Today is a momentous day of celebration—my thirtieth anniversary!—the thirtieth anniversary of the automobile accident that left me a quadriplegic unable to perform even the most rudimentary acts of daily living. I was twenty-two years old at the time, a young buck, strong, gregarious, undisciplined, eager for fun, trillions of hormones electrifying undeniable impulses as encouragement to explore my immediate surroundings at the cost of almost everything, trying almost without effort to inspire coquettish distaff responses from anyone to whom I was attracted, and I was attracted to everything beautiful… not pulchritudinous but beautiful with emphasis on innocence and sincerity. Yes, my head was in the clouds, dreaming of peace and trying my best not to conform to conformity mostly by observing the mundane from different angles of a prism’s refracting kaleidoscopic rainbows that had been reborn from pellucid light.
Then an automobile accident took away my physicality and stored its latent energy in an immobile body, sedentary, a gelatinous lump of organic matter, a still life portrait of unrequited potential. Still and all, today is a very special, positive celebration.
Yes, it has affected me… my paralysis. Let’s face it; my young adulthood was nourished by the late seventies and early eighties. Led Zeppelin rocked and disco sucked even though I secretly marveled at the harmonies of the Bee Gees. I was introduced to the weed, and everything was groovy as we cruised down the highway listening to our favorite tunes on FM radio. Being young and healthy was sexy; television corroborated; so did the cinema, the music industry, even the most kitsch bric-a-brac emphasized an unbounded suspension in any realization to the temporal nature of youth, attraction, life.
My life’s transition from an athletic, constantly mobile, seemingly tireless energy into one of a stationary observer, a tacit poet, a stoic comic… was relatively easy. I surrendered myself to the nearly immediate acceptance of my permanent paralysis—hell, I couldn’t feel my genitals! It was very obvious that walking, for me, was never going to be a reality. It was too easy to perceive that I was destined to live the life of bachelor for the remainder of my terrestrial existence, and this compliance was based on the fact that I was no longer a healthy male specimen. I was young… immature. I not only believed but I tightly embraced as divine Truth the fact that I was now a human blemish that deserved not only ignoring but ridicule by all women. My soi-disant physical repugnance unofficially decreed intentional lack of attention from the kind of woman that mostly attracted me: women for whom physical activity was a major part of their existence. Why would a woman who enjoyed camping, hiking, fishing, swimming, or participating in team sports, why would she want to enjoy these activities without me? Why should she? I had convinced myself that I could never have fallen in love with anyone with whom I couldn’t share these same activities?
It was easy to convince myself that I couldn’t… that I wouldn’t allow myself to fall in love with anyone who was as crippled as I. I know… it’s sad, but one must consider my youth, my inexperience in Life. During the incipience of my life of paralysis, I was just barely an adult. My expectations of romance was still marred by expectations of perfection, a perfection wrapped in enchantment, made more dazzling with the acceptance of fairy tale expectations, a perfect mate forming a perfect union within a perfect kingdom, yet as I lay crying on the cold, calloused, sterile hospital bed, supine, staring desperately at the ceiling from which I could not shield my eyes, my neck secured with screws drilled into my skull making it impossible to turn my head and further damage the spinal cord around my fourth vertebrae, I realized all too well that I would never tempt a lover. Subconsciously, I took steps to ensure a lifetime of solitude.
To my support group, the acceptance of my paralysis seemed quick and decisive, and it was. For all intents and purposes, I appeared to have accepted my paralysis with certain aplomb. And I did come to the realization fairly quickly. I had not gotten very many visits from friends of whom I thought I had many. I then got a call from a girl acquaintance of mine from Americus, Georgia, a girl who attended Georgia Southwestern University and with whom I had shared intimacy… when she called me at the rehabilitation clinic and told me that she loved me, I heard the hollowness of the words she spoke, and I new immediately that I would never see her again. I softly replied, “I love you, too,” and hung up the phone.
Four months of rehab went by quickly. Admittedly, after three months I had no desire to leave the rehab center, but after four I was really anxious to try my paralysis on the world… that’s when I was thrown my first curve: Jill.
She had been one of the terrestrial angels I met that summer, a goddess, my nurse in brilliant white too luminous to look at directly, a golden-haired princess from Disney’s studios who cared with too much intensity that I mistook for love. When I left rehab, I was certain that my relationship with Jill would be an occasional phone call and annual birthday wishes, but she made arrangements to visit me and, more amazingly, for me to visit her. I was blissfully absentminded for an entire year, blindly fantasizing that I had been the luckiest man to have ever been blessed with terrestrial opportunity… to breathe with the easiness of silent tranquility. Then, from nowhere… or everywhere… she cut me to the core, her arms draped over my shoulders as she leaned into my ear from behind… her confession of casual infidelity exculpated by the innocuous admission she hadn’t climaxed.
I actually felt a tiny rip in my heart. As far as physiological, it was an almost imperceptible tear, so small one might’ve only disclosed the actual cleavage of my heart’s muscle with powerful enough microscopic technology and enough interest to look for something so conspicuously insignificant. It was little more than a pinprick, but the pain was as intense as anything I have ever felt, an electrifying jolt of bone-shattering emptiness that instantly sated my soul with the frigid indifference of Satan’s most delicious malice.
“So we’ll live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies”
Before the glass she sits and brushes her long
yellow corn silk strands of perfumed hair,
searching for minute signs of time. She longs
for when she didn’t slave so hard to be so fair,
back to when her total worth was visual
and her thoughts accessorized what she seemed.
She reflects but tries not to notice that her nocturnal ritual
takes longer, a false fact that belies her fast-fading dream.
Safe within her cocoon, she prepares to cloud
her subconscious with empty promises of gold,
but her dream doesn’t so easily conceal the lie.
From her chrysalis, a gilded butterfly springs out,
exploding in vibrant colors. She’ll unfold,
shake off all loose gold dust and try to fly.
My anger was intense but brief… instantaneous, followed immediately by the fulgurous realization of my own unworthiness. I knew after she told me… almost just before she told me… her hands clasped on my chest, her breath in my ear, her tears on my shoulders, I knew that even though I may have a few positive qualities as a man, I didn’t have enough to ameliorate the cold hard fact that I need help with everything and that ultimately, in time, I would irritate anyone who was around me. I am as needy as an infant but have neither the umbilical connection nor the potential to be anything else but needy until I turn to dust… and, so far, I’ve been an exclusive “taker” of good intentions with negative zero reciprocation. It has been no mystery to me why I am a bachelor. I had a couple other relationships that were brief but ended as only they could; it has been apparent from the day I fully understood that I was paralyzed for life: I am not worthy of anybody’s intimacy. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
I think that the main reason for my life of relative solitude is that I have done everything in my power to assure it. From the beginning of my paralysis, I’ve focused my energies on making people forget my paralysis as much as possible, so I’ve given myself challenges. Graduating from college was an interesting challenge, and without it I wouldn’t be the dude I am now. It was at Mercer University that Dr. Stephen Bluestone taught me how to enjoy the writing of the Bard. From there my interest in writing gained momentum. Reading, too, but I still don’t make enough time for it; although, I am jonsin’ to reread “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Becoming employed was another challenge that distracted my focus, and on January 8, 1992, not quite six years after I broke my neck, I was working full-time as a computer programmer using Assembler for the IBM mainframe. This, obviously, was a challenge primarily because programming was just a job, not my vocation. I was also engulfed in the suffocating atmosphere of social ideologies that embraced individual privilege at the expense of communal support. I did meet a few people whom I consider friends and for whom I am grateful; granted, most everyone I met and with whom I became acquainted dug me and my intentions, and most everyone seemed to be trying her best to follow a path of life that was for the collective good of society, but her rhetoric sometimes belied her obvious support for the status quo. Hopefully, that egocentric philosophy is slowly dying out for a more progressive social nurturing, but humanity is fickle and this change will soon change as well.
Throughout my incarceration in the corporate world, I watched the flock of indifferent mechanized humanity as they performed sundry lives of expectation. The constant challenges of couples seemed, to me, unendurable: divorce, child rearing, mortgage paying, teenage tolerating, and spousal compromise belied incessant myths of experiencing a “wonderful family life.” Couple that with a company policy of following impossible guidelines of moral compass, and I knew that my paralysis was incompatible with this kind of social expectation. There is no way I could afford alimony and attendant care.
I was fired after sixteen years of corporate servitude; it was a mutual severance. I won’t make too much of it. The fact is that it was time for me to go, and I’m really glad for it. Corporate life was sucking me into a vortex of indifference. There is beauty in the fact that I did experience corporate life, and that is the few relationships I’ve maintained. If I hadn’t met coworker Jeff Smith, I might not have developed a love for jazz, and since my departure from the corporate anvil of Capitalistic Idolatry, I have been able to pursue performing jazz. In retrospect, it’s easy to see now that some of the choices I made in the past were more for other people than myself, but I am now pursuing jazz and its challenges, and I’m doing it for me… I really dig how it’s affecting me… positively. What makes my current passion possible is that I don’t have the responsibility of a family, no children’s college to worry about, no wife to disappoint, and that makes me happy.
I recently watched a movie wherein the protagonist was given the following advice about chasing a dream instead of being directed by responsibility: “It’s OK to think about what you want to do until it’s time to start thinking about what you are meant to do.” Seems to me that I have lived the reverse of this quote. I spent sixteen years doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing. A small-minded person in Human Resources encouraged my more liberal nature to discontinue the work relation with my corporate overlord. Fortunately, I met Jeff when I first started working, and he encouraged—tolerated—my slow learning and consequent dilatory development of jazz techniques and traditions. After I was sprung from indentured servitude, I was confident enough to take a bold step. I recorded a CD of jazz vocals with Jeff and a few other musician friends, and I am now doing what I wish I could’ve begun when I was much younger.
I now perform jazz when I can, and I have a small, loyal group of admirers who seem to root for my success. I figure I’ve got about ten years of decent voice left. I get a gig about every three or four months at The Loft in Columbus, and I participate in the weekly jazz jam in Opelika, Alabama at the Eighth and Rail and once a month at the Unified Jazz Jam in Columbus, Georgia. Although I’m fifty-two years old, I have a passion that seems to jive with an audience (or they pity me… time will tell and I’m not above using my paralysis for sympathy). I’ve been honing my skills since ’92, and I am motivated. Things for me are currently loaded with possibility, and I am more determined to make my singing a major success. “It’s OK to think about what you want to do until it’s time to start thinking about what you are meant to do.” It’s obvious to me, and I hope it becomes obvious to everyone else: I was meant to pursue jazz. I ain’t braggin’, but it’s been a wonderful thirty years; I wonder what successes the next three decades may disclose.