My life has been a master’s thesis in self exploration, each page, more unexpected than the last. In fact, I know you may have heard the line, “I never planned to be a writer,” but in my case it’s true and I can prove it.
I grew up in a small town named Morgan Hill, just outside of San Jose, California. At the time it seemed like a rest stop on the way to a rest stop but as I grew older, I began to see it as a slice of perfection. There were vineyards, orchards and all sorts of trails that may have led to adventure, but I wouldn’t know. From earliest memory I was incredibly shy and rarely went out. This was in large part, due to my red hair, freckles and one whopper of a case of allergies. For the longest time nobody could figure out what was making me so sick, but it culminated in me being placed in a sterile medical bubble. Seeing no option my parent’s Steven and Janice opted for a year’s long treatment of allergy shots and hoped for the best.
It was during this period that I discovered my first love, reading. Call it fate, lord knows I had very few options, but the Bookmobile began parking only two houses away from mine. It was nothing more than an old metallic RV that had been gutted and filled with rows of books but to me it was a hallowed temple. In fact, just climbing the steps inside to smell the perfume of tight looped carpet and old pages was enough to kick off a Pavlovian ecstasy that most six-year old’s, only experienced on a holiday. Genres? Who could think of such a thing when you stood in the middle of a literary buffet, so I tasted a little bit of everything, the result was a five-year trek into my own mind. By the middle of my eleventh year, I not only believed that gnomes and trolls were real but also, if I concentrated just hard enough, I might be able to levitate a good foot off the ground. However, if you’d asked me if I could write a book, the answer would be a resounding no.
To me, you had to have lived the life of a storyteller, a vagabond who followed their own rules and carried within them a treasure trove of seat of your pants experiences and I admittedly had none. And so, I traded my paperbacks for a steady stream of teen crushes and schoolyard acquaintances that saw me straight through to graduation. Now, I don’t want to lead you astray, my time in high school was spectacularly entertaining but it was only a launchpad into what would become the central focus of my adult life.
Paramedicine for me was a lot more than just seeing a firetruck or ambulance racing by with the siren blaring and wondering to myself if I had what it took to face down what was waiting on the other end. On my first couple of ride-along in the 911 system one thing became abundantly clear. Just because you have a wand it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a Wizard, and I liked that. Let’s face it, if bravery and compassion were all it took to make it through your first day there’d be a lot more of us, but it’s not. To excel in the field and gain the respect of your peers you have to be a consummate actor, salesperson, guru, you name it. In fact, education will only cover about sixty-percent of the situations you run into, everything else is rapid-fire improvisation. This is what kept me coming back for more. It wasn’t just a job, it was a crash course in everything I hoped to cultivate.
Bear in mind, although, I’d crossed the chasm from introvert to alpha male as if I were Evil Knievel jumping the Grand Canyon, I still lacked certain social graces. Luckily, I would meet two young brothers. Half Irish and half Hispanic they had grown up in the toughest neighborhood in the city but you wouldn’t know it because they were surprisingly well adjusted. There was Manny, an unlikely under-dog who had been bullied his entire life for being overweight and Liam, his older brother. Even though I can honestly say they were equally articulate and funny it was obvious that Liam was the ringleader. It was his prompting that convinced Manny to finally shed the weight and follow him into Emergency Medicine. They were naturals at the game and they had a charisma unlike anything I’d ever seen, so, naturally I had to meet them. I picked up a shift with Manny one sunny Saturday morning and I wasn’t disappointed. As we checked out the supplies on the ambulance, he told me the story of how he and Liam had resisted peer pressure to join the local gangs and the beatings they inevitably received as a result. It wasn’t for nothing though, there was a master plan that in Manny’s eyes, bordered the fringes of destiny. A day where his last two years of pain and sweat would yield gold and he would be hired as a firefighter. After that he would return to his neighborhood, triumphant, to teach future generations that it was not drugs or violence that gave him his better life, no they were dead ends. The keys to his success had been education.
My belief in this ideal was what galvanized my friendship with the brothers and led to us moving in together, during a period I like to refer to as “The Prime.” Imagine working in Emergency Medicine at a time when it was still relatively pristine. There were very few rules and even less supervision, because Corporate America hadn’t taken notice of us yet. As a result, we had an unusual amount of authority in a landscape akin to the untamed, wild west. It was sheer perfection, a veritable Eden. We were young, constantly in danger and facing impossible odds at any given time. Because of this, we loved deeper and lived our lives way more unapologetically than we could have in any other field.
Our fraternity at the time was thousand’s strong when you considered the other branches of 911 and the staff from all the respective emergency rooms. Rubbing shoulders was downright inevitable but there was something about this golden age that caused us to gel as well as we did. This led to a lot of cross pollination as far as social gatherings. At one point I needed a day planner just to keep the three weeks of Halloween activities straight. It wasn’t enough to have an official costume party, we had to have several bootlegs to celebrate with our extended family and it soon became the same with all holidays.
This is where living with the brothers paid off many times over. They were hard core pragmatists and I was a day dreamer. Somewhere between the two, we met on a common ground where we could indulge in the best that life had to offer while still moving forward towards our futures. To accomplish this, we would settle into a brisk pace of schooling and working on the most dangerous side of our county. I had previously spent two years working on a special ambulance transporting 5150’s and suicidal patients to the hospital. In my mind I figured I could do the most good as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital. Now, that I had been exposed to the raw ferocity of cruising the blood-soaked streets of the east side I wasn’t so sure. It wasn’t enough to know that people had mental illness, now I could see the many contributors that added to the genetic pre-disposition. There were troubled youth, addicts of every kind and a homeless problem that rivaled anything I’d ever seen. I quickly started to question whether I was meant to help individuals themselves or the actual groups. Manny felt the same way but took it a step further. In his eyes his original passion to talk to the youth at the high school level could spare them a lot of heart ache in the future.
Unfortunately, he would never get the chance to explore this the way he wanted. While he would achieve that dream job as a firefighter, he would also get married, have two children and move over a hundred miles away. Hey, life happens, it’s unavoidable. Even though we went to dinner frequently and still vacationed together, it became fairly apparent that our glory days, our “Prime” was over.
The great thing about being a first responder is our network of friends. Any time that Manny did something extremely heroic, we would inevitably hear about it at the hospital. After a while I began to wonder if he was charmed in some way. One evening, though, I got a call from him and he sounded lethargic. While working a fully involved house fire he had fallen off a ladder from ten feet up to come down square onto the oxygen bottles strapped to his back. The injuries to his spine were severe and the hospital had placed him on a heavy dose of opiates to ease the pain. My heart fell in my chest at the news but there was really very little I could do. On top of my work schedule I was in the middle of nursing school.
As heartbreaking as it is to admit, the next time I would see my best friend, I already suspected that he’d developed an addiction to pain killers but here’s the thing, he had a legitimate excuse for everything. When I pointed out that his face looked gaunt and his body malnourished, he countered with the Doctor ordered gastric bypass he had gotten to ease the stress on his back. When I asked him about the mysterious car crashes, three in all, he said that he wasn’t nodding off at the wheel like the rumor mill suggested. It was just that his new house was in a rural area and there was a lot of wildlife that would run across the road. Seriously, I couldn’t win!
This is the thing about most addicts though, they rarely see the torch in one hand or the gas can in the other until they’ve burnt nearly every one of their bridges down. Not long after Manny’s wife filed for divorce and his employer was on their last nerves as well. Seems that somebody had been ordered to attend a rehab program but didn’t think he needed it. This resulted in Liam coming up with an emergency plan. I would once again become roomies with Manny so that we could keep a round the clock watch on him. It was a solid plan but even with his family members popping in daily for encouragement and support there was one thing we never really anticipated. Over time Manny’s redeeming traits receded and he displayed attributes that he once loathed. It was like the man I had known before was nothing but a chemical plateau, one that he was no longer able to achieve. Through much heartache and tears we’d finally get him clean, only to lose him to a severe bout of depression.
The repercussions would shake our tight knit family to the core. As first responders we saved people for a living, yet watched one of our own slip right through the cracks. The unadulterated sorrow that consumed me the day of his funeral seemed to block my ability to access any of my happy memories, utterly destroying my childhood notion that the hero always wins. Quite honestly, I thought I’d never recover. That was, until I woke up many months later and realized that I had become the vagabond that I never thought I’d be.
Every day there are hundreds of thousands of family members agonizing over a loved one who battles with an addiction and for the most part they are flying blind. They have no idea why somebody would risk everything for something as frivolous as a temporary high, or what awaits after the siren’s song has been broken. So, I made myself a vow, I would fulfil my best friend’s destiny by taking every bit of knowledge gleaned from my time working on the streets and disperse it within a coming of age tale unlike anything ever attempted. A round the world trip into the life of a young demi-god, who would do anything to suppress his reality warping powers, even numb himself with opiates. As grim as that may sound initially, the end result, “The Prime,” is actually an ode to the unrestrained joy that is youth. A celebration of the ties that bind, because there is truly, not a soul among us who has not loved and lost, only to rise from the ashes to love again, three times stronger. We are, if anything, resilient. I hope you enjoy reading the trilogy as much as I enjoyed creating it. Godspeed!