How Love Can Transform a Life After a Tragic Event
Chapter 2 - The Party: As Remembered by Mario’s Brother, Miguel
Fallen star, broken wish, mended heart and stolen kiss,
Tortured souls and restless nights,
Empty pockets and drunken fights,
My past is not who I am.
— Miguel Scharmer
My brother Mario had graduated from high school and the two of us were making plans. We shared similar interests and ran with the same crowds. We were partiers and very social. You could say we were known for being wild and crazy and would rev up the life of any social atmosphere with our presence. Together we were unstoppable. It was summer and our phones were always ringing with offers of things to do, along with invitations to barbecues, parties, and road trips. You name it and we were there doing it.
Mario was a very social person. He knew how to encourage good conversation and the women always gathered around him. I shared a similar personality, but needed to put in a little extra work to catch the girls. My looks alone usually didn’t seal the deal. But put the two of us together in the same vicinity and you might want to bring your video camera, ‘cause things were bound to get interesting.
Our plan was to move out, share an apartment, and go to Diablo Valley College together. But before this all happened, we wanted to enjoy a kick-ass summer. We had similar work schedules and a little money saved up. That would give us the time to enjoy every minute of the last part of our summer freedom.
The day started out as any other day. I’d wake up to the sound of a buzzing alarm clock. You see, I had a little routine of setting it to go off early and hitting the snooze button to silence it, but not shut it off. This put the alarm on delay for about five minutes and it would go off again later. I would let this happen about three our four times until I could finally make myself get out of bed.
Then came the morning rituals. This usually included walking half-awake to the bathroom to release a full bladder, followed by washing my face and brushing my teeth. These things taken care of, I’d hop onto the couch in the living room, flip the television on, and try to think of what I wanted to eat and if I was going to be too lazy to make it.
The phone rang and I got up to answer it. It was my buddy Brad. “What’s up?” Brad asked.
“Shit, I’m just lounging round the house,” I said.
“Come through to my house, I’m having a barbecue,” Brad said.
“Okay, I’ll be over there in a bit,” I replied.
Of course, Mario wanted to come too, but our parents had him painting the pool house. My parents had lent him $1500 to buy a truck and he worked off some of the money by doing jobs around the house. I got dressed and left for Brad’s.
When I arrived, Brad staggered over to my car and greeted me. He had an empty beer bong in his hand and wet spots all over his tee shirt from some of the beer.
“Hey dude, where’s Mario?” Brad asked.
“He had to stay home and paint. He might catch up with us later,” I replied.
Brad held up the beer bong and said, “You’re next. You have got to catch up.”
Back then I was crowned the “Beer Bong King” and I was the fastest drinker of all. So I accepted the challenge to catch up and headed into Brad’s back yard.
The back yard was filled with familiar faces. I greeted all of our friends and looked around to see two, thirty packs of beer and a couple bottles of vodka. My buddy Dan was on barbecue duty and was grilling it up. I got into the circle on the lawn where the action was going down and got into my beer bong position. I knelt down, put my hand on the release valve and with the other hand, held the tube for balance. I was ready to take down two and a half beers in about seven to nine seconds. I opened the valve and down it went. The cold, frosty beer shot down my throat and into my belly.
“Go, Go, Go, Go,” everyone yelled, cheering me on.
I finished and let the foam drip out. A loud belch released and it helped my stomach settle.
The beer bong kept rotating to the next willing participant throughout the day. By the time we finished all the drinking and eating, it had started to get dark. It had been such a kick-ass party; I thought that it would be great to keep it going.
So I yelled, “Let’s go to Ocean Beach and throw a bonfire party.”
Everyone was up for it, so I called Mario to see if he wanted to go. He had just finished dinner and was anxious to get out of the house and party. I went to the house, changed clothes, picked up Mario and stocked up on wood and stuff.
“Whoever wants to roll meet back at Brad’s house at 11:00 P.M.,” I said.
Mario’s truck was a 1973 Maroon colored Chevy with a camper shell. The back of the bed was carpeted. It was the “Love Shack” on wheels. We called it the “Shaggin’ Wagon,” ‘cause on many nights some guy was getting lucky back there with some pretty girl. The only bad thing about it was that it had no power steering and the brakes were not very good. It had been upgraded with a new stereo system and new speakers.
Most of the day we had been listening to R&B, Hip-Hop, or Metallica’s Black Album, when we wanted to get amped. That got our blood pumping. So for tonight’s music, it just depended on what mood we were in and who was riding DJ. Riding DJ, for those of you who don’t know, is the passenger in the car who is closest to the radio or CD controls. That way the driver can concentrate on the road and not the radio. Also, it was kind of a tradition.
When I arrived back at home the family dogs greeted me as soon as I entered. I played and roughed them up a little and headed to the fridge to see if there was anything good to drink or snack on. This is sort of a habit when I get home. Whether I’m hungry or thirsty doesn’t matter too much. I’m not sure why I do it. But nothing stood out. It’s usually the same old health and protein stuff, like soymilk, tofu, and all kinds of fat-free and organic items. Mom’s sort of a health nut. No red meats in the house either. The closest thing to red meat was chicken, turkey, or fish. If we had something like Martinelli’s apple cider, that was a jackpot.
Mario wanted to know who all was going and was anxious to leave. Mom pleaded with us to not go. She felt it was too late, and besides, it wasn’t even the weekend yet. Mario got on the phone and talked to some girls about going to the beach. There were a couple of house parties going on too, so there were lots of options. We might change plans at the last minute if we wanted to.
While Mario was on the phone I went to my room to pick out an outfit to wear for the night. I liked to keep my clothes looking nice and straight so I would usually iron before going out. But tonight no ironing would be needed ‘cause I didn’t want to wear anything too nice going to the beach. Whatever I decided to wear would probably end up getting dirty. I laid out a couple of options on the bed, and then went to the garage to find the big green ice chest. This we’d fill up with as much ice and beer as possible.
I made a list of all we would need so nothing would be forgotten. We also needed a portable CD player and eight size C batteries. Chips and snacks would be nice as well as some kind of chaser for the hard alcohol. The most important thing to grab was lots of wood. Once you run out of wood and the fire dies out, it’s too cold to stick around. It’s safer to bring too much rather than not enough. I grabbed Mario to help me load up the truck with all the supplies. After we had finished loading we went inside to fill our stomachs. Eating a good meal before going out to party is essential. I don’t like drinking on an empty stomach. We ate and headed over back to Brad’s house.
When we got to Brad’s house we rallied up all the homies and discussed a liquor run to Safeway. We passed a hat around and everybody donated about ten to fifteen dollars. I got all the money sorted out and headed over to Safeway. We grabbed two, twenty-four packs of beer, a bottle of Southern Comfort, Dr Pepper for a chaser, C-batteries for the boom box, chips and ice. Now we were ready. There would be two vehicles going. Most of us were riding in Mario’s “Shaggin’ Wagon.” The brothers, Dan and Joe, along with Sam, were taking the Toyota Tercel. We still had to pick up John and his girlfriend Marie, who lived down the street.
A weird thing happened that day when we arrived at John’s house. While we were waiting for him to gather his belongings I looked out across the street and noticed an older lady standing in her door way. The car windows were rolled down and our eyes made contact. She said something, but I didn’t hear her very well.
“What?” I asked.
“Are you boys going out drinking tonight?” she asked.
“Ya-so-why?” was the response she got.
“I don’t think you should go out tonight. It’s not a good night to be going out late,” she said.
“Okay-whatever,” I replied.
Just then we were all thinking, “What is taking John so long?”
I went inside and told him to hurry his lagging ass up. I opened the door and he was already walking over.
“ Hurry up fool, let’s go already,” I said impatiently.
“Alright, I’m good,” he said.
Next we went to Marie’s house.
“What’s up Marie?” I said just to be polite.
Marie and I were friends, but had never really been too close. I mostly just thought of her as John’s girlfriend. We opened the camper shell and they climbed into the back. No seat belts back there, but hey; living on the edge is what we did. The windows were tinted so we didn’t worry about police seeing us and pulling us over.
We hopped on the freeway and headed toward San Francisco. It usually took us about thirty minutes to get to the tollbooth. We were bumping some Bay hits and just kicking back. We got to the tollbooth and paid the bridge fare. Ocean Beach here we come! After a few more tracks of songs went by, we arrived at the beach parking lot. You could see bonfires all over. We could tell where and who had the biggest ones, so we were peeping the scene, checking out the fires.
First things first!
We carried some wood down to a nice spot and had a couple people assigned to making a fire. The others set up blankets and carried down coolers and things. Brad and I grabbed as much wood as we could and walked down the sandy stairs that led into the endless looking beach of darkness. We found a good spot to set up shop. I wanted to get the fire going ASAP, because it was cold and windy.
My Dad, Mark, an outdoors type of guy, had shown me how to make a good campfire when I was younger. So I was confident I could get it going. I grabbed a few skinny logs and started stacking them in the shape of a tee pee. After I had what looked like a solid structure, I grabbed the newspaper we had brought along and started ripping pages in half and crumpling them into little balls. The balls were placed in the middle of the tee pee. Things were looking OK so far. The last thing needed to assist in getting the fire going was kindling. We searched for twigs or any loose branches small in size. This would be placed over the newspaper, and once it started burning, it would get the bigger wood to catch on fire. Usually I don’t need lighter fluid to start it up, but when you’re at the beach, it’s good to have, just in case it gets a little damp. I squirted some lighter fluid, grabbed a lighter and set the wood ablaze. It worked great.
“Yeaaaaah, who’s the man?” I said.
Brad grinned and replied, “Whatever, I coulda done that.”
I glanced up and saw the crew walking toward us with all our supplies. Blankets were thrown down, along with the coolers, boom box, bags of chips, cups, and beer bong. We were all set for what was supposed to be a great night. Let the party begin.
At Ocean Beach in the summer, there will usually be multiple bonfires going on all over the beach. People tend to walk from bonfire to bonfire, drinking and socializing as they go. We took pride in trying to have the biggest fire on the beach and nine times out of ten we did. Things were going smoothly. Everyone was drinking and having a good time. A game of King’s Cup was in order, so I opened up a deck of cards. As the gang spread around the cup in the center, I couldn’t help but wonder who would end up picking the last king and having to drink the cup. This game never failed to get things fl owing and it was fun, too.
King’s Cup is a great drinking game. The rules are simple. Each person draws a card one after another and flips it over. Every card has a meaning to it. Most of them are drinking penalties. Whenever someone draws a king he pours some of his drink into the cup. The last king to be drawn from the deck loses and drinks the cup. While we were playing, John got up and walked off toward the water.
“I got to go take a piss, I’ll be back,” he said.
He left and we resumed playing our game.
Out of the darkness two guys walked over to our site. They strolled over to where John had been sitting earlier and started introducing themselves, engaging in a conversation with John’s girlfriend, Marie.
Nobody paid them much attention. Marie told us that one of those guys tried to grab her ass, but that she handled it. It was not a big deal and we shouldn’t say anything John bout it. The two guys made an excuse to leave and started to walk off.
John eventually returned and we told him what happened. He became furious.
He said, “Which way did they go?”
We pointed and said, “They walked that way.”
John darted off into the night like a mad man after them. We followed him, just as he caught up to them. Words were exchanged and punches were thrown. A scuffle broke out. It ended with them on the ground and all of us fleeing, to avoid running into any law enforcement. We all ran to where the bonfire was and told everyone that was there to pack our shit up. We had to roll out as soon as possible. We grabbed all our stuff and hopped into Mario’s truck and skipped out. Marie was in the back with us and she was full of tears, calling everyone jerks and saying that that was exactly what she did not want to have happened.
“That’s why I said not to tell him,” she stammered.
Overhearing, John replied, “Aw whatever, I don’t give a shit. He deserved to get whopped. He grabbed your ass.”
We headed toward the freeway for what seemed like a long ride home. Mario’s gas was low, so we stopped at a gas station not long after we left the beach parking lot. All the guys jumped out to stretch their legs and used the bathroom. Mario headed over toward the till to pay for gas, but couldn’t find anyone to help. I guessed they were closed and just left the light on. This got all the guys rowdy and irritated. Someone grabbed the price stand and threw it toward the entrance and a couple garbage cans were knocked over. We got back into the truck and left. I’m sure that at this point, having to be the driver and all, really stressed Mario out. He didn’t say much — just stuck the key into the ignition and turned the engine over and off we went.
The next thing I remembered was that we were back in town and dropping off passengers at John’s house. The final stop was at Brad’s house only a few miles away. We wanted to wind down, so when we got there, we parked the truck and chilled outside at the end of the street. The CD of choice for that moment was Metallica, the Black Album.
We all had lots of energy so we started doing push-ups on the concrete sidewalk and challenging each other. Time went by and Brad asked if we were sleeping over.
“I’m down,” I said.
Mario was hesitant and then said, “Nah, I don’t want to leave my truck here, I want to drive back to the house.”
“You good to drive?” Brad asked.
“Yeh, I’m good,” he said back.
“I guess I will just follow him in my car then,” I said to Brad.
We said our goodbyes and I hopped into my Honda CRX and Mario got into his truck. We pulled out of Brad’s street one after another.
It was a familiar drive for the both of us, one that we had made hundreds of times before. About halfway home, there is a stretch of road with few lights and one could easily drive fast. Mario started revving up on me.
I’m thinking, “Alright, I’m not backing down from a challenge,” so I rev back and take off.
It was late, so it was probably not a good idea to attract attention, but I guess we weren’t thinking. We were racing down the street, but his heavy old truck was no match for my little Honda with a motor swap. I left him so far back, I couldn’t even see him, so I eased off the gas to let him catch up.
The next thing I noticed was his big maroon colored Chevy truck pulling up on me, but he didn’t slow down. He just flew past me and started veering off toward the right, and then I saw him slam straight into the metal traffic light pole.
“What the fuck?” are the words that came out of my mouth.
“Awe, he’s going to be pissed, his truck is totaled,” I thought to myself.
I drove past his truck and pulled off to the side. I put on my hazard signals and got out. I ran over to the truck and saw that the engine had small bursts of fire inside. As I ran up to the driver side and peeked through the shattered glass window I saw his body unconscious, slumped over the driver’s steering wheel.
I thought, “Oh crap.”
I grabbed the door handle to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. It was pinned shut. I knew I had to get him out, so I hopped through the window with half my body dangling out and tried hauling his motionless body through the window. It was too tough. He was too much dead weight and the elevated angle made it seem impossible.
I started to think to myself, “What do I do?”
Just then a man walked up to me who had a cell phone up to his ear.
“The Paramedics and help are on their way,” he said.
I was still trying to pull him out of the car ‘cause I didn’t know if the truck would catch fire. I guess I’ve watched it happen in too many movies.
Before I knew it an E.M.T (Emergency Medical Technician) grabbed my shoulder and said, “I will take it from here why don’t you just go back to your car and sit tight.”
I walked back to my car and I saw a fire truck and all sorts of people rushing over to help with Mario.
Just then I saw a police car and thought, “Shit I probably still have alcohol on my breath.”
I got into my car and panicked, searching for anything I could find to mask the smell, just in case I had to talk to police. All I could find was a cherry flavored Chap Stick in the center consul. This would have to do.
I know, you’re probably thinking “Chap Stick?”
I took the Chap Stick, rolled it down, and sank my teeth into the soft gushy substance. It was nasty, but there was no way I was getting a DUI. I was concentrating on chewing and spreading the Chap Stick all over the inside of my mouth.
The officer walked over to my car and started asking me questions. He asked me to step outside and talk to him and tell him what had happened. I was trying hard not to open my mouth too much and also not to directly look at him. He had me sit on the curb and asked me to call whomever I needed to and notify them that my brother would be going to the hospital. I told him I had no phone and he gave me his.
I dialed my mom, but was not expecting her to pick up, because it was like four in the morning. I was shocked to hear her voice after about the third ring.
“Hello?” she said.
“Miguel where are you?” she asked.
“The police just called and said you guys vandalized a gas station,” she said.
Before she could finish with her story I interrupted with, “Mario just got in an accident. His car is totaled.”
She said to put him on the phone and I told her, “No, I can’t, he is passed out. You have to come down here. They’re taking him to the hospital. Hold on, talk to the officer.” I handed him the phone and they conversed.
* * *
Chapter 3 - The Phone Call
All alone these subtle days are strangling me...
The walls are breathing and my mind unweaving...
I’m fi nding out things that I didn’t know...
Counting the days till I surrender this ball and chain
and can have my peace of mind back...
When the darkness turns to light the déjà vu of
another Groundhog’s Day will begin...
Every day for me now is Monday...
A dreary one, with not much to look forward to...
— Miguel Scharmer
We were sleeping soundly when the phone rang at about 4:00 a.m. It was Miguel.
“Mario has been in a car accident,” he said.
“What? Was he hurt? Did he total the truck?” I desperately asked.
Mario still owed us for the money we had loaned him to buy the truck and this was not the fi rst time he had wrecked a vehicle.
Miguel said,” You don’t understand mom, he is hurt real bad.”
Then a strange man got on the phone. “Is this Mrs. Scharmer?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“This is the police. Your son is unconscious and has is a heartbeat, but they are having trouble securing his airway. We don’t know where we are taking him yet, but we will let you know as soon as we do. Stay where you are. Do not come down.” the policeman stated.
We knew at that point just how serious the accident was. Mark and I had spent nine years on a search and rescue team. We were both trained in emergency medical response. We were concerned that the paramedics were not able to secure Mario’s airway. Without enough oxygen he might die or suffer from traumatic brain injury. Where were they taking Mario, to the hospital or the morgue?
The crash was only two miles from our house. I have been told that most auto accidents happen near the home. This was certainly the case with our Mario.
Miguel drove to the house to get us. He had been in his own car following Mario home. Apparently Mario was drunk and had just finished dropping all the kids off. Brad had suggested that they spend the night at his house, but Mario didn’t want to leave his truck parked out on the street.
In the movie Sliding Doors, there is a woman whose life unfolds in two completely different ways. In one scene she gets fired from her job and gets home just in time to find her boyfriend in bed with another woman. You can imagine how that story goes. In the other scenario, she gets fired, but misses the train home. The sliding doors of the train shut just as she is about to get on. She gets home late, giving her boyfriend plenty of time to get the lover out of the house, hide the evidence, and take a shower. In an instant one’s life can change dramatically. People often beat themselves up by thinking, “If only I hadn’t done this or had done that.” Life happens and you never know what you are going to get.
* * *
Chapter 4 - The Hospital
If I ever lose my faith in you, then I have lost my
belief in the beauty of what lies beneath.
The bond from me to you can never be broken, torn
— Miguel Scharmer
Miguel arrived at the house and we all climbed into our car. We were anxious to get to the hospital. Miguel asked if we wanted to go by the wreck on the way. It was a minor detour. We both agreed to stop.
I was horrified to see what looked like a red soda can that someone had stepped on. The remains of Mario's truck were curled around a light post. The windshield was broken. Glass was spread all over the road and front seat of the truck. The keys were still in the ignition. The driver’s seat was covered in blood. The back of the truck looked fine; the damage was to the front. The light post ran into the middle of the engine. How could anyone survive a crash like that? Fear gripped my body. The palms of my hands were wet with sweat. My stomach was in knots and my body started shaking.
“Oh my God! He has to live, please God let Mario be okay,” I prayed.
The emergency room was crowded with people suffering from minor injuries to life threatening situations. Two police officers were hovering around waiting for the results of Mario’s blood test. They wanted to know if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. We found out later that his alcohol blood level was .223!
After arriving at the hospital emergency room I decided to phone our good friend and neighbor Richard Carlson. It was 4:30 a.m., but he answered the phone! Richard was usually up at that time writing. He had always told us that the early morning hours were his best times to write. Richard wrote the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff books. When I told him what had happened to Mario, he said he would come right over to the hospital.
Mark and I decided not to call anyone else until we knew something more about Mario’s condition. As Miguel paced, Mark sat and comforted me. I prayed, but couldn’t stop my body from shaking. The not knowing would prove to be the hardest thing to endure during the entire hospital experience. We would be given hope one minute and news of doom the next.
After about an hour a doctor came out and told us they were stabilizing Mario. He had a broken femur, a cut hand, and a head injury. They would not know the extent of the head injury until they took a CAT scan. We could go in to see him shortly.
Richard arrived before we went in. He gave us hugs and support. Tears were in his eyes. He said he and Kris (Richard’s wife) would be there for us. Richard gave us a spiritual picture, which we would end up keeping in Mario’s room throughout the ordeal. That picture stayed in Mario’s room for the next four years.
Richard Carlson died December 13, 2006, from a pulmonary embolism on a plane trip to New York. Upon Kris’s request, I gave the picture back to her shortly after his death. The picture had now gone full circle.
After about an hour, but what seemed like an eternity, a doctor took us in to see Mario. When we arrived at his bed I was amazed. Mario looked like Sleeping Beauty. His face and body had hardly a scratch. He looked fine except for a laceration on his right hand and a splint on his right leg. How could anyone survive a crash like that and have so little damage? It was a miracle. He was unconscious and covered with wires which were hooked up to a heart monitor, a respirator and other life support machines. All the machines were just temporary emergency equipment and from the way he looked, I thought that Mario would be fine.
The emergency room doctor told us that Mario had sustained a traumatic brain injury and they wouldn’t know the extent of the damage until they gave him a CAT scan. They were taking him in for an X-ray next. The doctor was amazed at how little external and internal damage was sustained after such a terrible crash. However, he was concerned about damage to Mario’s brain.
I kissed Mario on the forehead and thanked God and the angels for saving his life. Little did I know that it would be twenty-one days before Mario would open his eyes. That would be followed by five grueling months of hospitals, intensive care units, a nursing home and a rehabilitation center before he came home. This was going to be an incredible life-changing experience for all of us.
From Raising Mario Twice: How Love Can Transform a Life After a Tragic Event by Christine Scharmer, iUniverse, Inc. © Christine Scharmer, 2009. Used with permission. http://raisingmariotwice.com.