Bill

I met Bill because a Spanish man was furiously masturbating for 8 hours straight 2 feet away from me.

…Yeah.

I had broken my ankle playing dodgeball, or as I was telling people, “I fought a bear. And you should see the bear. But you can’t see the bear. Because he is dead. I fought a bear and murdered him.” I was on a lot of morphine guys, you must understand that. And as a side note I totally get morphine addictions. It’s the best. I could have broken a few more of my bones for fun while on morphine and laughed it off like I just saw a child fall in the supermarket after screaming bloody murder for more Oreos. It was pure hilarity.

I got to the hospital at a brisk 10pm and was told by a scary German doctor that I wouldn’t have surgery until the next morning. So after he massaged my bones around and my girlfriend at the time left for the evening I got wheeled into a room and they told me to go to sleep. What they don’t tell you is that they are going to wake you up every two hours to check your vital signs but they will only give you pain medication every 3 hours or so. So every time those horrible horrible people (they were great but when you’re in pain you say mean things to nice people) woke me up, the nurse and I would just sit there and listen to the man on the other side of the partition really giving it to himself. At first I played it off as normal because that’s what the nurse was doing. She was acting like she was sitting at a coffee shop on a bright sunny afternoon. Maybe everyone does this in the ER? I don’t know. I’ve never been to one. I could be the prude one in this situation. But, just to make sure I wasn’t a straight crazy person, I made sure to mention something to the nurse before she left to restart the countdown of waking me up again in two hours.

“Hey” I said “so, that guy?”

“Oh yeah. I thought you couldn’t hear him. He is here a lot. He doesn’t know any English and tries to scam doctors out of drugs.”

“And…the….”

“Oh right, the masturbating, yeah he does that almost the whole time.”

It was at this point that I realized I was absolutely the crazy person because my response was verbatim, “oh. Well. Alright then.” And then she left. And he stayed. And I tried to sleep to the soothing sounds of what I can only assume we’re two birds of prey fighting for scraps.

The next morning my surgery was scheduled for 10am so they started to give me morphine at 9. It was the best, for the record. A minute or two into that magic erase liquid seeping into my veins like molasses in January my mother walked in. Panicked is the word I’d use for her. And justifiably. Her first born was in the ER. He hadn’t been since he was a baby. I get it. But again, I was on drugs.

There was hugging. And lots of “how’s” and “whys.” To which I slurred back one cohesive word –  “IdunnoMom.” Then the silence hit where she just looked me over in anguish. Then that silence was broken by a Spanish man beating his crotch to a pulp.

“What’s that?” My mom asked.

“A Spanish drug addict jerking himself off,” I replied with a smile on my face and my eyes rolling into the back of my head.

My mom freaked out. She called nurses. She yelled at doctors. She yelled passive aggressively at the Spanish man which did not deter him in the slightest. He was persistent if nothing else.

Hours later my surgery occurred. More drugs. Some new pieces of metal holding my leg together and a lifetime of knowing when it’s going to rain hours before the sky darkens. All great things. When I awoke I was being wheeled into my new room which prompted me to break out into a rousing rendition of “on the road again.” Fun fact: you can scream in jubilation post-surgery and no one will stop you. Give it a hearty try if you get the chance.

When I got back to my NEW room it was 10pm. My mother had gone ballistic for hours which was just long enough for her to convince the hospital to put me in a single room turned into a double with a cloth partition in the center.

When everyone was finally gone I was left alone in a dark room with my ankle pounding and swollen with 2 hours until I could have any more drugs. And I started to cry. As you do when your life is taking a sudden negative turn you didn’t expect and you’re no longer on morphine. A few whimpers in I sniffed loads of mucus in hard (gross, but true) – and during said sniff the television on the wall across from my bed and in the middle of the room turned on. It was on Fox News.

“Bill O’Reilly is a fuckin’ moron.” A low raspy voice rang out into the void of darkness now lit by Bill O’Reilly’s forehead. I opened my eyes and looked over to the blue cloth partition. I had no idea anyone was over on the other side until then. Probably because I wasn’t hearing anyone violently whisper in a language I couldn’t comprehend while flogging his own bishop to no end.

“Ha. Yeah.” I wiped the tears out of my eyes like he could see them.

“I’m Bill. You are?” He asked like he actually wanted to know.

“Ryan.”

“How old are you Ryan?”

“I’m 22. How old are you?”

“Old enough.” Bill pushed his words out with force like if he didn’t sharp shoot them into the world they’d dissipate before he could say them. “What are you doing here? This a vacation for you? Palm Springs or this? Those your options?” Bill was funny.

“I broke my ankle playing dodgeball. Although I’ve been telling people I fought a bear.”

“Yeah I’d stick with that story. The first ones not so great.”

“I caught the ball though! That’s what counts. I got the guy out and held onto the ball through twisting my leg like a pretzel.”

“Yeah, well. Alright then. Still. I’d stick with that bear story of yours twinkle toes.” Bill was really funny.

Bill and I talked for the next 12 hours straight. We covered everything. My College years. His prison years. His Harley collection. My Kia Sorrento. His family. My family. Bill O’Reilly’s stupid face. Favorite kinds of rocks. The best and worst nurses (the tall one my mom yelled at was the worst. She was bad at sponge baths. Scrubbed too hard.) How morphine rocks our socks off. His terminal cancer. Everything.

The chemotherapy didn’t work for Bill. He said it made him sick and he’d “rather be dead than do all that bull shit again.” So that’s what he was going to do. “I got 3 days. Maybe 4.”

I wanted to ask if that scared him. Thankfully I didn’t have too. “Good riddance!” He raised his voice slightly and coughed. It was lung cancer from smoking since he was 13, hence the John Wayne-esque tones coming from his tar ravaged throat. His words, not mine.

We only stopped talking for an hour in the morning when Bill’s entire extended family came to say goodbye. Bill reacted like they were going to too much trouble…like they were trying to pay him for lunch and he was shoving the credit card into the waiters face assuring them that he’s got this. His brother had ridden Bills Harley to the hospital and parked it outside so he could look at it from his window and say one last goodbye. I don’t know why but that’s the part that still makes me cry sometimes.

Bills wife was long gone. The room consisted of Bills brother, a gigantic balding man with a goatee and a riding vest on. His cousin was also there. Also huge. Also bald. Same vest. There were 3 other impressively large guys he called brothers as well but they weren’t and they also had the same vests on. One older woman whom never said aloud who she was to Bill was there as well. She only talked about whiskey. Bill loved whiskey and she just so happened to bring some. And by some I mean a lot. Bill was pleased.

As the family members cycled in and out of the room they would say hi to me when they got to my side of the partition that was still blocking my view. When they’d say hi Bill would yell “that’s Ryan! He fought a bear!” Bill was really very super-d duper funny.

At the end they all cried along with Bill. Through the tears I could hear Bill over and over “y’all are being pussies and it’s wearing off on me.” They’d all laugh quick and then go right back to sobbing openly with each other. When they all left I didn’t say anything for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to say.

“What do you want to do, Ryan?”

“What?” I was startled by the conservation. Bill wasn’t crying anymore. He was back to spitting his words.

“You’re young. What do you want to do now?”

“Well, I guess I just want my leg to heal.”

“No!” He shouted it. “After that you idiot. You have an after. So. What is it?” I had an after and he didn’t. That’s what he meant. I thought about it quickly.

“I want to be happy.”

“Oh yeah?” You could hear the smile while he talked. “And how you gonna do that?”

“I honestly don’t know.” I honestly didn’t.

“Do you want some advice?”

“Yeah. Please.”

“When you’re really really sad just put your hands up in the air and scream like your life depended on it. It releases endorphins into your brain or whatever. You’ll feel better immediately. Also get a dog that loves you.” There was a few seconds of silence. “And that’s pretty much it.”

“Thanks” I said. You could hear the smile in my voice. “I will.”

My eyes grew heavy from not sleeping the entire evening and I slipped into a deep sleep while watching more Fox News in silence. Two hours later they woke me up and handed me crutches. I was leaving the hospital. I put on regular clothes and stood up for the first time in three days. I lumbered on over to the wheelchair and through the sweat and the pain I got myself into it. The nurse started to push me out.

“Wait!” I said turning around to say goodbye. I was in such a daze of drugs and pain that I’d almost forgotten.

But when I turned he wasn’t there. “Where’s Bill?” I asked the nurse in a panic.

“Oh him? It’s time for his sponge bath so he’s down the hall. I’ll say goodbye for you.” I reluctantly accepted her offer and was wheeled down the hallway.

As I was adjusting in my seat and waiting for the elevator to come I heard some screams from down the hall.

“Ow! Owwww! Woman I’d rather see my ex-wife than you.” His voice echoed through the hallway. “You’re the god damn devil!”

And I smiled. Because I never saw him but I knew him. And he knew me. And I never had to say goodbye. But mostly, because I knew that giant nurse was scrubbing him way too hard and he would hate it if he knew I told all of you about it.

And I miss him.

7 Real Decisions to Make Your Life Better

1. Make something…

There is no joy in life like creating a thing that wasn’t previously a thing. Draw a picture. Take a picture. Paint with all the colors of the wind. Sew some cloth until you have a sweet hat ala Abraham Lincoln. Glue some stuff together. Pee in the snow. Build a chair. Duct tape a bottle opener to a knife. Write a song. Write a story. Start a blog. Get a journal and write anything down that is in your head. Be a creator of things. If you used to do some of these things and stopped because you don’t have the time, that is bull pucky. You’re just being lazy. You aren’t the President of the United States, you don’t have a schedule that spans into the coming months, you watch TV for hours sometimes. Take one of those hours and leave your mark on the world. A mark is a mark no matter how small. I think Dr. Seuss paraphrased that in some way.

2. When someone compliments you for whatever reason always start off with a smile and a thank you

If you’re like me, getting complimented is nerve racking. I have no idea what to say back to someone being nice. It’s the weirdest. But as I’ve learned, when you are being complimented, it’s not all for you – in fact most of it is for the person doing the complimenting as it makes them feel better about themselves through genuine kindness. So just say thank you, smile, and remember next time that person does a kick flip or eats a pancake really fast to look them dead in the eyes and say, “You are good at that. Praise be to you.” You know, something a normal human being would say.

3. Pick up an instrument…

It’s never too late to put a tiny amount of effort into a musical instrument so that you can trick people into thinking you can play that one John Mayer song at a party. Breath gently into a harmonica enough and you could be the lead singer of Blues Traveler. If you can’t afford a real instrument, you could always learn to beatbox because most people have mouths. Just keep saying the phrase “boots and cats” a bunch of times in a row and you’re basically a master beat-boxer.

4. Get a pet…

Anything. Maybe it’s a hamster, maybe it’s a very pretty rock. Sometimes you need to add a life to yours in order to be living for something outside of yourself. Having to feed something that is too stupid to feed itself can be oddly rewarding. Get very literally any kind of pet that is legal where you live. Do not tell the police you have a Tiger because you read this article, though. You don’t know me. Also, if you already have a pet, look at it at least once a day and say, “I am doing a very good job at keeping you alive and the evidence of that is right in front of me. Because you’re still super good at moving and/or having a heart beat.”

5. Start being psyched about tiny things…

When you heat up a meal to the exact temperature your mouth wanted on the first try, be excited. When you almost drop a thing but then miraculously your cat like reflexes that are NEVER AROUND WHEN YOU NEED THEM kick in and you totally catch that shit. Also, when you dance by yourself naked in your room after your shower and you pulled off that moon walk thing better than you ever have before – Celebrate like your future career as a back up dancer for Prince depends on it.

6. Start using the term “Throwing Shade”…

…As often as possible to describe when you give someone a look that is straight up ferocious after they say words you don’t like. It just sounds cooler than “looking like a bitch.” Plus, Beyonce does it. Need I say more? Well, I’m not gonna, so there.

7. Be proud…

…Of what you accomplish but do not shove it into people’s faces against their will. I can’t tell you how many times people have made me rage quit Facebook because they are being showboaty dick bags. Sharing is important – Validation is needed – and your life deserves an open canvas for everyone to see – but if you don’t inject a bit of humility when you tell everyone about how awesome you are doing, they will straight up think you are a turd.

I’m Afraid

I’m afraid I’m not talented enough to succeed. I’m afraid that even though I put every fiber of my being into achieving my goal, it still won’t happen because I’m just not good enough.

I’m a writer. Out of all of my hobbies, writing is the one I have invested the greatest amount of true work hours into. Malcolm Gladwell said “… researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” That might also remind you of a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song aptly named “10,000 hours,” and for a very good reason, they are based on the same principle. To become an expert at anything according to Mr. Gladwell, you have to put 10,000 hours of practice into whatever it is. To writers, those hours can easily be translated and then subsequently measured by word counts.

So, let’s do some math! Well, I guess I’ll do some math and you just have to keep reading this. Good, I’m glad we had that talk. I am 8 days from being 26 years old and in the spirit of rounding up, let’s just say I’ve been alive for 26 years. I have been literate for 22 of those years. I have been writing stories for 10 of those years. On a weekly basis I average 800 written words, most of which are not publishable. That number includes weeks that I’ve written 20,000 words (that happened one time – it was a very good week) and others when I have written absolutely nothing.

4 x 800 = 3200 words a month

3200 x 12 = 38400 words a year

38400 x 10 years = 384000 words all time

For reference the book I just finished reading, Divergent, has 105,000 words. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is 76,944 words. Ulysses by James Joyce is 265,000 words. The longest novel ever recorded is Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard coming in at 1.2 million words. Granted, L. Ron Hubbard can sometimes be described as a  psychotic lunatic, but you have to give it to the dude, he wrote a whole hell of a lot of words. For even more reference, my debut novel Odessa Red (available on Amazon.com) is 45,093 words.

Now, this is not to say that the number of written words automatically equals the quality of your product. It’s just saying that as a writer, the designation I identify myself with the most, I am a relative novice. And in that light, here is the cold hard truth: I’m not good enough yet, but I’ve invested too much time and effort to stop now.

On a related note, I truly love writing and because of that love it doesn’t matter how many times I fail, I will never stop. But what you love and what you’re good at are two very different subjects. I know why I love writing. The idea that words in a particular order that did not exist previously can create entire worlds is absolutely amazing to me, and my ultimate goal is to create worlds that I love and that others can fall in love with as well.

I want that very badly, but I will never say that I want it badly enough that I will definitely succeed. I honestly don’t know if I will succeed, and I think that’s the point. I might not be good enough. I might not have the talent to describe the worlds in my dreams. But that has nothing to do with whether or not I will keep writing. I doubt myself often; mostly at night right before I fall asleep. I ask myself why I keep doing this. Why I try so hard. I read books and think that I’ll never be able to encapsulate a story like they did. But then I fall asleep, wake up, get out of bed, and do it all again. Because the elation brought on by success outweighs the misery of failure. Success hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t know if the previous statement is true or not, but I want it to be true so badly and not trying is a great way to never find out if it can be true.

Everyone has something like this in their lives. I love writing. Ask yourself what you love. I don’t know how you feel, but I know that I’m glad I’m afraid of what I love and I think you should be too. Fear drives me toward an unknown future and personally, I’d rather be afraid than be nothing at all.

Follow Your Dreams

So many people say that. It’s almost always the answer to the question, “How do I succeed?” along with “Work hard every day” and “Never give up.” Etc etc

I absolutely hate vague direction. Follow Your Dreams, as a mindset, is vague. Following your dreams has a very simple check list – and if you are planning on having your dreams come true (cause who in the hell doesn’t want that) then you should follow it. So…here it is:

  1. Do you actually want it? Cause you seem to be bitching out here and there. You have some other things to do. Work/School is really busy right now. Sleeping is really great. Listen, I get it. Your dreams aren’t all that important – OH WAIT YES THEY ARE, THEY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT YOU. How about you make time for them? You will always and forever be your first obstacle.
  2. Use that time wisely. You can be good at something without practice, but you’re never going to be great without it. You are looking for perfection and if your reply to the thought of perfection is, “Being 100% perfect isn’t possible” then you are never going to see your dreams come true. Your answer, every time should be, “I WILL be perfect, and if I’m not perfect yet, I will work every day and every night towards perfection.”
  3. Step 3 is the most important step of them all. You have made time for your dreams. You have practiced and practiced and honed your craft – you’re not as great as you can be because there is always room to get better, though you’re pretty god damn impressive. But there are obstacles other than you. Naysayers. Doubters. Haters. Misanthropes. Objects that claim to be immovable and people that claim to be Impenetrable. When it comes to situations like those I subscribe to one phrase and one phrase only: Screw em. Step 3 is Screw em. Over and over. Everything time those objects or people are all up in your grill. Screw. Em.
  4. Step 4 is almost as important as Step 3. Enjoying the fruits of your labor. That fruit tastes delicious. The amount of time you choose to enjoy yourself is up to you – I usually choose the shortest amount of time. For me the greatest amount of fun and pride comes from the buildup to enjoyment – when I reach the peak I get a good look, breath in the fresh air, and then start to head back down to do it all over again. The best part about fulfilling your dreams is that it can happen over and over again – as many times as you let it.

You and I both need to come to the conclusion that life is too short to suck at anything we do. Being mediocre is a decision. We CAN choose otherwise.