room onto a general ward (full of old people). There were too many of us crowded around his bed that I felt sorry for the other in-patients.
Then one day, we got kicked out. David had asked one of the lads to fetch a chair for me to sit on, except he’d called it a football.
He’d got his words mixed up.
We corrected him. He repeated it, “Yeah, that’s what I said. Go and get Trish a football”.
We laughed. He was adamant he was using the right word.
He became irate. Enraged.
We were ushered out.
We later found out that he’d been sedated, transferred to another hospital for MRI tests, where they found the damage that time everybody thought he was with someone else, had done to his brain.
The frontal lobe, which tells us to “forget it” to let things go, was impaired.
That’s why he couldn’t calm down.
Now, his world and reasoning were black or white — no shades of grey. Right or wrong.
He spent months in rehab and when he came back home, it was clear he had a learning disability.
Unable to take the same care in his appearance, he piled on the weight.
He was a liability on a night out. He’d still smoke weed and drink, but then he’d talk football, and almost start fights with his black and white way of seeing the world. The lads would intervene and act as peacemakers, ‘rescuing’ the situation. They’d stopped being mates. They became his carer.
In time, the lads fell away. Hanging out with Dave was “hard work”.
He’d got some new ‘friends’. People who took advantage of his learning disability, and his possessions. I’d long moved away from my hometown, so I didn’t really know what was going on.
Then I got a call from one of the lads.
David’s dad had died.
I needed to get back to my hometown for the funeral.
His dad was funny as hell. I really liked his parents. They were welcoming of all Dave’s friends, and their house was full of fun.
Dave’s dad had been riding his motorcycle home from work. A woman driver, who hadn’t seen him, pulled out of a junction onto the main road. He was declared dead at the scene.
It was practically the same scenario Dave had been through only a couple of years earlier, except it was fatal for his dad.
How much suffering can one family endure, I thought? His mum had already sat through her other son being stabbed in the heart by his girlfriend during an argument. He’d survived, only to go back to her. And before all that trauma, she’d lost a brother to AIDS.
So, what’s the point of sharing this story?
I guess it’s about living life to the fullest.
Like Viola Davis said in her Oscar-winning speech, people take their stories to the graveyard with them.
For some reason, I was reminded of David’s story. It’s not my story to tell, but it wanted to be shared.
Yes, it’s long, but there again, so was his recovery. And his refusal to quit deserves every word written.
If you’ve been thinking about making changes in your life, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.” — Andy Warhol.