How To Save A Life
As I turned the corner and slowed, the crunch of fresh snow packing under my tires, I could see the back of Gower’s trans-am. It was barely five degrees outside, up to fifteen below wind chill the radio was saying. I could see the smoke rolling out his open window, mixing with steam as the warm air from inside his muscle car mixed with the cold frigid outside air. This is nuts. I pulled my beat up Citation behind him and started to gear up. Out my window I could see the untouched white expanse of snow that buried Lake Park. I tucked my jeans inside of my waterproof boots to make sure no snow went inside. It was going to be knee deep in places. It was maybe 7am. We were here to play Frisbee golf. We had made a 18-hole course laid out from warmer times but we kept coming, even after it snowed. Coming this early, was my fault, as I wanted to finish in time for the noon kickoff of NFL football. Joe didn’t care so much about that. He just wanted to get his time in. As it turned out, we only put in four holes. The course was such that it rounded back to where we were parked on hole four. Holes consisting of trees, or poles and through a soccer goal, if they had left it out – which they had this year. If you weren’t warm by hole four, you weren’t going to be warm and we would concede the game.
“Country Kitchen?” Gower asked, knowing damn well I couldn’t refuse him. “Did you hear that they are making a real Frisbee golf course at Elver this spring?”
There his car sat, ahead of me as usual. Brightly shining from the wax job Joe must have recently done again. My beat up LTD never got a bath, let alone a waxing. What was the point? Gower stepped out of his car, Frisbee bag slung about his shoulder, “About time Beadle.” We walked silently toward the base of a hill about two football fields away. I carried my one Discraft disc, which worked as driver, mid-range and putter for me. Gower had a dozen in his bag, so he was ready for each and every shot that may present itself. “Beat ya there!” he shouted and raced off to the tee. Like he needed a head start, laughing and panting he smiled at me as I came up behind, a tad of asthma creeping into my lungs. “I love you Beadle”. I nodded and pushed him. “Let’s play.” I responded.
“Wow Beadle, you are a good ping pong player. I thought you were going to win today!” Joe said with a smirk as we exited the SERF.
“Uhm, I did if you hadn’t pushed 2 out of 3 to 4 out of 7, dude” I prissily replied. I was trying to figure out if he was a worse winner or loser. I mainly wanted to play but losing to him over and over got old.
“You’re a good sport Beadle…” came out of his mouth and his self-assured pride made him miss that I had already hollered out, “First to the car!” and was already nine steps ahead of him.
As he touched the shiny black fin of his Trans AM a full second behind me, “Cheater!!!!” he pathetically whined.
“Loser,” I smiled at him.
I’m not even sure why I come to the apartment to see him. I’m getting tired of his merry go round of girl troubles. First he wants to conquer them, then he has them and looks for something better, then he realizes he loves them and wants them back when they send him to the curb. I’ve seen it with my own eyes half a dozen times now over the course of the last seven years. Has it been seven years? All the toys he buys. His apartment with soap you can’t use. He’s like my grandma used to be with her living room no one could go into. She’d turn in her grave to see the abuse my kids have put that green couch through! The same one that used to be covered in plastic. The only time you went into that room was on Christmas Day when I was a kid. Gower is like her sometimes. He should’ve married Beth. After the second abortion, I couldn’t boo hoo with him anymore. You’d think you’d have learned after the first one? This girl, the one he cries about now, he kicked out on our Frisbee golf mornings. Now always at Elver with the “real disc golf” discs, I miss the days at Lake Park with the 175g discs. Before there was an Elver Park course. Now you practically needed a reservation to play a lousy game we used to play in the park. While I bought $500 cars and raised a family, he cycled through woman after woman and racked up debt. He must be in debt with all these toys. You can’t just live larger than life like he does. I tell him this. He just doesn’t listen. He's like a train wreck I can see coming. Why does he even ask me over to talk?
“Is that Gower?” I wondered to myself as I sat in the hallway outside my daughter’s hospital room. I tried not to think about how this was our third trip to the hospital since she was diagnosed with leukemia that he didn’t come to visit. People who I have a hard time remembering their names have come to visit. I guess he doesn’t like hospitals. He hasn’t come to see our new house even. In fact, the first night we were home from the hospital after my girl was first diagnosed; he gave me a call so I could go into Madison and bring him his inhaler. He didn’t even ask about her. Not really. The last time I saw him when I started to cry a bit because of this hardship, he just went on about how he was struggling with which girl as he was playing two of them at that time. It was better if we just played basketball or a video game than talk these days. We didn’t work at the same place anymore, not for a long time. We'd grown apart. Once, he was like a brother to me. Now I’m not even sure if I like him.
Gower looked thin to me as we left the 9 hole golf course in my hometown. Elver was too far away. The only way he could play me was to come here. It surprised me how easily I beat him. Both rounds. He still threw the disc twice as far as I did but he just didn’t seem to have that winning edge. I was more than happy to seize the opportunity to put him away, winning overall by three. He seemed to have aged more than I had. His walk didn’t have that step in it anymore. He drove a nice white sedan instead of a sports car. He said things were great but it didn't seem that way. I felt sorry for him a bit. I hadn’t seen him in a few years. The last time he just sort of picked on my son and was mouthy and bitter. We didn’t see each other much now. I was still hurt I suppose from him never coming to the hospital. Never letting me vent or discuss my fears and pains and frustrations. He envied my family. That didn’t "just happen" - we worked for it. I valued it. He didn’t seem to realize that. He thought all of what I had just fell on my lap, I guess. Like I was just lucky and didn't have to work for it. As he drove off, I couldn’t even enjoy the ass whooping I put on him. I would’ve raced him to the car but he seemed to struggle to walk. I wondered if he was drunk or hung over. But not for very long.
“It’s for you,” my wife said, handing me the phone. “It’s Joe.”
I reluctantly picked up the phone. It had been at least a year, maybe two, since I saw him on that day I beat him soundly at disc golf. His voice was soft and shakey. He said he’d called to apologize. He wanted my forgiveness for being a shit friend for so long. For not coming to the hospital, he still had the angry email I’d sent him years ago about it. He felt guilty about it. He was having a hard time facing me. He asked me if I could forgive him. He needed a friend. I said I forgave him and then he told me he was going to die. He had about 3 months. He had liver disease, he said. It made me so sad. He was such a bullshitter all his life but he wasn’t bullshitting now. Fighting the tears trying to roll down my cheeks, I said I forgave him and that I was sorry he was sick. I asked if there wasn’t something I could do? Say a prayer. He said he had to be sober for awhile just to get on a liver donor list he was now on but there was a waiting list. I thought about if his family and if they could donate but didn’t say anything. Later that night I checked on the Internet and saw that it didn’t have to be family to donate. It was possible I could but the recovery period was long and more than the vacation I had available. He wanted to meet for lunch and I agreed. We had a few good lunches together.
It was almost a year since Gower said he had three months to live. He never really mentioned that when we had lunch, like now, which we did about every other month. He talked about maybe working for Homeland Security. He seemed frail and weak but he said he was still doing karate lessons. He said he worked the night watch somewhere. He’d kicked his karate instructors ass in fact. I didn't really believe that. I was finding a lot of what he had to say questionable. Not much unlike how he was back in the day. I didn’t want to begrudge his living or be a total fuck by asking him about it. "Shouldn't you be dead by now?" Not something that came up in conversation. I had to wonder if he was lying about it. If he’d used that to get me to come to lunch. Is that a friend? Is that a friendship? He kept going on about ping pong and how he had an aunt he thought with a table we could play on. He was going to buy us new ping pong paddles. The last thing I wanted to do with him was play ping pong. We would eat around the corner from his dad’s place. He moved in with his dad over a year back to help take care of him. His mother had passed a few years ago and his dad needed help. I had to wonder who needed who for help.
My cell rang and I saw it was Gower. I wasn’t going to answer it but I had some time and felt if I talked to him now it would save me from having to talk to him later. It was out on the deck where he mentioned in passing, “I invented GPS y’know?”
“You sure as hell did not!” I laughed.
But he wouldn’t let it go. He insisted he’d invented GPS. That he was a genius. That the CIA had forced him to invent it just after he got out of high school.
“Why are you fucking with my head, Gower?” I said getting annoyed.
But he didn’t give it up. At our next lunch he showed me the GPS on his fancy phone, a phone I wondered how he could even afford. I had a crappy work phone that I made all my calls on, it was free. His phone having GPS was a proof he invented it. After lunch, we were going to go out and throw around an ultimate Frisbee disc, like the ones we used to use to play disc golf at Lake Park, even in below zero weather. Not the hard golf discs made just for golf and not for catching. As a friend, I felt the need to confront him on the nonsense. But he wouldn’t give it up. When I went over the story with him he got a puzzled look on his face. He realized it was crazy but he said that is what he believed. Maybe it wasn’t true. He was confused. Then he started to tear up and said he was going to die and I didn’t mention that it was now almost a year and half since he had three months to live. He just wanted to throw the disc around with his best friend. So we did. When I left, he hugged me as was his way and said, “I love you Beadle – you’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had.” I returned the awkward phrase, remembering how he had been like a brother, like a bad selfish brother a lot of the time. He was the closest thing I had to a brother and had been a good friend in good times. He just didn’t handle my bad times very well.
I was downstairs in the porch at my mother’s house when I read the email. My mom had been dying from congestive heart failure and I was pretty much living there full time. Going back and forth from my house and family to my mom’s house where my sister was living full time but needing lots of help from me as well as my other sister from Syracuse. I didn’t know then but my mom was actually just a few weeks away from dying. For over a year my mom was always just a few weeks from dying. I didn’t even believe she was ever going to die anymore. Not that I wanted her to die, of course, I didn’t - but I was breaking from the past year and dealing with it all. After I lost my job Gower seemed unable to reach me and I couldn’t deal with him anymore. I had too much on my plate. Any attempts to get him help went nowhere. His family didn’t know what to do either. He was crazy or something. He did have some health issues. They may have been able to do something but as he was functional and didn’t want or feel he needed help – none came. I didn’t give him my new cell number and hadn't heard from him in over half a year. I couldn’t deal with him anymore. I’d check on him after my mom died. But I guess not, because I had an email from a former boss who Gower and I worked for and it said simply that he was dead. From diabetes. He was dead. My bad little brother. He was dead. I knew he’d want me to be at his funeral but I couldn’t. Not only was the weather threatening and the distance far but I had mom now. Gower was dead. He died before my own mother.
I was going to check on him. I was. That god damn fucker, why would he never listen? Maybe, maybe I could’ve done something to get him help? It didn’t even shock me really that he was dead. He was moving in that direction his whole life. He’s five years younger than I am and I’m not going to die for a long long time. I thought he’d be there for me again. He owes me another apology for telling me he was going to die when he wasn’t. For drinking himself to a death, damn it, we were going to reconnect. Be like we had been in the early days when we froze our asses off throwing the disc around in the snow when we should've been warm in our beds. I felt like I could’ve made a difference. I was going to check on him. Now, I didn't even make his funeral, although, my wife did and from what she recalled I could see that some of what Joe had said had kernels of truth in it all. He actually had stopped a robbery just weeks before his death, he really did have a security job – frightening as that seems to me. He did work with the Knights Of Columbus. I never heard he had diabetes though? Something went wrong related to that and he fell in the bath and he hit his head and his blood was thin and he bled too much, I heard. I’m still not sure. Maybe he did have three months to live when he first called? My mom has had 2-4 weeks for over a year. I know he did NOT invent GPS. He did NOT kill a bear. He did NOT play pro ball… But he did do some of the things I didn’t believe. Now he's just gone and it can't be sorted out. I was going to check on him again…