Last year, right around this time, I posted my dad’s story. The story of his life threatening accident and his incredible road to recovery. This past fall, I took a “picture in writing” course at my elementary school. The art teacher offered it to teachers and I jumped at the chance to do a class with her. She is an incredible teacher and person, one that inspires absolutely everyone around her. The theme of the workshop was “family stories”, and it was offered to teachers who enjoy writing, who wanted to tell their own family’s story, but also for those who might be interested in exploring this type of writing in their classroom. First, our pictures were done by creating textured paper through the use of watercolor. From there we cut and pasted our papers to create several collage pictures, which in turn helped us map out and write down our stories. It was amazing. Most teachers told the story of their ancestors and the hardships they faced while immigrating to America. These stories, with their words and pictures, were all incredibly and heartbreakingly beautiful.
I chose to write my story about my dad.
We were asked to write the piece in the 1st person, from the perspective of the main character. At first, this was difficult for me, but as I dug my heels deeper into the story it became completely natural and satisfying.
I gave this story to my dad for Christmas and I could see it on his face how much it meant to him that I wrote it all down. He sat quietly reading it and I sat nervously hoping he would like it. He did, very much, he said. With tears in his eyes, these four words were all I needed to hear to know he loved it, “Wow, Anna. Thank you.”
I am choosing to share it here so that my family and friends can get a peak at it, too.
This is for you, Dad. I love you.
The house on Ackerman Ave is where my story starts. It was just an ordinary house that sat on a hill in an ordinary city, filled with ordinary people. And for a long time, I was just an ordinary guy. Known by many, loved by all, and knuckle-headed often by my older brothers. Those brothers! They called me “Red”, and the color of my hair explained it all.
There was happiness in that house. And family love and contentment and routine. I fit right into my life, and into the small little world where I lived. I was “Red” and I liked it. “Red”, the one with the smile on his face and a laugh not far from his heart. Growing older, with my basketball in my arms, I laughed throughout my days and I felt happy. Just an ordinary guy who had no idea that he would live to tell an extraordinary story.
The snow was falling and falling hard on that late December morning in 1973. I was 20 and it was the start of my holiday vacation. Bliss and freedom roared through me like a firecracker. It was the morning my friend Billy and I went out in his jeep to pick-up the best Christmas tree we could find. It must have been the promise of Christmas in the air. We had four days before the presents and food would be right at our fingertips. Just the thought made our eyes wide. They warned that snow was coming, but in winter, in Syracuse, snow is always coming. And with Christmas Eve around the corner, we welcomed it. The anticipation of the holidays was finally here. Christmas! We picked up the tree, all prickly with needles and sticky with sap, then we jumped in the jeep and sped off for home.
As we drove back home the snow started to pick up. The sky turned gray as the white flakes poured down in balls from the sky. We drove on with the music and the white. I remember being surrounded by white. The white snow on the road and the white flakes in the sky swirling and swirling, spinning circles in front of my eyes. We couldn’t see the other car slip as we came around the corner. We couldn’t see it hit the ice and turn out of control. We couldn’t know that within seconds we would crash, and suddenly, my white world would go black.
I was thrown from that jeep that day. Thrown from that jeep where I flew through the white, through the snow, through the air, and landed on my head.
I laid in a coma for 3 months.
In the dark.
In the black.
They said the damage to my brain would be too great to recover from. They told my family that I might not survive. They told my family that they would likely have to say goodbye.
I wonder what it was like for them. To wait and wonder and stand around and hope and pray and cry.
But then came the miracle where I survived.
When I woke, I was scared and broken. I was alive, but I couldn’t walk or talk. My right side was paralyzed from the impact of the fall and my mind was compromised. I don’t remember much about those days, but what I do know is that I couldn’t have made it to where I am today without my mother and her faith and perseverance. She loved me too much to let me slip away. I needed to re-learn everything. Everything. How to eat, how to walk, how to talk. My mother put her life into helping me recover and I still can’t express the gratitude I feel for her love. She learned “patterning”, which is a specific type of rehabilitation for people with traumatic brain injuries. She patterned me every day, several times and day and taught everyone around to help too. I was patterned each day by 4 or 5 people at a time. Slowly, slowly regaining my strength and my speech, and most of all, the old “Red” I used to be.
One night, a year or so after the accident, when I was still recovering and using a wheelchair, I was at a bar with my brother Dean when I met a girl. Her name was Sandy. It wasn’t anything really, just an acquaintance, a friend of Dean’s, but over the next several years we kept crossing paths. We’d see each other here and there, at a wedding, during a night out with friends. A year passed. And another. One day Dean came home, so excited to tell me that Sandy had been asking about me. “She wonders how you are,” he said. “You should ask her out.” Not knowing what to do or how to act, I waited on my pursuit. I was shy. And unsure. And still clueless when it came to dating. A few months later when I saw Sandy on school vacation, I finally got a feeling in my gut to ask her out.
For our first date I had a “buy one, get one free” pass to the Old Stone Mill in Skaneateles. Upon picking her up I told her we couldn’t get any drinks or dessert. She probably thought I was crazy. And you know what? She married me despite it.
We were married in August on a warm summer day surrounded by family and friends and I have never felt more extraordinary than I felt on my wedding day.
From that day on, we have spent our days together.
We laugh and have a good time and most of all, I always love how she loves me for me.
Today, I am alive and well. I walk with a limp, and my speech isn’t perfect, but my mind is sharp, and my laugh, stronger than ever. Without the help of my family and friends, I don’t know where I would have found the will to survive. They stuck with me, they guided me, they kept me going and going and going. They helped me back into the man I was and the man that I now have come to be. I still live on an ordinary street in that same ordinary city, but I am no longer an ordinary man. Sandy and I have lovingly raised two daughters, and could not be more proud and humbled of the strong, kind, compassionate women they are today.
We still talk about my story together often, among other things, like the days we spent together in our house as a family. We have memories that could fill a book, days at the lake, and on family road trips, and of Christmases singing in church together. More than anything we always smile and give thanks. Thanks for each other and for our health and happiness.
And always, a special thank you for miracles.