A year ago, Kevin Skubic was just happy to be alive.
Now, he’s about living.
He has no left arm. His eyesight is challenged. The scars of that violent fireworks explosion cover his body.
But there he was Monday, slipping off his shirt and removing his prosthetic arm for all to see as he splashed in the water with his two daughters during their visit to Water Works Family Aquatic Center in Cuyahoga Falls.
At this moment, life is good.
“It’s emotional. It’s a different life,” Skubic said.
Everything changed for Skubic on July 1, 2013, when a bag of about 50 homemade, high-powered “quarter sticks” exploded in his hands as he left a Grand Avenue home in Akron.
Each of those sticks equaled the explosive power of a small stick of dynamite.
The eruption rocked the west side neighborhood, shattering windows up and down the block. Shockwaves were felt a block away.
Skubic bore the full impact. His left arm was blown away from just below the elbow. He’s still learning to be a right hander, despite missing a finger and having no wrist movement.
His right eye was badly damaged, but surgeons at least saved it.
Shrapnel from the explosion covered his body from head to toe. Scars from skin grafts are now there. His hearing out of either ear is still not 100 percent. He’s had more than six surgeries, but he’s lost track.
He was a bricklayer before the explosion, and he wants to go back to work some day. He said he’s making progress toward that goal, and is anxious to return to work.
“I miss it. I dream about. I go to sleep and I’m dreaming that I’m at work,” the 35-year-old Akron man said.
About three months ago, he was fitted for a myoelectric prosthetic arm. He’s become so adept with the device and its claw tip, he can easily tie his shoes. He can also scratch his head, drink from a cup and pull up his pants.
Just a month ago, he got back on a motorcycle and he’s been driving it ever since, thanks to the new arm.
“There are certain things you do and if you’re not able to do those things anymore, it makes you even more down and depressed,” he said. “So, the more things you try to do that you’re used to, you feel good and normal.
“That’s the key. I want to be normal and feel normal. I don’t want people to look at me like I’m different.”
Skubic bought the fireworks from the same Grand Avenue man he had known and dealt with for years. He was with a female companion and about to drive away when the bag erupted. Police say static electricity sparked the explosion.
The fireworks seller, 65, was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty in September to unlawful manufacturing of explosives. He was released in January.
“I don’t put nobody [to] blame. It was my fault for going to get them,” Skubic said. “It’s a good thing nobody else was hurt.”
Skubic, meanwhile, underwent a number of surgeries, just to get back to close to where he was before the explosion.
As he walks into the water, his missing arm doesn’t go unnoticed by the children wading in the pool. A lot of people think he’s an injured war veteran, he said.
But Skubic tells anyone who will listen — especially children — about the dangers of fireworks. For most of his life, Skubic was a fireworks enthusiast, entertaining his family, friends and neighbors with his own displays.
“When I think about them, I’d like to be able to do them again. But it’s just not worth it. This,” he said, tapping his prosthetic arm, “is just not worth it.”
Skubic puts both arms around his daughters, Kaela, 11, and Kallie, 7, and says they are his motivation when depressive thoughts cross his mind. He said he blames no one for his injuries other than himself.
Instead, Skubic is quick to remind others, especially children, about the dangers of fireworks.
“If it happens to him, he doesn’t want it to happen to other kids,” Kaela said.
Skubic stays busy and talks to other amputees, including an aunt, for inspiration. He hopes to be back working within the year.
As for today’s one-year anniversary of his injury, Skubic said he believes the day will bring mixed emotions. He recalled working the day of the explosion and then awakening a week later after being in a coma.
“I think ... I’ll be sad. It’s like being born again,” he said. “Last year, at this time, I was at work. I worked that day and I got off work and then I slept for seven days and woke back up and life’s been different.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PhilTrexler.