Pilgrim’s (Alan’s) Progress
[The Testimony of Alan Richardson]
Part I - Searching
(Go to Pilgrim's [Alan's] Progress Table Of Contents.)
“And because iniquity shall abound [as the end of time approaches], the love of many shall wax cold.” - Matthew 24:12 (KJV)
“Fight the good fight of faith … [take] hold on eternal life, where-unto thou art also called, and … [profess] a good profession before many witnesses.” - 1 Timothy 6:12 (KJV)
I write this testimony by the will of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is yet faithful to empower me to escape a life of sin. Evidence of the work of Christ can be seen in a person’s changed life. To the Great “I Am” be all the glory, honor, and praise.
I was born on December 20, 1964 in the South Texas town of Kingsville, which is the home of the King Ranch. I lived the first seven (7) years of my life in a small town called Bishop, which is a short drive from Kingsville. Rockets, trains, and airplanes caught my attention during my early years, as is the case for many young boys. Two (2) of the experiences I had with eye-catching and ear-grabbing machines stand out in my mind. When I was about three (3) years of age I rode a friend’s toy locomotive down the sidewalk while visiting him at his house. Then when I was four (4) years, seven (7) months of age, I watched the image of NASA’s Apollo 11 Mission to the Moon on our television screen that showed the Saturn V Rocket that thundered through the atmosphere at escape velocity. The date was July 20, 1969. Note: “Escape velocity” is the minimum speed required for an object to escape a planet’s field of gravity, and reach outer space. On the surface of the Earth, it is 6.96 miles per second (25,056 miles per hour).
Man’s amazing display of engineering that succeeded in putting a man on the moon made a great – even haunting – mark on my life. I look at this as an example of how an event can be used to influence a person for good or for bad, depending on the way a person perceives it, and makes use of it. It’s been said our “worldview” (how we relate to and interact with the outside world) influences the choices that we make in life, yes, and in greater ways than we know or understand. The importance of the choices we make now and tomorrow cannot be overly stressed. The phrases “You reap what you sow” and “You made your bed, now lie in it”, are true to life. The choices that we make today are going to follow us tomorrow, and into eternity.
Speed And Power
Seeing the Saturn V Rocket in action increased my youthful pursuit of speed and power and the rush of adrenaline that accompanies racing and hot rodding. When I was around five (5) years of age, I took a ride to the neighborhood grocery store with my dad, Meck Lee Richardson (my dad’s name is short for “Mexican”, the namesake of a family friend). On the way back home, I can remember riding in Meck’s lap, and helping him guide our 1968 Mercury Cougar towards the street we lived on. That was my first time to get my hands on a “hot rod”. In the years that followed, I often thought of owning hot rods and muscle cars like the ones I had seen, read about, and also talked about with my younger brother and with friends.
The first time I was around someone that "raced the motor" of a car was when our family took a vacation trip to “The YMCA Of The Rockies", in Estes Park, Colorado. I was fourteen (14) years old and we were traveling in our 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville sedan. Meck was driving up a two-lane mountain highway, pulling a small camping trailer behind us. Mary (my mom) was sitting next to him. Russell and I were in the backseat, sleeping. I was shaken from sleep to experience these three (3) sensations: 1) The feeling of my body being pushed back in the seat, 2) The loud howling of the four-barrel carburetor, and 3) Seeing the “blind curve” of the road disappear around the mountain. After Meck tired of waiting on the slower car, he made his move to drive around it, though he could not see if there was oncoming traffic. It was a shock then, but he managed to complete the pass without hurting or killing anyone. Unforgettable.
I found that the thrill of racing and competing in powerful street machines would at times consume me. The day of my 16th birthday I received my driver's license and went for my first “solo” drive in the Grand Ville, which Meck relinquished to me for my use. Meck gave Russell a small Suzuki motorcycle, but he liked to sneak my car out at night. One evening we agreed to trade vehicles, and Russell went drinking and driving with friends. He punched it at a park, and the big-engined sedan “got out from under him”. He fishtailed through an intersection, hit a curb, drove over a chain link fence, and smashed into a tree. Russell folded the car’s hood, and that was the last time that he or I drove the Grand Ville.
When I was seventeen (17) years old I had the opportunity to purchase a 1971 Pontiac GTO Judge that I spotted around the corner from my best friend’s house. My friend’s name is Claud, and he too was excited about this classic car from Pontiac Motor Division. The car was equipped with the 455 H.O. (“high output”) engine, a “pistol grip” shifter, and bright red paint. It also came with “Judge” racing stripes and decals, an 8,000 r.p.m. hood “tach” (tachometer), and “ram air”. The GTO Judge became my dream car. The red one that was owned by the “Judge Man” – as we called him – had an “asking price” of $5000.
Project Firebird Formula
I approached Meck (Dad) to help me with a $5000 loan so that I could buy “The Judge” from Judge Man. He did not think that lending me money to buy the car was a good idea, so I had to face one of the harsh realities of life: I was going to have to save up money from my part-time job at the grocery store if I was going to buy a car. After saving money for several months I bought my first car: A Julep Green 1972 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400. I got the car for the low price of $1,000. What I found most attractive about this classic Pontiac was that it had twin hood scoops that reached to the hood’s leading edge, which allow cool air into the engine bay, for more efficient combustion. The Pontiac Motor Division called this “ram air” induction, and it was a cheap and simple way to make extra horsepower.
The young man who sold the Formula to me was named Darryl, and he also owned a 1969 Pontiac GTO. He said he was driving his GTO to a job interview one day when another driver broadsided him and totaled it. So he took the opportunity to remove the tired old engine out of the ’72 Formula, and replace it with the higher compression “fire-breathing” 400-cubic-inch engine from the ‘69 GTO. There was one problem though. Darryl never completed the engine installation. What this meant to me was that even though the motor sat in the engine bay, it had yet to be mounted to the frame of the car. It also meant that various parts that belonged in the engine bay – like the radiator – remained in the car’s backseat. Even though the car was in pieces, I found it to be an exciting prospect with great potential, and I welcomed the challenge. I wasn’t about to let minor details like miscellaneous loose parts keep me from going fast!
Since I couldn’t drive the Formula back to my parents’ house, I hired a wrecker to haul it. He secured the car with the lift, and Claud and I got into the cab of the wrecker and started home, with the Formula in tow. When Meck saw the old green car, he didn’t want it in the driveway, but within two (2) days he had me bring it to the rear of the house and park it next to the garage. He took the project under his wing, making it one of his own. A pastor I had known for years told me, “Most dads wouldn’t volunteer to turn a wrench on something [a car] like that”. I felt blessed that the car, which was of such interest to me, would matter so much to him. Meck was not the only one that helped me work on the Formula, Claud’s dad and several friends from school also showed an interest in lending a hand with this would-be hot rod.
Project Firebird Formula presented us with some challenges that Meck and I were unable to handle ourselves, so he saw to it that two different mechanics attended to the issues at their shops. We found a sprint car driver/mechanic to help me deal with a parts problem we had. The motor needed to be bolted in to the car, but I learned from the mechanic that the motor mounts that were on the top of the frame of the ’72 Formula, and the motor mounts on the bottom of the ’69 GTO engine, did not match. More than this, the mechanic said that the parts I needed were not even available from the dealer. So he gave me the unorthodox option of having the bottom mounts welded to the car’s frame, and having the top mounts welded to the car’s transplanted motor, so that the top and bottom mounts could then be bolted together. I said, “Do it”, and he did it. Darryl had added heavy-duty coil springs to the front of the Formula, which made it ride too high. So I had a second mechanic cut the top coil from each of the two springs, which brought down the ride height and provided the car with a lower “stance”. The combination of the stiff, shortened springs and the absence of vibration dampening motor mounts gave the car “road feel”, a firm ride, and a lower center of gravity. After about six (6) months of work, I was driving my very own little “hot rod” down the streets of our high school “stomping grounds”. But I was not finished yet, as I still lacked the legal details such as registration, tags, and an inspection sticker.
Russell and I took turns driving each other’s transportation, and the Formula was no exception. Meck invested a great deal of money into it, and after a year he bought it from me and gave it to Russell. I was tired of the old car, and ready moved on to another project. I had graduated from high school the previous year, and because I was impatient, I bought the first car I looked at: a 1979 Chevy Monza. I modified and drove it until a friend of mine named Greg borrowed it and blew it up during a night of drinking. Seeing that I was without transportation again, Meck decided to give me a car as a graduation gift. He wanted me to be pleased with the car that he was going to give me, so he allowed me to pick it out. While looking through the newspaper I noticed an ad for a 1970 Pontiac GTO. This captured my interest, but when I called to speak to the owner, I had a hard time believing everything that he told me. He said that he bought the car only weeks before from the original owner: A sixty-five (65) year-old woman. She was the person who drove it, and it was equipped with a 400 engine and a 4-speed (manual) transmission. After I agreed to meet with the man selling the GTO, I had a change of heart. I just couldn’t see an elderly lady driving a GTO and “speed shifting” it with a 4-speed gearbox and a heavy clutch. It was just too hard to swallow. And the claim that it was all-original reminded me of the fable of the “little old lady from Pasadena” that car fans have spoken of. That is the fable of the little old lady who keeps her pristine classic car in the garage, and then only takes it out to drive it to the grocery store once a week.
I called to tell the man that I had changed my mind about seeing his car, and he suddenly became angry. So I asked Meck to take me to meet him, and we drove out to his place. So we made a search along the man’s street that day, and as Meck began making a U-turn, I spied a pristine-looking GTO in the corner parking lot of an apartment complex. Upon inspection, the car appeared to be all-original. The exception, I was told, was that the car had been repainted about six (6) years earlier. I had only glanced at the car and was convinced that I had almost passed up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to find an originally owned, professionally maintained, and new-looking classic Pontiac GTO. Meck bargained with the man on the price of the car, and the purchase was made. The car that sounded too good to be true turned out to be a real deal. I had to drive the man back to his apartment since the car had been bought and given to me. We got back in the car and we left for his place. As we were driving down the freeway, I told the man that I was having a hard time believing that I was really the car’s new owner. A teenage longing had become a reality, and I was really driving a Detroit dream: a gold-toned Pontiac GTO.
When Meck gave me the GTO (“The Goat” as my friends called it) I had a job making pizzas at a nearby Godfather’s Pizza restaurant. I would park my gold machine by the front window of the pizza parlor, where I could admire it as I worked. I remember feeling a sense of pride and excitement about having a clean classic car to drive, after having hoped to own one since the time I began to drive. My job as a pizza maker was an alternative to the expectations my parents had for me, which was to get a college degree that would enable me to provide a comfortable lifestyle for myself. I enrolled at the University of Houston right out of high school and commutted to classes with my school friend Ricky, but I dropped my classes after tiring of the coursework one (1) month into the 2nd semester. Although many of my high school classmates showed an interest in business or professional work, I did not. I began to fill up my free time with beer drinking and pot smoking with other young people that I attended high school with. My drug use and abuse served as an escape from the disappointing and purposeless nature of my life.
During my time at Godfather’s, I worked a side job on Saturday afternoons for a man we called “L.C.” He was the pastor of the Methodist church that my mother had us attend after we arrived in Houston. I am very thankful for this, because as my Sunday School teacher was reading the Bible to us one morning, I was convicted that I was a sinner, and I accepted Jesus as my Saviour. As a child, I regarded Jesus as my “hero” and my role model in my life, from that day forth. Yet my church did not empower me with the Word and the Spirit so that I could live for Him. I regularly attended church and had an outward appearance of holiness, but inwardly I felt like a hypocrite. When I turned sixteen (16) I left that church and I took advantage of my newfound freedom of transportation and began dating a girl. Since L.C. was a bachelor himself, he spent more time fellowshipping with single men than most pastors do. Though I spent many hours fellowshipping with him and working for him, he was not aware that I was abusing alcohol and marijuana, even though I was high on the job at times. He knew about me quitting college, and he suggested that I enroll at Stephen F. Austin State University, the home of the “Lumberjacks”.
A Loaded Lumberjack
I was able to make some friends at Stephen F. Austin. My roommate was Wade, from Sulpher Springs, Texas. He was a very kind and polite person who I always enjoyed. I was also befriended by roommates from the Houston area who stayed at another dorm. Their names were Stuart and Mark. I really liked hanging out with them because they had the same affinity for smoking pot and drinking beer that I did. Mark loved to listen to rock ‘n roll music, and I spent many hours drinking, smoking, and listening to rock n’ roll with him. When the weekend rolled around, I nearly always returned to Houston, to have the freedom to drive around my old stomping grounds and to drink and get high with familiar friends of mine.
Labor Day weekend was one of those weekends. I had just spent Saturday and Sunday with my friends and on Labor Day afternoon I got in my GTO to head back to college. I was about half way back when I passed through the Diboll, Texas city limits and saw a patrol car coming toward me on the other side of the highway. I noticed my speed was about 70 mph, at a time when the posted speed limit was 55 mph. We passed each other, and I checked my rear-view mirror to see if I was due to be pulled over. The cop car turned around, and in my rebellion I punched it to get a jump on him. I had alcohol in my system, as I had consumed a single wine cooler that afternoon. It was enough to give me beer muscles. Note: The term “beer muscles” refers to the boldness and false sense of security that intoxicated alcoholics experience.
Bustmaster With A Mustang
I had experience making full throttle passes on Houston freeways, but up to that time I had never been so bold as to try to outrun the cops on the open highway. With the influence of the alcohol, I felt confident that the GTO was able to outdistance the patrol car. As the scene returns to my mind, I see daylight as the patrol car begins its pursuit. But as I set my eyes toward the highway, darkness of night is around me and the shimmering fallen rain on the blacktop surface. I steered the car around a gradual curve on the wet highway as my speedometer indicated 130 mph. I had the thought that if the swaying car were to slip off of the highway while going that speed there would be great wreckage. Yet I drove on.
I drove the car at full throttle for a distance of ten (10) miles before I came up on a traffic light that I had to slow down for. When I had returned to a speed 50 mph, flashing lights suddenly appeared in my rear-view mirror. It seemed that the car headlights that I had noticed a great distance behind me had suddenly overtaken me. A low-profile DPS “Interceptor Mustang” had reeled me in. After I was arrested and handcuffed I was taken back to the Diboll where I was booked and jailed for the night. The next day my parents were notified by a fraternity president and friend of the family who happened to come looking for me at school. Meck came for me, and paid off my $600 in traffic fines.
I learned a lesson returning to Stephen F. Austin that day, which was not to try to evade the cops on the open highway. But Meck was not convinced of this. I’m sure he did not want to see me get costly speeding tickets, abuse the car, or risk my life by driving that way. This was apparent to me, since he took the GTO away from me and allowed Russell to drive it. This left me without a car again, so I began making my weekend trips to get high with friends in Houston by way of the Greyhound Bus Lines. Meck returned the GTO to me a short time later, and I didn’t try to outrun the police on the highway again, but I continued to abuse drugs and alcohol. One afternoon Stuart wanted me to take girlfriend Alice and Mark along to hunt and pick psilocybin (psychedelic) mushrooms at a cow pasture near the University. After smoking some pot, the four of us got in the car and drove by some woods on a familiar dirt road, where Stuart thought he noticed something in the woods. He wanted me to back up, and in my intoxicated state, I gave in to the temptation to “light” the tire. I dropped the clutch, and the rear tire began to bounce violently. When I depressed the clutch, the wheel hop stopped. Then I rolled out of the driver’s seat to see if I had done any damage to the car. That’s when I saw gear lube flowing out from the bottom of the gearbox (transmission casing). It must have cracked from the rear spring suspension pulling against it during the wheel hop, or at the moment I stabbed the clutch.
The mishap put an end to our afternoon mushroom hunt, as I sought to return to the dorm before all of the gear lube streamed out of my car’s gearbox. I later applied a “cold weld” compound called J-B Weld to the cracked casing, in an attempt to seal it. After I had done that, I only used the car to make short trips around the campus. In February 1985 I tired of school again, a month into the second semester, and called it quits. I loaded up my possessions to return to my parents’ house in the GTO. The J-B Weld seemed to assist me in making the 140 mile-trip back to Houston. I took the car to the sprint car racer/mechanic once I was back home, and he said he had never seen a set of gears that were as chewed up as ones he saw out of my car. All of the gear lube had leaked out of the transmission box, so I just had metal on metal, gears grinding on gears. The mechanic had to put a new transmission in the car so that we could drive it again.
In the Fall of 1985, I found myself with a lot of free time after leaving school. I was living at Meck’s house, and he said that I needed to work. Since Meck was letting Russell use the GTO, he decided to buy me a motorcycle so that I would have a way to get to the job he helped me get at the Baylor College Of Medicine bookstore. After searching the want ads, I found a 1984 Honda Interceptor 500 for sale. Meck and I went to look at the bike the following Saturday. We discovered that the young man who owned the Honda lived in a beautifully well-kept neighborhood, a short drive from L.C.’s home. The owner gave me a short history of his Honda before I got aboard to take a test ride. After I accelerated down the open boulevard and felt comfortable with the way the Honda operated and felt, I tried to guess my road speed. When I glanced at speedometer I expected to see a reading near the posted legal limit of 35 mph, but the arrow on the dial pointed skyward, indicating I was doing 85 mph. It was due to the Honda’s wind-breaking quarter fairing, full-face helmet, and the silky-smooth V-4 engine that achieving speed was done easily, efficiently, and quite comfortably.
Throughout high school I dreamed of having the thrill of riding my own motorcycle, and riding the great looking and high-performing Honda made me want to pinch myself. When Meck was young he had to borrow money from a neighbor so he could buy a motorcycle to ride to work. So when Meck gave me the Honda as a gift, I sensed the love that causes a father to give (John 3:16). I loved riding the Honda, but Meck intended it to be more than fun, it was to be transportation to my new job at the Baylor College of Medicine bookstore located in the Houston Medical Center. Before that job began in the Fall, I experienced mechanical failure as I rode the motorcycle home from my Summer lifeguarding job one afternoon. It was a sudden and persistent rattling that caused me to turn off the motor. A Honda mechanic told me that the top of the engine had dropped an exhaust valve into one of the combustion chambers.
The most likely cause of the dropped valve was the performance enhancing octane boost that I added to my Honda’s gas tank. Moroso 104+ octane boost allowed for higher compression and increased power in my GTO, but I was unaware that many octane-boosting products contain lots of lead. I learned that exhaust valves in older engines were equipped for the presence of lead, which helps to reduce carbon buildup on exhaust valves. But later model engines (like the one in my Honda) are designed for unleaded gasoline only. Lead damaged my engine, so I had to leave the bike with a Honda mechanic who installed new valve seats in the engine. Ten (10) days later it was ready for pickup.
I picked up my bike on a Friday, and that night I joined a few of my friends for some “cruising” on Westheimer Boulevard, our main drag. Claud took his little Mazda pickup and brought our friend Tommy with him. He wanted to borrow my motorcycle to take Tommy for a ride, so he took the bike and I took the truck. We raced and chased down the “strip”, like cat and mouse. I was able to stay ahead of them in traffic, but it was not long before Claud was able to find an opening, and leave me behind. He later told me that he took Tommy downtown at speeds up to 100 mph. Some of our friends referred to this kind of quick trip as a “hell ride”. This term was used to describe a method of driving through the streets and neighborhoods at high speeds to produce thrills and chills in one’s passenger(s). If the vehicle wasn’t wrecked, then surely the passenger became a nervous wreck. A “hell ride” was sometimes the manner in which a new friend was brought into the fold, or a risky way of bonding with an established friend. I can now better recognize the dangers we created by participating in this kind of behavior, and I am truly grateful that the Lord protected and watched over us in our thrill seeking. I’m also grateful that Claud and others who lived to tell about times like these and still have an opportunity to receive Jesus and live for Him.
I had a keen interest in speed then, and riding my motorcycle with a heavy hand allowed me to get my fix of adrenaline. At nearly every opportunity, I sought to indulge my lust for speed, and get the rush that came with it. I found this part of riding to be very intoxicating, but along with the thrills of street racing came the chills. I am speaking of fear. Yet it was a healthy fear that I got while riding, and it was very evident by the disoriented and shaky feeling I had when I pulled in and parked at home after speeding. That seemed to be the place to relax, but because of my extreme riding style, fear and tension lingered, like I was high on cocaine or caffeine. The way I decided to deal with the fear produced by my full-throttle passes on city streets was to get “high” on pot before I got on my Honda. When I was “high”, I could engage in the wild kind of bike riding that I enjoyed without being bothered by the fear. The down side was that I became a greater danger to myself and to others when the healthy fear was not present.
The day after I picked my bike up at the motorcycle shop I prepared to leave for work at L.C.’s place. I ate lunch and took my pot pipe out on the front porch to smoke before getting on my Honda to leave for work. I had two (2) tokes on the pipe when my brother's friend Bryan pulled up in our driveway. Meck stepped out of the house and greeted Bryan before I let him take the motorcycle for a ride around the block. As Meck and I waited for Bryan to return we had a few moments to ourselves. I made an extra effort not to say much to Meck while I was high, to prevent him from discovering my intoxicated state. If Meck did happen to notice I was acting different that day, he did not say anything about it.
I rode northward on the freeway, and since marijuana causes slower reaction time I limited my speed to 85 mph. After several miles I exited and pulled up to stop at the light in front of the Fair Haven United Methodist Church. I made good time on the freeway, but when I arrived at the stop light on the boulevard I thought to myself, “I’m two (2) blocks from my turn [L.C.’s neighborhood]: Take it easy [slow down].” But the intoxicating spirit of marijuana told me to “open her up ALL THE WAY:” When the light turned green light, I let out the clutch and left the light as quick and fast as I could. As I passed a grocery store parking lot after riding through the intersection, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a police car parked at the edge. I took this as greater incentive to stay in the throttle. I set my eyes forward, and I didn’t look back.
I shifted through all six (6) gears, trusting in my teenage “invincibility” to deliver me from any situation that might develop. As I approached the intersection where I needed to turn, a tan full-sized car pulled out of a driveway and stopped in the middle of the street, about seventy-five (75) yards away. It was then that I came to know that my invincibility as a rider and driver was just a youthful illusion. Apparently the driver of the tan car was waiting for the driver of a black car to turn left and merge with the Saturday afternoon traffic. Normally this would have given me enough space to slow or stop for unexpected traffic, but at my approximate speed of 100 mph the pavement gets eaten up quite rapidly.
I had to make a crucial decision in a very little amount of time: 1) Remain in my lane, and drive my bike and body into the tan car. 2) Go left, and drive my bike into the car positioned in the left turn lane. 3) Go right, and travel through a gas station surrounded by a chain link fence. 4) Lay the bike down, and endure road burn from tumbling and sliding across the unforgiving pavement (I was dressed in a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts). I picked choice #2, and aimed for the black car in the left turn lane. I hoped to leave the bike in the rear quarter of the car, and fly over the bike’s handlebars, and land on the grass median that lay just beyond the turn lane: This was the softest landing I could hope for.
The last thing I remember about the accident was the moment I took aim for the black car in the turn lane. I skidded eighty (80) feet before striking the rear quarter of the car. L.C. happened upon the scene of my accident as he drove from his house towards Fair Haven. Witnesses reported that my motorcycle was “smoking”, as it was seen laying on the pavement by the damaged black car. I was twisting back and forth on the ground as I tried to remove my helmet. Paramedics at the scene strapped me to a backboard and took me just down the street to Memorial City Hospital. I remember the brief moment when I returned to consciousness, as I saw a doctor treating the cut on the side of my knee that I got in the accident.
I suffered trauma to my spine and spinal cord at some point in the wreck, and I was given morphine for pain. I was in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) when I returned to consciousness in a morphine fog. The doctor’s report was given to my parents first, and then to me, saying, “He’ll never walk again”. My medical condition is called paraplegia, which is “the partial or total paralysis of two limbs” (the condition of quadriplegia is “the partial or total paralysis of four limbs”). Due to the damage to my spinal cord, I no longer have voluntary motion below my mid-chest/mid-back injury level. Note: The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves within the spine that carry electrical signals from the brain to the various parts of the body that permits motor function. The human spinal cord is estimated to contain 10,000 nerve fibers.
Surgery And Rehabilitation
I remained in the ICU for three (3) days after X-rays were taken of my back, a period of time that allows the body to recover from “spinal shock”). At that time a surgical team worked to reconstruct my spine, adding permanent support by attaching a pair Harrington Rods (steel rods) to the reconstructed spine. Several of my friends came to visit me at the hospital, and at least five (5) of them helped me to get high by passing a joint around. They smoked cigarettes to cover the smell of the pot, and a nurse came in and asked us give the smoking a rest, saying, “The fumes are rolling down the hall.” This was a reminder that I was still abusing the drug that was instrumental in getting me paralyzed and into that hospital bed.
The Memorial City hospital staff showed me a list of local rehabilitation hospitals and asked me to pick the one where I wanted to be admitted. I was familiar with the hospital and research facility called T.I.R.R. (The Institute For Rehabilitation And Research) because it was right next door to the Baylor College Of Medicine bookstore, where I was employed at the time of my accident. I was told that T.I.R.R. was regarded by many as being the most progressive rehabilitation hospital in the city of Houston, and possibly in the world. I felt a sense of awe and blessing from having access to this high caliber medical and research facility. I was admitted to Memorial City hospital on September 21,1985. I was discharged after twelve (12) days and admitted to T.I.R.R. on October 3, 1985. During my season at T.I.R.R. I continued to drink and get high with help from guys who were quite like me: Drug addicted, risk-taking “heads” who were paying the consequences of self-destructive living. It was after I began suffering the consequences of being paralyzed that I desire to look deeper within myself, and to know more about the inner workings of the mind of man, interpersonal relationships, and the meaning of life.
I regarded myself to be relatively happy and carefree prior to my accident, during the three (3) weeks I worked at the Baylor College Of Medicine bookstore. The truth of the matter is that I was broken-hearted. I was suffering because of my infatuation with a young woman who was just as restless and rebellious as I was. I met her in December of 1984 when she came to spend Christmas with her father in Houston, and after writing her, we began a long-distance relationship. At least it was to me. Four (4) months later I discovered that I was more interested in her than she was interested in me. I felt rejected at that time, and because of the pain, I had a “death wish” that manifested on the day of my accident. In retrospect, I believe this contributed to my recklessness and disregard for safety in the Houston Saturday afternoon traffic.
My rehabilitation at T.I.R.R. included working out five (5) times a week with physical therapists, who were referred to as “P.T.s”. Physical Therapists are licensed health care providers who strive to help patients with medical conditions return to full and functional movement. A few of the patients at T.I.R.R. jokingly referred to physical therapy time as “physical torture”. As it is said, “No pain, no gain”, and it was a necessity for me to see therapists and workout in the exercise room to rebuild my broken body. I learned a lot of about living with a spinal cord injury, including techniques for getting around barriers at home and in and around public buildings. I am grateful for the training I received during my stay at T.I.R.R. Nurses instructed me in self-care to promote healthy tissue and prevent infection and breakdown. P.T.s coached me on how to transfer myself from my wheelchair to a car seat, how to stand from a sitting position in a walking gate (parallel bars), how to walk with long braces and forearm crutches, and how to drive a car with hand controls. I even practiced pulling myself back up into my wheelchair from the floor, a move that requires some practice and a great deal of effort. Because of the challenges I have faced living with paralysis, I have a greater appreciation for gymnasts who make events like the “pommel horse” and “the rings” look easy, when they really require a lot of strength and a great deal of balance.
I was discharged from T.I.R.R on December 15, 1985. After living in the hospital for three (3) months it was great to be home again. Soon life became more normal as I celebrated my December 20th birthday and the Christmas holidays with my parents, my brother, and my 3-year-old black cat, Sam. Once I was settled in again, my friends came over to pick me up and take me out to drink and get high. That is when I found that I was able to go out and get wasted and make my way home about as well as I ever had. In fact I was able to take advantage of having to sit in my wheelchair, by relaxing and “vegging out”, as it were.
Death Of A Friend
As I rehabilitated my damaged body at the hospital that Fall, Russell was living in Austin and attending the University of Texas as a freshman. He returned home on Thanksgiving weekend that year with his roommate, Daniel. When Daniel noticed that I wasn’t around, he asked about me, and my mother told him that I been in an accident. She later told me that when Russell first arrived at her doorstep, she had to support him since he collapsed from a loss of strength. Since Daniel had learn about my motorcycle accident from my mother, Russell must have been afraid to tell even his closest friends about it, because of the grief and maybe even fear he began to feel about riding bikes himself.
At the time of my accident Russell had been riding his mopeds and motorcycles for three (3) years, as opposed to the three (3) weeks that I had my motorcycle. As brothers, hot-rodding cars and racing bikes was a big part of the life that we shared. By each of us striving in competition with each other, we seemed to sharpen the skills and knowledge of one another. Street racing and riding was a pursuit of passion for us and also for friends. Russell had a friend named Brad, who owned a bright red Kawasaki Ninja 900. He and Brad often took turns riding it, and of all the motorcycles, that seemed to be the Russell’s favorite. He appreciated the power and torque the bike had on tap, and was known to ride it back and forth down the street and do wheel stands (“wheelies”) on it. Russell eventually bought a black and orange Honda CB900F, which enabled them to ride side-by-side on the Texas’ streets and highways.
Russell rode his big Honda motorcycle home from UT after completing one semester. Meck agreed with Russell on plans to sell the bike, and Russell gave him the keys. A short time later Russell asked Meck for the keys, so that he could take the bike for a ride around the block and test the brakes. For whatever reason, Russell did not return the keys to Meck after he returned to the house on the motorcycle. Several evenings later, he went with friends to a local restaurant and bar to drink “dollar ($1) margaritas”. Russell was dropped off at home by his friend Eric, who later told me that when they arrived at the house, Russell said he was not tired. He had the key to start the bike, and left the house again on his motorcycle. Before sunrise on December 28, 1985 my mother received a phone call from the hospital, saying that Russell was in an accident.
Since Russell rode his motorcycle helmet free, the risk of serious injury increased. I knew him to live for the thrill of alcohol in his blood, the wind in his face, the open road before him, and the traffic behind him. His doctors gave him coma-inducing drugs to slow the swelling of the brain. But modern medicine could neither undo the trauma, nor reverse the swelling. Though Russell’s heart and lungs functioned with the help of a ventilator, the swelling took its toll on the brain. The doctors pronounced my brother “brain dead” five (5) days after the accident. Russell’s longtime friend Roy told me that what happened to Russell did not surprise him. He said it was a common occurrence to see Russell get on his motorcycle at college parties and drop it from drunkenness, get back on it, and say, “The man’s gotta ride!” Like myself, Russell liked to get high and race on city streets. He went out on Westheimer Boulevard early morning, and he too found himself in a situation that he could not work his way out of. It should be obvious that street racing is very risky and dangerous. Drivers of other cars are not likely to see another car and even less likely to see someone on a motorcycle that is moving at a high rate of speed.
L.C. spoke about Russell’s tremendous potential, and since we lost him, I was going to have to live for two (2) people. Indeed, losing Russell was a great loss for his friends, for me, and especially for his (our) parents. To see one son lose his life and to see the other one survive, yet having to reconcile himself living with a crippling injury had to be very difficult, to say the least. My school friend Rick mentioned that he did not know how my parents survived. Looking back, I recognize that my way of dealing with the losses was to “numb out” and cover up the pain and depression with drugs (alcohol, marijuana, and almost anything that was available). I attribute my parents’ strength and survival to the grace of God.
Drug abuse was my method for coping with pain and frustration, and my habitual marijuana use seemed to be my greatest enemy. When I had my own supply of pot, I was not able to leave it alone. It seemed that I was ever mindful of my pot supply, where it was stashed, and how I would prepare it for the next “hit” or “joint”. The most pressing thing in life was getting my next fix. It was an overwhelming temptation I could not resist. The spirit of marijuana called out to me. It was a “monkey on my back” that controlled me. One day when the reality set in that I was a slave to the drug – I felt outrage – especially since I believed I was made in God’s image (created to communicate with Him). Yet I found myself returning to smoke dope again, and again - feeling void of the power I needed to overcome this stronghold.
In 1987 my parents enrolled me in the Dale Carnegie Course, which I took at a local Houston chapter of the Dale Carnegie Institute. The course is designed to increase a person’s self-confidence and improve their public speaking skills. My class met once per week for fourteen (14) weeks, and each week we had to give a three to five (3-5) minute original speech in front of our class. Since I was hooked on marijuana, each week I addressed the class in a “stoned” condition. One evening the class was on a short break when I ran into a dear friend of mine named Leslie. Leslie said that she came to the Institute because she was considering taking the Dale Carnegie Course. When I asked her if she thought she would do it, she said that she wanted to wait and see how it helped others she knew who were taking it. At that time the cost of the course was $700, and I gathered that Leslie would be paying the tuition herself if she choose to take the course. So it seemed like a wise thing to wait and see some real results in the life of someone she knew, before she made that commitment. Since Leslie and I were friends, I expected her evaluation of the course to be heavily influenced by what I got out of the course. This was a thought that bothered me, because not only was I reminded of my responsibility to apply myself to the course I was taking, but that a friend of mine might decide against taking the course because of my own laziness, complacency, and drug-addicted behavior. Leslie did not know I was using drugs, and I must confess that I did not have the bravery to admit to her that I was helpless to overcome my drug-dependent lifestyle.
(Go to Pilgrim's [Alan's] Progress Part II - Salvation.)
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