It’s after 1 a.m. on a Saturday night/Sunday morning and while I’m ostensibly doing work for a class I’m taking, I can’t stop thinking about a phone call I received today. The bottle of wine I just finished is helping with the deep reflection, just FYI.
A friend of mine, someone I went to college with and have known for about two decades left me a voicemail today. I listened to the first few seconds of it and cut it off because he was doing some silly voice in it. I called him back and got his voicemail, and left a generic message in return.
What up, it’s Pierzy, phone tag, you’re it.
Then, something told me to listen to the message again. I’ve learned to trust my gut. It knew when my best friend had died and it knew when I met the person that would be my wife. It knows. Even when I try to disagree or override its decision, it knows.
So, I hit play on the voicemail.
Turns out, my friend had a stroke recently. That’s the reason for the strange sounding voice and cadence. He said he had worked up the courage to call me because he didn’t want to depress me with his story.
Weirdly, that makes sense because I have never met anyone that thinks of other people more than he does. Every decision he makes is for someone else, even if it’s someone he doesn’t know.
He is the epitome of inspiration. He left a good Accounting job at a Fortune 500 firm to become a doctor because it wasn’t doing anything for him. He needed to help the people. He had to go back to college for two years and do all of his pre-reqs before going on to medical school and fellowship and everything else. And you know what? He loved every single minute.
We spent a week in Portland, Oregon together visiting my brother and I visited him when he lived in Savannah, Georgia. We took road trips together and found ourselves in weird predicaments and his zest and zeal for life was not contagious, but infectious.
He loved live music, dancing, and laughing.
Excuse me, he loves live music, dancing, and laughing.
He called me back and before telling me what happened, he told me that he doesn’t really pick up on humor too well and as a funny guy that jokes a lot, I should be prepared for my jokes to fall flat with him. I assured him that most of my jokes fall flat with everyone, stroke or not.
His story is heartbreaking. The stroke occurred just before he was about to graduate. A ten-year detour was coming to an end, he was finally going to realize his dream, and it all came crashing down. He had a nomadic childhood, but he spent quite a bit of time in New Orleans and adores the city. He had secured the “perfect job,” as he called it, in that city and was preparing to spend the next chapter of his life there when this happened.
He is paralyzed on his left side and is forced to use a cane or a wheelchair. He said he can’t read so I should call rather than use text and that he needs to relearn his ABC’s. He still has his memory and he told me how he was insulted when they asked him to recite the alphabet until he realized he couldn’t do it. He also is no longer able to play the piano, something he loved to do, especially after a few drinks.
He’s 37 years old.
He’s been single for almost the entirety of our friendship, but he revealed to me that he had been in love when he had his stroke and that she cheated on him and left him shortly after it happened. (Quick aside: I was telling my wife this story and my 7-year-old overheard it and said, “Why would someone do that? That’s when he needed her the most!” Sadly, there are some questions parents can’t answer.)
As a person who goes to a therapist and is constantly reminding myself — and others — of all that I don’t have or haven’t accomplished, I don’t know how I would handle that situation. I truly believe I would hope for death. My friend was different. In his clipped, nearly robotic delivery, he said, “Hey, man, shit happens. So be it.” He went on to talk about karma, but unlike me, not in a negative sense, but a positive one. He spoke about how (almost) all of the people to whom he was friendly were good to him and made an effort to help him and that the people at the job he was supposed to begin still invited him to sit in on meetings and other gatherings.
He also talked about how he still has his memories and how he holds onto them. I imagine they would make me depressed because I could no longer do those things, but he told me that they make him happy because he knows he actually did those things.
I’m sure the call exhausted him because he began to end the conversation, but he did tell me that he was about to sit at the piano and begin working on relearning how to play the keys.
We said our goodbyes — we said “I love you” to one another but he also asked that I tell my wife that he loves her as well — but I kept thinking about it long after the call ended.
I’m such a miserable person, always focusing on what I don’t have or what could be better, and here’s someone that is great to everyone and was about to finally realize his dream when it was all ripped away from him and he’s still positive. He didn’t want to tell me the story because he didn’t want me to be depressed.
There are people you meet in life that just make you feel more alive from being around them. This guy was one of those people and the fact that he was more upbeat on our phone call than I was tells me all I need to know about how I should begin to approach my life going forward.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.