OAKLAND -- Five years later, Salvador Mendez sees his daughters most often in the picture he keeps by his bed. They can't visit as much as he'd like.
Five years later, Mendez does physical therapy, but his hands have become atrophied. It's difficult for him to write his own name or even hold a cup of coffee.
Five years later, he still thinks of that fateful night, and prays that his life will be better five years from now. But it's going take a lot to get him there.
Shortly after midnight in late August 2009, Mendez made a split-second decision to pursue a group of robbers who had wounded a man in front of a taco truck in East Oakland. Someone in the group fired on Mendez's truck, paralyzing him.
News coverage of the tragedy led to an outpouring of support for Mendez; readers of this newspaper raised $10,000. But since then, his story has been one of loss.
The mother of his children, his common-law wife, is no longer a part of his life. He wasn't able to work, so he lost the job he was coming home from when he was shot.
He has lost much of his independence. What sustains him is his hope, against the odds, that he can get it back.
Shy by nature, with only a third-grade education, little English and no specific skills, Mendez had come from his native El Salvador in 1995 because he had family in the Bay Area, and like so many before him he wanted a chance to succeed and build the best possible future.
Fourteen years later, Mendez was raising his two daughters, then 4 and 9, with their mother and living a quiet life in Oakland.
On Aug. 29, 2009, he finished work with a night maintenance crew and headed to get a bite to eat at a taco truck at 44th Avenue and International Boulevard.
Out of nowhere, four men grabbed a man at the taco truck, tried to rob him and then cut the man's ear with a knife.
He told the 57-year-old victim to get into his car. Mendez drove a quarter-mile to a supermarket parking lot, where he spotted the four suspects, who were on foot.
Mendez said he heard a boom. A bullet tore through his shoulder, hitting his spinal cord.
He has not walked since.
It's hard to stay positive. He doesn't like to talk much about the shooting. The memories stir up a toxic brew of guilt, shame and sorrow, but he remains stoic.
A small man in stature, quiet, passive and well-mannered, Mendez isn't quite sure what made him decide to pursue the men.
"I didn't want them to get away," he said in his native Spanish. "I didn't know they had a gun, that they were going to shoot me."
The small room he shares with another resident at an East Oakland care facility doesn't have many personal keepsakes; it's almost as if Mendez, 43, doesn't want to acknowledge that the convalescent facility is his home now.
He treasures the picture of his daughters. A chest of drawers at the foot of the bed holds newspaper articles about the incident, as well as one grim memento -- an X-ray that shows the bullet, still lodged in his body.
Mendez still gets out of the home every day, piloting his motorized wheelchair on short trips in his neighborhood -- to get a cup of coffee, a haircut, or just to get outside. He's a speed demon in his chair, outpacing those who walk with him.
"I like to get out, go wherever, around," he said.
State disability covers his basic needs but he has little money, no job and few visitors. His daily surroundings are usually reserved for people twice his age.
He wants to get training to work in a field where he can use his voice, his Spanish, his brain and gentle wit to make some sort of difference -- and make a living to support himself. He hopes to move to a place where there is a younger and more active population.
"Right now, I don't have anywhere else to go," Mendez said.
Mendez has long since spent the money he received in donations after the shooting, and he hopes the community will come to his aid again so he can take some classes toward getting a job, put money toward helping his daughters and seek additional medical treatment and surgery that could help him regain the freedom and self-reliance he desperately craves.
His occupational therapist, Vivian Miranda-Amen, said he can feed himself and do some basic hygiene but that's about it. It's hard to imagine how a life upended wouldn't send even the strongest person into a downward spiral, but Mendez perseveres.
He has his faith, he says, and still holds onto the dream he had nearly five years ago when he was first hospitalized.
"I hope that one day I will get up (and stand or walk)," he said.
Miranda-Amen is honest with Mendez. "It's not likely," she told him recently.
No one has ever been arrested in the shooting of Mendez; police believe the same group of robbers also randomly shot and killed a 36-year-old woman the same night, not far from where Mendez was wounded.
"This is a reminder to be a good witness and report crimes," said police spokeswoman Johnna Watson. "Reporting crimes is key for the police to catch criminal offenders, but personal safety is paramount."
Five years later, Mendez doesn't want to talk about regret, and whether he made the right choice in pursuing the robbers.
His choice now is to decide where he'll be five years from now: Resigned to a fate he doesn't want, or striving for more.
With the help of the time that has passed since he was paralyzed, he's made his choice.
"Before, I was depressed," Mendez said. "Now, I'm getting better."
Readers who wish to help pay medical and rehabilitation costs for Salvador Mendez can send checks to Salvador Mendez, Excell Health Center, 3025 High St. Oakland, Calif., 94619. To reach Mendez, call 510-261-5200.