Jerald Bradford has escaped death more times than his mom, Shelia Wright, can count. Over his 38 years, Jerald has had more than 30 brain surgeries, the first when he was just six months old after being born with traumatic brain injury. There were more surgeries in 2002 after he was brutally beaten, run over by a truck and left to die. While doctors have saved his life time and time again, Billy Couch has given Jerald something just as important: A reason to live.
A bond forms
Billy is a trash collector for the City of Indianapolis. This unlikely friendship – a bond really – developed on an early Thursday morning on trash day.
“I remember our first meeting,” Jerald says. “I was as depressed as I could be, and I told him I wanted to kill myself. And he asked me a question. He asked me, ‘What would the people that loved you do if you killed yourself? They’d be hurt.’ I was like, oh. I wasn’t thinking about everybody else. I was just thinking about myself. That was our first conversation.”
Billy turned off his truck, and the two men talked for nearly an hour.
He comforted Jerald and let him know that life is worth living, that Jerald had a lot to give, that his life mattered.
An important chore
The story between Billy, Jerald and Shelia really began a few years earlier, before they ever exchanged a single word. It all started because of trash day.
Not only does Jerald have traumatic brain injury, he also has schizophrenia. His mom suffers from several medical conditions, too, often making it hard for her to care for Jerald. CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions provides health aides to ensure both mother and son can live together at home. During a visit a few years ago, Jerald’s health aide told him he needed to be responsible for taking out the trash every week.
“That chore’s the most important one to me right there,” Jerald says.
Regardless of the weather, he makes sure the trash cans are on the curb by Thursday morning. It makes him feel good to have a responsibility.
Caring for one another in the community
The first time Shelia witnessed Billy’s compassion was a day when Jerald couldn’t get out of bed, he was in so much pain. Shelia waved on the trash collector telling him to go ahead, and they’d get the trash out next week. Most trash collectors would continue on their route. Billy stopped his truck.
“Billy actually turned the truck off. And I never will forget that first week that he said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ And this man, this city worker, went around the house and got both trash cans, brought them out and set them up, got in his truck, turned it on, emptied them out, turned the truck back off, got out of the truck, and brought the trash cans in,” Shelia recalls. “When Jerald found out about that, you know, he got teary-eyed. Jerald feels like because he will do that for me, I’m gonna make sure I get it out there for him. The next time that Billy came, and Jerald took the trash out, they started talking.”
They’ve been talking ever since. When Jerald had to have surgery, Billy stopped and asked to see him.
“He came in the house and went up to Jerald’s room, and with tears in his eyes he said, ‘You’re gonna be fine. You’re gonna come through this. Come on, man, you can do it,’” Shelia said.
Billy has a way of being able to calm Jerald down.
“So this relationship is a union that is highly unlikely,” Shelia said. “But the friendship is so strong, it is just remarkable.”
There are a lot of things Jerald can’t remember, but the one day he never forgets is trash day, when he takes care of his chore and gets to chat, if only a couple of minutes, with Billy.