BY AMANDA COLLINS BERNIER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELIZABETH BROOKS
Nestled in the nook of their sun-filled kitchen, the Brodeurs have their very own art gallery, of sorts.
From end to end their kitchen table is covered with paintings; colorful canvases stacked in rows, each with a small signature in the corner that says, simply, Kyle.
Though painting is a new hobby for 30-year-old Kyle Brodeur, his work is already quite popular. Within weeks he's sold every single one of his creations, and now - just a couple months into the endeavor - he is working to fulfill dozens of custom orders.
"People just want a piece of Kyle in their home," his mother, Lisa, explains.
Indeed, to hang a "Kyle" original on your wall is to hang a piece of perspective. "No bad days... just think of Kyle," Lisa will say, and it's true - when you think of Kyle and everything he's overcome, it's pretty tough to dwell on your own bad day.
Kyle was a healthy, vibrant 10-year-old when the accident happened that forever changed his life. Until that fateful night 20 years ago, he was an adventurous little one who played T-ball, soccer and basketball, loved rollerblading and riding his bike. A true boy, he'd come in from playing happy and covered in mud after an afternoon spent catching frogs.
On a rainy November night in 1997, the Brodeurs were on their way home from Christmas shopping at the Auburn Mall when they were hit by a drunk driver. Lisa and her two daughters, Kimberly and Katie, were injured. Kyle's father, Michael, died instantly. And 10-year-old Kyle was nearly killed; he suffered a traumatic brain injury, was paralyzed, and would be in a coma for the next year of this life.
For Kyle, the last two decades have been been full of pain, hospital visits and over two dozen surgeries. But his life also been full of resilience and unexpected joys. Lisa and Kyle have traveled the state to share their story and the dangers of drunk driving. Together, they have spoken to thousands of students and Lisa's book "A Mother's Journey" serves as curriculum for driver's education and rehabilitation classes. Kyle has become a member of Team Unstoppable, participating in 5K and 10K races and competing in triathlons with his angel, Mike DiDonato.
"This kid has beaten all the odds, over and over again," Lisa says. "He's a presenter, an athlete, and now an artist."
The painting started earlier this year after a Christmas craft project piqued Kyle's interest in art. Right away, painting became something he wanted to do more and more.
"He gets so excited, but then his muscle tone will kick in," Lisa says, explaining how Kyle will sometimes have to work through painful spasticity. "I'll stretch out his arm, tell him 'relax - not so tight.'"
While Lisa assists with setup and supplies, the painting is all Kyle. He chooses the colors combinations and foam roller for each piece. Slowly, but deliberately, he paints strokes across the canvas that Lisa places on the tray of his wheelchair. Kyle is quite the perfectionist: one painting can take anywhere from half an hour to two hours.
Lisa created a Facebook page for Kyle to sell his creations. He used the first of his proceeds to purchase arts and crafts supplies for clients to use at the Center of Hope in Sturbridge, where he attends a day habilitation program. Buyers pick up the paintings at the Brodeurs' home in Charlton, or Lisa pops them in the mail - sending them as far as South Carolina, Texas and Florida.
Kyle has also been invited to showcase his work at craft fairs. He will be at the Folk Music & Artisan Show at the Templeton Fish & Game Club on July 21.
The pop of color that Kyle's new hobby has added to the Brodeurs' lives is fitting. With his sisters starting out in new careers, one with a new baby and the other with one on the way - it's a happy, rosy time of life.
"You can't count your losses," Lisa says. "You count your blessings."
Kyle best sums up his perspective on life with no words at all - just a wide smile and his signature thumbs up.