(Host) Commentator Caleb Daniloff recently had a chance encounter that made a deep impression on him.
(Daniloff) We’d gotten up early for the flight. The bags were heavy and the lines at Logan long. I was relieved to find a spot to sit down awhile before boarding. I slouched back and watched the clusters of passengers amble by.
The flow of traffic was soon disrupted by a gaunt young man, moving jerkily, apparently disabled. Each limb operated independent of the others as if connected by springs. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, with a goatee and sideburns. He took the seat next to me, and slowly tugged out a book from his bag. He laboriously lifted it to his knees as if his arms ran on dying batteries.
Suddenly, a thick scrapbook was sitting in my lap. I saw the word “Miracle” on the cover. Expecting a religious lecture, I thought, Great, he’s probably found God in the prison of his broken body and was now going to show me how.
“What’s this,” I asked, bristling.
“Read it,” he said in a slow, halting voice. Then turned away.
Reluctantly, I flipped open the cover. His name was Josh and he hailed from the Boston suburbs. There were some family snapshots accompanied by handwritten captions. A few pages later came this title: “A Day We’ll Never Forget,” and photos of Josh in a hospital bed. One caption read, “Josh grew two inches while in the coma.” Okay, he had my attention.
There were newspaper clippings from 1993. A headline read: “Student on Break Dies in NH Crash, 2 Others Critically Hurt as Vehicle Flips.” Josh was one of the two. And his friend Sarah was killed after their car barreled into a guardrail on Interstate 89. A distracted driver and the decision to ride unbuckled penned the gruesome scene. Josh was in a coma for six months. He was 15.
It was Christmas break and there were only supposed to be three riders in the Chevy Blazer for the trip home. At the last minute, three more piled in, along with hockey gear, luggage and laundry. To accommodate the new load, the back seats were laid down. Josh and two others squeezed into this playpen. His last lucid moment saw the driver fumbling with the CD player outside of Concord, New Hampshire.
I’ve imagined the scene numerous times. Young bodies crumpled along the highway. Christmas presents scattered, dirty shirts blowing about. It’s the kind of scene with the sickening power to stop time. Yet it never does.
Each May starts a grisly bloom. Wooden crosses sprout by roadsides, plastic flower vases appear. The springtime road deaths of teenagers is particularly shattering, the dew on their lives barely dried.
While Josh always wore his seatbelt save this one time, I used to be the type of kid who didn’t. Plenty of reckless choices were made. There were near misses that still make me shudder at their fate-tempting stupidity. But I made it out unscathed. Josh didn’t.
Why he chose me to sit next to that morning, I don’t know. But he was hardly the proselytizer I first suspected. In fact, he was me. He was bearing my burden, the burden of every teen who’s ever made a thoughtless decision behind the wheel. The least I could do was spread a little of his gospel.
This is Caleb Daniloff from Middlebury.
Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter and freelance journalist.