Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

Supposing that I should have the courage
To let a red sword of virtue
Plunge into my heart,
Letting to the weeds of the ground
My sinful blood,
What can you offer me?
A gardened castle?
A flowery kingdom?

What? A hope?
Then hence with your red sword of virtue.

In the springtime where I live, thunderstorms fire up on the radar like blooming dandelions. They color them blue until they become dangerous and then they segue from true dandelion yellows into reds. What you want to look for is the hook, like in a pop song. It's the hook that will get you. It will snag you like a chorus you can't get out of your head and it will spin you right round, right round, baby. When the red hook turns into a hurricane, you can see a tint of purple creep in. Purple is closer to black and death is as black as it gets.

Or is it?

I have a friend and client whom I've known for years. He's a wheeler and he's a dealer and he's got more money than I even want. In the ten years I've been knowing him, he's been into car dealerships, nursing homes, building and renting apartments, venture capital deals that I have no idea about, and a wife and two kids. The wife is a talker and a runner and she's thin and she's got a cell phone jammed in her ear all day long. So does he, of course. He's overweight but hasn't gained a pound since I met him. The two kids are spoiled rotten, as you can imagine. But that's not to say that these aren't good folks.

It's difficult for me to see how folks are judged at times. Jerry Falwell dies the other day and on this very website there is a mocking "topic change" to say something like, "Finally, the fucker is dead." Those weren't the exact words, but that's what they meant. I guess we're in an age with so few graces that even the recently deceased don't escape the gutter-trappings of the rabble. No matter what you think of a person, to glorify their recent death shows that whatever negligent animals raised you forgot to teach you good manners. And this is not an irremediable situation. You can learn manners, no matter your age.

Many of the same folks who laughed at Mr. Falwell's demise would be the same folks who would absolutely hate my overweight friend and client and his hyperactive wife and their two spoiled kids and their huge house and all their money. They would hate them just because of the huge house and all the money. They would not stop to think that this man employs at least a hundred folks on any given day and that these employees might not have a job without his workaholic spirit. And even if they thought about that, they'd still hate him.

I was in that huge house today, and it was the first time I'd seen their son since he was ten years old. That day, he was whining for his dad to finish cleaning the pool so that he could go swimming. I had a bad feeling about the boy that day, fearing that he was turning into the sort of rich kid layabout who goes from sitting in front of a huge flat-screen TV playing video games to getting hooked on hard drugs or jamming so much metal into his face that his parents finally have to disown him.

But today the boy I see is sixteen, and he'll never have to worry about being disowned or pierced or tattooed. He's in a wheelchair and can't raise his head, even though he can still move his eyes and smile when there is something amusing said. His arms don't leave the padding on the armrests and his feet lay crooked on the floor.

A friend of his turned sixteen a few weeks before him, and snuck out of his parents' big house and took their fancy sports car. He called my friend and client's kid to sneak out and go for a ride with him. He did.

I can imagine the CD player turned up just loud enough not to blow the speakers. Were they listening to metal or gansta rap? Could it have possibly been redneck crap like Hank Williams Jr.? I can imagine both of the boys drinking vodka straight out of the bottle and bragging to each other how it didn't even burn their throats. Or was it whiskey?

What I don't have to imagine is what happened next, after the police siren went off behind them. Was it from watching too many car chase scenes in movies, too many episodes of COPS on TV, or playing too many carjacking video games? Whatever the motivation, the newly-mobile teen put his foot to the floor and an hour-long chase ensued. This chase ended on a dirt road on which the dead end included a very old and stately oak tree which was not likely to be moved by what to it must have seemed a small piece of inhabited metal moving at around a hundred miles per hour. In fact, since large old trees live their lives at such a slow pace, it probably didn't have time to think about the incident at all, except in reverie. The tree is probably sitting there right this minute trying to piece it all together and transfer energy from an upper branch to help heal the scar tissue nearer the earth.

The driver was killed instantly, voiding not only his ticket to the Senior Prom but also his tennis lesson the next morning. His local forecast turned from somewhat cloudy to the deepest purple within seconds.

My friend and client's son in the passenger seat got dealt an entirely different hand. He faced the reddish purple hook of a branch of this innocent but startled oak tree. A branch about the size of a 2x4 stabbed right through the windshield and into the right side of his chest.

For a couple of days, there were thoughts of pulling the plug and letting him go. Half of the medical staff was leaning in that direction. But moms and dads are not hospital personnel and that was never really an option as long as the boy had a chance to live.

So today I saw him for the first time since all this happened a few months ago. His dad and I sat at the kitchen table and conducted our business while the boy sat in his wheelchair just a few feet away. I'm usually pretty good at finding something to say in awkward situations to break the tension or lighten the mood. But every time a thought came into my head, there were loud sirens going off. I started to say, "Wow, Trevor. I haven't seen you since you were in the fifth grade. You've sure turned into a fine young . . ." NO! NO! He has turned into a fucking vegetable, for Christ's sake! Or, "You know, Trevor, you'll be taking care of your old man in a few years just like he's taking care of you now. You'll owe him . . ." NO! NO! There's nothing that can be said. Just keep your mouth shut and get out of there with a smile.

When his dad would talk to him, the boy's slanted head topped by a crooked baseball cap would sort of light up halfway and you could see his eyes following motion and a smile come to his lips. Maybe he'll get better one day. Chances are he won't. It's been too long now, and brain injuries that are going to show major rehabilitation would have probably had him able to move his limbs by now.

The parents have shown absolute commitment in the face of this situation. They are taking turns taking him to all sorts of therapy each and every day. They've changed their whole living arrangement so that they live in three rooms in the downstairs of their mansion. The formal dining room now has Trevor's hospital bed where the dining table used to be. My client and his wife live primarily in the adjoining kitchen and den. And what lives upstairs now may be the worst part of the whole story.

The fourteen year-old daughter has used this whole episode as a defining punctuation mark as to why her life sucks. She has gone into a deep fit of either despondency or selfish self absorption. They've changed her schools once already and she may have to move to another one again soon. She sits around upstairs all day cutting herself and whining about her brother who used to be all normal and stuff and now who gets 100% of the attention from everyone.

My daughter has pissed me off at times. She's gotten into trouble and I've helped her get out of it. She's told me she'd do stuff that I wish she'd have done, but never did. But she's walking on two good legs and feeding herself with two good hands. I wonder how my friend and client and his wife are surviving this with the good cheer I saw from both of them today.

You know how folks will casually say, "Well, this will change everything"? Just hope that you're always making a joke when you say that.

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