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Originally published Friday, June 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Cruel fate, two floors divide them

Sometimes, Mary Clayton hears her son laughing in the other room. But if she wants to know why, she has to call his cellphone. Clayton, 59, has multiple...

Seattle Times staff columnist

How to help

Donations toward a chairlift for the Claytons may be made to: Evergreen Bank, acct.: Mary Clayton for Josh Clayton Fund, P.O. Box 4085, Federal Way, WA 98003-4085

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Sometimes, Mary Clayton hears her son laughing in the other room.

But if she wants to know why, she has to call his cellphone.

Clayton, 59, has multiple sclerosis, and spends her days and nights in a hospital bed on the lower floor of her Milton home.

Her son, Josh, 35, spends his days on the middle floor of the house, in a wheelchair.

He was paralyzed one foggy morning last January, when his truck went off the road and rolled down an embankment. "It's that horrible bad dream," Mary Clayton told me recently. "The surgeon called, and I remember asking, 'Are you sure?' "

The mother and son have seen each other twice since January: Once when Josh came home from the hospital, and once on Mother's Day, when friends carried Josh downstairs.

Aside from a caregiver who comes daily, the only link between them is Josh's 9-year-old son, Tyler. "He can see me; he can see Mom," Josh said. "But it can't be just us."

That was the plan when they bought this house and moved in together last fall. Mary wouldn't be alone, Josh would have help with Tyler and they'd be a family.

Every morning, Josh would visit Mary before taking Tyler to school and heading to work at a Federal Way auto shop.

But those good days were short-lived, and now the house has become a sort of prison.

They applied to be included in the Master Builders Association's Rampathon, which installs ramps for free. They considered buying the materials and asking friends to build the thing.

But an architect and an intern from the Seattle engineering firm Tetra Tech — sent out by friend Sally Newton — concluded that the grade of their property made a ramp impossible.

The only solution is a chair lift that would run between the patio outside her door to the deck upstairs — and cost $30,000 that they don't have.

So they called me.

Last month, Mary wrote a letter to friends, asking for help funding the lift.

"Very humbling," she said of the letter. "We have been self-supporting, active, taxpaying members of society. We did everything right.

"But we're in a house where we can't even get to each other."

Mary wrote to everyone she knew — which is saying a lot. For 26 years, she worked for the King County Courts in Kent, starting as a clerk and retiring as the jury and interpreter coordinator.

Already, the letter has raised $5,000 — most of it $100 donations from people Mary knows are counting every cent.

Josh hates that it had to come to this, that he and his mother have to turn to someone like me.

"It's tough stuff," he said.

And yet, so is their situation. He never broke a bone in his body before the accident. "I have always been a rock," he said. "But now my world is before-and-after, black-and-white. It's like that movie 'Pleasantville,' without the pleasant."

I asked Newton why people should help the Claytons when they don't know them, probably don't have the money to spare.

"I think the way the economy is, people need hope," she said. "We need to make life easier for someone who has had tragedy hit."

Newton told me about her daughter's struggle with cancer, and how Mary Clayton was there. She told me how Mary worked until she couldn't drive anymore and how she gets more done from a hospital bed in one day than most healthy people do in a week.

Now all Mary wants is to sit at a table with her son and grandson — not just hear them in another room.

"We need help to make this a place where we can see each other and help each other through this trial," Mary said. "We're all we have."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Have you seen her childhood?

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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