Rich Fletcher grimaced as he inched his way down the parallel bars.
When he got to the end, his wife, Laura, was waiting.
It was the first time he had looked down at her since an enraged driver rear-ended him at 60 mph and sent him flying off his motorcycle.
He couldn’t feel his legs or the plastic and wood braces that kept them rigid, but he was nonetheless standing.
“Hi, Shorty,” he said to his wife.
“I forgot how tall you are,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
A few minutes later, the 5-foot-10 father of three, paralyzed from the waist down, was back in a wheelchair and once again looking up at his wife.
“It feels like someone cut you in half at the waist,” he said of his deadened limbs. “That’s exactly what it feels like.”
It had all happened in an instant on a Friday afternoon in August, a few weeks shy of his 48th birthday.
Fletcher was heading home to Antioch from a contract job inspecting projects for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission when a car almost swerved into him just off the Bay Bridge.
He motioned to the driver to pay attention and continued on his commute, ignoring the man’s profane response.
Miles later, on Highway 24, he looked into the mirror of his motorcycle and saw the car pursuing him. And then came the impact. Fletcher was left with broken ribs, torn rotator cuffs, severe road rash and a crushed spine.
When relatives received the initial phone calls, they were told he probably wouldn’t survive.
He had been the sole breadwinner for his family, which included a child who recently graduated from college, one still in college and one in high school.
Expenses quickly soared as Fletcher fought for his life in the hospital.
Bureaucracy delayed disability payments as rent came due and then came due again.
Plus, Laura said, “the guy that hit him had nothing.”
Friends and family helped out financially and organized community fundraisers, but the bills kept piling up. There were medications and medical equipment – on top of the monthly $1,900 health insurance bill – and the need for accessibility renovations to their rented house.
Almost two months past due on rent, the family feared they would lose their home.
The Fletchers were referred to The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, which paid two months’ back rent for the family, allowing them to get stable as they navigated health insurance and disability benefits.
Worries for wife, children
Rich Fletcher can accept the physical battles he will face in the coming months – or years – but he worries about the financial impact on his wife and children.
His daughter Alex, 22, was starting her career as a full-time makeup artist. She cut back her shifts to two days a week to help take care of her father.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “He was our sole provider.”
Her sister, Rachel, 20, is in college, and their brother, Jake, 16, is in high school.
“What it’s done to my family,” Fletcher said, his eyes filling with tears, “that’s the main thing, you know?”
His wife nodded, wiping tears from her eyes.
Life for all of them changed “that fast,” the high school sweethearts said in unison.
Fletcher is looking toward the day he can go back to work, perhaps in the construction business again, even if his commute is not on a motorcycle.
The Season of Sharing Fund was a gift, one that Fletcher said he believes can offer hope to others.
“There are lots of people like me that need help,” he said.
As for the driver who hit him?
With the help of witnesses, California Highway Patrol officers quickly caught up to him after the incident and shot him when he reportedly refused to comply with police commands. He survived and was charged with multiple felonies in the incident. He remains jailed.
Thankful for family
Fletcher hopes his story will help others to stay calm on the road, to keep anger from getting the best of them.
Aside from that, the Fletcher family is looking toward the future, grateful that there is one with their husband and dad, even if he’s sitting most of the time.
They are, more than anything, thankful on this Thanksgiving Day.
“Life is going to be different,” Laura Fletcher said, smiling. “But he’s alive.”