I caught up with someone I used to know a few weeks back. Man, I’m glad I’m not them….
“I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”
That was Markus’ motto. Now he’s in a wheel-chair. And, as it turns out, actually is going to be here for a long time.
Ok, I’m rushing. Let me settle in.
This is the story about a guy I used to sort of know when I was younger. Let’s call him Markus.
Markus was good fun to have around. He was wild. He could drink more than any man I’ve met. He’d stick stuff up his nose like he was some sort of Dyson vacuum cleaner. He’d smoke like a furnace and I never saw him say no to any drug of any sort… or leave anything left in the bag at the end of the night / weekend / bender.
Oh and he loved the ladies. He lived for it – he was charismatic and charming. He was good looking too. His bed was never empty for long – though for the whole time I knew him I never saw him in a relationship of any sort. There was just too much fun to be had with one-night stands.
Markus was the perfect party animal.
And so he was fun to have around. You’d call Markus in when you felt you needed to blow off steam. When you were sick of living with all the rules and just wanted to smash it up a bit.
… and then you’d get tired and hope that he’d piss off.
“No mate, it’s 4a.m. We’re not catching a taxi out to St Kilda.”
“No mate, I’ve got to be at work in half an hour. I don’t want to know what the tequila worm tastes like.”
No one could keep up with Markus… or keep track of him.
I wouldn’t say we were close. I didn’t know him that well. Looking back, I’m not even sure how he fitted in. He’d just show up every now and again. It was like he just had a nose for a party.
And he was here for a good time, not a long time.
Markus really embodied that motto. He lived for the moment. He never thought about the consequences. He never thought about the future.
And we lost track of him when we started settling down. When we got steady partners, real jobs, started having kids.
Once he realised that we couldn’t be pulled out into weeklong benders any more, he just lost interest in us. I think he actually felt sorry for us.
There we were, stuck at home with our wives and kids, while he was getting high with a different woman every night. I think he thought we were just making bad life choices.
And now he’s in a wheel-chair.
“You’ve aged well…”
I bumped into Markus a little while back. He picked me first (though to be fair, I have aged well. Many people think I’m still in my 30s. No seriously).
But I barely recognised him. When I knew him he wore his dark hair long. He had a strong athletic physique. He looked good in tight jeans.
Now, what was left of his hair is grey. The skin under his eyes was saggy, and his eyes were bloodshot and blurry. He was overweight and he did not look good in his tracky-daks.
And he was in a wheel-chair.
Turns out it was a stroke. At the tender of age of 47, something just gave, and he had a stroke that messed up most of the left hand side of his body.
He was bitter about it. He used to play guitar and he noticed that his fingers weren’t working properly. His friends said there was something wrong with his eyes. And so he went to the doctor. The doctor told him he was fine and sent him home.
The next day he had a stroke.
But that wasn’t what put him in the wheel-chair. After the stroke he started a rehabilitation program. He was going to the gym and the pool. He was getting control of his body back.
But riding to the pool one day, BAM, he gets hit from behind by a car and knocked off his bike. He breaks his hip.
These days, he can stand and walk, but not for far or long. He uses a wheel-chair to get around. He’s trying to save up for a mobility scooter.
The good times are over.
And now the ‘long time’ of his life has begun.
Beers and battle scars
And so we went out for a beer. For old time’s sake.
Markus rattles off the adventures we shared like old war stories. I’m actually amazed at his memory. He tracks through the nights we went out together. Where we started. Who was there. The club we ended up in. Where we saw the sun come up.
And the ladies of course. The stunning blonde. The gorgeous red-head. That girl from the bistro with legs like *whistling sound*.
The details are vivid. But listening to him, it’s like he’s describing a movie that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen, but don’t really remember.
I haven’t thought about those nights for 30 years. He’s telling these stories like it was yesterday. I smile and nod along. I barely remember any of it.
And frankly, given how drunk or high he was, I’m amazed he remembers any of it either.
But I realise that what for me was a distraction from life – a night out to blow off some steam – to him was his life. Those nights weren’t a side show. To him they were the main gig.
Karma’s gonna getcha
He’s dreamy and cheeky when he’s describing those days, but from time to time he comes back to his present reality. He shows me how clumsy his fingers are. He points to the scars from the hip operations. He gives his wheel-chair a shove. “F$#king thing.”
He’s equal parts bitter and philosophical.
He’s angry at the doctor who missed the cues. Angry at the hospital that didn’t do enough. Angry at the driver who hit him.
But then he laughs and says, “Well, that’s karma for you.”
He reflects that for pretty much 30 years straight he was either drunk, high or both. He went hard. Really hard.
That had to have its consequence. Karma would catch up with him eventually. The body can’t put up with that kind of treatment forever.
He just didn’t think that this would be the consequence. He imagined it would be in keeping with the wild theme of his life. He imagined getting killed in a gun fight, or getting wasted and walking off a cliff, or literally blowing up in a booze-soaked fireball of glory.
He didn’t imagine it would mean becoming an old fat bastard in a wheelchair, living in a housing commission flat, from one disability payment to the next.
He didn’t realise that he’d feel lonely, without kids or a wife to care for him, or without mates who were actually mates and not just drinking buddies.
That was not what he had in mind at all.
We’re all here for a long time
But this is where he is. And now I’m trying to understand what the lesson in all of this is.
It’s tempting to say that this is just a cautionary tale about drugs and a blatant disregard for the future.
It definitely is that.
It is ‘cool’ to be cavalier about the future. “I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”
But I’m yet to meet anyone who was genuinely willing to only stick around for a ‘short time’ when it came down to it.
It’s like I remember my uncle as he got into his late eighties. His mind was sharp but his body was definitely going on him.
“Don’t hook me up to a machine,” he’d say. “I’ve made my peace. I’m ready to die now.”
But then one day we came out and he was running up and down the stairs.
“What are you doing?”
“I thought my heart had stopped. I was just trying to get it going again.”
He was ready to die, but not just yet. Never just yet.
It’s tempting to imagine the future is someone else’s problem. And that someone else will be just willing to deal with the realities of that future, or just die.
But that someone is you. And that someone will crave joy and love, and will want to stay alive, as much as you do right now.
When we do the work now – when we put things in place things now that will make our futures easier – we send a gift down through time to our future selves. Building a nice nest-egg for example, is an act of love for someone we’ll never meet, but who will be deeply grateful when the time comes.
Markus never sent himself gifts. He left his future self a decrepit body and karmic debt, with a note that simply said
“F*@k you future Markus! Why aren’t you dead?”
Invest in yourself and invest in your future. It is a gift you will one day be grateful for.
Picking up the tab
But the other thing I find interesting is the way Markus would try to find peace with his situation.
“Sometime you go into a restaurant and you pay before you eat. Sometimes you pay after you eat.
I’m paying for it now, after. But I ate well. I had a fantastic time. I made love to some beautiful women.
It was worth it.”
That is a subjective call. Looking at this lonely bastard in a wheel chair, I’m not sure that it was worth it. Looks expensive to me.
But I get what he’s saying. And maybe he’s just telling himself that story to make himself feel better, but I think part of him does actually believe it.
And the truth is that we’re not here to live just for the future. Not completely. Maybe Markus took it to an extreme, but we’ve all got to find that balance between living for tomorrow and living for today.
We might not be here for a long time, but we are definitely here for a good time.
Life is to be enjoyed.
You get what you pay for
Leaving Markus at the pub to talk to whoever would listen to him, I was left with a strange feeling: there was a man who got what he deserved. He made a deal with the cosmos and got exactly what he should have expected.
The karma was complete.
The justice of the universe is blind. The laws of cause and affect make no exception. Everyone has to reap what they sow.
We either work with this consciously, or just roll the dice and hope for the best.
I’ve chosen to work with it consciously. I think about the future. I’ve always made plans and maximised the chances for my own success.
I’ve sometimes wondered if I should have gone harder, partied more, cared less about the future.
But not any more.
Markus is in a wheel chair and I’m not.
I ‘m happy with what I’ve paid for.