Daniel lived next door to me. He was 16 years old and a junior at the local high school. He was a teenager filled with ideas, dreams, aspirations and adolescent insecurities. Daniel was also shy, sensitive and caring. He loved the out – of- doors and nature. To his neighbors, he was a very special young man.
David, the neighbor on the other side of our house, had cancer which was slowly spreading. In 1999 I was on vacation in the Caribbean when I was struck by a wave which left me a quadriplegic. Daniel was only a year old when that happened. As I struggled over the years to regain my quality of life, Daniel and I became closer and closer. He began to play an important role in David’s and my lives. As Daniel grew stronger, he began doing more and more for us. The doctors were unable to cure David, and he got weaker and weaker. Daniel did whatever chores he could and always found time to just sit and visit with him. David passed away in November of last year, but Daniel continued to go over to the farm and help out David’s wife, Gail.
For a person with quadriplegia not only do your legs not function, but your arms and hands don’t work normally either. Daniel became my hands as well as my friend. As he grew older he would do more and more. Early on he put up birdhouses and stayed the night with me when my wife was away. We called it adult sitting. He would come with me when I took my 4 wheel drive wheelchair into the woods and fields around the neighborhood. In an effort for me to return to hunting, Daniel built blinds out of snow fence to hide my wheelchair from the deer and turkeys. We both enjoyed these special times we had together. For the last several weeks he had been helping repair my 4×4 wheelchair. Just recently, we talked about what we were going to do when the weather broke, and I could get outside. I took a picture, intended for my website, showing him as he was drilling holes in the new seat pan he had just put on the chair. He looked so proud and happy.
Life is a struggle for me, but I never knew the depths of the struggle Daniel was going through. Over the last few years we had talked about the taunting, teasing and bullying he was experiencing at school. As a former special education teacher, I shared strategies I had used with my students. This year things seemed to be improving. Daniel was on the honor roll and he seemed more confident and self-assured. What we didn’t realize was after years of attacks, he was being driven into a desperate act to escape. Monday night it all came to a head and he lost HIS struggle.
Who has done this? A few, hiding behind the anonymity of social media, can text and Tweet whatever they wish. Can they not look and see what can happen? Will they not realize the full extent their actions, or are they already looking for another vulnerable target? I have learned that there are enough challenges and pain in life already. Why make it any harder for anyone else?
As I look out my window I can see Daniel’s tracks in the snow from when he shoveled, brought in wood or filled our bird feeders. With the coming of spring, these signs will melt away. But his memory will remain locked in all our hearts, minus the piece of our hearts he took with him.
…Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes…
Lord I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much.
Daniel by Elton John