I had arrived at Warm Springs in the late summer of 1950, on the same day
that Joey Buckley arrived in his leather and aluminum chair, both legs
crippled, in long leg braces, a motherless boy from a small town in Alabama.
I was alert to his presence, greeting every new face as a possibility, and I
liked the way he looked with his square face and wide-set brown eyes. In the
waiting room as we checked into the hospital, his father sat next to my
mother and I remember the image of him exactly: olive skin, broad face, and
long shiny hair, his head held in his big hands as if it had cut loose from his
Joey would have been an athlete. He would have been a great
athlete, this boy, his father told my parents. He wouldve played football at
Alabama, and now what?
Now Im going to be fixed, Papa, Joey said. You too? he asked
It was still early morning, breakfast trays collected in the wards, meds
distributed, plans in place for the rest of the day. Joey and I were parked at
the top of the steep hill, looking down.
Its a long way to the bottom, he said.
I was checking Joeys casts, sticking out in front of him propped
on pillows, blood seeping through the plaster at the top of both of the casts.
The bloods from my stabilization incision, he said, conscious
that I was looking at it. You bled too, right?
Right, I said, a shadow of doubt, a cloud floating across my
sun. But I had only one stabilization and you had two, so thats a lot of
Itll dry up, he said. So why are we doing this?
For fun, I said. Just for fun, dont you think?
Yes, for fun, he said. He was smiling and his eyes lit up and I
knew we were ready to push off.
Hand in hand? I called to him.
I cant push if were holding hands, he said.
And lined up side by side, we gave a huge push on the metal ring
on the wheels of our chairs and we were off down the hill, faster and faster,
and I think I was squealing with excitement and so was Joey and maybe he
called out How do we stop? but maybe he didnt. We were going so fast, so
much faster than I even imagined in my dreams of this adventure, I felt that I
was losing control, the bottom of the hill rising to meet us as we sailed down
side by side, and I grabbed the right wheel to stop the momentum, grabbed it
with all my might so the chair would turn 180 degrees and stop there at the
bottom. And as I did, sensing that the chair would stop, that I had taken
control in the nick of time, I saw Joey fly into the air just ahead, out of his
wheelchair, the chair tipped on its side and Joey gliding above me, his arms
flailing, his heavy white casts pulling him down, down, down to the cement
walk and then the heavy thud of the casts hitting the ground or the thud of his
head and silence.
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