Well, the NCAA Basketball tourney is hitting the last rounds of the brackets. The field is narrowing from 16 to 8. Too bad I’m not a basketball fan because it seems as if everybody and their mothers are doing this bracket thing.

No, instead March always brings something different in my life. Unfailingly since 1997 this month has changed me every single year. Starting in 1997 with the passing of my father on March 16th I have faced new challenges, struggles, and other deeply meaningful life events. Last year I gave up red meat. Just the cow and the calf, mind you. The pig, though a filthy creature to millions throughout the world, is still a tasty creature especially when it is slow-smoked and slather in BBQ sauce between two slices of white bread.

In March 2001 I left my previous job as an IT support geek for the State of Florida. Sure I was going to quit the job come June when my wife and I moved to Tampa, but the endless BS and stress that was involved with the job moved the “I have had enough” date up several months.

This year I have been focusing on new challenges such as this blog, trying to get more things done (GTD) in my limited time, fixing how I perceive the past and future, and just generally flexing my mind.

Up until last week, things were going great for March. I read several excellent books on framing the above goals and began implementing most of what I studied fairly quickly. Then the mundane task of having our roof replaced turned into another one of those life events I was wishing would not come about.

On Thursday the 16th, the 9th anniversary of my father’s death no doubt, I took the day off to give the roofers access to the house if needed and to continue the progress I was making in the head fixing. Suddenly at around 8:30 that morning came the terrible sound of something scraping down the roof from peak to eave joined by the horrifying phrase “Oh God no! No! No!”.

The next thing I saw and heard was that of one of the roofers litteraly dropping from the sky and hitting my back deck with a terrible thud. The image was a blur but it and the sound were all too real. The next thing I know I’m throwing open my sliding glass door to be met with the sound of an agonizing scream and more “Oh Gods!”.

“My back! My baaaaack! It’s broken, it’s broken”. The roofer flailed violently, arms reaching for something and nothing.

“I’m calling 911” I yelped. “Don’t move!”

My heart was pounding in my chest and I my anxiety was constricting my lungs. Soon I, too, was throwing my arms around violently in search of the phone. The damn thing was on the hook but my anxiety was shutting down the parts of my brain controlling vision and direction. With the screaming echoing throughout the house I raced back and forth from room to room desperately searching for the phone. I caught sight of one of the other roofers who had raced to his fallen partner holding the guys hand and dialing 911 with the other. He looked exactly like how I felt but was in much more control. He pleaded with the voice on the other end of the phone to send EMS quick and begged me for the address. That I knew and was able to blurt out. The screaming continued. This guy was going to die right here, right now.

“I’ll flag down the paramedics” I said in a voice of panic and ran for the front door to the driveway. Another one of the roofers was out front and was on the phone calling the bossman.

Our street is difficult to see so I headed for the main thoroghfare up the way. I stood at the corner of the entrance to our neighborhood desperately listening for the rescue vehicles. There was morning traffic and one of the main connecting roads that led to this road was closed for construction. My mind raced harder thinking that this man on my deck was going to die thanks to the morning rush hour and sheer dumb luck. The commuters passing must have seen such a strange sight with this hulking man pacing frantically on this street corner.

I prayed and prayed and prayed as fast as I could eventually jumbling the Our Father into the Hail Mary. Like the roofer, I pleaded to God desperately. The wait, I thought, was going to kill me too.

Then a fire truck came barreling down the road, lights flashing but without sirens. I practically ran into the middle of the road to wave down the red tank like I was a third base coach. Once I saw the engine turning, I darted back down into the neighborhood and towards the house still circling my arm for the engine to follow. Yards away I heard the screaming again.

The sound of an ambulance was heard in the distance as I led the first wave of rescuers to the fallen roofer. They asked me several question which I am sure I answered but can no longer remember. Once they were tending to the roofer, I retreated back into the house and pushed myself into the furthest corner I could find. I finally spotted the phone and picked it up.

The emergency personnel went as fast as they arrived, carrying the still screaming roofer on the gurney. Behind them were left ripped plastic bags that once held IVs and bandages and the jeans and shoes that were cutoff with surgical quickness. The roofer’s buddy that was by his side the whole time was on the phone with the roofers wife. The wife must have thought he was playing a cruel joke because his buddy had to keep swearing that he was telling the truth. Once his partner was loaded into the ambulance and rushed away I mustered up the strength to talk to the friend.

“How old is he?” I asked.

“Thirty-two.”

“Married?”

“Yeah.”

“Kids?” I was hoping he would say no.

“Yeah, a two year old.”

That one struck home. Olie is two. My heart hit new depths and I thought I was going to faint. I called Mollie immediately.

A half hour later, me and the roofer who stayed in the front yard started talking about what had happened. Apparently Jason, the roofer who fell, was at the peak and slipped on the roofing felt. Only it wasn’t felt. Instead the owner had decided to use a newer product they were installing on other roofs. Unlike the traditional felt, this new stuff didn’t have to be tacked down as it was already sticky on one side and would hold to the sheathing. The top side of the material was a slick surface designed to repel water. On this morning, the slick surface was also covered with oak pollen and morning dew. Essentially, it was a frictionless surface “like Teflon” as one of the guys put it.

The owner showed up shortly afterward. He first debriefed the remaining workers. I gave them their privacy knowing that from a business standpoint, your customers don’t have to know everything. When he was done with them, he came over to me and began to reassure me about workman’s comp insurance and all other financial and liability manners. Obviously I had briefly wondered about these things, but it wasn’t the center of my focus. However, hearing that everything was fine in that department did give me some strength. I assured him that my main concern at this moment was for the life that hung in the balance. I also told him that maybe it would be better if everyone stayed off the roof that day until they were sure how the fall happened and some safety precautions were taken.

The boss ordered the men to pick up everything and to clean up the areas they were in. He then told them to go back to the shop to get statements for insurance. The boss left and the rest followed once the outside of the house was cleaned. I leaned against the railing of my back deck and stared back and forth between the edge of the roof and the spot where Jason fell.

I struggled for the rest of the day getting the images and sounds out of my head. My anxiety slowly began to ebb with the aid of some potent painkillers I had from an injury two weeks prior. When Mollie and Olie came home late in the day, I gripped them with my arms in fear and love. That night I couldn’t sleep a wink. I thought as much about his wife and kids as I thought about the roofer. If this guy was paralyzed…If this guy were to die…

Morning came. The owner called me shortly after 7:30 to tell me that the men were going to finish the roof that day. I asked about Jason and he said that he had internal bleeding all night and still couldn’t feel his legs. I took Oliver to day care and headed for work. I had to go to work to get my mind off the previous days event.

Just after my lunch break, the owner called and said that the shingling would be completed by five and the house left in pristine condition. I couldn’t help but think to myself that nothing would make the place perfect again. I again asked about Jason and was told that he was going to be in surgery all day. I again prayed and hoped for some miracle.

When I arrived home that evening, the place was indeed spotless and the roof…perfect. I popped some more pills hoping to get some sleep that night. Again I hugged Mollie and Olie with all my heart. As I drifted off to sleep, I still thought about the roofer and his wife and kids.

Saturday morning brought depression. Though I slept well enough, I awoke with the terrifying images and sounds again cursing me. I wanted to do something for Jason. Flowers? That’s not the kind of thing you get a manly roofer, is it. They’re also useless to his family. His family…maybe I should get them something instead. Something for the kids. I was kidding myself. I was racked with a guilt that no gift could rid. What the hell was I going to do?

I went upstairs and watched some TV with Oliver. Mollie was downstairs doing some cleaning. There was a knock at the door and she answered. It was some strange lady wielding a camera. She was a bit surprised that people lived here. I could hear a bit of the conversation between this woman and Mollie. Before I could figure out what was going on, Mollie led her to the backyard and the scene of the violence. After a moment or two, Mollie came upstairs and told me that the lady had some questions that she couldn’t answer. I was a bit taken aback. After all, it was 8:30 in the morning and I hadn’t showered or shaved yet.

I joined this woman on my back deck. She was a odd looker with a disproportionately big head stuck on a stilt of a body. Her eyes were large and observant. She immediately went into a question. But before I answered her I asked her for her name and purpose. She apologized for the confusion. She was the workman’s comp insurance adjuster as indicated by the card she handed me while juggling with her purse and camera. I answered the questions with careful regard for the facts and only the facts. I told her my side of the story only from what I observed. In essence, I didn’t tell her much. For one, I was familiar with how workman’s comp adjuster work and didn’t want to say anything that was speculation. I didn’t want to screw the roofer what may be his due. She asked me about the fancy felt, the pollen, the dew. I told her only what I knew from what I had heard the other roofers say. All in all, I was the perfect witness. Amazing considering if she had cross-examined me within 24 hours of the event, who knows what I would have said.

I could tell she was convinced that she wasn’t going to get too much information from and decided it was better to end the questioning. She informed me that she was meeting with the owner and the workers on Monday to start a more formal investigation. I wanted her off my door step. This was between her and the roofing company or at least that’s what I was assured by the owner just two days ago. I wanted her company to cough up the money and don’t bother me with things I was told not to be bothered by.

I asked her if she knew how Jason was. She could see the concern on my face.

“Oh, you don’t know? He’s paralyzed. He’s a paraplegic.” At least she delivered the news with a bit of humanity.

My heart again sunk like it had sunk many times in the past couple of days. I knew this was what I was eventually going to hear. But to hear it stated as fact was hard. The whole thing was becoming way too real.

And then she said something in a very low, soft voice that changed everything.

Did you know he had a bag of pot on him?

My brain froze. I stared blankly at her. Did she just say what I thought she said? Pot? Suddenly she had the information that I needed and she was the one being coy.

“Uh…no” I responded quietly.

“Yeah. I didn’t know if you knew that or not…if someone had told you.”

“No.” I was still dumbfounded.

She began a new line of questioning about the bag of pot. Did I see it? Did I see him smoking it? Did I know he was stoned? Did I smell anything?

No. No. No. No. I was answering in a manner of fact and disbelief. I hadn’t seen Jason that morning until he was flat on my deck writhing in pain. Stoned? On drugs? It had never been a possibility. How could he? How could he be? How could he be so fucking stupid? He has kids. Who would get stoned and get on a two-story roof? I started to feel something completely different. Rage.
The adjuster left me with that. She could see I was stunned and that my demeanor was changing. Was that her point in telling me this? It wasn’t something she had to say.Why did she tell me this? I said goodbye. The door shut.

The door shut.

Something big welled up in me faster and faster. Anger. Seething rage. I wanted to explode. I yelled for Mollie. I told her what I just heard, what this woman just told me. I stomped. I banged walls. I cursed under my breath. I was losing control in a whole other way. Mollie, sensing that I was about to go off the deep end, picked up Olie and headed out the door for their usual Saturday trip to the park….a few hours earlier than usual.

Then a new notion came to me. It was spawned by my recent attempts to mend my mind. I needed to seize control of my perception of what I now knew. The very present was here. I knew there was nothing I could do to change things and I had no idea of what the future held. For every panic thought of “Oh God, he’s not going to get workman’s comp so he’s going to sue us” there was the calm thought of I was in control. I called a lawyer friend of my father’s.

There is an irony to all of this. This event happens on the anniversary of my father’s death. My father was general counsel for the Jim Walter Corporation. Construction law, especially roofing product liability, was something he was an expert at. This meant that he knew a lot of other experts, too. Mostly lawyers of course. However, it also meant his sons know more about the field than your average citizen. Hell, we probably have an unhealthy knowledge of roofing and construction law.

The lawyer friend was luckily in his office that Saturday morning. No wonder my dad liked him so much. Finding a lawyer in the office on a Saturday morning and not on the links is a rare thing. Instead of beating around the bush and catching up via chit-chat I cut straight to the chase. That’s generally something I’ve come to discover lawyers prefer. I gave him the full, uncolored details of the event. To be assured by the owner of the company was one thing. To be assured by my friend was like being touched by the hand of God. We did do some catching up, said my goodbye, and let him get back to work.

I knew at that moment that everything was going to be fine. Better yet, the cloud of guilt and emotional pain was starting to lift. I no longer felt tortured by the event and its consequences. Yes, I still felt some empathy for this man but more so for his wife and kids. They were going to be the ones who would trully suffer. But I drew a line. This man brought it upon himself. Maybe he wasn’t stoned at the time and maybe it was the magic felt that caused him to slip. However, when he decided to bring pot to work that day, he wasn’t thinking period. Regardless, he would have to bear the guilt. Not me.

A week has passed since the event and I still think about what actually happened. I still also think about his wife and kids and what they might be going through. I am not angry at Jason nor am I sad for him. I, myself, am accepting that this is kind of what happens in life and there’s not much I can do to change what has happened in the past nor prepare for what the future might bring. It is all very real and very now but it is also very okay.

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