This past November, I wrote what I thought would be a book Entitled: Thirty Ways to Live. Basically, it was to be about thirty people who had attempted suicide and somehow were stopped. Each character took more than 1600 words and I don't even know how many I wrote about, but I hope to chisel it down to the best ten. Ten Ways to Live would be good too, right?
Meet Knox. Let me know what you think of this piece of writing via the comments below. I am open to all kinds of encouragement, ideas, help, and even critiques. Enjoy.
I’ve always been a tough guy. In high school, I was a football player and one of the guys who was always at the gym. I prided myself on bench presses and squats, always challenging the other guys on the team. I was truly the big guy on campus.
In college, things were different, even though mentally I was still the tough guy. There were lots of guys on my football team there that could blow my weight out of the water on squats and bench presses. I was more of a little fish in the big pond, instead of the big fish in the small pond back home in Kansas. This was the bigger time and I had to fight harder to be the big man on campus, and that I did.
I got to play a bit but had to change positions. I wasn’t the right size for linebacker at this place. I took some of my aggression off the field and got into boxing. I was pretty dang good at it, so it took more of my time than football. The best thing football did for me was pay for my college and keep me in shape. I knew I wasn’t going to make the pros so I just had fun with it.
Boxing is where I could prove myself. I took guys down quickly in all my matches. I finally hired a coach and for those few years during college, I’d win a prize match here and there and actually make a little cash. It paid for my gas and food, so that was nice.
Eventually, I got into coaching. It was a thrill to help guys get big and get strong in the ring. I also started to coach teens in both football and wrestling. I had finished my degree in teaching and landed a job back in my hometown teaching Physical Education at the middle school. I also got to be an assistant coach right away for football and the head coach knew the wrestling coach at the high school and I also got the job as assistant right away at the high school that winter season.
I was pretty busy with work, and coaching the school teams, but I still had a few clients who wanted me to continue helping them train for boxing. I couldn’t say no because it was a free membership to the gym as well as a little extra cash.
I was living my best dream for myself and didn’t think it could get any better. That’s when I met Michelle. She was tall, blonde and had spunk, which is what I liked most about her.
She showed up at the gym with one of the guys who trained with another trainer that I knew. Luckily for me, she wasn’t too in love with that kid. I was pretty aggressive like I always am and found a chance to talk to her while he was with his coach and out of the way.
“So, you like boxers, I see.”
“Nah, I am more into briefs myself.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. This girl had attitude and I knew she could put up with my same smart aleck attitude.
“Funny, you don’t look like the type, but whatever. So, you ready to be done with that little man, and try on a bigger one for size.”
“Oh that guy back there? He’s my cousin. I really am done with him anyway. So when you gonna take me out?”
That was too easy. I told her that I was free after practice that night and I’d love to take her to Red Lobster if she were into seafood.
As they say, the rest was history. I definitely married up. Michelle was everything I had wanted in a woman and more. We were recklessly happy and just were living the all American dream. You know the one, big house, a few kids, a dog, enough money to play a little and for us our dream included some ATVs and an RV. We were out camping and riding every weekend in the summer. We loved it and couldn’t wait until Memorial Day Weekend every year where we would go to the sand dunes with a whole bunch of relatives and friends. It was always a blast.
I was especially excited that year because my oldest boy was then old enough to ride on his own and he had saved and saved his money to buy a little dirt bike.
He and his cousins had a blast and I always told them to ride carefully because there were lots of people on the dunes that weekend.
I wish I would have taken my own advice that Saturday night. I had been having a great time with my uncles and dad that day and we probably all had a bit too much. I decided it would be a nice night for a moonlight ride and again as luck would have it, Michelle told me she didn’t feel like going but I could go. I don’t’ think she realized that I was a little buzzed and shouldn’t be going.
I went all alone and it was going to be just a short ride seeing it was pretty late. Turns out it would be even shorter than I had planned.
I went up a huge dune like I always did, but just before I took the jump at the top, I heard another bike and saw the headlights coming straight at me. In order to miss the other bike, I swerved causing me to take off at an angle off the top instead of straight on. This made me have a hard time landing. Actually, had I not been a little bit drunk, I wouldn’t have had any problem with the landing, but that night I totally missed it. I hit the ground with the front tire first. I flew over the handle bars and then rolled many times, hitting my head hard the first time. I was wearing a helmet, but helmets protect brains, they don’t protect necks and spines.
The guy who I missed, came to me right after I crashed. We were in the middle of nowhere, but the search and rescue out there are good because they have to be. Each year at Memorial Day weekend there are at least ten accidents. Many of those are severe and I have heard of a few people dying.
I didn’t die that day, but a big part of me did. They life flighted me to a hospital about four hours away from the dunes by car. My family got there when I was in surgery. They put plates in my back because I had crushed it. My neck wasn’t broken but that wasn’t so lucky anyway. I did have a sever in my lower spinal cord and when I woke up the surgeon told me I was paralyzed from the waist down.
I didn’t want to believe it and for about a day I wouldn’t even try to move my toes or foot when the nurse had asked me to. I just sat and stared. Michelle tried to comfort me and tell me everything would be alright, but I knew it wasn’t going to be alright. My life had changed in an instant. I went from being the tough guy who could bench over three hundred pounds, to the guy who had to drag his legs to the bathroom via army crawling in the middle of the night. Yeah, I was a little bit stubborn and wouldn’t use my chair all the time. I hated that thing anyway and I had a life sentence in it.
I went to a really dark place. Michelle and the kids tried their hardest to be nice to me and encourage me but I wasn’t very nice back. I felt sorry for myself most of the time. I was off work and on disability so I really didn’t have a whole lot to get out of bed for in the mornings. I stayed there for most of the day the first six months in.
“Hey Knox, you gonna get out of bed today? We’d really like you to come with us to the zoo. The kids are asking if you are ever going to be fun again.”
It was a Saturday right after schoool had started. The weather would change soon and it was tradition for us to go to the zoo before winter came.
“I’ll have to take a rain check. Not feeling it.”
“Come on, Knox. You haven’t left the house since you got home from the hospital, isn’t it time you move on.”
Move on. Was she kidding me? I couldn’t move anywhere nonetheless on. Move. She was crazy.
I loaded myself up on Whiskey that day. It was the first time I had drank since the accident. It made me numb for most of the afternoon while the family was gone.
I got myself in the chair, so I could get to the bathroom and so I could check out the garage. Michelle’s brother had set up a ramp that let me get in and out of the garage and in Michelle’s hope into the new accessible van she had bought.
I pulled a beer out of the fridge and sipped on it while I sat in my chair looking over the garage. The bike I had been riding was on one of my fix it stands, still mangled from that day. The other bikes where up against the far wall. They looked just as bored as I was being left behind. The kids would ride around the yard and neighborhood on occasion, but we didn’t head out at all that summer for obvious reasons.
I drank a few more beer and almost felt numb. That’s when I saw the poster of me in my football uniform from college. And then I noticed the other pictures of me in the ring and coaching kids. Those were now just memories. Things that I couldn’t ever do again. Things that I would never do again. I threw the beer bottle in my hand across the room. It shattered as it hit the poster of me with my arm raised in the middle of the ring. The picture of me winning my biggest and last match. The glory day now torn and battered just like I was.
I wasn’t just angry that day. I was pissed. I thought about how it wasn’t fair that this had happened to me. That there must not be a God. I was a loser. I wasn’t a man who could provide for his family and keep them safe any more. I was weak and that was my worst fear ever.
I shouldn’t have been drinking that day, just like I shouldn’t have been drinking the day of the accident because my mind shut down and reality had slipped away. I forgot everything that made me who I was. I was living weak even though inside me I had every capability to be strong. Maybe that is what made me so angry and upset. I knew I was better than what I had been giving my wife and kids. I was better than what I gave myself, but in this haze of self-pity and booze, I forgot that I was amazing.
I walked over to my gun safe and pushed in my combination. It opened right up and all my favorite guns were right there staring back at me. My hunting rifles, the handgun Michelle bought me for our first anniversary, and all my military handguns.
I picked one up and put the full magazine in the stock. It was a nice click like I remembered everytime I loaded a gun. It was almost soothing.
I cocked the weapon and just sat there in the chair staring at it. Crying and thinking. The thoughts that flooded my brain were that of the money that Michelle would get from my pension and life insurance policy. It wasn’t how she would be crying at my funeral. I wasn’t thinking about how they would feel. All I cared about was how bad I was feeling.
I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger.
I cocked it again and was moving it to my head, when my phone started ringing.
I didn’t know who it was and no matter who it was, I really didn’t wan to answer it. I sent it straight to voicemail.
Thank heavens for that phone call though. It paused me long enough to not pull the trigger again. I put the gun away and then decided to listen to the voicemail.
This is what it said:
“Hey coach. It’s Mike. I was thinking about you all morning and feel weird calling you, but I felt like I had to. Listen, our first match is coming up in about three weeks and I really want you to be there. I know you aren’t back to work yet and I don’t expect you to coach me, but I really need you there in the stands. Remember how you have always told me that I will never win because I don’t expect to? Well, this time, I expect to. I’ve trained hard this summer. I felt weird coming to see you or talking to you, but I put a picture of us up in my locker and I stare at it before every practice and training session. Seeing your face gives me confidence. I have found the confidence I never thought I would have and I wanted to thank you for that. I have kicked a few of the guys butts in practice and I know it’s because I have finally believed your words: I deserve to win! Thanks so much coach and I really hope to see you on November 15th. Bye.”
Holy shit. My own words came back to bite me in the ass like they often do with Karma. “You will never win, if you never expect to.”
I had been living contrary to who I was. I never expected to be able to do anything again. Of course, I would never walk, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do things. I could do my job, I could coach, I could do things with my family, but I was choosing to not because I didn’t expect I could. It was too hard and I believed that I couldn’t do it.
From that day forward, I quit being a contradiction. I became a person who was capable of winning again. The first thing I did was visit my boss and ask to come back. He told me they wanted me as soon as I could. I told him next Monday. And I was there. I started going to the practices for wrestling even though they had already hired new coaches. I helped without having to be paid. I just wanted to be there so bad.
I was at Mike’s match on the 15th. He won and tears ran down my face when he came over to me to thank me for helping him. I told him: “No, son, thank you. Thank you for helping me be back among the living. I had given up until you reminded me who I was. I will never forget that call and what you said. You saved my life.”
It was true. That kid saved me. My life never was the same, but deep inside of myself I was me again. The school of hard Knox is again in session and what an amazing miracle it is to be alive.
We went back to the dunes the next year. My brothers even carried me to the ATV they had bought just for me. They made one of the seats extra supportive and added a five point safety belt to keep me in. It was exhilarating to be out there again. They took me all over but stopped where I had had my accident three years to the day.
They usually would have picked on me for it, but they joined in with me on my crying.
“You know what guys? If I could change things and how they happened, I wouldn’t. Sure, I have lost my legs, but I have gained so much. I don’t have to be the big dog anymore and I am surrounded by love and support. It took me almost dying to realize it. Thanks so much for loving and supporting me and never giving up on me.”
With that, they all patted me on my helmet and then we took off classically into the sunset. May we all learn to truly live and appreciate what we have.