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Chapter 8: Checkmate

Updated: May 18, 2023

This might sound like a public service announcement from Captain Obvious, but trust me when I say that it is a wise idea to inform your spouse that you plan to cut off all of your hair. Like all of it.

David with a shaved head

Now technically I didn't plan plan to shave my head. I just wanted a tight haircut. “Like David Beckham,” I recalled saying to my barber, right before the electric shaver mowed a clean stripe bow to stern, exposing a pale pink more associated with babies, specifically mice babies.

“Uh, hang on.” The razor clicked off as my brain digested the pile of brownish just-starting-to-gray hair on my left shoulder. “Can you let me have a Mohawk for a few minutes before you shave it all off?” I mean, at this point why not? I also was in a slight panic mode. Only a straight razor could have made my head shinier.

“Your call, boss.” My barber was losing a client.

David with a mohawk

About that time—it was 3:10 in the afternoon on July 16, 2009, less than a month before my 41st birthday—it was fully dawning on me that I was a) not going to look like Mr. Beckham and b) I had made a rather big mistake. But it was something I still had to do, at least that’s what I kept telling myself. And a radical haircut, I reasoned at the time, might just turn around my unbelievable, ungodly, unlucky streak.

It didn’t. But I did learn a valuable lesson that day: changing your hairstyle doesn’t change your luck. Fast-forward back to 2020-21. Now, after 15 UTIs in 15 months and a desperate plea for help to my medical team, I needed more than luck. Way more. I needed a miracle. And the letter I wrote my docs had to contain clues to that miracle, because after endlessly grasping for straws for the past year, I had no more straws to grasp.

My primary care doc wrote back right away suggesting, until better answers surfaced, that it appeared low-dose antibiotics could be an immediate path forward—but that he would defer to the other two specialists. Despite reading and then rereading my plea, my urologist was flummoxed, her potential four-legged striped suspects unfit for the lineup. My neurologist didn’t even venture a guess. There were no medically mysterious zebras lurking. No revelatory answers forthcoming. No ah-ha moment to stop the spiraling.

We all experience nasty runs at times, the kind where we are convinced Atlas had it easier. But did you know that technically he was only holding up the sky, not the Earth? I didn’t know that either. He wasn’t a slacker or anything, but let’s be honest, the sky alone doesn’t weigh more than an entire planet. Up to that point, Laura and I had done everything we could have done to hold up our world, to keep it from crushing us. Now? The weight of the world had turned overwhelming.

I didn’t know what to do. Which direction to turn. Where to hide. I started taking shelter in my memories, assembling, sorting, and then organizing them into a majestic quilt of my 53 years in this world—29 of them with Laura. I was determined to make it at least an even 30.

Cataloging Life

When a new member joins my website ActiveMSers, they automatically receive a sprightly series of encouraging emails. Their final welcome email arrives a year later, with me urging my fellow “optimistic misfits,” as I call them, to seize the moment. Years ago, that was all I could do when a fierce relapse threatened to derail our dream vacation to Italy. I kept reminding myself of a short passage in our guidebook about the popular phrase “carpe diem” coined by the Roman lyric poet Horace.

“A day was too long for Horace, he was more interested in moments, and enjoying whatever might occur in a succession of instances. He believed that those instances make up a lifetime, and that once you appreciate each single one you free yourself of the relentless search for pleasure, wealth or fame.”

Appreciating instances. Of course. Trapped in a decaying body, that’s all I could do. As Laura flicked off the light and we clutched hands to say our nightly prayers, tonight would be different. Instead of wallowing in the crazy, I’d relive the fun of us. But where to start? The time we had a Japanese sumo wrestler over to the house for fajitas and accidentally served menudo? Or the time we slept in the massive 9’x11’ bed of someone who was once one of the world’s richest men? Or the time we somehow navigated Machu Picchu in a wheelchair? Nah. The naked and erect story. That one.

It's the Answer, Not the Problem

Laura outside the Pueblo, CO bed and breakfast

When the innkeeper’s husband of our romantic B&B showed us our room for our Pueblo, CO, weekend, he reminded us to be downstairs for breakfast by 9 a.m. and pointed out the basics. What switches operated what. The mini fridge with complimentary drinks. Where the extra blankets were stored. Then he opened the door on the far side of our upstairs suite to the room’s most unique feature: The balcony. More specifically, the private, covered balcony. With a bed. My eyes immediately locked with Laura’s. She smiled. That kind of smile.

As you might expect, when you have a disability, particularly a disability that makes balancing and performing any task quickly on two feet difficult, spontaneous outdoor romps just don’t happen. There are entirely too many variables. Imagine splaying out on a blanket in the corner of a serene grassy field to be interrupted by a kid chasing an errant frisbee. It’s not like I just can jump up and toss on a pair of shorts. No, I’d be lying on my back, frozen, wondering just how much the scene of two naked adults would traumatize the poor child. For life, I’m guessing.

But a private outdoor balcony with a comfortable daybed? That. Was. Doable. Especially after I convinced Laura that the chances of a drone flying overhead to interrupt the festivities was exceedingly remote. She warily agreed. It was settled, then. Tomorrow morning, balcony, romp. What could go wrong?

Never ask the question “what could go wrong” when outdoor sex is involved. That should be a standard, blanket rule. Mild regret was going through my mind that morning as my naked wife shut the patio door behind her—“to keep the bugs out”—and I heard a click. The click of fate. And a lock.

Her eyes met with mine. She was giving me that other look. The I-think-I-just-locked-us-both-outside-naked-and-I-don’t-want-to-miss-breakfast look. Dear God. I quickly assessed the situation, pondering how the hell I was going to MacGyver my way out of this seemingly intractable crisis. (Or more appropriately, MacGruber my way; I’m a goof, after all.)

I took stock of all the tools at our disposal. Daybed. Linens. Too many throw pillows. Table. Small wooden box on table. A pair of forearm crutches. And one very apparent erection. My Viagra, a necessary aid for more than a decade, had made me fully operational. What, oh what, would Mac do?

In theory, one could toss the throw pillows off the balcony to generate a soft little pyramid of cush to break any fall, tie together the sheets to create a makeshift rope, shimmy down said rope, and then turn the sheets into a toga before seeking help. Voilà! Or, option two, break up the wooden box, vigorously rub two of the largest splinters together, and then use the resulting flame to build a small fire that could be used to generate smoke signals to attract attention. Scratch that, too risky. We were doomed. Worse, we could smell bacon.

Then, as if the heavens themselves had parted, a rescue team was spotted down the tree-lined street. And by “rescue team,” I meant a mother happily biking with her young daughter.

“Heeeey, over here!!” I found myself hollering at the top of my lungs, as my hands waved over my head like one of those inflatable amorphous stick people you see at used car lots. You might also say I looked like Kermit having a panic attack, only I wasn’t green. And I was naked. The mother and daughter waved back… and then pedaled faster, as our would-be rescuers quickly high-tailed it down the street.

Hopes dashed, I tried cheering up Laura. But I quickly discovered there was no cheering up my wife as long as the smell of bacon lingered. Thankfully, minutes later I noticed a pickup pulling into a driveway a few houses down. Clearly, I was going to have to yell even louder. It worked! The driver ambled across the street to see why this naked man was so worked up. “Need help?” he asked.

“Oh my God, thanks so much for coming over,” I called down. I was euphoric that we were about to be saved. And perhaps a bit too honest. “My wife and I were having marital relations on the balcony, and we accidentally locked ourselves out, totally naked. Can you let the innkeeper know?”

At that moment, Laura simultaneously rolled her eyes while throwing “did-you-really-just-say-that?!” eye daggers of incredulity. I didn’t even know that was physically possible. After years of marriage, she continues to impress me with her talents. A few minutes later we heard a familiar voice calling up to us from below….

“Hello Bexfields, I hear you had a little situation,” said the innkeeper, her voice grinning as though she knew we were locked outside. Naked. More daggers. “Sorry, my husband forgot to tell you about the key we keep outside in the event a guest accidentally gets locked out.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” I was overjoyed that Laura was not going to miss breakfast. “We wouldn’t know the first place to look. You must have it pretty well hidden!” Heck, I bet even MacGyver—the smart one—couldn’t find that darn key, I thought to myself.

“Just look in the little wooden box—the key is right there. Hope to see you soon for coffee and waffles, all dressed!”

David sitting on the outdoor bed with a key

Glowing White Hot

That snapshot, that instance of our lives together, never fails to brighten my mood, even at 2 a.m., even when my brain wasn’t fully my own. Such silliness. I laughed again quietly at the ludicrousness of that predicament. How could we have overlooked something so obvious, so right in front of our faces? How? We had kept focusing on the problem—the locked door—instead of the answer: what opens a locked door. Duh. There needed to be a bat signal for Captain Obvious.

As I smiled under the protection of our bedsheets, I knew sleep was still many memories away. What fun story would I tell myself next?? The time I interviewed Ted Turner at the urinal, ate lunch with the entire rock band of Garbage, or got rescued by the Secret Service in the White House? Or maybe the time E.B. White glowingly reviewed my vastly improved ending to Stuart Little, or the time I made the unfortunate and poorly thought-out decision to play a practical joke in the Pentagon? So, so many good stories.

Letter from E.B. White at the New Yorker

[November 6, 1978, age 10] Dear David, Thanks for letting me read your story about Stuart's adventure crossing Lake Ontario into Canada - I'm glad he made it all right. Sorry this letter is so late, but my mail gets stacked up and sometimes stays that way for months. I'm glad you like my books, and thanks for writing. Sincerely, E.B. White

My chessboard that night, though, glowed white hot. Everything was firing, my crazy brain playing connect the dots with whatever brushed past it. Maybe I swaddle in Horace’s incidences tomorrow night. Solve the world’s problems some other time. After all, priorities. What if? What if I fed my gray matter the same desperation note I sent my doctors? I’m not a medical expert, but what did I have to lose except for sleep that wasn’t going to welcome me into her arms for hours anyway?

So, I did. And the solution arrived mere minutes later in blazing, flashing neon as tall as skyscrapers. I had been focusing this whole time on the problem when I needed to pay attention to the answer. The answer that had always been right there all along. The key, in the box, waiting impatiently to get discovered.

With answer in hand, now it was just a matter of time before I finally solved this puzzle of puzzles and captured that king. It was inevitable. Inescapable.

Checkmate, motherfucker.


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