JOHN JACOBS by Conor Truax

JOHN JACOBS by Conor Truax

My friend John Jacobs was meant to study computer engineering and play football at State before he got swiped on Main Street by a Camry driving straight to heaven. After that he wasn’t the same John Jacobs anymore. He was John Doe. He had to relearn to walk and read and write and even when he was able to do those things, he couldn’t do them all too well. People called it a miracle.

It was hard to tell if he remembered me when I finally visited. I only went once. Time passed and I forgot him. There was no way for me to remember myself. Being became becoming. We didn’t take many photos back then.

High school ended and we left home to study, work, and make families of our own. We put photos on our mantels and our high school yearbooks stayed stored in unpacked moving boxes. We did this with varying degrees of success. This was the lineage of hereditary love.

John Jacobs didn’t get to have a family. He moved to a small town in upstate New York called The Town of Wakefield Highway, where he lived in a home for people with traumatic brain injuries. As far as the photos I saw after the news story broke, he was among the higher functioning residents. They gave John a job because he always had to be good at something. The local news article after the incident said he never had any visitors.

The Town of Wakefield Highway is relatively inaccessible, is the problem. It’s rural, and nice. There are many deer and sometimes Mennonites driving horse-and-buggies. One named Amos would sell potatoes in The Town of Wakefield Highway. By all accounts, he was the closest approximation John Jacobs had to a friend.

John Jacobs worked on the stretch of the highway that Amos frequented, and when Amos passed, both would smile. John Jacobs imagined hurling some pigskin to Amos in a big championship game. But whenever he’d venture to make the motion, his arms would do a sad spasm and then fall to the side. Amos always interpreted this as an excited wave. Amos liked John Jacobs, and he liked this stretch because there was nobody else around. For a while, it wouldn’t even register on a GPS.

Now, if you Street View the thin stretch of road connecting The Town of Wakefield Highway and The Town of Greenport Highway, you will see a wide median planted totally with grass. You will notice that the grass is not tall. In fact, the grass is cut to a height of two inches by a John Deere X500 Select Series rideable mower.

This is the lineage of John Jacobs’ hereditary love. Every day, John was driven to the median, which stretched 1.2 miles, and let off. He’d ride its length on the mower twenty times, and by the end of his trip, the patch of grass where he started would already be taller than where he ended. This bothered John Jacobs because it was out of his control. With only one rider, it was assured that the grass would be a lighter green at one corner of the median, and a darker green at the other, 1.2 miles down. It wasn’t anything anyone would ever notice, certainly not Amos. But it was true: the grass was never level, and always slightly sloped downhill.

The day of the accident, John Jacobs was particularly annoyed. He’d been struggling to draw circles again, and his sense of smell veered from water toward asphalt. In retrospect, this could be interpreted as an omen. Angry, and once again without the words the Camry had knocked from him all those liquid years ago, he barreled from one corner of the median to the other, intent on squaring his circle, so to speak. He treaded carefully so as not to leave any uneven mower-lines. Today, the grass would be even.

At the same time, a car was driving down the road for the first time in weeks. The Cartwright family had been rerouted on their way to Canada because Jeff, the father, had fallen asleep while navigating, leaving his wife, Jennifer, to find the way for herself without cell signal. The kids slept, and her husband slept, and Jen drove on, admiring all the infinite greens that she’d forgotten about in the city.

In the later-article, it said that she designed for a tech company, inventing new colors that existed nowhere in nature, represented in mathematical codes. “Those lines are perfectly straight,” I imagined her thinking in admiration of John Jacobs’ work. In her police report, she was quoted as saying that she “was so taken by this mowed median in the middle of nowhere. To me, it represented the likelihood of some sort of alien life.”

To the conscious Cartwrights, the deer warnings were novelties and nothing else. The yellow on the signs was not invented. The deer recognized it as the sun. To Jen, deer were only pictures and symbols. To deer, things were colors, and colors were things. This is how Jennifer missed the big buck standing in the middle of her window frame, how the buck had no sense of danger as the dark-green minivan bounded toward him. Only when its antlers crashed through her window and into a million microns of tempered memory did she appreciate the reality of another race.

The corner of an antler dove into her husband’s chest, narrowly missing the stem of his lungs, his heart, and there, on a quiet stretch of Wakefield Highway, the buck died while intimately connected to a being with whom it could not communicate.

John Jacobs heard glass shattering from a hundred yards away. It was the sound he’d heard when he impaled the face of the Camry. He increased the speed on the mower immediately, accidentally engaging the cutters in the process, bounding across the median so hard and fast that he startled when the cutters hit the curbside.

The kids were now awake, crying, and Jennifer was glazed over by a blanket of shock. Her husband was covered too. It seemed that there was no end to the red. The deer was dead, yet it wasn’t his blood.

John Jacobs, still quite football-like in frame, lifted Jeff to the grass, and dropped him a foot above the ground. A forearm spasm. John took off his shirt with whatever speed his limbs would permit. It read TOWN OF WAKEFIELD HIGHWAY. He pressed the white name firmly, intimately, deeply into the wound of this strange man. John was shouting incoherences and the mother was on the phone with the police. There was no service on this thin stretch of Wakefield Highway. She screamed and screamed and listened to the line, only hearing the faint echo of dead reception.

Amos came trotting up the tracks of the crashed car with a cart full of potatoes. “Me oh my,” he said, “we need a medic. Call someone,” he commanded.

“No connection!” a kid yelled.

Amos looked at John and then Jen. The light in her skin was fading faster than Jeff’s. He looked at John. John could drive a mower, but he couldn’t drive a car. Amos jumped from his buggy and ran across to the car. He yanked the kids out, and he took off, right up toward The Town of Wakefield Highway.

Jeff was murmuring something that John couldn’t quite understand, and all John could do was repeat something he’d heard a nurse say frequently when he was in hospital, something he’d always felt and never processed. Tachy, tachy, tachy, he said. Tachy, tachy, tachy, he whispered, as these children watched their father begin to fade.

Tachy, tachy, tachy, John repeated, pressing deeper into a well of blood. Tachy, tachy, tachy, he continued, caressing this man’s head with a hereditary love he could never realize for himself. A prayer, a blessing, a question: “What was the word again?” they asked.

“Tachy,” he said, shivering under the heat of a metal-colored blanket delivering his final statement to the first responders.

Jeff had lost too much blood. But not enough to die. In the news they said that if not for the heroic effort of John Jacobs, the man surely would have met his maker. John had operated on instinct, they determined. A representative from the house he lived in said that Grey’s Anatomy often played on the communal television. John was a case study, a miracle. John Jacobs was my friend.  

I saw the article about John online when searching old classmates trying to determine, by what means, people had come to express the debt of their hereditary love. There John was, smiling, a static, patternless configuration made kinetic. This was a man of many lives.

After my breakdown, I drove to The Town of Wakefield Highway to speak with John, and I heard many stories of the great things he’d done. Here they all are, pieced together, into a brief history constructed from destruction, his biography of absence.

By the time I arrived in The Town of Wakefield Highway, John was gone. He’d been gone since the day he touched that Camry and flew twenty feet in the air, landing in a way that shifted the earth ever so slightly to make a new future become born. What remained of John’s legacy was a stretch of uneven grass, cut diagonally across an interstate median, barely shorter than all the angles of grass across which it pervades. It wasn’t anything anyone would ever notice, certainly not you.

Perhaps the article was a monument to my friend John Jacobs, who was meant to study computer engineering and play football at State before he got swiped on Main Street by a Camry driving straight to heaven.

Online, there were only two articles about John. At the end of the article, when asked by the reporter what he planned to do after becoming a hero, he said notably, and with a kind slur, “I think I’ll go even out the grass.” 

Conor Truax is a film critic for In Review Online, with recent work in Spike Art Magazine, Dirt, Forever Magazine, Spectra Poets, and The Drift. In 2021, he was recognized for The Adroit Prize.

Art by Levi Abadilla

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