In the late nineties, when I was living in a North Dallas neighborhood known as Preston Hollow, I would often drive past a small home on Northport Drive. I assumed the house—which had a crumbling red brick exterior, gutters clogged with leaves, paint-chipped blinds sagging in the windows, and an unmowed front yard—was destined for demolition. 

But it hung on, year after year. According to local gossip, a young man lived there, confined to his bed, unable to walk or even lift his arms. Occasionally, I was told, an ambulance would pull up to the front, and attendants would carry the young man away on a stretcher, take him to a hospital, and bring him back a few days later.

In March 2008, while reading the obituary page of the Dallas Morning News, I saw a photo of the most handsome teenage boy I’d ever seen. His name was John McClamrock. He was wearing a football uniform of Hillcrest High School, the public high school in Preston Hollow. The obituary noted that in 1973, McClamrock had suffered an injury while playing for Hillcrest, leaving him in a state of near-total paralysis. The obituary also noted that McClamrock had spent the last 35 years in his bed, where his mother had looked after him.

I got in my car and headed to the house on Northport Drive. I walked up to the tiny front porch and rang the doorbell. A man opened the door. “I’m guessing this is John McClamrock’s house,” I said. The man answered, “I’m his brother, Henry.” He introduced me to an elderly woman who was slightly stooped, her eyes welling with tears. “And this is our mother, Ann.” 

I shook her hand. She led me to the room where John had spent his life, never moving except to turn his head. His room was a time capsule, unchanged since the accident. A seventies shag carpet covered the floor. A football lay atop his wobbly dresser. John’s Hillcrest letter jacket, along with wide-collared paisley shirts and bell-bottom jeans, hung in the closet. 

Then Ann showed me a faded Catholic prayer card that she said she kept with her day and night. Printed on the card was a prayer to the infant Jesus. On the back, Ann had added one sentence. In scrawled handwriting, she had asked Jesus to please let her live just one day longer than her son John.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had walked into the most moving story of my career.