Every day Kevin Brooks lives the consequences of, in T.S. Eliot’s lines from "The Wasteland,"
“The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract.”
One evening when Brooks was in high school after a night of partying, he plowed his red compact car into an intersection, killing his dear friend Brendan and leaving himself paralyzed from the chest down.
Brooks shared his sobering and powerful story to the students at KO from the seat of his wheelchair from which he has sat for 16 years since his accident at a recent assembly. A self-described wild child, Brooks’s nickname in high school was “The Creature.” “I didn’t get the nickname for staying home on weekends if you know what I’m saying,” Brooks said. He embraced every aspect of his name from hard-partying to skateboarding down a hill naked to the cheering of his friends, but he “got way too cocky for his own good.” One day, his lifestyle and poor choices tragically caught up with him.
Brooks shared his early moments in the hospital after the accident where he was unaware of Brendan’s death, and he was unable to even wiggle his toes. Considering his own paralysis, he thought the worst was over until his mother informed him that his friend died in the accident. “It’s not easy to hear. Not easy to say. I don’t have jokes for this. What have I done to these people? I have ruined their lives. That’s why I am in your school right now. I never want this to happen to anyone. That’s why I do this,” he said.
Between the jokes of his injury and the heartache and depression he suffered, Brooks told the story of his recovery both physical and emotional. Initially, Brooks was unable to breathe on his own, learning to take three breaths at a time without a ventilator. Through rehabilitation, he learned how to shower and dress, a process that took two and a half hours. Staring every day at Brendan’s family’s phone number on a piece of paper, he finally screwed up the courage to call Brendan’s parents and visit them in their house filled with photos of their son. In an extraordinary act of mercy, the family forgave Brooks, understanding that their son could just have easily been the driver. The family was instrumental in Brooks not receiving a jail sentence for driving while impaired and causing Brendan’s death. “They went to bat and gave me a second chance, and this is what I am doing with it. I’m going to figure this out,” he said.
As Brooks told his story, the Roberts stage featured four empty chairs. Those chairs represented Brooks's friends that didn’t make it either through drugs, suicide, car accident or shooting (a case of mistaken identity in gang-related violence.) “I know this is some heavy stuff we’re talking about. But I hope you get why we’re having this conversation. It’s about living your best. Living your full. For you and the people you love. It’s about looking out for your buddies. Not losing buddies. One friend is too many. Four friends. I don’t know what that is,” he said.
“I share our stories with you so that you feel it, hear it, remember it, get it, use it. Just wiggle your toes.”
Brooks is a motivational speaker who visits schools throughout North America. His moving story touches on such important issues as impaired driving, depression, bullying, and substance abuse.