ï»¿ # ## $Id: bio.05,v 1.2 2013/05/24 20:04:10 kline Exp kline $ # // // chapter break, maybe //
Once or twice I had seen people stagger around with an uneven, stilted gate--probably at one hospital or clinic, or maybe around town. I realized this was called cerebral palsy. The thought scared me somewhere deep inside, I wasn't sure why. And now it was happening to me. I felt ashamed of my biases and fears for those others I'd seen, and even more ashamed of myself.
Jesse Hunt was the meat man for the restaurant. Jesse drove a large refrigerated truck all over north-central Ohio and stopped by on schedule at least weekly. One morning not long after my twelfth birthday Jesse showed up with something new to sell.
“They're vitamins,” he said, and reached in his pocket for his demo package. He was out front by the counter. I was on my usual stool at the far end of the counter when he gestured to me.
I got up and joined Jesse and my parents. “Vitamins?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Jesse nodded. “Theses are one thing you take--” he opened the plastic container and showed a neat row of pills.“ Then reached in his other pants' pocket for a similar plastic container. He opened this to show another row of pills. ”--and these are the other one you take. One is vitamins, this other is minerals.“
Mother examined the vitamin package. “Do you think Gary may be deficient?”
The meat man shrugged. “I'm not a doctor! But it wouldn't hurt to try these for a few months.”
My father said, “We've tried everything else... .”
Jesse put the pill boxes on the counter. “It sure can't hurt anything. All it can do is make him more healthy. You know, hell, they say if you just take those pills every day, you can pretty near live on water!”
Bert Doughtery strode in the front door and caught the tail end of Jesse's statement. “Ah, I'd sure like to live on water with what Gene pays me,” Bert said and sat on his stool. He reached for the vitamins and minerals and ordered some. Shortly afterward Norm, the mailman came in for lunch and Jesse Hunt made another sale.
It wasn't long until I had my own month's supply of vitamins and minerals and was back on my stool waiting to get better.
“Listen,” Uncle Jack said that summer, “one day, you're going to find a doctor who has seen cases like yours before. This I promise. Then once they know what's wrong, they'll be able to help you get better.” Jack's lanky frame shimmied as he sat on the davenport. He'd had the 'flu in 1918, almost died, and came out of it with this tremor.
I hobbled around the living room, walking in tight circles. Barbara and I had been in Toledo for only a few days and already I wanted to go home. By now the muscle spasms in my left leg were affecting my quads making it all the more difficult to extend the leg. “I keep getting worse!” I spat. “Nobody knows what's wrong; nobody's ever going to find out. Never!”
“Yes they will too. I promise.” Uncle Jack beckoned. “C'mere, kid.”
Dizzy, I stopped short in my tracks. Looked at my uncle and finally went to him.
He hugged me close for a second and let me go. “You're such a good kid,” he said. “Never done anything wrong to anybody... I just can't believe that someday you're not going to find a doctor who knows what's wrong.”
I just shrugged. After Jack got up and went to the kitchen, I headed outside and ran around the block. When I ran, I was free of my symptoms. This day I ran around the long, irregular-shaped block five times before returning to the Collingwood Avenue house and dropping, exhausted on the concrete steps.
For several weeks that summer and into the fall I began going to a chiropractor, a Dr Sarah, who thought she could help me thru spinal manipulation and dietary changes. She came across as earnest and wanting to help as any of the MD's I had seen, I liked the hands-on feel of her therapy, and followed her nutritional advise religiously. After some months, though, nothing happened, so the appointments stopped. So too with the vitamin and minerals fromm Jesse Hunt.
By late summer even sleeping was nearly impossible. The torturous spasms in my arms and legs wouldn't quit even when I tried to lie still. Now even the self-hypnotic techniques Desi Levendula had taught me began to fail. As soon as I had gotten my leg muscles to relax, one a muscle in either arm or in my back or elsewhere would twitch and things would cascade into every muscle tightening and I would find myself writhing atop my covers, drenched with sweat.
Laying on my right side was Position-A; left side was Position-B; stomach was Position-C, and the hardest, most brutally impossible was on my back which I labeled D. Most nights I managed to twist from side to side and after three or four hours would fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. It was rare when I called Mother to massage my legs because even that comforting was futile. As soon as I began to relax and Mother had wearily gone back to bed, another muscle spasm would spike me into a writhing knot.
It was only after this began happening regularly that I earnestly contemplated suicide. The idea of simply not-being gained more and more appealing. I was beginning to lose it.
The 1957-58 school year marked Lexington's first participation in the country Science Fair. Both Barbara and I decided to participate, but I but initially I was lost regarding what my project would be. Barbara took sophomore biology that year and fell head over heels in love with the subject. She kept pouring over ideas until she decided to do one of chicken embryology.
The Disney animation FANTASIA came around that year and one part of it inspired me to look at things with new insights. This part was the progression of life in the seas moving to land where it flourished until the dinosaur age.
Mother saw FANTASIA with Barbara and me. Midway thru the scene where fishes were turning into amphibians I asked what was going on. Mother turned with a dismissive glance. “Oh, they're just showing the theory f evolution.”
I said, “The what?”
People all over angrily make hushing noises as my mother whispered, “They think that everything came from earlier and earlier things. They say that life began in the sea and moved onto land. That sort of thing.”
A man behind us said, “Will you please be quiet!”
Mother bend closer and whispered, “I don't believe in this for a minute. Not a minute.” She sat up and continued watching FANTASIA.
I felt as tho I had been struck by a lightning bolt as a “Eureka!” moment lit up my mind. The enormity of the idea gave me goose bumps. So much so that it was toward the end of the film before I emerged from the cocoon of thought that warmed me.
Over the next several weeks I buried myself in books from the Mansfield Public library on evolution--to the point where one of the librarians was giving me dirty looks every time she realized that I was reading yet another book on such an unchristian, subversive topic. I didn't care what anyone thought of my newly understood discovery since it answered at least one of my larger questions, namely, where and how life had begun.
At school Mr. Bishop and I went into some lengthy discussions on the finer points of the starting point of life. Another thing that evolution suggested was a topic for the school's first science fair. I decided to do a project on the evolution of life from its beginnings in the earth's primordial seas to the age of the dinosaurs.
The sciences as a whole got a tremendous boost that fall with the Soviet launch of Sputnik. Except for close friends and family, nobody asked me what I wanted to go in college, Barbara, everybody assumed, would go into some branch of science, maybe become a doctor---tho Aunt Myra and Mother warned that the years of study would certainly preclude any change for a husband and family. As my spine began to twist late that fall, bending me forward scolitically, all but Mother began writing me off.
“I know what's going to happen,” I heard my Father say late one night. He and Mother had gotten home and were having a late meal. I had pretended to be asleep but lay in Position-A locked in a unrelenting spasm.
“I don't want to hear it, Loren,” Mother said at last.
“Well, we've got to think about it, for chrissake! Got to talk about it. We can't pretend Gary's not getting worse.” The refrigerator door opened and shut; a fews seconds later I heard a bottle cap bounce around and my father swearing.
“We need to find the right doctor,” Mother said.
At that, my father blew up and ranted and shouted, and argued with Mother for what seemed an eternity. Ended with, “Face it, Helen: there's no right doctor; the kid's doing it to himself. He's nuts.” There was a pause and I knew he was swilling down his beer. He came up gasping for air and spat lout, “I told Mary to help us look for a home to put Gary in.”
When I heard that I couldn't stop a burst of tears from flooding onto my pillow. I wanted to wipe my face, but both hands were tightened into claws and my arms spasmed in all directions. I writhed back and forth for at least ten minutes before finally tightening into a fetal position, my head well under the covers. It was almost time to get up for school before I finally fell asleep. I stayed home from school that day.
Barbara and I both won prizes in the Science Fair that spring. Barbara had a partner who contributed virtually nothing to the embryology project and still won 2nd prize. My paleontological and evolutionary project took 3rd place. I had several color drawings that I did lying on my side and drawing each line using my entire left arm; my wrist and fingers were too far gone to be of much use. I dictated my report to Mother. After months of painstaking work I wound up with a colorful background of four sheets of drawing paper taped together and around a dozen animals drawn to scale and pasted to the display table. This, along with the report won praise from most of the judges.
About the only disturbing note that day was the rightward pull of my spine. The nordosis had begun one day in February; striking unexpectedly one morning as I got up from my breakfast. I tried to straighten--as much as I could given the exaggerated forward twist of my spine. And felt myself being bent rightward slightly. It was almost as tho a 20-pound weight had been rested on my right shoulder. After a moment the pulling stopped and I let Mother help me on with my coat. Barbara was already in the garage, urging me to hurry lest we miss the school bus. In the weeks since, the rightward torsion had grown more pronounced, and now, and I stood beside my table in the cafeteria, now, late in the afternoon, I sensed the spasms in my trunk locking firmly into place.
Having won third prize made everything else background, tho. My several months of intense study of the evolution of earth from its beginnings and life itself from the ancient, toxic seas to the dinosaurs helped me place much in perspective. Life and death were simply a matter of having inerited mutated genes. Over the vast millions-of-years view, an individual life meant nothing!
Having drawn four lengthy background sheets, sometimes having to hold the pencils in my teeth, and have them all turn out so well, gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment I hadn't known before. And t have hundreds of people milling around and stop by and ask me questions about my project -- and to be able to talk intelligently about (stuff) gave me a heightened self-esteem.
So I ignored my physical ailment as much as I could and stood as straight as I could. When the judges came by and quizzed me, I was able to answer every question they posed. I wanted them to ask more questions, deeper questions, but they just smiled and nodded assent, and went on.
Even Bob Swank stopped by and said, “Good job....you lousy cripple,” and quickly stepped away.
#[Barbara and I each won medals that year. I placed Third for my #work.]
As Mother and Daddy were packing up my display, I took my small medal and skipped toward the exit to the parking lot. Skipping, as with running, was still a way that I could move freely, normally. I skipped to our Mercury, got in the front sear and bounded up and down. Then got out of the car and went running down the long parking lot to the other buildings, the upper elementary and the junior and senior high. I ran around the entire cluster of buildings three times, then headed back for the car. As I was skipping up the long paved slope I saw my father loading stuff into the trunk. He turned to watch me briefly as I slowed from a skip to a severe and jerky hobbling gait.
“kYou don't have me fooled, boy. I know you're putting this whole thing on,” he said. “How come you can run and skip okay but you're crippled when you walk? Just all of a sudden... hmmmm?” He glared at me as I crawled in th right rear door.
But I wasn't going to let anything spoil this day and ignored the taunt. I slept well that night.
The summer was grim. By the middle of June, I couldn't eat at the kitchen table any longer. I could barely sit in a kitchen chair; my left arm was locked to my left side, the arm flexed at the elbow. My hand all but useless.
My meals were given to me in the living room, on the floor, the carpet covered with a wide swath of newspaper. Lying on my side right with the spoon clenched in my left fist I managed to get the food into my mouth.
It was as grim as it must have looked because nearly all my muscles were locked in spasms. I knew seeing me this way made both my sister and mother very uncomfortable, so if they happened by while I was eating I stopped and pretended to be otherwise engaged. Watching TV or reading something in the newspaper or just looking out the picture window lost in reverie.
By early May my speech had begun to slur, but only very slightly. It wasn't that much worse now in June, but was noticeable was difficulty in chewing. It was like having springs attached to my jaws that were pulling in different directions; and other springs that forced my jaws to scissor sideways.
One evening ther was a brief article in the paper about a boy, eight, who had committed suicide. Mother and I talked about it briefly. I said, “I think he was brave.”
// // break here for bio.5a|6?? //
I stayed home that entire summer. Only once or twice did I venture over to the place. Sitting on my stool at the far end of the counter had become impossible, and besides that eating or drinking anything was entirely out of the question. Neither did I go up the hill to Larry Askin's to play; nor across the street to Nancy's, nor across Lexbroook Trail to the apple orchard. Instead, at home I spent my time listening to the radio, or watching TV. Or sketching.
Toward the end of June I found a book that had many of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings. With the remaining pages of my drawing paper I began copying some from the book. I only used a number two pencil rather than use the colored pencils as I had in my science project. It was impossibly hard to get the pencil into my left hand and to the point where I could draw.
It occurred to me that handwriting would be impossible the coming school year. But then, that was a lot of weeks away still.
One morning on her way into the kitchen to eat before she went over to the place, Mother stopped to watch me.
“Let me see,” she said as she stepped into the living room.
In an intentional spasm, I threw my body backwards and revealed my drawing. Mother dropped down, looked at Van Gogh's self-portrait, then at my drawing. “It's nothing,” I said. I tried to throw down the pencil, but it my hand was a vice-like claw.
“Well, I think it's pretty good.” Mother stood up. “I couldn't do anything half-way as good, and there's nothing wrong with me!” She was trying to sound upbeat.
I heard my father coming up from the basement where he had showered. A moment later he hurried thru the dining room, clad in a red robe and coming his hair. He went on toward the master bedroom and Mother went to the kitchen. I threw my body back atop the ///my drawing.
A little while later Mother came back to tell me that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was in the refrigerator. A glass of milk with the covered top and straw was next to it.
“It''s really getting to hard to eat,” I said. “To chew.”
“Gary, I don't know what you want me to do!” Mother said, exasperated. “You already weigh practically nothing! I can count every rib! You look like something out of a concentration camp!” I could tell she was crying as she turned back to the kitchen.
My father came out of the hallway. “We'll put you in the hospital and they'll feed you thru a tube, goddammit! --That's what we're going to have to do with you. That's what the doctors keep saying--” he waved his hand in a corkscrew motion at me. “--you're doing this whole thing to yourself! You're goddamn nuts! You know it, I know it.”
I fell forward and curled into a ball as my old man strode on. “I don't care,” I said. “I just don't.”
On August second we went to see a Dr Stone in Cleveland. He was one of the best psychiatrists in the State, if not the entire country. If not, as Daddy said, the entire weld. Dr Stone's would have the final word regarding swhat would be done with me. This was such a momentous/important appointment that my father took off work that Saturday and dove us in to Cleveland himself.
The Ohio heat andhuidity was bad that day and the three of us felt in. “We're probably going to leave you,” my father said as he backed out of the drive. “They're going to lock you away and I say 'Good riddance!'”
“Loren!” Mother snapped.
He didn't say anything, tho, and we pulled forward onto Lexbrook Trail. I watched the house disappear as the car sped forward; looked backward thru the rear window , wondering if I would ever see home again.
Now and then over the past few years my aunts had asked, “Are you in a lot of pain, honey?” To which I'd always said No. That the muscle tension didn't hurt, although it may have looked like I was in pain. Now, in the past several weeks as I grew more and more contorted, as my body seemed determined to twist me into a pretzel, my muscles were beginning to hurt. With each turn or swerve , or whenever my father began cursing, or when some dark dread thought struck my muscles tightened that much worse--if that was possible--and streaks of pain ran thru my body.
The traffic was heavy and the two hour trip stretched toward two and a half. The sun //sledgehammered the car./ slammed upon the car without mercy; the humidity made things worse, and by the time we got to the doctor's building I had a bad headache. Daddy was beet faced with anger because he had trouble finding the building. Another car almost hits ours as we turned onto a side street; the guy //driver leaned on his horn. For a second I thought my father was going to get out and fight the other driver.
Twenty minutes later we were inside the psychiatrist's office and I stumbled to a couch and dropped.
Mere seconds later a door opened and a tall lean man greeted my parents. “As I may have mentioned,” he said, “I don't work most weekends. That's why there's no air conditioning.”
Dr Stone said hello to me, then hurried my parents into his office. “We won't be long,” he said. “Ten, fifteen minutes at the most.” Everybody disappeared behind his //into his office.
I sat, curled into a ball on the left side of the couch and tried to relax and couldn't. I bore the spasms that locked my body the way I' bore my headache; there was no other choice but to bear the miseries. Fifteen minutes passed, then twenty, then half an hour. After an hour passed //inched by I got to my feet and began hobbling around the waiting room. I leaned against something at each right-angle turn to help me spin around.
After another half hour I was at my wits' end, filled with hatred for both the doctor and my parents. I went back to the door for the fourth or fifth time and pressed my ear to the hardwood. All I could hear was the faint, muffled sounds of conversation. I turned around and hobbled weakly toward the other end of the room and stopped when I felt a rush of dizziness wash over me. I turned and went back to the sofa. The last thing I wanted was to have them find me passed out on the floor. Only sissies fainted.
About ten minutes later they came out of Dr Stone's office. Mother was trying to smile, but there was more fear/worry than smile on her face. As my father and the psychiatrist shook hands, Mother bent overt me.
“What's wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing, sweetheart,” was her reply. Her smile broadened. “Dr Stone says he can help you. And you'll probably only be gone a few months. Isn't that wonderful?”
“Three to six months is the minimum,” the doctor interjected. “It can be as long as three to five years in some cases. Longer in some cases. A lot will depend on Gary.”
I opened my mouth to // tried to say something, but my voice wasn't there. My heart was pounding violently; I saw my shirt move with every beat.
“As long as you're here, let's have a talk, okay. Just you and me.” Dr Stone put his hand on my shoulder, helped me up, and steered me inside his office. He turned back and said, “We won't be more than five minutes. And this time I promise.” With that he shut the door and settled behind an enormous desk.
Dr Stone asked me a few casual questions; I snapped at him. When his questions seemed more absurd, I snapped even more brusquely. I hated him intensely. Not only had me made me wait for close to two hours, but he was going to lock me away in a snake pit and throw away the key.
At last the doctor was quiet ; he made a tent of both hands and sat looking at me for a brief moment. “Okay,” he said. “We're done for now.”
In the waiting room, they made arrangements for me to come back in about a month; the next time I would not be going home. I waited on the couch, my heart pounding, and barely able to breathe.
As we were ready to leave, Dr Stone said, “I'm already convinced, you know. Almost a hundred percent..... but let's make sure, just to make me a hundred percent.”
Mother said, “What do you mean?”
“Well, there's a neurologist at Western Reserve, Clark Randt. If Gary does have something neurological going on, Dr Randt will know.” The doctor took a pad and pen from his jacket pocket and made a note to himself. “This is only a formality, but it'll clear my mind completely.”
As my father extended his hand,, Dr Stone turned and stepped back inside his office. “Please,” he said, gesturing my father to follow. Both men disappeared into the office. This time the door wasn't shut.
I asked Mother for an aspirin and by the time she got one from her tin, Dr. Stone and my father were back.
“Thank you, doctor!” my father said as we left. He stalked firmly ahead as we headed for the car.
The trip home was as bad or worse than the trip up. The sun broiled all three //the three of us. Mother was unusually silent; she wasn't looking//she kept looking out her window and answered my father in terse responses. He seemed to wear a grim satisfaction on his face; a few times he whistled a tune to himself. My headache never went away; by the time we pulled in th e garage I wanted to get rid of the headache by driving a spike thru y temples.
I was bent like a corkscrew as I made it in the garage door. “I want to lay down,” I said to Mother. Both she and my father were hurrying to get back to the place.
Daddy caught me by the kitchen and dining room door. “See, you little pisshead, you're going to get it,” he spat. “I told you... . See, I told you! You've been putting on all this shit all these years. God damn, god damn, I can't believe how you've pulled it off all theses goddamn years.”
Iturned and headed across the dining room toward the hallway. “Go to hell!”
“What!” It was screamed. “You don't tell me to go to hell, you little shit!” An instant later his hand was on my shoulder and neck and spinning me around. He grabbed me with //my shirt with his right hand and the back of his left sent me slamming into the far way by the hall.
I crumbled into a ball; I knew what was coming. A second later he was on me, kicking me, pounding me with both fists. “You goddamned lying piece of shit! Cheating me out of my life! Cheating and lying and faking all this shit! You think you're so goddamn smart, don't you?”
“Are you crazy!” my mother screamed as she hurried out of the bathroom. “You'll kill him!”
But it did no good. He was buried in his rage. He kept punching and slapping me. Fell to his knees and began slamming my head into the carpet. Mother was on him, yelling at him, pulling him off. I would have cried if I'd been able. I wasn't. I was dizzy and disorientated; my head swam, sickened, deep in an ocean of confusion. I fought to stay conscious for fear of dying if I passed out. The next thing I felt were my father's shoes kicking me in the side. He hit my hip, then several deft kicks into my side. I curled into a ball and the kicks landed in my lower back.
“God damn you!” It was a scream, contorted by some kind off twisted rage. I felt myself being lifted by my belt and my shirt. Then being thrown hard on the floor. Fiststs pummled my back and shoulder until my father's arms wsearied.
All of a sudden the violence was over. My father disappered and Mother helped me to the bathroom. Fortunately my glasses weren't broken. My nose was bloody and mouth was cut. Besides being extremely sore and bruised I was pretty much okay.
Before she left, Mother brought me a snack, milk, and aspirins. It was barely dark before I was alone. The spasms were much reduced unless I moved around very much. After a long while I went into the living room and sat on the davenport and stared at a star in the northwestern sky. There was the faintest pinkish afterglow. With all my might I wished upon that star to be saved from being put in some snakepit of an institution.
The last memory of that day was scratching out a few words in my notebook diary. Mid-way through the notebook I penciled: "got a licking."