Inside his grandmother’s ramshackle Brownsville home, 17-year-old Traivon Paris smiles broadly, his eyes twinkling. Outside, somebody on a dirt bike flashes past with an earsplitting roar.
Traivon listens, then nods. “That,” he explains in a slurred speech, “is a KTM. Mine ... Mine was a CR85.”
The slender teen in basketball shorts and red Nike sneakers labors to explain the dirt bike models. He can no longer ride them. While riding a friend’s Honda CR85 in February, he collided with a truck and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Today, Traivon is relegated mostly to a wheelchair, his legs too weak to walk more than a few steps at any given time.
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Last year, his needs might have been simple teenage stuff: new video games, or new Air Jordans. But his physical condition has now exacerbated an already-hardscrabble life with his 76-year-old grandmother, Eunice Paris.
A SOURCE OF PRIDE
Their two-bedroom home has only ceiling fans and a leaky, barely functioning wall unit in Traivon’s room. Even in the milder December sun, the house is stuffy.
“I don’t want to be hot,” Traivon says.
Paris, his sole caretaker, would like a central air conditioning unit for the holidays. But the old home, built in 1940, needs so much more.
When the family first moved in 23 years ago, they’d left the Annie Coleman public housing projects for a better life. When they moved in, their new home was a source of pride. But today, the walls are warped, chipped and discolored. Traivon’s room is carpeted only halfway. A welfare agency considered, but never installed, a wheelchair ramp for the front door.
“We need everything in this house,” Eunice Paris said.
Traivon himself would like a computer. His grandmother would settle for financial assistance. She lives off of her Social Security. She recently had to cut off her cable because the bill was past due, with about $500 owed.
Paris has cared for Traivon his entire life. The boy’s father drops into his life only on occasion. The state stripped his mostly absent mother of her parental rights; she lives in Fort Myers and is trying to restore her rights to care for Traivon, Paris said.
Traivon’s mother could not be reached for comment.
Before his accident, Traivon attended Northwestern High as a freshman and liked to play football, basketball and ride his BMX bicycle.
A SLOW RECOVERY
But his life changed forever on Feb. 5. That day, according to a Miami police report, Traivon had been racing up and down Northwest 50th Street all day. About 5:30 p.m., he plowed into a truck that was trying to make a left onto Northwest 13th Avenue.
Traivon, who had no license and wore no helmet, was hurled from the bike. He was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center in critical condition. He spent three months hospitalized.
“She was really sad. She really was there for him. She really thought he wasn’t going to pull through. She loves him with all of her heart,” said Lisa Scott, 50, a family friend who has helped Paris care for Traivon over the years.
Recovery has been slow. Traivon also suffered an injury to his lung, a lacerated spleen and a fractured jaw. His speech and memory are slow. Scars mar the center of his neck and his left leg below the knee.
He attends physical therapy once a week.
Using his right hand, Traivon proudly squeezes a visitor’s hand with all his might, to show off the strength he had recovered.
However, his left hand is virtually unusable.