“Today is a bad day,” Tamira Brown says, showing me inside the rowhouse she shares with her fiancé, Jalil Frazier, and their children.
She leads me to the dining room, which has been turned into a hospital room of sorts, and turns on the lights.
Frazier, lying on a metal bed, faces the wall. He is propped up on his right side by a hard blue pillow to help heal a painful bedsore. A pair of black medical boots stabilize his feet.
When he turns over, a large scar peeks out from underneath his white tank top. His multiple tattoos, in memory of friends who died, are barely noticeable compared with the scars left from when Temple University Hospital doctors fought to keep him alive. He was shot and left paralyzed while protecting a group of kids in a North Philadelphia barbershop.
“When he lays around, I don’t bother him too much because I know it’s one of those days,” Brown says.
She reminds him it’s a blessing he’s still there.
Days like this, Frazier can’t get out of bed, or out of his head.
“Some days are better than others,” he says, his voice sometimes raspy.
They are quiet for a moment, and sitting between them, I see it – a wave of emotions left unsaid. They are shell-shocked, struggling with the fear and exhaustion and uncertainty of several lives shattered by gunfire.
Before the shooting, Brown said, Frazier, 28, was unstoppable, working two jobs, one at a meat factory and another, cleaning at night. He wanted to open his own business. Brown, also 28, worked as a home health aide before taking a break to care for him.
They have two sons ages 9 and 3, the younger of whom has Hirschsprung’s disease, a chronic bowel condition. Brown had taken the boys to the Harris Hair Styling Barbershop the day before he was shot, but the boy’s colostomy bag leaked and he had to go back the next night, Jan. 11, to get a trim.
Two men walked in with guns and tried to rob the place.
Some kids were in the shop, and Frazier tried to thwart the robbery. He began fighting one of the men.
He doesn’t remember any of it. Not being on life support for about a month. Not his heart stopping four times. Not even the boys whose lives he saved.
Police arrested a man shortly after the shooting, but a judge threw out the case for lack of evidence. The investigation continues.
Frazier was in the hospital for three months and rehab for another after being shot repeatedly in his right leg and chest. News reports hailed him as a hero, a Good Samaritan. Then he faded from the headlines.
That’s where the story usually ends for us, just as the reality is setting in for gunshot victims who are mostly left to fend for themselves, often without the basics.
In Frazier’s case, he doesn’t have a ramp to get in and out of the Olney home he was finally able to return to last month. Or a chair lift to get up the stairs and into his own bed without scooting and risking more injuries. There are five steps between their porch and the sidewalk in front of their narrow street, five steep steps between him and the independence he craves when he’s lying on that bed, stuck in his thoughts.
A couple of weeks ago, in an attempt at some normalcy, the couple decided they would go around the corner to pick up their son from school. Brown called some friends to carry the wheelchair down the stairs.
They hadn’t predicted the hill, a challenge for Frazier on the way there, nearly impossible on the way home.
The couple can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. What isn’t amusing in the least is how victims of gun violence are so often left to fend for themselves, fortunate if someone sets up a GoFundMe page or a community rallies around them. Anyone interested in helping can donate through this fundraising page or by emailing the couple directly at Jaymere2008@gmail.com.
A nurse comes a couple of times a week, and Frazier gets some physical and occupational therapy, though not as much as Brown thinks he needs. His blood pressure is still a problem. He has trouble sitting up on his own. He needs to be rotated every couple of hours.
“It’s basically just us,” Brown said.
What about work? he wonders. What about his legs?
They are applying for up to $35,000 through the Victims Compensation Assistance Program, but even if they get the full amount, that takes a while and it won’t cover the expenses of gunshot wounds that on average, experts say, cost $50,000 to $60,000 — and that’s just for in-hospital costs.
“Unfortunately, there are so many victims that lives are changed and they’re scrambling,” said Melany Nelson, executive director of Northwest Victim Services. Nelson helped get Frazier a mechanical wheelchair, donated through the Teddy and Joan Pendergrass Foundation, which aids people with injured spinal cords. But without a ramp, it’s just another piece of medical equipment.
Now, he waits. And wonders.
What if he hadn’t been there that night, if he hadn’t stood between the kids and the bullets that tore through his body?
What if he never walks again?
“I don’t want to think that this is where I’m going to be for the rest of my life,” he says.
For now, everything is uncertain – including the young couple’s plans to get married, to buy a home.
Frazier looks at Brown, and the couple share another overwhelming silence.
“That’s still the plan,” he says softly.