ST. PETERSBURG — The blood was everywhere, and it kept turning up.
Smeared on the green ottoman and puddled on the carpet. In the dirty laundry, soiling a white sweatshirt red. Covering a garbage bag of cans. Crusted on a slashed baseball cap hanging in the bedroom.
In March, 53-year-old Charles Gibbs survived a brutal stabbing in Northwest Park, the place he found a sense of independence despite his mild mental retardation.
As he recovered, his sister who cares for him followed the clues to understand how he responded to an attempt on his life.
He did not call 911. Instead, he did what he always does.
He carried a bag of cans across busy 22nd Avenue N, sat in his favorite maroon armchair and waited for his sister to call.
• • •
Skipper, as a favorite uncle nicknamed him, may have been born mentally challenged. Or he could have suffered brain damage from fever as a baby. His family never knew.
He went to a special elementary school, but the teachers and the specialists his parents hired couldn't teach him to read.
After training with the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children, Skipper got a job at an eyeglass manufacturer where a compassionate owner liked to hire the disabled. He worked there for 34 years before he was suddenly let go on Thanksgiving 2006.
Skipper took over the household and helped his elderly father until he died last year.
But he missed having a job. He jogged and collected cans in the park more often. Being in good shape made him proud, and the $50 or so he earned from a load of cans bought him a feeling of independence.
On an early spring morning, Skipper jogged several times around the park and then stopped by the baseball field to pick up cans.
As he carried the bag home, a teenager on a trick bicycle came up behind him. The teen stood over Skipper, yelling "I'm gonna kill you! I'm gonna kill you!"
Police say Sascha Weber, 19, stabbed him 11 times with a penknife, slashing his head, piercing his abdomen and nearly cutting off his middle finger.
Skipper picked up the bag and crossed 22nd Street N.
At home, Skipper collapsed on the living room floor. When he awoke, he looked at a piece of paper by the phone with one number — Carol's — and tried to reach her, matching the symbols he saw on the paper to the buttons on the phone. The line was busy.
He had been living alone only since September, and never learned to call 911.
He hung his hat in its place in his bedroom and took off his bloody sweat shirt and threw it in the dirty clothes. He went into the bathroom and pulled out the drawer where the bandages were kept.
He lay on his bed by the phone. Finally, he sat in his favorite maroon armchair.
"I don't know how I did this," Skipper said.
Every day that he jogs, Carol calls just after 10 a.m. to make sure he's all right.
Carol called her brother and then police. No witnesses had called 911, but Skipper gave them a description of his attacker. The crime scene was easy to find. Investigators followed the trail of blood.
• • •
Carol and Skipper were afraid the teen might come after them again. But on Easter Sunday, Carol came home from church, turned on the TV and learned a suspect had been arrested.
Weber pleaded not guilty to attempted murder.
Carol has nightmares about stabbings and medical bills. Her brother doesn't think about it.
He's frustrated that he can't use his left hand as it recovers. The injury keeps him from eating ribs, his favorite food. After a failed attempt at having Carol shave him, Skipper learned to keep up his white goatee on his own.
Skipper is used to coping with what he can't change. Sometimes he mentions he would like to have a wife and children, even though that's not likely.
Carol was surprised at how gracefully he handled the deaths of their parents.
"He's been my strength in a strange sort of way," Carol said.
And now this.
She frets over his healing arm, but her brother insists on going back to the park.
On an overcast morning last week, she writes a check for the first hospital bill — $3,000 — and they head to the park.
"Okay, you ready?" she asks.
"Yeah," he replies, his speech a little hard to understand.
"We'll go slow," she says.
They pass a blooming jacaranda on the way to the park where Carol played tennis for years. Skip is wearing a new red Spiderman hat to replace his slashed Lowry Park Zoo one.
They pass through the shadow of graceful oak trees, past baseball fields and clover. It's late spring, and the love bugs are out.
On the way back to the house, a fit young jogger stops Skip. She instantly knew he was the one who had been stabbed when she read that the victim collected cans.
"I prayed and prayed," she says.
He lifts up his shirt to show her his stitched wounds, like red mouths about an inch and a half wide.
"I'm glad you're back up here," she says, chewing gum and listening to white earbuds. "We wondered if we'd see you again."
Skipper and Carol cross 22nd Street again, the same walk Skip made alone and bleeding six weeks before.
As they near Skipper's house, a neighbor stops to chat with them. "Well, Skip, there's a lot of people who are happy to see you out," Carol says.
"Yeah," he replies, and looks ahead.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.