John’s story
Sunday November 06th 2022, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

I’d never heard him speak publicly about it before. For years they didn’t want to, understandably.

But announcements were made about the 35th anniversary of the annual creche exhibit our church puts on the first weekend every December.

And thus of their son’s accident.

John was twelve, and he and his little brother were on their skateboards crossing the busy street that runs just behind their house and on their way home when a drunk driver blew through her red light. The younger brother took a glancing blow; John took the full force.

I was at that creche exhibit when they suddenly interrupted the crowd to explain that they’d just gotten word: would everybody, of their faith or other faith or of no faith but willing to Think Good Thoughts, be willing to kneel together with them and join with them as they offered a prayer for John?

And so we did. The feeling of hundreds of hearts calling out together towards someone else’s child was a powerful experience never to be forgotten.

It did not look good. But he was still hanging in there.

The thing, though, is that what his dad did for a living as a neuroscientist was to try to help people recover from major brain injuries. His biggest fear as a parent had always been that such might happen to one of his children, and now here it had.

John was in a coma, and his dad knew that every day in that coma was a step away from future recovery.

Two weeks later, he did wake up. He had aphasia. Language, both giving and receiving, was scrambled.

And now here’s where part of my story sneaks a word in (though I didn’t interrupt his to say it.) I had a kid in kindergarten (edit: first grade) and two preschoolers and a friend in the ward had a two year old. Lisa thought we should go visit John at Children’s Hospital in Oakland (the one at Stanford not having been built yet.)

So we did. Once a week we piled in a car during school hours and drove an hour each way to go visit him, one at a time per the rules while the other entertained the littles in the lobby. We became very close during all this.

Lisa had been a cop in Hayward in a previous life so one day when a bad accident entirely shut down the freeway, the only day John’s mom was unable to go see her son, Lisa said, Turn off at that ramp I know all the back roads we can do this, and so John was not left alone that day after all. We made it through.

He spent six weeks in brain rehab and all in all it was I think three months before he was able to come home.

His dad said he went through special ed from there on out and it took him six years to graduate from college–but he did it. He’s married to a wonderful woman now and they have two little boys.

I remember the description of the entire middle school turning out to welcome him back, festooning his wheelchair with enough helium balloons to look like the house in the movie Up.

A year later I was diagnosed with lupus. I’m allergic to all NSAIDs and my arthritis was so severe I was eating with plastic utensils because I couldn’t lift the metal ones. I got told the best thing I could do for it was to start going to a warm indoor therapy pool nearby that was only open to those with a doctor’s prescription to get in.

I had two preschoolers. How on earth was I going to pay for a sitter every day?

Lisa took a deep breath and said, Tell you what: I’ll watch yours if you’ll watch mine right after while I work out in a gym.

She gave me the gift of her mornings Monday through Friday for two years. I could never ever have asked anybody that, but she offered and she did it and our boys grew up as brothers for that time. I expected to keep doing that for her as my youngest went off to kindergarten and she had two more children, but it was not to be; they moved to Michigan.

So. John’s dad told his story. His greatest fear had come true. The whole world had turned out in support in such amazing, inspiring, wonderful ways and his son was so happy being a dad and husband.

When he got done telling this, I asked for the mic.

And what I said was not all the stuff about me nor Lisa at all, but this: that about six years later, during the holiday season, I had been stuck in the backup of an Avoid the 13 sobriety checkpoint where they stopped every car on the main drag and made everyone wait to be checked out by the police to make sure they were driving sober.

The kicker is that they were holding it exactly where John and his brother had been hit, and that went deep for me.

Those checkpoints were deeply unpopular (and sued over) and I knew it.

So I found myself sitting down one day and writing a letter to the police department (by hand in those days!) to be a rare voice of support, telling them it was important to me that they did that.

I hadn’t planned on saying it when I sat down to write but it demanded that I add it, so I did: I explained that my friends’ 12-year-old son and his brother had been hit by a drunk, at that very intersection as a matter of fact, and John had not been expected to survive.

But he did, I said, thanking the first responders; I just wanted you to know he’s in college now.

I sent that off and thought, well, that’s that. Didn’t expect to hear anything back.

A heartfelt letter from the chief of police showed up in the mail.

That checkpoint had been set up where those boys had been hit specifically in John’s memory.

And he told me:

I was the cop who had to knock on that family’s door and tell them what had happened to their son. I never knew how it turned out for him. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

2 Comments so far
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You need to hear the continuation. Mine is not nearly as heart rendering but I ran into my divorce lawyer years after and I said do you want to hear what happened? She said please? I let her know about the surprise love that came into my life, the chance to forgive, my children who finally forgave their father (unfortunately at his memorial service) my connection to his sister and how I helped prayed her to her death at the request of her second family and many many other things. A half an hour later, as we both smiled and cried, standing apart (as you know I don’t usually touch) but with our significant others she said “thank you so much. I never know after the papers are signed as I’m such a symbol of a bad time in people’s lives”. We haven’t seen each other since. But I remember the guy with her put his arm around her shoulders and Neil held my hand when we walked away.

Comment by Afton 11.07.22 @ 7:12 am

Amazing! Sometimes we get a glimpse of the underlying pattern to life and it’s magical.

Comment by ccr in MA 11.07.22 @ 1:18 pm

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