Sit Down Before Reading, A Memoir by Dave Bexfield
This indispensable part of the story begins in 2018, 5,322 miles away from our home in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico. Laura and I were traveling in Cádiz, Spain, when—in a back alley behind a church—we spotted a familiar image on a shopping bag in the back of an open hatchback. Home. Our iconic desert. Our brilliant blue sky. And one instantly recognizable aging Fleetwood Bounder RV billowing smoke. Of course.
Our new friend from Cádiz, who—after being temporarily aghast at a stranger taking a photograph of his stuff in the back of his car—generously took time to pose for a photo.
Since Breaking Bad first aired in 2008, the pop-culture mystique of the show—and by extension my hometown—has seeped into seemingly every community worldwide. I know this because at literally every destination we’ve explored since then—countless cities and more than two dozen countries—we’ve enjoyed a certain celebrity status whenever someone discovers we are from the home of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
Years later, the passion fans have for the series—which holds the Guinness World Record for being the most critically acclaimed television show ever—not only is undiminished but has blossomed and grown. Exponentially. And therein lies the problem. Through no fault of their own, Albuquerqueans are clueless to this fact and have no idea how to capitalize on this most-unexpected windfall. Even though I had only seen the show once and was by no means a super fan, something grabbed ahold of me. Because with my background in travel and economic development, I knew I could do something about that.
Over the next three years I obsessively developed a plan that would capitalize on our city’s forever connection to the hit TV show and its spin-off Better Call Saul. A plan so deep and rich that it would remake Albuquerque into an international tourist destination instead of a shoulda-taken-a-left-turn footnote in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I even included groundbreaking elements that would address and dramatically aid our drug and crime issues. It was almost perfect. Almost. Until one night when I went to bed and stared at the ceiling….
The Flickering Chessboard
You’re never fully prepared to have that first child. Or purchase that first house, the one that inevitably seems outrageously expensive, with OUTRAGEOUSLY in all caps. Or retire with such a cushion that you’ll never have to worry about money, never ever. The same is true about death. It’s always so inconvenient. Always at the worst possible time.
So at the age of 53, it was understandable that I was a bit bummed at my impending doom. At least on the MS front, I had finished up the redesign of ActiveMSers, updated the forum, and freshened my introductory emails to members so that they could live on in perpetuity. Lame-o jokes from beyond the grave, courtesy of your fellow (alas departed) misfit Dave! But on the spousal front there was work to do and not enough time to do it all.
There were so many tasks that I needed to accomplish for Laura to make, ahem, the transition easier that I was immediately overwhelmed, starting with the obvious: writing my own obituary. It needed to be funny, duh, and I imagined my wife was not going to be in a jovial mood. That meant, clearly, I needed to pen it myself. Same with my eulogy. Having written (and delivered) a half dozen—including those to dear friends, one lost to suicide at 36, another lost to MS at 55—I could add refreshing levity to the situation along with some appropriate dark humor. Because why not?
Then there were the more challenging prospects, like helping her reenter the dating scene for the first time since the days she drew hearts on her Trapper Keeper. Should I write her Tinder, OkCupid, and eHarmony profiles so they glow as brightly as she does? This alone would clearly require copious research, as I hadn’t dated since the phrase “smooth move, Ex-Lax” was used in casual conversation. Also problematic: trying to explain to my sweetie why I had accounts at a half dozen dating sites. Oof. I wasn’t ready for this. So I made the executive decision to… procrastinate.
Instead, I plotted most evenings in bed, staring at the darkened ceiling as I fruitlessly awaited the sereneness of sleep that never materialized. I got so skilled at counting backward from 100 by threes, a technique meant to tire your brain out, that I could’ve turned pro. Then the strangest thing began happening.
Like those chess pieces that began appearing upside down on the ceiling in The Queen’s Gambit, my creativity and visions blossomed during these hours of solitude. And I wasn’t even doing drugs! (Okay, not that many drugs. Just maybe a bit of the Grim Reefer, Bubonic Chronic, Dank Sinatra, Evil Edamame, Gigglesmoke, Maui Wowie, Reefer McEntyre, you know, the medical type.)
Each morning I’d toss off the covers to fresh discoveries, landmark discoveries, that urgently required action before those brilliant ideas vaporized with my physical body in the crematorium. For example, on one fruitful night I crafted an entire movie entirely in my head, an epic romance. An epic romance that was to be inspired by a true story.
From the Ashes (PG-13), 114 minutes
Determined to heal the pains of her 28-year marriage, a fiercely proactive wife comes up with an unlikely proposal to recreate the fervent spark and history of wanderlust that had defined her relationship with her husband: a month-long adventure to destinations long on the couple’s bucket list. A bike trip through the Netherlands. A deep dive into the ancient history of Egypt. An exploration of Antarctica, ending in the pulsing metropolis of Buenos Aries. Only with one key stipulation: no intimacy, not even touching. If their forever union was to rise from the ashes, it had to prove it could rest on the merits of love, not the mirage of passion.
Predictably, when I told Laura of my full Spielberg-esque future Oscar-winning film idea, she hated it. Well, more like HATED IT. Not the movie concept itself, but the “true” part. Because the expected “true story” the movie was going to be based on was going to be ours. (Minor problem: it can no longer be a true story, not even a story “inspired” by a true story. Now, pure fiction, all of it. Is it still worthy of being a film? You can decide. Read the detailed synopsis of the future blockbuster/straight-to-streaming B movie here.)
If I could flesh out an entire movie in my head overnight complete with M. Night Shyamalan-esque plot twists, what else could I do with this new power? Could it help with my personal Breaking Bad pet project? One evening as I tucked under the sheets, I directed all my focus to my Albuquerque plan for the iconic television show, stared at the ceiling, and then waited for the magic to happen.
The next day was a blur, and not just because I got at most two hours of sleep. I figured it out. I cracked it. I could barely breathe. Not only had I developed a platform, an app, that would turbocharge my Breaking Bad idea into an unbeatable juggernaut, I had developed an entirely new model to harness the power of any popular television show or movie. Actually, any intellectual property. And I designed it so that it would benefit all parties equally—the studio, the fans, the community at large—an almost unheard-of win, win, win. Then for grins, I expanded the idea further, beyond the bounds of intellectual property, to create the framework of an idea so big that it would fundamentally change how people work, live, and play worldwide.
But before my world-beating idea could launch, there were just a few minor issues to sort. You know, the basics. First, I was so disabled I couldn’t really leave the house or work more than a few hours a day, complicating the whole drumming up investors, building a business, promoting my vision to the world thing. Second, there was an uncomfortably tight deadline, obviously, since I was dying (somewhat problematic). Third, that chessboard. Appearing for me now most nights on the ceiling, flickering off for a few evenings here and there before restarting, it was emerging as a sign of something much darker, much more sinister.
For as long as I had been diagnosed with MS, and for as much as the disease had taken away from our lives, there was one precious commodity it had left mostly untouched. My brain. That Dave umami, that zest that made every advancing disability of mine palatable. My personality. My humor. My infectious optimism. (Okay, maybe “infectious” is not entirely appropriate terminology at this moment.)
Something was off. My brain would not shut off. It was overheating, firing up regions that shouldn’t be fired. It wasn’t just those bright ceiling ideas brimming with potential that needed to be translated. No. Delusional feelings of grandeur. Unwarranted paranoia. An overwhelming sense of fatalism. There’s another word to define that: psychosis. I was going insane. We’re talking invest in ear protection, hide the straight razor, full-on Vincent van Gogh crazy.
When those colorful little glass orbs started tumbling out of my head—at first a trickle, then a hailstorm with pellets the size of, predictably, marbles—I discovered something quite fascinating. Not only was I convinced I was not going crazy, but I was also sure-as-heck convinced that I was getting smarter. That’s why I sent my Breaking Bad idea, unsolicited, to a leading Silicon Valley law firm for “safe keeping.” And informed one of the firm’s top partners how people were conspiring to steal my idea, because obviously. And then also urgently texted his personal cell phone. You know, to make sure-sure he got the urgent message.
[Mark], I just left a voicemail. I'm Dave Bexfield from Albuquerque, NM. I need your services and have the funds and scope to support hiring your firm. I realize a random call from a dude in New Mexico with a "big idea" might elicit a raised eyebrow at best. But please believe in me. Vet me (I run ActiveMSers.org). It will be bigger than anything you can imagine. Yes, I included Facebook and Google in your imagination. And it's freaking me out a little. Chat soon.
The paranoia kept ratcheting up. During one pleasant bike ride with Laura, I got so overwhelmed that I had to pull over and send one of my closest friends in the universe a brief message. I could count on Scott. We got each other. And despite a move to the other side of the world, he’d always been in my corner, hanging the same now-tattered newspaper clipping about his bud Dave’s fight with MS on each new fridge (now on #6). The message I sent on that bike ride: four numbers. Scott practically got his PhD during puberty, so I knew he’d figure out that it clearly was the PIN to our cell phones and personal computer. That way he could unlock them if, as I very much feared at that moment, we would get hit minutes later by an out-of-control combine being joyridden by an eight-year-old, putting two married cyclists out to permanent pasture. Ah, but because of my quick thinking, Scott would have unfettered access to the brilliance of my revolutionary Breaking Bad concept. I was a freaking mastermind.
When we arrived home shockingly unscathed and un-combine flattened, my succumb du jour turned to Covid-19. After a brief coughing spell one evening I started calculating the number of days I had left before I’d be put on a ventilator. With time-a-wasting before the Grim Reaper visited, most evenings I slipped out of bed to record more of my thoughts. They’d be necessary, after all, for the future museum that was going to be built in my honor. Thank goodness I had saved all my personal journals and writings dating back to junior high! Again, so, so smart.
I was getting worried, though. I mean about the impending traffic jam… of pilgrims. Pilgrims coming to see me, for a precious opportunity to experience—in the actual flesh—Mr. Dave Bexfield and my overwhelming, unprecedented wisdom. They'd have to camp in the park across the street, obviously. But where were they going to shower? Did we need to arrange for Porta-Potties? The neighbors would appreciate that, I figured.
Then, without warning, the marbles started rolling back. Temporarily.
Never So Scared
The uncomfortable realization that you are going insane is unsettling. And by unsettling, I mean scary as effing hell. As I was taking stock of Crazy Dave in my Normal Dave state, I couldn’t believe in my wildest dreams that I would think it reasonable to have, as a tourist attraction, a 165,000-sq.ft. museum dedicated—instead of as planned to the Breaking Bad franchise—to the “brilliance” of me. Sure, I had good ideas, but this thinking was beyond next-level crazy. All of it. I was obsessing over everything. I had hoped Laura hadn’t noticed. Oh, she had. So had many of our friends.
I started an apology tour, with a ha-ha-I was-acting-off-but-now-I’m-fine spiel. I so wanted that to be true. But then the brain vacuum developed a telltale rattle, the marbles dislodged, and I once again became more intelligent. Genius, even. It was odd. Odd that I would think, for even a moment, that pilgrims weren’t coming. Hell, they had probably already purchased their airline tickets or loaded up their VW camper vans. Man, I really needed to investigate Porta-Potties.
I had never seen Laura so scared. We couldn’t even discuss what was happening. How could we? I’d tell her I was fine, that my brain was feeling normal. Then I’d suspect that she’d suspect that I was lying. Which of course I was. I needed time to find the answer to my mental issues. But I was running out of time. In days, she undoubtably was going to commit me to a mental institution. I had to inform a few friends of her plot (more out of necessity, not a nefarious one), but they couldn’t be friends in her direct orbit lest they spill my grand plan to avoid the rubber room.
The next evening, as her eyes welled with tears, she choked out what she feared more than anything. “I lost my father to mental illness. I am losing my brother to schizophrenia. And now I am losing my husband.” Those words hung like frozen notes above Schroeder’s tiny piano. What could I say? What? She was right.
It worked back in 2010 when I got my stem cell transplant. To save our marriage, to save my life, it was time for one last Hail Mary.
Chapter 6: Breaking Brain
Chapter 9: For Laura (coming 7/6)