In the first six weeks of my adventure, I learned a fascinating truth. The world is resilient and it just keeps turning. My life was shaken to its core, but they didn't close school down, nobody canceled football season, and my circle of friends got back to their lives. My greatest fear, and the reason I stayed in Fresno in spite most experts recommending L.A., was if I left for 5 months, people would forget about me. My mind would play tricks on me at night when I was alone. I envisioned nobody wanting to be around me in a wheelchair and I would spend the rest of my life being a patient in some home for the disabled. As I said earlier, I was strengthened by the buzz of people at the hospital, the cards and letters, all of it. But the newness was wearing off, and I was settling into a 5 month program of work and a total reconstruction of myself as a human being. I just wanted to be normal and have my life back.
It started pretty simply. My new friend Flindt would spend his breaks in my room. We would talk throughout the evening about life and girls and whatever came up. He entertained me with his college stories which made me want to have those experiences. In the matter of a few days, my football teammates started to find their way to my room, and it became a place to hang out. Flindt became friends with everyone, so that increased the frequency and rowdiness of the visits. Now, the guys would bring their gym bags and, lo and behold, they were full of Lowenbrau beer. Flindt would protect us, so we got more brazen over the months. One night, my friend Randy came and we decided to go to a movie. We went downstairs, loaded up in his car, and saw The Longest Yard. When we returned, we discovered that leaving was frowned upon and the nursing staff had been frantically looking for me. We were quite pleased with ourselves. The crowds started to grow and my room was easy to find. You just had to listen for the loud music and the unmistakable sound of clanking beer bottles to know it was my place. The high point was New Year's Eve when so many people came to ring in the New Year in Room 660 the hospital called the police. For 5 months, my friends and acquaintances continued to come. As it rolled along, I became comfortable in my place as one of the guys and never felt detached from my world. The magnitude of that needs to be yelled from the rooftops. With all of the rehab tasks I faced, strengthening my friendships was the single greatest gift I received. Another phenomenon of those days, as I look back on those 5 months, I smile a little. We had a pretty good time and are all still friends to this day. Still, there was work to do and I was in over my head. I needed a plan and it came from an interesting couple of men.