Friends visited, brought flowers, told Jordan all the usual things said in hospitals. Like, “Keep fighting, buddy,” or, “C'mon, Jordan, we love you.”

Tuesday, 12:01 p.m.—Grady Hospital, Atlanta. A group of people gathered around a hospital bed and sang, “Happy Birthday.” The beeping of the life-support machines accompanied them.

This is the burn unit, where they send bad cases.

In the bed: Jordan Sims. His family hardly recognizes him. He doesn't look much like the Jordan they remember. He's a burned-up, bloody, purple mess.

It happened on a Sunday night in Valley, Alabama. He lost control of his car, colliding headfirst into a tree. The vehicle caught fire— Jordan pinned inside. Nearby neighbors doused it with residential garden hoses. Emergency responders had to cut his body from the front seat, the

life-flight helicopter carried him to Atlanta.

One all-night surgery later, here Jordan lays. Eyes taped shut. His liver has taken a beating. His arms and legs have the worst kinds of burns you could have. He has too many bone fractures to count, his stomach is wide open, and they amputated his right leg.

Now for the bad news.

Doctors found two fractured vertebrate and enough fluid on his brain to fill a watermelon. Not only that, but his kidneys are a wreck.

They tried to wake him, to inspect the cranial…

...it's okay for grown men to feel like little boys from time to time—kind of like I'm feeling right now.

I thought of you a few days ago. I was driving past a controlled burn. The fire department had lit up half of the lower Alabamian forest. It was terrifying but beautiful—the flames surrounding the trees. Fire trucks lined the road. It took several men on four-wheelers just to manage it.

"That's a prescribed burn," you said once, watching a forest fire. "It can save the woods, kills off bad things."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yes sir. You should see this forest in a few months. It'll be green, far as the eye can see. Fire ain't always a bad thing."

Maybe not. But

it's deadly stuff. I remember the day we burned off thistles and dead weeds in the pasture. After saturating ten acres with gasoline, the fire got all the way to the porch and nearly burned our house down.

The things I remember.

I also remember the time I wrecked the tractor. And how I did chores for god-knows-how-long to pay it off. Afterward, you rewarded me with a fishing trip, where I caught a large mouth the size of my leg.

You pulled it in the boat and said, “This here's the…

Take my house and give it to a worthy cause. Maybe a place for abused women. If you put bunks in each room, you can sleep roughly sixteen.

When I'm dead, I want my old truck donated to science. It has hundreds of thousands of miles on it. Every time I take the ratty thing to the mechanic, he says something like, “I don't know how this thing keeps going, man."

Me neither.

Maybe, scientists can figure out the secret, then bottle it up and sell it.

Also: I'd like to give all my money—every cent of it—to the children's choir for at-risk teens. Most of them come from broken homes that make my life look like Windsor Palace.

I once drove three hours to see those kids perform at a high school in

Alabama. I was one of twenty in the audience. Those children danced and sang for two hours until their clothes were sweaty.

For the life of me, I don't know what they have to be so happy about. Whatever it is, they deserve more of it.

Take my house and give it to a worthy cause. Maybe a place for abused women. If you put bunks in each room, you can sleep roughly sixteen. I've done the math. You're going to need a bigger kitchen.

And sixteen more bathrooms.

A few years went by. The sixteen-year-old turned into a twenty-year-old. And life priorities became startlingly clear with age.

“My mom was so mad,” she said. “She just couldn't believe I was pregnant. She kicked me out. It was a really hard time for me. I moved in with my boyfriend.”

Her pregnancy was an accident. And at age sixteen, God knows, your whole life is an accident waiting to happen. Especially if you've been engaging in the same extra-ciricular activities your peers have—and I don't mean basket-weaving.

As soon as it happened, her boyfriend swore he'd stick around forever. He bought her a ring, even got a tattoo. But sixteen-year-old boys don't know how to make promises, and forever lasts longer than a tattoo.

Before her second trimester, he bolted for Tennessee.

“He just didn't come home one day,” she said. “My body kept changing, I felt abandoned, I couldn't focus on school, so I just quit going.”

A few years went by. The sixteen-year-old turned into a twenty-year-old. And life priorities became startlingly clear with age. She wanted more for her son than minimum wage.

“My cousin,” she said. “She's an X-ray tech. She makes decent money. She raises two kids by herself, and doesn't struggle to pay the bills. I thought to myself one day, 'hey,…

He escaped on New Year's Eve. My wife called me to deliver the news. The first thing she said was, “You're gonna wanna sit down, honey.”

“Have you seen a golden Lab?” she asked, standing on my front doorstep. “He's about this high, orange collar, I chased him through the woods yesterday, his name's Cuckoo...”

There was no mistaking that look she wore. Dog owners recognize it from a mile off. Worry mixed with rage.

She left me a with flyer featuring the picture of a yellow Labrador and telephone number. The thing hung on our refrigerator for almost a week. It sat directly between the photo of my nephew, and my wife's note which read:

"Don't drink from THE ORANGE JUICE CONTAINER or I will cut your heart out with a

melon-baller!!!! XOXO, Your Wife."

Thus, each time I'd swing open the fridge, I'd see Cuckoo smiling at me, urging me to reconsider grabbing the OJ.

As it happens, I know what it's like to have a dog go missing. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. You wonder how an animal could be so decidedly stupid to bolt off. Then you wonder how YOU could be so stupid for letting it happen. Then you just feel sick.

We lost a dog once. He slept in our bathtub. I don't know why, but…

“I can't explain it," he said. "I wasn't in this world, but a bright place that smelled like a florist shop."

Of all things, he was drinking sweet tea when it happened. It started with pain in his chest. Then his arm. He knew what it was.

His wife rushed him to the hospital. They shoved a stainless steel wire mounted to a balloon inside him and saved his life.

“I was a human science-project,” he said. “That's how my wife tells it. I don't remember anything.”

He was out of it.

He claims something happened. “I can't explain it," he said. "I wasn't in this world, but a bright place that smelled like a florist shop. I was at peace. When I

came to, the doc told me I could never drink caffeine again.”

And so, this is how it happens. One second you're watching the big game, and in the blink of an eye (snap), no more sweet tea.

He's not the first person I've talked to about this. A friend of mine has a daughter who fell from a second-story balcony and hit the ground so hard she bounced.

She was in a coma for two days. When she woke, she told…

"I can think of worse things than a house scented with boiling peanut oil.

"Mama made the best banana pudding in Alabama,” she said flatly. "She was such a good cook, one of her friends nicknamed her Betty—short for Betty Crocker.”

Well, since Betty is as good of a name as any, that's what I'll call her mother.

I have it on good authority that Betty was more than the miracle-worker of banana pudding. She was also a kitchen queen, with a knack for bread pudding, chicken and dumplings, Coca-Cola cake, and squash casserole.

“As kids," Betty's daughter went on. "We just loved it when folks had showers or parties, Mama'd start whipping up pimento cheese..."

She leaned in and got quiet.

"But we liked funerals

even better, because Mama was head of the funeral committee. Which meant she made fried chicken—she always made extra.”

If you've never lived in a small town, maybe you don't know about things like funeral committees. Imagine: twenty white-haired ladies, with sun hats and skirt-suits, who can cook circles around a chicken.

That's a funeral food committee.

Often, these ladies have enough sugar flowing in their veins, they practically bleed sweet tea.

The funeral committee's job is to help families of the deceased go up two pant-sizes.

This…

"I didn't need another adult patronizing me, talking about kiddy things, like comic books, cowboys, or grizzly bears."

Right now, the sky looks like a blue bunch of nothingness. The same way it looked when I was twelve. Back then, I'd lay on top round bales of fescue, looking upward. If I held my head right, I could see all blue—even in the corners of my eyes.

It was enough to disorient you, and make you forget about solid ground.

Daddy died in September. A few days before he passed, I'd spent the day trying to catch crawfish in the creek. And it was during this mundane afternoon that I felt as happy as I've ever been. It took forty-eight hours for the whole world to go to hell.

Anyway, so there I was on a hay bale, looking at the sky, still in my funeral clothes. I wore Daddy's glasses—even though I had no eye trouble. I also wore his oversized sport coat.

My uncle found me laying there.

“What're you thinking about?” he asked.

I gave no response.

“Hey," he went on. "You wouldn't happen to like bears, would'ya?”

"No," I said, hoping he'd leave. I didn't need another adult patronizing me, talking about kiddy things, like comic books, cowboys, or grizzly bears.

He dug something…

"...it takes someone special to teach you how to throw fish back.."

It's hotter than Hades right now. You should feel it. It's one of those weekend mornings when the crickets are awake before nine. Even they know it's hot, and they like it.

The birds, too. There must be a gazillion different kinds, singing songs about the weekend. Bluebirds, catbirds, yellow hammers, chickadees, and whichever others live in my front yard. It's like a church choir out there—minus the organ and collection plates.

The moisture in the air has turned into steam. I can taste it. It tastes like toilet water and Floridian pine needles. I feel like I'm suffocating in a big sweaty puddle.

It's magnificent.

My fishing gear sits on the porch behind me. My wife hates seeing it by the door, but I leave it out here for reason. I want to remind myself that there are more important things I could be doing.

Then again, it could be I'm too lazy to put it away.

As it happens, I caught a several fish this weekend. Pretty ones. But I threw them all back. To tell you the truth, I don't know why I did that. That's not like me, going around liberating fish. But the older I…

“'Course at nineteen," he went on. "I didn't have no choice but to work. My girl got pregnant, and back in them days, the right thing to do was marry her.

“Both my knees are shot,” he said. “I been laying floor since I was nineteen.”

Well, nineteen was a long time ago. He's anything but a teenager now. He's got gray hair, bony shoulders, and a smoker's cough that comes out whenever he laughs.

Ask him about the flooring he's laid. He's more than happy to let you see pictures on his cellphone. Sprawling wood entryways, ceramic tile, cork, travertine, carpet, and even mosaics.

He showed me a tiled mosaic of a

sailboat in someone's kitchen. He said it took ten days to finish. The next photo: himself, smiling, on a pontoon boat.

And then, a picture of his son, holding a baby.

“That's my son and grandson," he said. "I wouldn't let my boy go into construction, like a lotta roughneck daddies do. Ain't the life I wanted for him, breaks your body down.”

As it happens, I know…