I found my journal from exactly 10 years ago- talk about an eye opening read. I couldn’t put it down, not because it was particularly exciting or well written, but more like a ghost talking to you from the past.
I stayed up until 3:30 am reliving what seemed like a different story but with the same main character. Some things I couldn’t remember at all- especially things that seemed so important in the moment. Other things I remember happening, but the memory was like a news clipping of factual information- the journal filled in all the emotion and thoughts that had long since been forgotten. However, the strangest part is how little the main character has changed. I’m essentially the same person I was back then, just further along in the story- or maybe now in a sequel. For some reason I equated 10 years time to me transforming into a different person, maybe an adult. That I had emerged into a new, sophisticated version of myself keeping only my best qualities. The truth is, I still laugh at fart jokes. I’m still single for the exact same reasons. Money has never made me happy. My imagination is way better than reality. The only thing that has really changed is my friends, they did grow up.
Before Surgery #6 on my ankle I was utterly heart broken and lonely. I was still very confused over how and why Carrie could have possibly cheated on me with such a loser, drug addict, piece of shit like Chris Beretta. That ate at me for a very long time. I equated losing my first love to him because he was better than me, my only explanation for why someone would jump ship. I am now amazed at how I was only able to look at the situation from that one angle, how blinded you can become to the whole picture by the more you care about something.
Due to my crushed and infected ankle, I was forced into living with my parents in Colorado Springs. I didn’t grow up there, had no ties, and didn’t know soul my own age. I was lonely. A type of loneliness I didn’t know was possible. Not that being a social butterfly was much of an option because I was so sick and bedridden. I was as sick as a cancer patient and uncertain if I’d lose my leg or even my life. No one came to visit, not once. I had a long time to think about if it was because the drive from Utah was so inconvenient, I wasn’t that good of a friend, or if the maturity of 19 year olds couldn’t process my impending mortality and was something they couldn’t handle. They ignored it, just like I did.
However, reading back, the important thing that I took away from Sean pre Surgery #6 is that I was still optimistic. I was friendly. I was naive. I was still very innocent and hopeful about life. As bad as things hurt physically and mentally, my spirit was pretty well intact. I believed this ankle stuff was just a minor bump in the road and I’d be back normal in no time. There was always a sense to succeed and defiance in me. I was going to be the exception and prove these doctors wrong. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was certain that I had something to live for. I wanted to leave a legacy. I regularly commented on how I couldn’t give up because I had something to give and prove to this world. And I fully believed that.
At that time things still mattered to me- concepts of authority, school, rules, laws, and pleasing people held weight and had real importance. When I went back to school that Spring- a year and a half after the inital accident- still on crutches, it was a big deal and I worked hard at it- I was very diligent, did my homework, never skipped class, and I cared that I always made the dean’s list. I was a “good” kid in pretty much every sense. I did what I was told for the most part and I had faith in the system.
I was weeks away from turning 20 when I had to make a decision that I’d have to live with for the rest of my life. Beyond getting over the notion of daily activities forever being hindered and the irrational “will a girl ever love a cripple” thoughts running through my head, I was an athlete. Surfing was the most important thing that I had discovered up to that point in my life. Several earlier life decisions, such as going to school in Hawaii, had been made around where the waves break the best. Now there was a real good chance I’d never be able to do that again.
After 6 months of therapy and still being unable to walk or place any practical weight on my left leg, I relented to the doctor’s recommendations of fusing my ankle. Their sales pitch was to look on the bright side- at least I still had a foot. To a 19 year old surfer, death would have been an easier sentence. The fusion was absolute, there’s no going back and it couldn’t be undone. There are rarely decisions you face that are as absolute and will affect you each day for the rest of your life. Houses sell or burn down, you can get divorced, children can be disowned or they can die- at 19 I decided that I will never move my left ankle again and that was commitment that will last my entire life.
With the decision of Surgery #6 came the realization that a vast majority of my goals, hopes, and dreams that revolved around the ocean were now completely unobtainable. The ankle fusion came with side affects and plagued my entire leg- from fusing the rest of my foot, to knee and hip replacements, and spinal alignment problems. I lost a good portion of that pre Surgery #6 innocence. I lost so much passion and direction- something that was the backbone of my personality. I lost faith in the promises of doctors and authority figures that told me everything would be okay. I was drifting to say the least, but I wasn’t defeated. I just had no clue of where to go or what to do next. All I knew is that I was tired of the doctors, sick of daytime tv, and I wanted to be a normal 20 year old more than anyone.
I wanted friends, parties, girls, concerts, school (only because that’s what you “do” at 20 and plugs you into the social pipeline), motorcycles, fights, and regrets. I got every bit of what I wanted when I moved back to Salt Lake City and into a house next to campus with my two best friends- Kellen and Kyle. That fall semester was legendary and I do not use that word lightly.
Somewhere along the line of our debauchery I re-broke my ankle. I knew it too- each day it was horrifically discolored and swollen. However, I was not about to let that stop me- I was free and I was not going back to my parent’s couch. To cope I drank more, I was virtually on the point of black out drunk for a solid 4 months and somehow maintained a 3.7 GPA. Finally someone much wiser than myself made me go to the doctor and get it checked- yep, broken and with that I was sent straight back to Colorado Springs for more surgery.
Surgery #7 is the one that really solidified the asshole who is writing this. It crushed me. It made me cynical, stole any remaining innocence after #6, I lost total faith in the system and life became real instead of an abstract concept. It only took 7 surgeries to pop my bubble, but once it burst I saw how close I came to dying- a thought I rejected no matter how sick I was earlier on. I realized that I was not invincible. I saw just how precious life is, how easily it can be taken from you, and how little we acknowledge or appreciate that.
I wouldn’t call it a “rebirth” but it was certainly a whole new perspective. Suddenly grades seemed so irrelevant. Impressing a professor on material they barely understood themselves in hopes of a good grade that will never have a significant impact on who I am as a person, the community I’m apart of, or the world that I will one day leave behind made it really hard to show up to class. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love learning and it is essential to the human experience- but that’s not what college is about. Make no mistake, college is about a diploma. Some people have to study to get that piece of paper, some play quarterback- the point is that college is about money and a certificate. I know plenty of stupid people who have graduated and are perpetuating a cycle of ignorance. I was now interested in true education and growth, not playing a game.
Work fell into the same category. I just couldn’t grasp the concept of a job that didn’t create, produce, or provide some meaningful service. Pushing papers for money, no real tangible byproduct of your work, just seemed as empty as our financial system. The only reason our money has value is because we’ve (society) convinced ourselves that it does, and a cubicle is daily reminder of that false security. I decided if my work wasn’t going to contribute anything to humanity, I might as well have as much fun as I possibly could doing something that was as equally ridiculous. I don’t think anyone ever truly understood or appreciated the humor in the irony quite like myself…
But this all boils down to relationships- the only thing in life that is remembered as accurately as a journal. Whether you were a friend, girlfriend, co-worker, or just someone to pass the time- after Surgery #7 I now demanded something tangible behind it. Beer was no longer a common interest, but are you honest? Are you able to make me see the world in a new way? Someone I admire because you have a unique talent? Someone I’d want at my side in a foxhole? Is there something I can do for you? If there was no substance, no anchoring quality that separated our relationship from the next person who stepped up to the bar, I quickly lost interest. I never wanted anything more than a meaningful conversation- but how often do those come around? I no longer had interest in relationships out of obligation or to simply be polite.
Ever since Surgery #7 I’ve been searching for meaning, a reason and foundation behind the things I care about and associate myself with. If those concepts don’t contain honor and virtue, I’ve learned first hand of how valuable our time is, and I refuse to waste it. That idealism hasn’t made life easy and has pretty much put me at odds with our culture. What corporations do you know that consistently do the right thing? How many politicians do you consider to be honest and forthright? What journalists actually report the news instead of giving their opinion on it?
Demanding standards from the products you buy, the places you work, the relationships you have, the leaders you put your faith in shouldn’t make you an outsider. At 30 years old, I now consider myself lucky because with each painful step I continue to limp I’m reminded of a near death and soul crushing experience that has helped me realize that there’s more to this world than what I “should” be doing.