On July 23rd, 1996, Kenny drove drunk at speeds of over 100 mph, eventually crashing head-on with another vehicle. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and the impact ejected him through the back windshield of his car where he bounced off the spoiler, landing 60 feet down the road. Kenny is now a paraplegic.
On July 23rd, 2000, Kenny's friend Jennifer was shot by the boyfriend of the woman she was living with. The shell exploded in her neck and spine, leaving her paralyzed from just above the waist all the way down. She was 18.
On July 23rd, 2004, Jennifer married a man she thought would always be there to support her. He stayed by her side through various surgeries and recoveries. But she hasn't heard from him now in five days.
Tomorrow, on July 23rd, 2005, these three anniversaries will occur, and these people will remember the days their lives were changed forever.
Today I had the privilege of meeting and photographing both Jennifer and Kenny. It's days like today that make me love what I do as a photographer, and it's days like today that make me immensely thankful for the health I have and the family I was born into.
Jennifer is currently living in a local motel with her pitbull Rose. She lives by herself in a wheelchair with the help of a visiting nurse once or twice a day. She is 23 and has already suffered through a shooting, paralysis, numerous surgeries, a failing marriage, a miscarriage, and unbearable physical and emotional pain. Her income is about $520 a month, derived from a Social Security and Medicaid check. Her bedsore has hung around for the last few months, and is bad enough to prevent her from having a real job. The last five years of her life have been spent being disappointed in the people she thought were her friends, and adjusting to the reality of a disabled life.
"I can deal with it or be miserable for the rest of my life. I have to deal with it," Jennifer says repeatedly.
Kenny is able to exercise a little more independence than Jennifer. He drives a car using only his hands, with controls he rigged himself. He has adapted to wheelchair life with a matter-of-fact perspective that comes from reflection over the last 9 years.
"It's probably a good thing I'm paralyzed," he says. "If I wasn't, I'd most likely be in jail or dead. Probably 75% of my friends ended up that way."
Being in a wheelchair, however, hasn't exactly prevented the jail time completely. In April, Kenny was picked up for various drug possessions and a handgun possession. The cops also found his marijuana plants which Kenny claims he grew purely for the medicinal effect.
Both Jennifer and Kenny swear by marijuana to ease their frequent muscle spasms and neuropathic pain.
"Nothing else works like that does," Jennifer says. "If marijuana were legalized, I would only have to take a small fraction of the pills I take now."
She takes 35 pills a day, the majority of which are for pain management. She keeps the narcotics in a small safe so no one will steal them.
Jennifer spends her days in the dark motel room, with her dog Rose as a sole companion.
"If I didn't have her, I probably wouldn't be alive today," she says in all seriousness.
She rolls her wheelchair outside to smoke an occasional cigarette, and to let the dog out. "My days are hell."
Goals for Jennifer include getting into a new rehab program at the local hospital, and being fitted for some leg braces. She has plans to complete a two-year program in graphic design.
Kenny says he gave up drinking a few months ago, and drugs just recently. His focus now is on getting past his legal difficulties, and moving on. He wants to learn drafting at a local college.
**Note: this is a true story according my interpretation. These quotes are from my memory only - not any notes I took. For the (more complete) real news story written by the reporter who accompanied me, see The Daily News-Record's website tomorrow.
**Note#2: Update on July 23rd. I just checked the DNR's site myself, and I guess they didn't run the story today. But it should happen sometime this week.