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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

(5) I FELT LIKE A CIRCUS SIDESHOW WITH PEOPLE STARING AT ME.

April 4, 1967
Westwood 
     Now that I'm back in the Real World, it seems as if our two‑week vacation was something I dreamed.  My first day started at 7:45 when Ed dropped me off at Kathie's.   (She had been practicing driving my car with hand controls while I was away, had no trouble at all, but is still nervous about driving her own car.)  I spent the next three and a half hours putting her house in order.      
      I took two dozen of Dick's shirts to the laundry, drove home to Westwood, picked up our mail, spent an hour trying to figure out where I stood with the bank due to a slip‑up on Ed's check, got a phone call from Kathie telling me her new automobile's hand controls had arrived C.O.D. and would I please bring her $75 when I came back to Framingham.
     I arrived in Framingham at 3:30, exchanged $75 in cash for Kathie's check, picked up library books to be returned and a list of others she needed, and drove in town to the library.
     By 5:30 I was standing on the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston Streets, holding a fresh stack of volumes about four feet high.  A man also waiting for the light to change remarked, "My, aren't you studious," but didn't offer to carry my books for me.  Nor did I offer to explain that the one who would plunge into these textbooks was my resolute, unsinkable daughter.
April 10, 1967
Westwood
     I was supposed to pick Kathie up at 3:30 at the B. U. School of Law, which is the most accessible place for us to meet.  I got caught in a traffic jam that made me an hour and a half late.  I was frantic, picturing Kathie sitting there wondering what was keeping me, worrying that something might have happened to me.
    When I finally rushed into the lobby with regretful explanations on my lips, Kathie blew up at me.  This was so unlike her, I was stunned.
     "How do you think I felt sitting here for a solid hour and a half, while people walked by me and stared at me?  I felt like a circus sideshow.  Why didn't you allow enough time so we'd get ahead of the rush-hour traffic?  Dick is going to be worried sick!"
      Now I was angry.  I snapped that I'd done the best I could, I had been worried sick myself, did she think I'd let her down on purpose?  I was immediately repentant.
      "I'm sorry, but I feel as if I just can't do this any more.  What are we going to do?"
      By the time she transferred from her wheelchair to my car, we had both calmed down.
      "Do you think you could work up your courage to start driving yourself?" I asked.
      "I'm working on it right now," she said.  "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."
      It was a long, stop-and-go trip to Framingham.  Dick was waiting on the doorstep.
April 12, 1967  
Westwood
     Today was Kathie's second attempt with the parallel bars since her operation in December.  She and her therapist had been encouraged because after her preliminary stiffness, she was the "loosest" she'd ever been.  But then the spasms began again, making it clear that the surgery had failed in its purpose.  She had so wanted to be the first woman in Mass. General history with an injury as high as hers, to walk with crutches and braces.  No outward sign of disappointment, though.  Just a rueful smile and a shrug.  "It was an interesting experiment."   
April 20, 1967
Westwood                                              
     Mom and I drove down to Duxbury to give Ted and Joyce the poodle pup I'd promised them and to see their new house.  I was driving along, enjoying the scenery, when Mom let go with the kind of shriek that used to embarrass us kids in movie theaters.  Whenever they showed a newsreel of a bullfight, and the bull fighter came out second best, she got gored right along with him. Bronco‑ busting mishaps, chariot races, fencing matches had the same effect.  Anyone who heard one of Ernestine's blood‑curdling screams couldn't give blood for a week.  She was a pro, I suppose, because of her Metropolitan Opera career.
     She proved she hadn't lost her touch when the puppy threw up in her lap.  Somehow I managed to keep the car on the road, despite my shattered nerves, and while poor Mom tried to keep from gagging, I drove to a friend's house where we sponged off her dress .  She never has been fond of animals and I guess they sense this because she's the one they head for when they feel like doing something traumatic.  A couple of nights ago she stayed at Jan's and roused the entire family with her E above high C when the cat jumped up on her bed.   
     By the time we got to Ted's, the three of us had recovered, and Mom enjoyed the visit.  The kids named the pup Patrick, despite his French ancestry.
     Our indomitable Kathie reached a new milestone last week, driving herself to B. U. and home to Framingham again, using hand controls.  She'll have her master's degree in a couple of weeks and has volunteered to help out in a clinic for emotionally disturbed children until mid‑June. 
      In many ways Vonnie was more fragile than her sister.  As much as she loved Michael, she could barely take care of herself, let alone a lively three‑year‑old.  She still cared deeply for his father and had difficulty accepting the fact that their marriage was over.  Once again she sought answers in California, and once again Michael moved in with Uncle Ted and Aunt Joyce.  We corresponded regularly, sharing our thoughts and current experiences.
March 3, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie
     I wish I could turn my mind off at night and stop tearing myself apart over the war.  I have my sorrow about Kathie under much better control ever since she told me she often goes for days without even thinking of her handicap.  Sometimes she'll see someone else in a wheelchair and will say to herself, "Oh, isn't that too bad, I wonder what happened to him and what kind of  adjustment he's made," without automatically connecting her own condition to his.  She has been watching a program whose hero is a detective in a wheelchair.  She says "Ironsides" is a real, human, believable person with problems and frustrations similar to hers. 
     One ongoing problem is the thoughtless remarks people make to paraplegics ‑‑ even nurses and technicians, who should know better.  When Kathie was in the hospital and had to go to another floor for some kind of test, this often meant getting herself hoisted up on an examining table.
     "Climb right up here, dear," says the nurse.
     "Well ‑‑ uh ‑‑ I'll need some help."
     "All right, dear, just stand up and I'll give you a lift."
     "I can't stand up."
     "Not even for a minute?"
     Laughing as she told me about this particular frustration, Kathie said, "You wouldn't believe how many times people have said to me, `Not even for a minute?'"
     To get back to this obscene war, I give myself a lecture  every night before I go to bed ‑‑ now don't start thinking about  Vietnam, you're not helping yourself or Ed or anyone else if you lie awake despairing all night.  But it is so hard to put out of your mind the terrible things you read and hear.  I could stop listening, stop reading, but that's no good, either; as bad as it is, I don't want to be an ostrich.
     I thought of Kathie when I recently read an article about a courageous boy whose feet were amputated.  She, like him, expressed thankfulness a few days after the accident, just to be alive ‑‑ although she must have suspected she had a hard road ahead of her.
March 6, 1968
San Francisco
From Vonnie
     I was glad to hear how well Sissy's doing.  What strength and courage she has to be able to joke
and laugh as if nothing  had changed.  A sense of humor is so important.   
     I read a newspaper article about those poor boys who are getting their arms and legs blown off in Vietnam.  It's so tragic and so wrong.  I was reminded of a guest Merv Griffin had on his show last week.  A fellow named Peg Leg Bates entertained the audience by dancing on his peg leg.  Then he took the peg off and jumped around on his one leg.  It was grotesque.  Maybe some people would commend him for the way he has overcome his handicap, but his performance made me shudder.
March 9, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie 
      One good thing about letters is the chance they give you to exchange ideas.  I was interested in your impression of the Merv Griffin show that featured Peg Leg Bates.  I saw this, too, and didn't happen to share your reaction that his performance was in bad taste.   I felt, instead, that here was a boy who obviously loved to entertain ‑‑ loved to dance, despite his handicap ‑‑ just as Ray  Charles loves to play the piano even though he's blind.  I didn't feel pity so much as admiration for a talented person refusing to give up something he enjoyed doing just because most people would  say, "Forget it, it's impossible."  Would you believe there are several hundred paraplegics in the country flying airplanes with hand controls?  Can't keep a good man ‑‑ or woman ‑‑ down.
     If the boy seemed grotesque to you, it's probably because you're young and sensitive and hurt by the "flaunting" of a disability.  But to me, an entertainer like Peg Leg is too buoyant and joyful a personality to inspire anything except the thought, "Good for him!"
     Twenty years ago I might have felt the same way you did, but now I have seen many handicapped people stop trying, unlike your sister who is determined to live as normal a life as possible.  If she can accept her condition cheerfully, then this is an example to the rest of us to do the best we can with our own lives..  
March 18, 1968
San Francisco
From Vonnie
      I was watching television tonight and broke down crying when the movie ended -- "and they lived happily ever after."  I'm so scared.  What in God's name is going to become of me?  How long are Michael and I going to be separated?  How many more years am I going to miss?  I can't stand it.
      Maybe I wasn't happy with Bob, but at least I had Michael and I was doing something productive.  At least I was able to watch and help my baby grow.  Now I have nothing.  No one knows how much I love him.  He doesn't even know.  I'd do almost anything to have Michael back with me -- except jump into another marriage.  I can't seem to get interested in anyone.  I like Russ a lot but not enough to marry him.  What the hell is wrong with me?  I try to be optimistic, but when there's no relief in sight, that's hard to do. 
      I try to remember that what I'm doing for Michael is the best thing and I'm just being selfish to feel sorry for myself, but I can't help feeling lousy about losing something I can never get back -- time. 
      Enough!!
      Has Dad's company moved to Hingham yet?  Can I work there when I get home if I prove myself reliable? 
      Michael's birthday is on the 24th.  I can't afford to send him anything.  Will you take care of it for me and remind Joyce about it?  Maybe she could have a little party for him.
      Sorry to bother you with my problems, but it helps to get it off my chest.  I love you very much.

March 28, 1968
San Francisco
      I dreamed about Bob all night.  I went to him and told him I loved him, but it was too late.  He didn't want anything to do with me.  The dream seemed to go on for hours and I woke up crying and sobbing.  It's hard for me to believe I'll ever love anyone else as much as I loved him.  And it really scares me because if I don't, it means I've made a terrible mistake.  How do I know that we wouldn't have grown up and worked things out together?   
      Sometimes I even wish myself harm so I could ask for him and find out if he still cares for me.  I know you hate my talking like this, but I can't help looking back and wondering -- wanting -- yearning.
      DAMMIT!!  What am I going to do with that Vonnie?
      Not much else to tell.  I'm being a good girl -- dating Russ, not much drinking or raising hell.  Miss all you people. 
April 10, 1968
Westwood
      I had insomnia all night long despite pills, kept getting up  at intervals to see what time it was, finally took a couple of  aspirin and felt more alert than ever, then took a tranquilizer, figuring it would either kill me or make me not care one way or the other.   At 6:30 a.m. there was a phone call from Timmy, wanting to speak to his father.  His new motorcycle had been stolen.  Motorcycles are uninsurable.  That means someone is out $800.  Guess whoooo.   The wise old softie.  He'll complain a lot, but he'll come through.
     At 8:30 Kathie called.  It seemed Dick had to leave for work so early, she hadn't had time to produce a specimen.  Could I pick it up and take it to the hospital?   Just as I was leaving, I got a long distance call from Fort Lauderdale.  Mom said in a trying not to sound too excited voice that she hadn't been able  to get any hot water for several days, not more than a quart or two, and the plumber was there, and he said there was a leak somewhere under the house and did I know where the crawl space was?
     I left a message at the office and then told Mom if Ed didn't call her, the problem would just have to wait till we got  down there.
     So I rushed out the door and rushed back in to answer the phone, which was Ed calling short distance and wanting to know what the story was.
     Well, once upon a time, I began, there was this couple who had so goddamn many houses and swimming pools and responsibilities, they never had time to enjoy any of them, all they had was  problems, problems, problems.
     Ed said this one couldn't wait till we got down there for Pete's sake, we couldn't have water running all over the place.  He called Mr. Ellis, Fort Lauderdale Everything Solver.  Meanwhile I was high‑tailing it to Framingham and grabbing the  specimen and a handful of jelly beans out of the refrigerator and sympathizing with Kathie who was feeling pleased because her thermometer had finally agreed she was sick.
     This morning Kathie called and said, "I hate to tell you this but Dr. Kerr doesn't trust the drugstore's sterile bottles.   He says they should always be boiled for ten minutes."
     I drove to Framingham, bringing my breakfast with me and eating it while the bottle boiled.  Kathie looked alarmingly pale and thin. 
      "Well, so would you if you hadn't eaten for four days."  She wouldn't let me fix her something nourishing; all she wanted was warmed‑up cottage cheese.        
     At the hospital I paid a flying visit to Sue Abbot, an English girl who was in an accident similar to Kathie's last Christmas Eve and is anxious to meet her.  I gave her Kathie's phone number.
     Then back home to Westwood where I found the pool cleaners at work.  Kathie had given me some typing to do, I had 14,000 phone calls I should make and 15,000 other things hanging fire on a list but the sun was out again.   So I'm lying out on the lawn, writing in my journal, and along comes one of the pool workers with a wrench from his truck.
     "I know just what you're thinking," I said.  "You're thinking, `Boy, these housewives lead an easy life."
     "As a matter of fact," he said, "that's exactly what I was thinking."
     Sometimes it doesn't pay to be a mind‑reader.
     A great thing happened this week, not as great as I hoped but pretty great, just the same.  I sent a manuscript to Ladies' Home Journal about two months ago called "Letters from Kathie." *  It was ninety‑nine percent Kathie, from the time she went to San  Francisco with Dick until Mass. General Hospital.  It's literally her story in her words.  When I saw the manila envelope in the mailbox, I thought, that's that.  Our wonderful girl's story is wonderful only to us.  But the letter said the editorial staff had all read the story and given it serious consideration (they had written my number, area code and all, on the title page), but they were just booked too far ahead.  I called Kathie and she was surprised and really happy about my news.  She was feeling much better and promised to eat a good supper.
*  The letters were published in 1985 as "Letters from the Moon" in With the Power of Each Breath: A Disabled Women's Anthology
KATHIE ACCEPTING SCHOLAR/TEACHER OF THE YEAR
AWARD FROM PRESIDENT SILBER
May 11, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie
     Getting into harness after two slothful weeks in Fort Lauderdale was not an easy transition.  On my first day home, I was so busy catching up on accumulated responsibilities, by nightfall I thought it was Tuesday, Couldn't understand why the TV wasn't come in loud and strong with Tuesday type programs.  Missed half of Rowan and Martin before I got my inner clockworks straightened out.
     Wednesday Joyce called and wanted to know if I could take care of Michael while she and Ted were in Florida.  Well, certainly I could if someone would give me a magic carpet big enough for Michael and a babysitter, but otherwise how could I  possibly fly from one chore to the next with a three‑year‑old  clinging to my mini‑skirt?  I came up with a solution:  Auntie Janeth.
     She said she'd be glad to take him, and guess what!  He was so cute and well‑behaved she's ready to take him again any time Joyce wants.
     Jan brought Michael over for a visit a few days ago, and as they pulled into the driveway I was frantically reading the Polaroid instructions, thinking I could at last comply with your request for snapshots.  I kept telling myself if I could fly an airplane I ought to be able to operate a camera.  After another half hour of study, I produced my first picture, starring Michael  Crosby.  There was just one trouble: the star didn't want to be a star, he wanted to be a producer.
     "Let me take a pitchah," he insisted, while I cleverly snapped him and then allowed him to manipulate the  levers.  Michael was not to be fooled, however.  I had the camera in my lap and was admiring the second snapshot.  ("Look, Michael, here you are, sitting in the wheelbarrow.")
     "Take a pitchah," he said, reaching for the camera, and before I could say Jack Robinson or Michael Crosby, he pushed the button and took a close‑up of my elbow.  Good likeness, don't you think?
     Michael has a puzzlement:  he's been wondering who the heck  I am, anyway.  These familial relationships can be confusing, even to a bright toddler like my grandson.  He dutifully called me Grandma Malley, but the next day when I was talking to Aunt  Jan on the phone, she said,. "Just a minute, Barb, Michael wants to say  hello."
     "Hello, Barbara," says Michael.  "I love you."
     After we hung up, Jan told me later, Michael furrowed his brow and inquired, "Who is she?"
     "Well . . . " Jan said, wondering how she could make it  clear, "she's my sister . . . and she's Linda's aunt  . . and  she's your grandmother."
     "But who is she?" he repeated, apparently having decided he already had one grandmother.  Just who was this lady who appeared every now and then, exercising grandmotherly prerogatives such as swooping down on a person and giving him a hug.
     When I pulled up in front of Jan's house that evening, he ran to the door with Linda following and called, "Hi, Aunt  Barbara."

RELUCTANT GRANDPA ED;  MICHAEL ON TED'S LAP
TED'S STEPDAUGHTER CARLA AND POODLE PATRICK
     Linda played with Michael while Jan and I had a cocktail and chatted.  She asked about you, and I told her you'd be back soon for the summer.  Of course I referred to you as Vonnie, but your son's memory cells must have made some sort of connection because he suddenly looked up at me and said with conviction, "You're Grandma!"
     All this is probably making you miss him more than ever, but I feel safe in drawing these verbal sketches since you will be seeing him so soon.  He is a happy, well‑adjusted little boy, and  I do think his living with Ted and Joyce is the best possible  arrangement until you can provide a home for him.
       Kathie has received all her marks except one.  Straight As  so far.  She looks thin and tired and has promised to spend several afternoons a week at our pool, building herself up with sun and exercise and nice fattening lunches provided by Mummy.                         
     Tim, well on the way to getting his commercial flying license, expects to spend the summer swordfish- spotting.  He still appears to have little interest in returning to college.   His hair is neither establishment short nor flower‑child long, and when it's combed, he looks very handsome.  He met Mimi at Logan airport when her flight got in last Monday.  She was  expecting Carlo from Dad's plant, and hadn't seen Tim in two years, so imagine her astonishment when an unkempt young man wearing jeans and a mustache rushed up to her, threw his arms around her, and gave her a kiss.  She reared back and gaped at him, then said hesitantly   . . . “Teddy?"
     "No, it's Timmy!"
     From then on, Tim said, Mimi informed the porter, the taxi driver, the desk clerk at her hotel, and the bellhop that "even  though he looks like a hippie, he's my grandson and he's really very nice."
[Flash forward]

Message from one of Kathie's students
May 8, 2013
Hello Prof. Malley-Morrison,
I just wanted to thank you for a great semester in the family violence class. As expressed earlier on, I was very nervous about the class and overwhelmed with the work outlined in the syllabus (since I was absent the first class). However, as the semester went on, you were very helpful in reassuring my worries and guiding me to the best I could in the class. I thoroughly enjoyed everything you taught us in the class and all the information I've learned through your blog. I will most definitely be keeping up with your blog posts, as I find them very interesting and relatable to a lot of the things going on in the world now.
So, thank you so much for being extremely helpful, knowledgeable, and understanding. You've definitely been one of my favorite psychology professors and I'm very glad I was able to learn so much from you in one semester. It saddens me that it's only one semester as I do wish I can learn so much more from you about your thoughts and knowledge.
Again, thank you for a great class, semester and for being a wonderful, inspiring professor.
Have a wonderful Summer Prof. Malley-Morrison!
Best Regards,
Tina

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