Every step is precious now. Every movement is a gift. Every morning brings another sunrise, full of sweet promise. When Kevin Everett was a little boy growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, he would sit with his grandpa James Nico, and the older man would explain to him life’s lessons. One of them was this: Don’t ever be bitter. Just keep doing your best, even when things aren’t looking so good.
Even when you are lying, helpless and twitching, on the floor of a football stadium, unable to move your limbs and unable to take a deep breath. Even when you drift to the surface from a deep, chemically induced sleep two days later and find yourself in a hospital bed, with tubes in your throat and in your groin and machines beeping in every corner of the room and your mother gently rubbing your forearm, asking you through her tears, Baby, can you feel this? Please blink your eyes once if you can feel this.
You know I love you, don’t you, baby? Please blink once if you know. And you slowly blink once, though you don’t remember it.
Even when you’re at a rehabilitation hospital almost a month later and an occupational therapist puts a tiny, one-pound weight in your right hand and asks you to do one biceps curl with the same arm that once blocked NFL linebackers on Sunday afternoons. And you just can’t do it. Even when your life is unfathomably changed at the age of 25. Even then.
Here is Kevin Everett now, sitting at a breakfast table in a corner of the house the Buffalo Bills’ tight end bought last year for his family in the Houston suburb of Humble. His fiancÃ©e, Wiande Moore, a sprinter whom Kevin met when both were athletes at the University of Miami, sits to his left, and the two of them pick at the remnants of supper. His mother, Patricia Dugas, is in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a Christmas gingerbread house with Kevin’s youngest sister, Davia, 11. His other two sisters—Herchell, 15, and Kelli, 14—are sitting nearby on family room couches in front of a wall-mounted TV tuned to MTV but muted because Herchell is tapping out a social studies paper on her laptop. It is a family place at a family time.
“I’ll tell you what,” says Kevin. “I’m still trying to figure out everything that’s happened in my life lately. But I don’t think anybody has life figured out. I know you’ve got to take the good with the bad, and you’ve got to be strong. Plain and simple. Just because you get knocked down doesn’t mean you’ve got to stay down. That’s what I feel about all of this. If you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up.”
So he gets up. He rises from his chair and walks easily to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and takes out a drink. Then he walks back. Simple as that. And yet not simple at all.