Recently I had a job writing the life stories of people with Traumatic Brain Injury. Accident victims, named so because they’ve had tragic events happen to them. Ceilings collapsing on their heads, steel fences burying them in construction rubble. Their only role in all of it was being there—showing up for work or living in a home with a soggy roof. The accidents were often fluke-like. Fateful. One woman was walking down the street when a giant red R came unmoored from its awning and met with the crown of her head. Her last name? Rodriguez. Coincidence?
The job made me question just how much control we have. I began to think it a silly notion, that control is something one can possess. Like drinking water from the earth and calling it yours.
I wrote these narratives for a law firm. I interviewed the clients and recorded their stories. They were used to strengthen the accident victims’ cases for trials. A “good case” was one in which the victim was at no fault and yet was undeservedly suffering a great deal. It’s a backwards reasoning that could sometimes get you into trouble. My boss liked to tell the story of a man who’d once been a potential client. The man had had an accident but his injuries didn’t seem severe enough to warrant a lawsuit, and the firm turned down his case. Years later, running into my boss on the street, he confessed that he’d only gotten worse—he was now experiencing debilitating head and back pain. Without thinking, my boss clapped his hands together and said, “That’s great!”
One of my best cases involved a man with light green eyes and hands covered in calluses from a lifetime of fixing cars. He’d had an accident while driving for work. It was a messy collision that killed the other driver on impact while my client stumbled away with multiple serious injuries but alive; and this, he said, was the exact problem he faced every morning when he woke up.
I knew from early on I didn’t want to hear his story. The deposition was practically damp with trauma. It awakened something in me.