by Martha Smith
Some are fortunate enough to go through their entire lives without a single wake-up call in the guise of a health scare. Jackson County Courthouse Security Deputy Barry Munza is not one of those people.
For starters, Barry received a liver transplant in 2012. Years later, in 2016, he was once again on the operating table, undergoing open heart surgery, when his heart stopped. The surgeon later had a story about how they found he had pneumonia when they began the surgery and another about how she massaged his heart to keep him alive. Barry doesn’t remember much about what happened next, but when he came to, he thought the nurse standing over him was an angel there to greet him and take him to his eternal accommodations. He spent 52 days in the ICU.
Ten months later, on a Friday afternoon in 2017, Barry found out he was going to have an arterial procedure to fix a leaking mitral valve in his heart. The doctors told him it would have to be through the artery because if they opened him back up, he probably wouldn’t survive. All the way home, he thought about how much time he had left until the procedure scheduled for the following Tuesday. He thought about the things he put off and talked himself out of. He thought of the risks not taken, and he decided he had a lot of living to do before the end.
That’s when he piled up in the truck with his nephew and bought himself a motorcycle. It was a CB 1100 Honda with a maroon tank, chromed within an inch of its life, and it was a walk down memory lane for Barry, who drove motorcycles for pleasure and competitively for years. So he bought it and drove it home to his wife, Denise. Long-suffering Denise.
Barry met his wife when she was a dispatcher in Stevenson, and one day he asked her out for a hamburger. Their first date, as they sat and ate their burgers in companionable silence and first-date angst, Denise looked at the full moon and thought about what all law enforcement know: this is when all the weirdoes come out. It was only fitting she began to howl at the moon.
“When she started howling at the moon, I knew she was the one, because she was as crazy as I was.” Barry and Denise have been married for 34 years, and he was looking at Denise, moon-eyed as he told the story of how he ate his pizza with a knife and fork on their second date, and Denise almost dumped him because of it.
But now there was a bike in the driveway, and Denise was glaring at him asking him if he’d lost his mind. While Barry packed his bags for his impromptu road trip, Denise followed him around the house trying to make him see reason. He was supposed to have surgery in a few days. He had no business on that bike when he had a bad heart. Where was he going? And what if the worst happened? What does she do with the bike?
That’s when Barry broke the news that he never intended to have to pay for the bike. If he died, which he more than likely would, they would come and take the bike, and Denise would have nothing to worry about. Then he headed due north and drove all the way to Danville, Kentucky, spent the night and drove all the way home on his free bike. Tuesday morning, the last morning of his life, Barry showed up right on time for his procedure, told his family he loved them and settled back, ready to leave this world.
Except Barry didn’t die, and now he had a bike to pay for.
After he accepted this fate, Denise saw how happy the bike made him, and she was able to accept it, too.
Barry can often be found in an old t-shirt, shorts, sneakers and full-face helmet, driving around town. If you think that’s some 16-year old who just pulled up at the traffic light, take a second look. More than likely, it’s Barry Munza. Give him a wave the next time you see him. It took him 68 years to get there, with several road bumps along the way.