The summer before Joey turned 15, we went to visit some family in Texas, and our cousin’s boyfriend had an extra four-wheeler he let Joey ride while we were there. One morning, I woke to my aunt yelling for my dad to come out to the garage quickly. Joe had gotten up early to ride up and down the country road before we met up with some other family. At some point, he got off the road going faster than he intended and when he tried to maneuver between a steel tube fence and a large oak tree, a low-hanging branch nearly scalped him. Amazingly, he didn’t lose consciousness, and was able to get off the four-wheeler and jog back to our uncle’s house, but he was bleeding profusely and ended up being life-flighted to the nearest hospital. The damage was all superficial, and the surgeon managed to give him a relatively smooth horse-shoe shaped scar from ear to ear.
It was probably the scariest moment of my life up to that point, but afterwards I fell into the belief that my brother was invincible. The next time we visited my uncle, that oak tree was dead. We took it as a sign that he was unbeatable.
Maybe that’s why I had such a hard time believing that an idiot driver was the cause of his demise.
And in the weeks and months since, I’ve been consistently struck by the fragility of life. What I had seen before as a great chasm between life and death now looks like nothing more than a thin veil. I’m reminded of the lyrics to an Ingrid Michaelson song,
Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts.
So it’s fairly simple to cut right through the mess,
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess.
And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just,
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.