All of a sudden, Beau woke up four years older.
Last he could remember, the year was 2013, one that would live in infamy to him for a number of reasons. In January, Barack Hussein Obama was — for the second time — inaugurated as President of the United States, which shocked and enraged Beau. Then, in February, his battered wife left him for an articulate, higher earning black man, which shocked and enraged him further.
April brought about the inception of ISIS, a terrorist organization that symbolized everything Beau hated most about the Muslim world (to say nothing of Obama’s foreign policy), and whose existence he blamed on the very same incumbent. To complete the dejection, in late May, he fell victim to a head-on collision with an oncoming pickup truck while riding his Harley-Davidson.
It gets better, just stay with me.
The cite of the accident was a notoriously treacherous stretch of South Claiborne Avenue in Beau’s hometown of New Orleans, LA. In spite of bearing heavy traffic for nearly a century, the major street remained perpetually marred by gaping potholes and imperceptible tar snakes. Even so, Beau managed to navigate S. Claiborne on a daily basis, often with limited sensory awareness in the absence of sobriety.
The cause of the accident (apart from Mr. Jim Beam) was marginally low tire pressure — such minutiae can and will literally be the death of you on two wheels — working in tandem with a Ford F-150 gone rogue. That night, fortune favored the driver, whose windshield bore the brunt of impact with all 900+ pounds of airborne alcoholic and Harley Dyna [his prized ’04 Super Glide distinguished by a careworn coat of indigo paint, and an aftermarket exhaust scorning discretion to a similar degree as the man who installed it].
Be in no doubt: the phrase “last call” in New Orleans holds drastically different meaning.
Given ample riding experience — upwards of 50,000 miles over a span of two decades — you’d be hard pressed to believe he just ate pavement left to his own devices (however inebriated they may have been). Beau’s penultimate memory before being rendered brain dead was a flash of headlights followed swiftly by the flicker of a dimming streetlight. The very last memory was a face, that of his only child, Beau, Jr., who was incorrigible and nineteen years of age.
Their relationship, though strenuous and volatile, was unmistakably close. Not only was Junior more or less all Beau had left after his estranged wife’s departure, but the two shared contentious characteristics neither could separate loathing from adoring. The inconvenient truth is you can’t change who created you, nor who you see in the mirror — which is a bonafide bitch, considering how the two are inextricably linked.
Critically, both were afflicted by a predilection for poor decision making made all the poorer by an expectation of being able to do so with impunity. As a child of the 70s and blue-collar Louisiana parents, Beau was prone to indulging in: drugs [the jolly white variety], alcohol [rather amusingly, anything brown], and occasionally domestic abuse. Junior joined him in being susceptible to these vices with the exception of physical violence, albeit known for having a short fuse which never strayed far from fireside.
The former lady of the house suspected both to suffer some form of mental illness, but regrettably, neither proved self-effacing or courageous enough to confront it.
Back to the crash. You should know that it wasn’t mere sentiment or terror that caused Beau to see his beloved Junior’s face prior to sustaining near fatal trauma to the skull, chest and legs; but in fact a rare moment of clarity. You see, Junior flashed before Senior’s eyes in that moment because he was drunk at the wheel of the rogue truck responsible.
Back to 2017. Beau comes to with Junior sitting devotedly by his side. Four years and bottomless contrition had not diminished the son’s guilt for having effectively ended his father’s life; and you could see it — the harrowing, unbridled remorse — not just imposed on Junior’s face, but very much instilled in it, haunted like a shell-shocked soldier. Survivor’s guilt is an agonizing fate to bear, likewise 10,000 yards a long way to stare.
Unbeknownst to many, the patient’s official title was Sergeant Beau Simms [retired], former NCO in the U.S. Marine Corps, and an undecorated veteran of The Gulf War.
In all candor, neither of the Simms possessed any discernible ability for transparent communication, finding it less of a hardship turning to the bottle than to each other — which, of course, is precisely what landed them at Ochsner Hospital to begin with. Having been the direct cause of his old man’s bedridden state, Junior took it upon himself to break the thicker than usual ice.
“Ya there, Pop?”
“Yep…ya smell like booze.”
“Learned from the best.”
“Watch that mouth, boy.”
Looking down, Beau saw that his legs resembled those of a polio patient. Every muscle had endured such severe atrophy that the doctor emphatically made clear — even if aided by physical therapy — that walking would not be in the cards. Despite being regularly bathed and tended to during his sabbatical from the Obama administration, Beau still smelled like an unpleasant mix of diluted bleach and adult diapers.
Resisting the urge to gag, Junior emptied out his father’s bed pan, then watched a male nurse take out dozens of tubes and needles decorating the majority of his body. Words and movement now felt about as natural to Beau as interracial marriage, but an extensive resumé of binge drinking and hangovers gave him a unique edge when it came to battling this sort of physical and cognitive haze.
“Bourbon?”, offered Junior, sipping from a flask to which time and the New Orleans humidity had not been kind.
“I’m gon’ pass”, said Beau, taken aback by hearing himself exercise so much as a modicum of self-control.
“Well, ya know where to find it.”
“Settle down, boy — ain’t like I’m in a hurry here.”
Forward to recovery. Beau discovered his love of traveling on two wheels extended to the unlikely savior of wheelchairs. He found elements of joy once evoked by riding a Harley could be replicated (in part) by shuffling madly around the hospital wing. Now and then, he’d compete for holding the longest wheelie with another patient, who was paraplegic and Mexican, the latter quality of which he saw fit to overlook in the interest of not being alone day in and day out.
Meanwhile, still oppressed by guilt, Junior came gradually to notice differences in his father — nothing miraculous or melodramatic, just strange and understated. The same was observed by Beau’s favorite nurse, a light-skinned, giving and charismatic young black man by the name of Remy, with whom Beau felt a kinship transcending age or color. Some people can just do that, and there’s no use in trying to explain why.
By carrying an open dialogue with Remy, who was just as privy to his patient’s prejudices as he was graceful in navigating them, Beau took small, figurative steps towards being less of an asshole. His experience as a male nurse for the elderly meant that Remy could field off-color jokes and blatant prejudice with effortless poise and a convincing smile, strategically responding with questions crafted to coax Beau away from the frequent inflammatory statements.
Side note – there are two things you’d do well not to mention in the presence of Louisiana natives: Hurricane Katrina and Alabama Football [in ascending order]
These questions would make use of things or people Beau hated or loved to an extent that outweighed petty spite. By way of example, Les Miles, former Head Coach of the Louisiana State Tigers and God among men in the eyes of every college football fan from the Gulf Coast to Shreveport, proved the ultimate device for diversion.
Any mention of Coach Miles’ departure from the LSU football program got the patient’s blood boiling — no, seriously, you could see his stats spike on the monitor. On tougher days, Remy had to ride it out until Beau’s body could no longer sustain the vitriol. On others, he’d just change the subject to something less provocative. Seven months into recovery, he asked about Sergeant Simms’ time overseas.
No love had been lost between Beau and the Muslim world even before he volunteered in 12/90 (shortly before Operation Desert Storm), but there was zero to be found after deployment. He considered everything about their culture to be “downright evil”, including but not limited to clothing, food, and dialects. To give you some context: then dictator and President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was on par with Nick Saban (Head Coach for Bama’s Crimson Tide) on Beau’s shit-list for crimes against humanity.
Especially after the brain damage, Beau had a hard time distinguishing one foe from another. So far as he was concerned, they were both power-crazed and sinister.
Sixteen years later, Sgt. Simms could still choke remembering the fumes pouring off an ocean of blazing oil which had once illuminated Kuwait. Witnessing this literal scorched earth policy left a dark impression on the Sergeant, and indeed on his closest friend, Lance Corporal LeRoy Carriere, a soft-spoken soldier whose loyalty in the field and character off it succeeded in making irrelevant the fact that he was black.
LCpl. Carriere had a number of other things working in his favor, such as an affinity for Creole women bred by his upbringing in Lake Charles, LA, as well as a fanaticism for college football that went deeper than the reddish-toffee hue of his skin — prior to enlisting, he’d gotten an actual “Geaux Tigers” tattoo claiming an entire tricep.
Better still, LeRoy was fascinated with motorcycles (if not as versed in their maintenance), but the principal reason for his friendship with Beau — since the first time they met — was simply that his presence brought with it an ever so little but blessed piece of home. Beau was in the middle of telling his favorite listener about his favorite person when there occurred a marked and abrupt pause in conversation.
Because fate would manifest that Remy Carriere was the first and only son of LeRoy Carriere, the same man who saved Beau’s life from Iraq — and, more than a few times, from himself — right up until the night he was taken by an IED. Having never had the chance to meet his father, Remy stood staggered in silence next to Beau (who was busy reminiscing while trying to hold another wheelie) until eventually having to ask:
“So…you knew my Pop?”
“Yep, I reckon so.”
“Can you tell me about him?”
“A whole lot, son.”
Something beautiful happened. Junior saw the emergence of a certain light in his father’s eyes — exactly the same that could be spotted in old family photos of the two. There was this moment, a special one which made the war in Iraq, Nick Saban, Barack Obama, even marital infidelity take a backseat to Beau’s discovery that here finally was LeRoy Carriere’s firstborn son. Then another something beautiful happened.
All of a sudden, Beau’s toe started wiggling.