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The 30' green trailer largely hid behind the 40' square, white concrete block restaurant. It was connected to water, but the sewer hose lay behind the back door of the place. It was an adventure better forgotten, I suppose, but noteworthy only because of it's discomfort.
Barbara and I slept on army cots in the kitchen area. It smelled bad, stuffy after the weather turned cold. Mother made the best of the tiny kitchen in the mornings when she fixed breakfast. I usually waited for my toast and cocoa shivering by the kerosene stove whose blower streamed a blast of warm air at me. I dreamed of standing on a grate with warm, dry air blowing all around me.
With no piano to keep her busy Barbara began taking violin lessons from a Mr. Ireland who lived near downtown on South Main. Listening to my sister's initial squawks and screeching gave me an idea. The violin has no keys, ad that meant not having to use the fingers of my right hand that cramped under whenever I went to use them.
Mr. Ireland was a thin, high-strung man who danced around his living room with a worried look after my second or third lesson. “No, no, no,” he said. He adjusted my right hand, repositioning it on the bow. Your fingers aren't holding the bow right.”
I tried again, this time my wrist cramped a bit. My ring and little fingers slipped off the bow, this time my middle finger joined them. Very recently the middle finger had joined the other two although it wasn't as constant in its cramping.
Mr. Ireland was frustrated. “Why are you bending your right now!”
I shrugged. “I can't help it.”
“Then you're never going to be a violinist,” he snapped. “You're just wasting my time!”
Later when Barbara and I crossed to Lexington Avenue thru the slush to catch the bus home she asked, “Do you know what's happening with your hand?”
I shrugged several times. Finally said, “No idea.”
We had to find a new doctor.....
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By sometime in mid-winter the cramping was affecting not only the last three right fingers but had afflicted the wrist as well. At school I was still guiding the rt hand w/ my left, as surreptitiously as possible to be able to write.
It was bizarre how my hand and wrist would tense up usually only when I tried to use them. Otherwise, the fingers and wrist would relax into a normal-looking posture. One night, after Barbara and I lay awake talking , after Mother had darted across from the restaurant to the trailer to tuck me in, I spent better than half an hour trying to figure it out. My hand and wrist clenched into a hyper- flexed ball when I tried to use them.. It was all AI could do to straighted out my fingers. The instant I left go, the fingers cramped down. Finally I gave up, and with the drone of the exhaust fan from the restaurant droning in my ears, fell dead asleep.
Sometime in later winter we found a family doctor in Mansfield., a R Jones. Mother had never learned to drive a car and that made the bus the only option.
The restaurant drained more than 17 hours a day out of my parents--more on the weekends. It wasn't that the place was excessively busy; it was more due to poor planning, the cost of hiring trustworthy help, and . By her thirteenth birthday, Barbara had begun waiting some tables on off-hours. I was put to work in the back. Standing on two pop-bottle boxes, I washed dishes.
The Lexington Avenue Rapid transit bus make a turn-around in out gravel parking lot and headed back down. Thus, one Monday I got to skip school and visit our new doctor. It must have been early afternoon.
“Just be sure you're back before 5,” my father said, dragging heavily on his cigarette.
Mother zipped up my coat and glanced at the clock over the back bar. “We'll be back.” Shed urged me out the front door. “Here comes the bus!”
My expectations were that here, inn a city of nearly 50,000, doctors would have all the answers. But Dr Jones was stumped. After taking a complete medical history he patted me on the shoulder and told Mother that he had never seen anything kluge this.
“It could be psychosomatic,” he said. “...But I don't think it is.” Dr Jones had interned in // at the Cleveland Clinic and suggested that I see a neurologist there.
Eventually, this was the next step, but it presented some complications. Getting to Cleveland meant a long dr//ride on Greyhound plus taxis to and from the Clinic. It also meant that Barbara would have to miss school to help wait on the lunch and early dinner crowds. It also meant an expensive' taxi ride from the Greyhound Deport in Mansfield to the restaurant.
except for a few outstanding instances, exactly which doctors i saw, and when and where and what each said, is has been blurred by time and trauma. at any rate, between the spring of 1955 and th next spring, I'd guess that i was examined by no fewer than four neurologists at the Cleveland Clinic--or closely associated with the Clinic. In Mansfield I spent several months of visits to a chiropractor who tried to help me through spinal manipulations and nutrition.
While what remained of my father's family lived in Richland County, my mother had family in Toledo and Cleveland. In Toledo were my grandmother and aunts and uncles; in Cleveland were dozens of Mother's first and second cousins. Mother was close to almost all of her Cleveland relation and on times when we had to overnight in Cleveland, we had any number of homes to choose among. Without qualification, every one of Mother's family was nothing short of exceptionally kind and loving.
At the insistence of my mother's sisters, on the rare occasions when the restaurant was closed and we could visit family in Toledo, we saw some doctors there.
“I want Uncle Joe to see you, Gary,” Aunt Myra said one time. “He'll get to the bottom of this.”
Uncle Joe was the brother of Aunt Myra's business partner, Janet Gossman.. Dr. Gossman was an orthopedic surgeon who spent 15 minutes examining me in his office and pronounced my condition “unequivocally psychosomatic.” Uncle Joe had no doubts. ---As far as I know, he went to his death believing my condition was psychosomatic.
“That's what some of the doctors think,” Mother said. “But not all. Some think his condition is physical; they just don't know what it is.”
And that was how it went during the rest of '55. Either I was, consciously or unconsciously, making this up, or I had' some bizarre and undiagnosable physiological condition.
For awhile, the search for a solution waned.
It wasn't until March or April that our new house was finished. It was a sturdy brick home, 50 by 30 feet with attached garage. Unfinished basement plumbed for an automatic washing machine. We had a corner lot so the yard was large; across the narrow street was Fike's Apple Orchard, ten acres of apple trees. Behind the house the terrain sloped sharply to a tiny creek. Beyond the roughly acre of land that went down to the creek was a two-acre parcel dotted with large trees. The acres sloping to the creek belonged to a neighboring home; the other two acres was intended to be developed into a park for the entire real estate allotment. It never happened.
It was good to sleep in my own bed, to have my own bedroom, to drink water from the tap, something we couldn't do on the farm. I spent a great deal of time roaming the tiny patch of wooded land that sloped to the creek. It was but a few steps beyond the back garage door and a hop down from our lawn. Whenever the Ohio summer became unbearably muggy, I would escape to the woods and sit on one of the several stumps. And ponder.
Every summer since early childhood, Barbara and I would spent two or three months in Toledo. We would stay for awhile with my grandmother and Aunt Myra and Uncle Jack. Then over to Aunt Gertie's. When I got tired of my mother's family I' would call my father's former sister-in-law, Mary. And spent several days with Aunt Mary and Uncle Al. Aunt Mary was a short, plump woman who doted on me. She had been married to my father's elder brother, Robert, who had died accidentally before I was born. Their son was long since grown and far away. Uncle Al was a drunk who worked downtown. For the few days I visited every summer he usually kept reasonably sober. What I liked about staying with them was /// I liked their house and neighborhood; the place was large, airy, and cooled by the shade of large trees. There were few children around, but that never bothered me. I liked to go outside for long walks on the new sidewalks. Sometimes Aunt Mary and I would go to a small grocery some six or seven blocks distant; sometimes I would go exploring by myself. When I got back, nine times out of ten, there were cookies and milk waiting for me. Mary would have a cup of coffee with me, and we would talk.
My mother's kid sister, Gertrude, took me to at least one physician during 1955 (or 1956), if memory serves. It was likely a doctor one of her friends recommended. The results, were identical. The diagnosis, if any, was either a don't-know or that my ailment was psychosomatic.
Aunt Gertrude railed at the latter: “My nephew is not crazy! He's not putting it on. This is real--whatever it is!” And we stormed out, Gertie dragging me by my left hand.
Over the summer my condition had grown slowly, steadily worse. Inexorably, the cramping had spread from my last three fingers and wrist to the arm itself. By fall, sometimes the arm would spasm, bending at the elbow and throwing my forearm outwards. Sometimes my biceps would tighten, locking my arm in a bent position. This embarrassed me no end and I hid it at best possible.
One night my father cornered me at the kitchen table. “If you keep this up,” he said, pointing his cigarette at me, “do you know what people are going to do? They're going to start calling you 'cripple'” He dragged on his cigarette. “Cripple!” he screamed at me. “My son... .” And he stalked away.
By autumn the disorder had crossed sides and the ring and little finger of my left hand began to cramp. As had happened somewhat over a year earlier, after a month or two, the fingers were locked in a tonic spasm whenever I tried to use these fingers. They would sometimes relax when I was not thinking about them.
By now I was in the sixth grade with a no-nonsense teacher, Lenore Harnley. Mrs. Harnley was a good teacher, but would brook not the slightest disobedience. For me, nearly every subject we had bored the sunshine out of my life.
There were any number of days when, during class (just before or after recess) I would be reading a volume from the set of encyclopedias. Quite often, Mrs. Harnley would interrupt my encyclopedia reading by asking me a question. Once when I was into an entry on rockets, Mrs. Harnley jumped on me with a question about the Revolutionary War.
“What did Thomas Paine contribute during Revolution? Gary Kline”
“He wrote Common Sense,” I said, glancing up. Basically, helped inspire the patriots, loyalists, and the colonists who were neutral to support the revolution.”
When I could answer Mrs. Harnley's question, which I usually could, it always flustered her. I could see her face turn red a few times; then she would snap her fingers and order me to quit reading the encyclopedias and sit up and pay attention. About the only time she got me was with questions on English grammar. Or spelling. I've always has troubles with these.
It so happened that Mrs. Harnley heard about my strange contortions being due to the fact that I was crazy. Years later I learned that she had gotten together with several other teachers at Lexington Public Schools and they came to the general consensus that I was indeed mentally disturbed. It took a meeting with both my parents to set my teacher to correct my teacher's ideas. I'm pretty sure that some of the faculty's biases remained untouched.
By mid-winter of 1956 my affliction had spread to my left wrist and left arm. Unlike my right arm where the muscle spasms were primarily affecting my triceps, in the left, the disorder affected just the biceps. The wrist also cramped, but a bit less than on my right side. With considerable effort I was still able to write, by controlling the spasticity made my handwriting jerky and difficult to read. Still, I was glad t still be able to write. Not to mention to stand and to walk and run.
By early spring, I found the heel of my right foot beginning to rise, to force me onto my tiptoe. As with both hands, the dysfunction was only occasional at first. Then, after several weeks, it became permanent. By June I was walking unavoidably crooked. This tightening of my calf muscles went away when I ran, and so rather than walk, I ran everywhere it was practical. If I had to walk, I strode slowly; I twisted my right foot outward because it made my hobble less evident.
We were again running from neurologist to neurologist. Ones either in Toledo when the restaurant was closed on holiday after my dad could afford the hundred-mile trip, or in Cleveland. Sometimes, Mother and I took a plane --a DC-3; usually, it was the Greyhound.
It was probably after school had finished in late May when we were directed to yet-another-neurologist. Where this was is lost in the mists of my memory; it have have been in Toledo. Because of the comparative ease of getting to Cleveland, it was more probably there.
The snapshot that sticks in my memory is of me in the doctor's examining room, trying to show him how my right leg was becoming affected.
The heel wouldn't lock into its typical spasm.
“I don't see anything wrong with his heel,” the doctor said to Mother. “Hard to say about his hands and arms, but he's been walking normally... .”
I stepped over to a chair and rested my right leg there, bending it at the knee. Then I reached back, grabbed hold of my heel, and forced it to extend. “It's like this.” I rotated my heel a few times and pointed the toe out. “I usually walk like that now. It's just started happening.”
That made up the specialist's mind. My problems were without question psychosomatic, one hundred percent. The doctor said that since this was the case, he couldn't help me: we needed to see a psychiatrist.
Sometime in June, thanks to my mother's large extended family in Cleveland, I began seeing a doctor who was an internist with a strong background in hypnotism and psychoanalysis. Desi Levendula had most of his medical training in Hungary and Austria. One of Mother's cousins suggested Desi, and we went for an appointment.
“Is this guy a real cousin?” I asked as we sat in a plush waiting room.
Mother shook her head. “Desi is a hair-string relative. I would need to think hard to figure out how he is really related; he's married to a cousin or the uncle of a cousin of Bessie's. I haven't seen him for years and years.”
I like Desi from the start. After he and Mother chatted for fifteen or twenty minutes he said that he wanted to talk to me privately. Mother went back to the waiting room and Desi and I spent the remainder of the hour talking. He examined me, tapping my knees and elbows and the rest of it. Then sat for a few moments, pondering.
“I think I need to put you under hypnosis,” Desi said.
I said, “I heard you tell my mother that.”
“Most people believe that children aren't able to be hypnotized but that isn't true. Or not by my experience. Anyway, the more intelligent the person, the more easily he can be hypnotized. And as you know, you're very intelligent.”
And that was how the first session began. It concluded with a short talk with Mother. Desi and I had just talked that first time. He admitted that he had no idea whether my condition was due to some neurological condition or whether is was psychogenic. It would probably take several more appointments before he could decide.
Taking the Greyhound Bus every other Saturday to Cleveland became routine. Mother and I would either catch the City bus to Desi's office or take a taxi. After the visit we took the opportunity to lunch at a nice restaurant or visit a museum or see a movie. --I remember going to the Cinerama a couple of times.
Desi taught me the art of self-hypnosis and he used hypnosis in his sessions with me. The hypnosis was meant to touch into some corner of my unconscious; it wasn't the usual on-stage kind of hypnosis where the subject is told to forget everything he has experienced. In one early session Desi asked what date I would return to normal health.
“July 18th,” I said.
“Why did you pick a date so far away?”
I shrugged. “I don't know; I just think July 18th.”
The bottom line was that Desi's probes didn't produce any results. I was becoming more convinced now that the reason behind the stubborn spasticity in my hands, arms, and right calf was something psychological. I suggested to Desi that maybe it was my way of getting out of my piano lessons. Desi didn't think it was that simple.
At home my parents' arguments became more frequent and more heated. Not only was seeing Dr. Levendula twice a month very costly in real dollar terms, but it was having no results. I was not getting any better. Mother always worked into the wee hours Saturday nights, if she did not accompany me to Cleveland or if she did. When she was gone, it meant that much more pressure on everyone else. It meant my sister had to wait tables; it also meant asking an additional waitress to work the evening shift. Weekends were busy and the place was packed sometimes until closing at one A.M.
“I don't see the goddamn kid getting any better,” I remember Daddy yelling one night. I lay stiffly in bed, every muscle spasming. “Maybe we should just have him committed somewhere and be done with it!”
Tears flooded from my eyes and I curled into a ball and wished I could just be dead.
This was toward the end of August, 1956, and at the next session with Desi, I said I wanted to quit seeing him. He called Mother into the office and after a short talk, she agreed.
I got up from th chair and followed her out of the office. Desi hands lay lightly on my shoulders. I turned and said goodbye to the doctor.
As Mother and I were going out into the hall, Desi said, “Helen, I think Gary will get well when he is ready to.”
I've forgotten how long after we quit seeing Desi that one evening I told Mother, “If I really HAVE done this to myself I sure don't know how: and if I have done it to myself, i can't think myself OUT of this.”
I immediately regretted having said anything. Mother was at the sink and I could tell she was crying.