The Final Fire
Authored By: Michele Chapline
A true story.
Authored By: Michele Chapline
A true story.
"The Final Fire" is the odyssey of a smoker...from a young, healthy, athletic boy whose body faithfully carried him through life's adventure and turbulence...to a stage four COPD patient whose same body more often frequently betrays his needs.
This is a story most people can relate to in one way or another, as most of us collect strategies and crutches to help us through the roughest parts of our own journeys through life. My own crutch has been food. For others it may be alcohol, drugs, spending sprees, lies and fantasies, or many other diversions from pain, loneliness, sorrow, fear, etc. My husband's mechanism was smoking.
I will be telling this story in the third person, based on his recollections, because, really, it is his story, not mine. Everything related here has been communicated to me directly from him...through remarkably frank stories on his website, through conversations, through over forty years of being together, through actual participation in some situations. At this stage in his life he must be more concerned with the diets, breathing and other exercises he must spend much of his time on to maintain his health rather than on expending valuable time sitting down to write. Therefore, I will attempt to do his story the justice it deserves so that he can continue the very important routines and strategies he has developed in order to survive.
I hope I will be able to convey not only the details of the seemingly small choices we make which result in major consequences, but also the courage, intelligence and tenacity required to overcome our own poor decisions and the sometimes unavoidable situations encountered in life.
A Team Of One
From the outside, which is often the case, the world only sees a facade of our lives. We all hide things from public view which makes us feel not quite normal. Many times there is nothing wrong with us, but being different we frequently feel guilty, or somehow to blame, for circumstances beyond our control. This is how we develop coping mechanisms, and how personality traits emerge.
Brad lived in an average middle class-to-upper middle class neighborhood in a suburb now known as Nottingham, outside of Baltimore, Maryland, during the nineteen fifties, sixties, and early seventies. It was an area comprised then of mainly white, conservative, Christian families who believed the prejudices they displayed were reasonable and correct. They did not view themselves as extreme, racist or tolerant...that was just the way things were in their world at that time. Because Brad had friendships outside these guidelines was one of the ways in which he was viewed as different.
His family also did not quite fit the picture perfect illusion it presented to the outside world. His mother was arguably an undiagnosed schizophrenic. His father, an intelligent man as far as mechanical and electrical challenges, did all he could not to deal with his wife. He worked two jobs and kept to his basement refuge. Unfortunately this resulted in Bradley being left at the mercy of his mother's unpredictable actions and outbursts when he most needed a safe harbor himself.
His older brother, by four years, was a direct opposite of Bradley, in every way. Brad was a nice looking, ambidextrous, athletic youngster who worked hard at the chores given to him by his father. His brother, David, was uncoordinated, lazy, mean, jealous and unattractive physically. David's hatred and jealously of Bradley led to causing an accident which permanently affected his vision. Even worse, in an act committed to dominate and control, he forced incestuous acts upon his younger, helpless sibling, which was witnessed, at least on one occasion, and ignored by his mother.
Brad's best friend at this time was an older black man who worked at the local bowling alley. At the early age of eight, Bradley was given work helping out there since his father's second job was for the Brunswick corporation. As such, he was the one who figured out all the problems with the bowling alley's mechanical equipment.
Overall, Bradley was most often left to fend for himself. At one point he ran away from home to the local bowling alley, where his friend, Artie, kept Brad well cared for and hidden from any type of danger. He was gone for four days before anyone thought to look for him.
His other good friend was Lucy, a young tomboy that was his best friend in sports (being an excellent athlete herself) and his first love. His family, especially his brother, did their best to drive a wedge between them, but their mutual love of baseball kept them together for the coming years. Brad even built a practice baseball field with a pitching mound. This is where Brad and Lucy practiced for many hours in improving their self-taught skills.
The other influence on his life back then was a family named Williams. They owned a crane company and he became a friend of one of the son's, Mike. Actually they never were truly friends. The family was well-to-do financially but the kids ran wild and were always bailed out of trouble. Though Brad was given work during his teen years by their company, he remained the scapegoat for many of the scrapes Mike and his crew got into. As long as he looked up to them and went along with things, Brad had a place to retreat to when his home life became intolerable.
At the age of about eleven, Brad tried his first cigarette...the first fire. As with all addictions, the first experience was the best. It gave him a soothing, euphoric feeling and made him feel good about himself. He had found a friend which he could turn to whenever he was stressed, unhappy, alone, angry or worried. Smoking became his "go to" remedy for any situation. Plus, when he was feeling good, it made him feel better. It would be many years before he would know that this "friend", as with all other relationships in his life, had a cost and a betrayal to him personally.
For the most part, Brad, had been a loner, a team of one, but now there was something he felt he could depend on, something that would be there whenever he needed it. And in many ways this was true. He was punished for his first cigarette, but it did not deter him. At another time he and some other boys had enjoyed breathing in the smoke from an outdoor campsite. Smoking was another way to feel good. One of the first bad effects of smoking, however, was his recurring bouts of pneumonia...double pneumonia, walking pneumonia, etc. This was just the beginning of a lifetime susceptibility to this affliction.
At a later point in time Brad found himself incarcerated in the Maryland Reformatory for Boys for setting off a cherry bomb in the high school plumbing system. He ended up fighting with the mostly black population of the facility and being sentenced to solitary confinement. Of course, smoking at the facility was rampant, as was the act of ripping up mattresses to set fire to cells. When he did this, no one came right away to pull him out of his cell. He was left there until the fire burned itself out. His first serious smoke inhalation injury...ironically this was a preview of the horribly similar situation in which he would find himself decades later...with even more serious and permanent consequences.
Semper Fi - Cigarettes - Always Faithful
While incarcerated at the Maryland Reformatory for Boys, Brad's closest ally at the time, Artie from the bowling center, passed away. It was a very bitter experience for Brad especially since he was not allowed to attend the funeral services.
Shortly after his release and return to school, an injury caused Brad the loss of his baseball career hopes and Lucy, his other dear friend left home, and Brad, behind.
The Williams clan proved to be an on-again, off-again alliance at best. He was soon in trouble with the law again through association with them. They would get their own son out of scrapes while Brad had no one in his corner. He was soon in front of a judge again with his options laid out clearly before him...join the Marine Corps or go to state prison. Of course he chose the Marines.
Boot camp at Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot was not necessarily the easier option. There was a very blurry distinction between discipline and abuse as far as training the new recruits. One drill instructor in particular seemed to have it in for Brad. He was enclosed in a dumpster and ordered to chain smoke a pack of cigarettes. As bad as this experience was, Brad still found his only comfort in his tobacco addiction. It was the only thing he could depend on to soothe him.
Brad was often in trouble and sent for re-education boot camps which should have held him back from graduation with his platoon. But somehow he determined to meet the challenges even when he was severely beaten by the DI's...he made no complaint. He had been caught sleepwalking and was offered a discharge from the Corps. The doctors wanted his statement about the bruises on his chest (from being slammed with the butt of a rifle by a drill instructor) to give him his ticket home. Brad kept his silence and made it through the remainder of boot camp having gained some respect from the Di's for his refusal to file charges.
Brad's career in the Marine Corps saw him still as a loner, not part of the team. He was sent on a multitude of deployments in different regions of the world. Additionally, he had been forced to cross-deck ships on a couple of occasions for another complete tour of duty. Brad became under fire during several of these deployments. Throughout this time his cigarettes were once again the only dependable companion available to him.
The Marine Corps was not the only thing affecting his life during this turbulent period. At one point Brad had met a girl through correspondence. Hoping to finally create a family for himself he agreed to marry her even when she revealed that she was pregnant. When they finally met he was eager to accept a ready-made family, expecting it would provide him with stability and a place where he belonged. This was, unfortunately, not to be. The woman he married was only looking to get financial support from him. To say she was promiscuous would be a glaring understatement. He soon realized she was having unprotected sex with multiple partners. Brad soon became the only one who would not sleep with her. He initiated divorce proceedings only to be blocked by her continually while she attempted to obtain a further hold on him through lies, deceit and becoming pregnant while he was being sent all over the world on his numerous deployments.
Due to an outdated law in Maryland, he was considered responsible for her offspring which were conceived during the time of the marriage even though it was a physical impossibility for him to have impregnated her. DNA tests were not an option at this time. It would end up taking him over seven years to divorce her, and a total of over thirty years before the courts and Child Support Enforcement in Baltimore would finally accept the facts of her felonious claims regarding three of her multiple children. Brad would still have to pay out monies for the very basic error of trying to be kind to her many decades prior when attempting to provide her and her first child with a home and a chance to be a family. During this time the state of Maryland tried to collect over one-hundred thousand dollars from him. The base amount he ended up paying was less than five percent of this, but it had cost him dearly in physical stress, anger, depression, humiliation, frustration, mental anguish, and even affected his career and his ability to leave the state of Nevada where he was somewhat protected financially from her blatantly false accusations. Of course smoking cigarettes is what got him through most of these times.
After his divorce was final, and while he was still in the Corps, he met me and we married and had a child. This was not without bumps in the road. Brad was in a difficult situation at work where he was juggling duties as secretary to the commanding general of the base and the additional difficulties of training chasers to transport military criminals while handling a particularly difficult situation with a prisoner who would soon develop into a prolific serial killer.
Marriage wasn't easy for either one of us. I had never been married and, being an only child, had no experience with pregnancy, parenthood or even living with another person. I admittedly had issues with self-confidence and was, after the birth of our child, an over-protective mother. I struggled with my own problems and was not well prepared to deal with the baggage that Brad's life had saddled him with concerning, particularly, women and trust issues. There was much he had revealed of himself to me before we were married, but oh, so much more, I would learn about through the years. I know him to be a very caring and honest person which is one of the reasons I fought through the years to keep the marriage together. But honestly, we should have had more time together alone before we decided to have a child. Maybe some of the trust issues we had would have been resolved, or may not have even come up if we had known each other better.
Be that as it may, in my mind, I have been fortunate in my life and marriage, but I cannot deny my inexperience and background contributed to making things harder for Brad than I would have wished.
When he finally left the Marine Corps after eleven years, it was not when or how he would have wished to do so. We moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to be closer to my mom and stepfather who was a cancer survivor, sort of. He would end up succumbing to the ravages on his body brought about by the medications he took to beat the cancer and keep it at bay.
All Bets Are On
Brad would spend the first few years in Las Vegas working at several unfulfilling jobs while he went to school and tried to find the best path to support his family. During this time he met Ben Graham, a former prosecutor, who taught a class in Criminal Justice, and who influenced him greatly, giving him confidence in himself. He would also meet a warden of one of the state prison's who would offer him the opportunity to work in one of the state institutions. Going to school gave Brad the chance to find out that he really was intelligent. Growing up he had no support in his educational development. He found he enjoyed many subjects and was actually effective in utilizing what he learned. He particularly enjoyed law and psychology.
Brad had some work experience with Vietnam vets...getting them cleaned up, lining up jobs. He also learned how it was to work with bureaucracies and how they could undo all the good he worked at achieving. But his classes, in addition to the final situation in which he found himself at the end of his Marine Corps years had taught him a couple of very valuable lessons.
First, document everything. The time you take to do this may save you in the end.
Second, read all the rules. Know all the rules. Know how they work. This will protect you.
Third, have patience. The other side has to get lucky every day. You only have to get lucky once to turn the situation around. And if you know the rules...it won't always be luck.
Fourth, remember where you come from. You will be better able to relate to situations and view them from all sides. It will help you make fair decisions.
Brad would end up working for the Nevada Department of Corrections (formerly the Nevada Department of Prisons) for over twenty-one years. These years would be bracketed by two events. My stepfather died just as he was about to start work at the Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean, Nevada. My mother would pass away just before his retirement from the Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs, Nevada.
During these years Brad fought corruption within the system even more than he fought situations concerning inmates. He dealt with co-workers and administrators who tried from the beginning to get him to quit, who abandoned him in hostage situations, who tried to get him to turn a blind eye to racism, thievery, even murder. But, he met some outstanding individuals, as well... an associate director who taught him command presence, a nurse who taught him to care for himself, as well as others, who loved everyone including her enemies, a psychologist who taught him lessons in dealing with mental health patients, a courageous investigator who was forced out of his job by the corrupt elements of a corrupt system, an EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) coordinator who always backed him, and various others who contributed to his journey through the wilderness which is the state penal system. Again, throughout this journey his cigarettes were the one constant on which he could depend...until they, like most of the others who have touched his life turned on him.
The final fire happened on a day not unlike many others. Inmates having gotten hold of some contraband started a fire in the cellblock while trying to freebase their drugs. They were locked in their cells and the fire caused a problem with the electrical system which controlled the doors of the cells. The only way out was to key the cell door manually. Coincidentally, the unit's fire safety equipment had been sent in to be worked on the day before and for once Brad had not insisted on replacement equipment to cover for the missing items. He had no mask to wear while going through the unit to unlock the cell doors. The best he could do was to cover his face with his jacket.
Others told him he should have left them in their cells...after all they were only inmates. But Brad knew them to be human beings...and further, human beings for whose welfare he was responsible...a duty he took seriously.
After the fire he was treated for a smoke inhalation... but it much worse than that. The fumes that he breathed in had contained styrofoam, whether from igloos in the cells or part of the building materials was never revealed. In 2001 he was told this would leave a glue-like substance on his lungs which would only get worse over the years. He was informed by the year 2007 there would be nothing more the doctors could do for him. Brad continued to work even as he was being treated. The only thing he wanted the state to cover for him were any medical expenses incurred. But the state said he shouldn't have gone down to open the doors and that further, he was still smoking cigarettes. In the end, the state paid him nothing and he kept on working. He continued working until 2008, a year beyond the doctor's designated expiration date. He knew his cigarettes were turning against him by then. He could feel it in his lungs, when he smoked, when he barely completed treadmill exercises for his annual physicals.
Brad retired but he would not give in. He learned everything he could about his lungs, COPD and toxic inhalations. But in 2012 he couldn't breathe one day and had to be admitted to the hospital. He has been fighting battles all his life, but this has been the biggest one of all. That day in the hospital he believed he was dying. He told me to go home and remove all of his smoking paraphernalia. I took him at his word and did so. He made it out of the hospital and couldn't believe that I had actually thrown out everything to do with his smoking.
But, without any anti-smoking aids, he quit cold turkey that day. He had one instance where he went and bought a pack of cigarettes...but then he threw them out the window without smoking one. He has changed his diet, worked hard at exercises, including all kinds of breathing exercises. None of these things were explained to him by doctors. He has done it on his own.
He documents. He records all his medications, exercises, diets, etc.
He knows the rules. He understands how medications, exercise, food, etc. affect his condition. He doesn't just take medication and let the disease, or the doctor's, dictate to him. He uses his knowledge to help himself.
He is patient. He is just not waiting to get lucky. He knows what protective equipment to wear, how to exercise, what to eat. COPD has to get lucky every day. He continues to fight it.
He remembers where he came from. He uses his experience to make smart decisions.
The final fire made its last assault on him nearly a decade ago. Since then, Brad has won battles nearly every day. He is fifteen years plus beyond that expiration date that doctors had given him to live. Who can dare say he hasn't won?
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