We’ve never been great about cleaning out the garage, but we were tackling it early last month when my wife, exasperated again, asked what I wanted to do with the scrappy black garbage bag filled with “my accident stuff.”
As I had done so many times, I looked at the bag but not into it. And I scoffed, “Just leave it alone.”
“Until when?” she pushed backed.
“I don’t know,” I told her, yet again.
Betsy had picked up that bag about a year after my bicycling accident when the police called to say the investigation was over (that’s another story) and to ask if we wanted the “evidence.” What kind of question was that? Yes, of course, we wanted the evidence.
But after she brought the bag home, it sat untouched. I could neither look into it nor throw it out. I figured I’d check it out at some point in the future -- like some sort of perverse time capsule.
I just didn’t want to see it. I had a similar reaction after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. At that time, I was working for Lehman Brothers at the World Financial Center directly across from the Twin Towers when the planes crashed in. What I witnessed, no one should have. It took me 15 years before I could pay a visit to Ground Zero. I just didn’t want to see it.
As for our garage, every year, things seem to creep in and about, and suddenly there is a lot of stuff we never quite intended to be there. For me, it’s critical to be able to drive my car inside in the winter because my spinal cord injury has left me unable to walk and do many other things. I can drive, but I cannot clear snow from the car roof nor can I navigate an icy driveway in a wheelchair. The garage is a safe haven in the winter.
As Betsy was clearing a place for my car, she strongly (did I say STRONGLY?) suggested it might be time to face the bag.
I told her I’d get to it.
And so I did -- on Nov. 26, 2016, the unseasonably warm Saturday of this Thanksgiving weekend at approximately 1 pm. It was five years to the date and time of my accident, which also occurred that year on an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving Saturday. Our home was filled as our three daughters were back from college or visiting for the holiday, but I chose to be by myself when I rolled my wheelchair into the garage and unceremoniously dumped everything out of the bag.
I thought I knew what I’d find. I’m not really a sentimental kind of guy, but I was a bit astounded by what I saw. The first thing I pulled out was my front bicycle wheel. It was mangled, twisted, broken, unfixable. My bicycle was nearly spokeless and I was nearly speechless.
There were also many broken carbon fiber pieces that once comprised the frame of my bicycle. My helmet was there and so were my cycling shoes, albeit the only intact items. Then I pulled out a torn jacket. And frayed bicycling shorts. And handlebars and a bicycle seat and numerous other bits and pieces of the heydey of my bicycling era.
Over the years, I have told my “Sports Enthusiast v. Sports Utility Vehicle” story before: A driver fell asleep at the wheel in broad daylight on a quiet country road, first slamming into my friend, Zach, and then into me. Zach shattered his pelvis and was hurled dangerously close to the banks of the Saddle River in northern New Jersey. I was not expected to survive the head-on crash, although some really smart maneuvers from EMTs on the scene and a Medevac helicopter ride to Hackensack University Medical Center helped save my life.
In the end, the sports enthusiast won, but the sheer enormity of that matchup continues to confound me -- as well as my doctors and those closest to me. Opening the contents of the bag brought it home again. When I saw the tangled, twisted wreckage of evidence for the first time, I started to realize now how lucky I was. Only a middle aged weekend warrior in pretty good physical shape with a keen survival instinct could have been the right match for a 2-ton sports utility vehicle in its prime.
I won, I guess, and usually that feels great.
And then my mind drifted to thinking about how fate can be both cruel and a blessing. I went from an energetic, ambitious career on Wall Street, focused on making money and taking care of my family, to a paraplegic who decided to leave The Street behind and take care of a much broader population of those like me -- young and old -- who need home care. That’s been a journey too - perhaps I’ll take you through it sometime in 2017 - but if you want to get a sense of where we are now with LeanOnWe, click here.
As for the bag, anyone need a spare inner tube or a good pair of cycling shoes?