I found my stay in the rehabilitation unit the most depressing experience of my life—not so much because of my paraplegia as because of the insensitivity of much of the staff to basic human needs and attributes. Although I acquired many self-care skills and techniques there that enable me to live a full and independent life now, I have not forgotten the daily dehumanization that was part of that experience. Kathie Malley-Morrison
Mts. Twining was the only one who could make the Stryker frame comfortable. The morning I woke up from my spinal fusion, my chin and forehead were rubbed raw from resting against the edges of the opening in the frame. Richard’s morning beard had always done its share of face scraping, but nothing like the torture from the prone half of that Stryker waffle iron. I begged the nurses to transfer me onto the back half of the frame, but they said, “No, no, doctor’s orders, three hours prone and three hours supine.” I had an hour to go on that shift, and three months of discomfort to anticipate.
The purpose of the Stryker frame was to keep me immobilized while the repair job on my broken back was mending. For three months, I couldn’t sit up or lie on my side or curl up fetus-like in a ball. It was either flat on my stomach on one half of the frame, or flat on my back on the other. When it was time to change sides, they’d screw the two halves of the frame together with me in the middle and swing the whole contraption over. Made me feel sort of like an omelet. It also, for the first few days, made me feel compressed, panicky, and claustrophobic, but within a week I was sleeping through the night turnings.
On the prone half of the Stryker frame there was an open space for my face, through which I ate, read, and wrote letters. On the supine half there was an open space for my fanny, under which they placed a bedpan when nature came calling all the way to the ninth floor of the hospital. It was these two face and fanny “windows” that attracted goblins who furtively shifted all the padding away from the edges and waited gleefully to see me squirm.
By the time Mrs. Twining came on duty that first day, I had been flipped, and was lying on my back facing the ceiling. She propped the long, lean surfboard-shaped prone half of the frame against the wall, added foam rubber and other padding, and increased the width of the opening for my face. She would make adjustments to both halves of the frame several times in the weeks to come. Occasionally other nurses would try their hands at adjusting the padding, but none of them had her wonderful instinct for what was comfortable and what was not.
I remember Mrs. Twining’s other kindnesses too. She was one of the few members of the hospital staff who would call out “knock, knock” before pushing aside the curtains that separated off my little corner of the huge rehabilitation ward. After twenty-five years of increasing modesty, all my privacy was shattered along with my car and back. It wasn’t just doctors, it wasn’t just nurses, it was everybody—the cleaning ladies, the magazine ladies, the drug store ladies, the orderlies, all seemed to pass in a continuous flow through my cubicle. None of them ever said excuse me, or by your leave, they just pushed through the drawn curtains. I had fantasies that somewhere down in the lobby of the hospital was a special desk manned by a volunteer whose task it was to route all the traffic of the hospital through my curtains.
I particularly loathed the magazine lady. She was one of those once-a-week, blue-uniformed, my-thing-for-charity volunteers (the hospital angels, or some such thing). She always arrived at the rehabilitation floor at a particularly inopportune time. I’d be over the bedpan or a nurse would be bathing me. Later, when I was off the Stryker frame, I’d be struggling to bathe or dress myself. And in she’d come. “Any magazines, dear?”
Every week, every single solitary week, I’d ask her to knock before coming in or not to come in at all—claiming in my desperation that I never, never read magazines. Every week, every single, solitary week, in she’d come without a pause. She was tight-lipped, tight-coiffed, prim and proper. I’ll bet she slept fully dressed and conceived her children immaculately. But every week she’d push unannounced into cubicles all over the hospital. Angel of mercy. Fulfilling her mission. Spreading joy.
I suppose none of the staff were unfeeling, they were just doing their jobs as efficiently as possible, despite the patients who managed to get in their way. Once when I was on the bedpan, the cleaning woman came in to scurry around my cubicle. “Excuse me,” I said, “but I’m using the bedpan right now. Could you do my unit later or just skip it today?” “Don’t mind me, dearie,” was her reply. “I have a daughter full grown, just like you.”
Inwardly I screamed at her, “And do you clean the bathroom when she’s trying to shit?”
Despite the support of Mrs. Twining, I began to feel that I must be wrong, or crazy, or sick, to get embarrassed at the routine invasion of privacy. Even after I got out of the hospital, I kept wondering if the mature, adjusted thing for a crippled person to do was to leave toilet activities, all the post personal functions, open to the world. Doesn’t everyone have a daughter grown up, just like me? When strangers come up to me on the street and ask if I am able to have a baby, it’s hard to believe that I have a right to any privacy at all. Because of the roundabout, crab-like way they approach the question, I’m sure that what they’re really burning to ask is, “Can you have sex?” The great American preoccupation. What I would love to reply is that of course we call girls are careful not to get pregnant.
The rehabilitation unit was a slow one, not a lot of emergencies, not a lot of urgency, just a bunch of people slowly and painfully recovering from their accidents and illness, and “adjusting” to handicaps. The nurses usually weren’t particularly pressured, and when Mrs. Twining had spare time she’d come to sit and talk with me. She was the one who’d watch when I tried to wiggle my toes. Once we both became excited when the toes really did wiggle. But the doctors knew better. Just an involuntary spasm.
Mrs. Twining understood a lot. She didn’t lose her cool or beome uptight when I asked her if I’d ever ride a bike again. I didn’t yet realize that the question was whether or not I’d ever walk again, even move my legs again. She simply replied that no, I probably wouldn’t, but I’d do other things.
Mrs. Twining understood the games we played too. One of the male paraplegics, clinging, like me, to a need for some privacy, would pretend to be asleep every morning when she came to give him a suppository. She would pretend to think that he was asleep too, gently pulling down the sheet just far enough to do what she had to do without disturbing him. Later he would “wake up” and ask for the bedpan. Neither ever hinted that he accomplished his functions in any except a natural way, all by himself.
My own games, at least the ones of which I was aware, were less subtle. They were sort of mind games. Mrs. Twining never reacted as though they were silly, or strange, or signs of “poor adjustment.” There was, for example, the “chances are” game. Ten thousand Americans a year become paralyzed. Of these, 85% are between the ages of 18 and 25. I was 25; 25 and four months. I figured that if I could have gone just another eight months without an accident, I would have beaten the odds and been okay. Of the ten thousand, 85% are male. I’m female. So all in all, chances were 85 out of 100 that I wasn’t paralyzed. Right? But I was. Funny.
When the toes never did wiggle on demand, there was the toe in the cast game. I’d watch and Mrs. Twining would watch, and nothing would move. But I could feel my right big toe moving. I felt as if the toe were ensconced in a lightweight but tightfitting metal cast. The cast didn’t move, of course, but inside, my toe was moving. Mrs. Twining understood my conviction that if we could just get that invisible cast off, everyone would see what was really happening.
One game I never played was the “I’d give anything” game. That’s something I don’t believe in. People are always saying they’d give anything for something. Believe me, it’s not true. I wouldn’t, for example, give my eyes or my ears to get back the use of my legs. Just my bank-book, my car, my house, the things that don’t count, the things no self-respecting devil would take in a pact. And I’m sure the reverse is true. No blind woman would give up the use of her legs to see, no deaf woman would consign herself to a wheelchair to hear. Once you have a disability, at least you know what it is, know how to live with it. Exchanging it for anything else would mean starting all over again.
I developed new mind games after leaving the hospital, games I’ll never be able to share with Mrs. Twining. There’s the “cure” game, of course. Suddenly there’s this new miracle medication and they give it to me and zam! I’m cured! I place my hands firmly on the arms of my wheelchair. I rise slowly to my feet. I take a few tentative steps, when whoosh! I race to the arms of my love.
Naturally it wouldn’t be like that in real life. It would be a long slow process. Lots of therapy. Maybe after the first six months I’d go into his arms on crutches. After another six months on a cane. Then maybe in six more months I’d walk carefully into his arms. But finally, finally you can bet, I’d run. I miss that, running into a man’s arms.
Actually, if I remember correctly, Mrs. Twining and I really spent relatively little time discussing me, my toes, my mind games. Instead we talked a lot about her mentally retarded granddaughter, Lee. Mrs. Twining seemed to revel in baby-sitting while her daughter shopped or simply took a break from the demands of raising Lee. I had been a teacher of mentally retarded children before the automobile accident, and spent a lot of my face-down time on the Stryker frame pursuing my studies in the area. Asking my advice was one of the nicest things Mrs. Twining did for me. It made me believe I still had something to offer the world. It made me grateful that I still had my mind, and experiences and ideas to share.
Mrs. Twining left the hospital a few weeks before I did. It had become more and more difficult for her to spend time with Lee because of the constantly rotating shifts that are part of a large hospital routine. Naturally the hospital couldn’t adjust its policy for just one nurse, so Mrs. Twining left for a nursing home job with more regular hours. The old people in that nursing home have probably never been more comfortable than they are now. But who, oh who, I wonder, is adjusting the Stryker frames back at the rehab unit?
Rehabilitation Psychology, 1973
Dr. Kermond told Kathie he feared she was setting her sights too high in expecting to leave the hospital within four months, fully recovered. He suggested she adopt a more realistic attitude rather than be faced in the end with a crushing letdown.
"But you're asking me to change my whole personality!" she said.
However, she decided to heed the doctor's advice and concentrate her positive thinking on progressing from one plateau to the next. Every night before she goes to bed she "sees" herself doing successfully whatever the therapist is working toward. She was able to sit on the edge of the bed and balance herself on the second day of therapy—an accomplishment that ordinarily takes a week in cases like hers. All she had to work with were the muscles in her upper back and shoulders; these would be strengthened through exercise and daily practice until eventually she would be able to shift herself from bed to wheelchair and from wheelchair to car. She would be taught how to cook, make beds, and keep house from a wheelchair. The doctor estimated that she would be in the hospital from six months to a year, but told us she would be able to come home weekends in the near future.
Now that Kathie had a clearer understanding of what she was up against, she was concerned not for herself but for Dick.
"He doesn't deserve a wheelchair wife—he's too wonderful a person to be stuck with such a burden!"
"If the situation were reversed, wouldn't you love him just as much and be happy to devote yourself to helping him?"
That was different, she said. She felts toward Dick as a mother did toward her child; she wanted only the best in life for him. I said that she represented the best to him. From the very beginning he wanted her back on any terms. As long as her mind recovered, the condition of her body was a minor consideration.
Dr. Kermond thought the chances were good that Kathie could have a baby. This wonderful news bolstered my spirits, as I knew what a blow it would have been if she was unable to have Dick's child. He told me she had talked of nothing else for the last six months.
"You know what it would mean, don't you," I said to Ed, this weary man who had just sent his last child off to college. "You and I would be in the baby business again."
"So what? We've done it before, we can do it again."
February 10, 1966
As if Kathie wasn't going through enough, she was recently harassed by a nurse who was a born-again Christian.
"Every time she's shown up, she's given me the same broken-record message: My only hope of getting better was to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. I told her politely that I had my own beliefs and wasn't interested in adopting hers."
When her continued badgering didn't work, Kathie continued, the nurse tightened her lips and said, "It's your choice. You will never walk again."
I was ready to kill the woman, but Kathie said, "You're too late, Mom. I reported her and she's been transferred to another floor."
This bearer of glad tidings has moved on to bullying other captive prospects. Another planet would be better.
February 21, 1966
Massachusetts General Hospital
Dear Mr. Leivore,
Picture your favorite primary special‑ class teacher lying on her tummy on a frame about one foot wide, with an open space for her face, a tray beneath said gorgeous face, her left hand clinging distrustfully to the aluminum frame, her right hand steadfastly writing a letter to her favorite principal. Awesome, isn't it? In another hour, the nurse will lower a similar frame onto her back, bolt it into place, strap her in, rotate the whole structure through space, remove the tummy‑ frame, and lo and behold, she'll be reclining on her back. It's almost as much fun as a roller‑coaster. The name of this ingenious bed is a Stryker‑ frame—same thing Ted Kennedy was on after his airplane accident. He, good fellow, was skiing this weekend.
The doctors consider the operation a complete success and are fairly certain my spinal cord wasn't severed—just traumatized from pressure on it. It was a seven ‑hour operation, yet already I feel as well as I did before.
The temperature in good old Boston was five degrees today. A year ago we were camping on the California coast with friends. Oh, how we miss that climate!
March 7, 1966
Massachusetts General Hospital
Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm writing to you to sort of fix my resolutions and empty my mind. There's a me inside me that I'm not always true to, and it frustrates me. And it's never really excusable— not because of tiredness or discouragement or hospitalization or anything. It's just a matter of trying hard enough, and always keeping the focus on your values and beliefs—not on the petty little daily acids that try to corrode the mind's screen.
I know Dick's frustrations and loneliness are equal to my own. I know it's natural to get depressed or restless now and then, and a good cry is probably a release for me, but it doesn't do anyone any good when I express those fears. If the surface of my mind becomes recalcitrant and dwells on such probable impossibilities as my ever riding a horse again, I want simply to draw a curtain over it. I have too many months to go to give in to depression, and too many wonderful people in my life to forget how lucky I am-- and yet these foolish thoughts push into my brain and overflow hot and wet over my face. And it doesn't seem fair that although I've been able to show good spirits to almost all visitors, my weaknesses betray themselves to the people I care about most—my parents and Dick. I love you people so ‑‑ forgive all my words.
March 12, 1966
Massachusetts General Hospital
I'm picturing you and Daddy on your way to Martha's Vineyard. It looks like perfect flying weather. They cranked me up a little higher than usual for breakfast this morning, and I can see almost to New York. The sky is a pale but unmistakable blue; I can recognize the Prudential and John Hancock buildings, and a tall dark church—Arlington St? I can see the snow on the Charles River; it shouldn't be long before it is replaced by boatloads of eager, rowing lads. The seagulls winging along the river stand out in sharp relief today. Even in a city, there is beauty waiting to be appreciated.
My study notes are open on my tray and I do intend to tackle them with vigor but . . . I have been thinking about you and Daddy. I worry sometimes that you'll think I take your visits for granted. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trouble with hospitals, they don't permit enough ordinary conversations—or ordinary anything. . . .
March 15, 1966
Massachusetts General Hospital
Dear Mr. Lievore,
Mass. General is like any big overgrown agency ‑‑ lots of mixups and confusions and hysterics. Take last Saturday. Three of our "rehab" nurses called in sick, so a new nurse "floated" up from another floor. She gave fair warning of her dizziness. She went from patient to patient handing out thermometers and explaining that she had been sick with the flu and still felt deathly ill.
When she assured the head nurse that she was experienced with Stryker frames, she was sent in to get me ready for turning. This was an experience I shall never forget. Assuming you know as little about ye fine Stryker as the floater did, I'll explain that the basic frame consists of heavy canvas straps with foam rubber over them; all kinds of pillows and padding are needed to keep the victim—I mean the patient— from getting bed sores from the forced immobility.
Miss Dizzy's first boner was to put the other half of the frame over me, leaving out the pads and pillows I need for my "on‑the‑back" position. Moreover, she clomped the frame down onto my sheets, blankets, and pillow. I protested, but she insisted all was well and started hauling sheets and blankets out from under the top frame. Sheets and blankets may be soft, but when they're dragging across my suture line and a bed sore . . .
Fortunately Dick was there, and by the time Miss Dizzy had started pushing and shoving pads under the top frame, he had fetched the head nurse. Off came the top frame, and the project was renewed in a more normal and comfortable fashion. Every time Dick and I think about that dizzy nurse, we have to laugh.
Then there's Dr. Constable. He's the skin specialist who recently grafted my bedsore to be sure it would heal properly. He's a huge, craggy‑looking Englishman, dedicated to his work. All the nurses are afraid of him because he is so austere; he has been known to hit the ceiling if a dressing is done incorrectly.
Since I'm not easily intimidated, I soon discovered Dr. C. had a hidden sense of humor. When I got indignant over his taking pictures of my bed sore (it's bad enough when staff members stand around and gawk at my behind), he pointed out that I'd need something for my Christmas cards next year. And when he decided I wouldn't require the extra piece of donor skin he had saved after my grafting operation, he said, "No sense wasting it; I'll send it down to the kitchen." He complained to Dick that the dressing he had put on after the grafting was lopsided because he had never dealt with such a "jolly" patient. Nothing makes me happier than jollying a grin out of Dr. Constable.
I will have to be on the Stryker frame for about two more months for my bone grafts to "take" satisfactorily. Then they'll have me in a wheelchair and going home weekends as soon as possible. I can't wait to be by the ocean again. Dick better start lifting weights because I expect to be pushed right down to the water's edge.
April 15, 1966
From my sister, Janeth
I had a discussion with Kathie about one of her roommates. Rose Marie was occupied with enough company so I felt it was safe to speak with Kathie about her. I asked if Rose Marie had been in an accident, and learned her problems had begun in childhood. I mentioned that I always ask her how she is, thinking how stupid it is of me—there she is, all strung up in slings and ropes and pulleys—I can see how she is, and yet I ask, because somehow I'd hate not to. I wonder, What can she possibly answer? And she always answers, Fine, thank you.
Kathie said, "Don't worry about it. Everyone does that; we've come to expect it. In fact we joke about it. I think it's just a social thing, don't you? Besides, people can't be constantly on guard, asking themselves, `Should I say this?' It would spoil the visit."
Of course, Kathie is right: it is a social thing. What we all mean, but don't say, is "in spite of it all—how are you!"
Thought of something else about Kathie: I happened to visit on the day before her anniversary last month. She remarked cheerfully, "At least Dick and I will be together this time. We weren't for the first one. Dick drew Reserve Duty and had to report to the base early that morning. I was on the road with him at 5:30 a.m.!"
While I was swearing sympathetically, Kathie was saying with a smile, "Well, three is a charmed number, and according to that, our third anniversary is really going to be something!"
Then for the listening Fates, she added tartly, "Boy, it had better be."
The whole family was excited about Kathie's first trip home after so many months of hospital life—most of all, Kathie herself. Dick wheeled her out of Mass General's White Building, loaded the wheelchair into my station wagon, and we set out for Cohasset. When we neared home, I drove along Atlantic Avenue with the windows down, so Kathie could feel the ocean breezes she had missed so much.
I turned into our driveway, drove past the barn where Heidi and Pokie had lived, past Ed's makeshift corral, and up to the front porch. Dick carried Kathie up the narrow stairway to the apartment over the kitchen, which I had made as attractive and appealing as possible. Rather than return to the large, airy bedroom where she had grown up, down the hall from Ed's and mine, my daughter had opted for privacy.
I busied myself in the kitchen, preparing a meal of her favorite foods. Then I set the dining room table, and called up the stairs, "Dad and I are ready for dinner whenever you kids are."
A half ‑hour wait turned into an hour. Ed and I looked at each other, puzzled and anxious. What was keeping them? Finally our son‑in‑law, looking distraught, came downstairs and said Kathie wouldn't be joining us for dinner.
"She's up there sobbing her heart out," he told us. "I can't console her. It seemed to hit her as soon as we drove in the driveway. She keeps saying over and over that she doesn't want to be a paraplegic; she wants everything to be the way it used to be."
"Would it help if I went up and talked to her?" What would I say? I wanted everything to be the way it used to be, too. Oh, how much I wanted that!
"No, she doesn't feel like seeing anyone," Dick said. "Right now she's too unhappy, but give her some time. She'll work through this, I'm sure of it."
Another episode: Some young friends had dropped by shortly after Kathie was allowed to leave the hospital on weekends. It was a warm summery day, so the visitors soon congregated in the
driveway where a basketball hoop was attached to our garage. One of the girls, whom I hadn't met before, began shooting baskets while the other young people talked and cracked jokes with Kathie and Dick.
The girl was full of the zest of youth as she leaped and twisted her body toward the basket. It seemed to me as if she was flaunting her vigor and grace in front of my wheelchair‑ trapped daughter. I hated her; I hated the basketball hoop; but when I looked at Kathie, she was watching the girl serenely, without a trace of bitterness in her smile.
Kathie's therapist said she had never seen anyone, male or female, learn how to do so much so rapidly. The very first time she tried to transfer from her wheelchair into a bathtub, she managed with no help except the handrail above the tub. She did need assistance getting out again but is working toward executing the whole maneuver by herself.
Dr. Pierce doubted she would have the strength in her upper back and shoulders to hoist the rest of her body up a flight of stairs, in a sitting position. He was sure she would be exhausted after only two or three steps. Longing to see her room, Kathie insisted on trying. Up she went to the first landing, grasping the railing with one hand and pushing herself up step by step with the other. Way to go, Kathie!
She will spend the next couple of months commuting to the hospital on an out‑patient basis. Dr. Pierce sees no reason why she can't go back to teaching this fall and start keeping house for Dick in a home of their own.
Dick has accepted an opportunity with the Star Market Company, is making a good salary and training for an executive position. Kathie regrets that he didn't stick to his plan to be a history teacher, but he may return to that goal in the future. For the present, he wants only to be independent.
Kathie was given a fellowship to attend Boston University and get her master's degree in the field of education for developmentally delayed children—including $800 for tuition plus a $2000 stipend for living expenses.
Dr. Pierce called and urged her to have an operation he hoped would improve her chances of walking with crutches and braces. She had been having trouble with spasms that sabotaged early efforts to walk. Her feet would lift out of the special shoes attached to her braces and throw her off balance. Kathie wanted to put the operation off until Christmas vacation, but Dr. Pierce argued that she shouldn't waste the fall months when she might be practicing walking with crutches if the operation was successful. She had the procedure on September 14th, a week before school started.
Cutting the tendons in Kathie's ankles was not as simple as it sounds. An incision had to be made in her lower abdomen where the musculature attached to her ankles had its origins. I didn't know all this when I brought her to the hospital a few days later to have the stitches removed. I pictured the doctor snipping at stitches located somewhere in her ankles.
When she returned to my car, Kathie transferred from curb to front seat with difficulty—this was an easier maneuver at street level. I put her wheelchair in the backseat and was about to turn on the ignition, when Kathie said, "Oh shit!"
She pointed to her lap, which was red with blood. Horrified, I didn't understand where the blood was coming from. Shaking her head and swearing with frustration, Kathie told me she had asked the doctor if he was sure he wasn't removing the stitches too soon. She thought the edges of the incision didn't look fully closed. He brushed off her concern.
Returning to Dr. Pierce's office in her bloodied state, Kathie was stitched up again and given a harsh lecture. "Why did you throw yourself around like that? If you'd been more careful, this wouldn't have happened."
Thus did he absolve himself of blame by humiliating my daughter. Thus did a busy doctor become callous about paraplegics he saw day after day. It was hard for a mother not to think, "It should happen to you."
Kathie came home from her first day at B. U. aglow with enthusiasm for her professors and her courses. She said the standards were tough—as tough as Swarthmore–-but she was prepared to meet the challenge.
One problem had her in tears: two flights of stairs leading to one of her classrooms. To use the elevator, you had to have a key. After two weeks of pleading phone calls and repeated explanations, she was finally given her own key.
I drove her to school three mornings a week; Dick picked her up after work. He started classes at Harvard night school.
A year later, we sold the house at Sandy Cove and bought a ranch house in Westwood near the one Kathie and Dick had bought in Framingham.
July 29, 1966
I'm getting ready to fly Kathie and Dick over to Martha's Vineyard where they will spend the weekend together. Ed and I were originally going to spend it with them, but business problems have cropped up.
I'm getting ready to fly Kathie and Dick over to Martha's Vineyard where they will spend the weekend together. Ed and I were originally going to spend it with them, but business problems have cropped up.
Kathie wanted to wear the dress she wore the last time she and Dick visited Martha's Vineyard. It was then, three years ago, that they first began to feel serious about each other, and she gives quite a bit of credit to Dick's enchantment with her dress. When she tried it on yesterday, it didn't look the same. Her neck and shoulders have become thinner, and consequently the bodice looked too big.
She was a good sport about it, smiling and saying cheerfully, "Well, it was worth a try," but I felt like crying. Somehow the little disappointments and frustrations are harder to take than the tragedy of her not being able to walk. We have adjusted to the latter; it is the lurking "unkindest cuts" that hurt.
Kathie is excited about today's flight and has asked me to give her a flying lesson. She wants to learn as many skills as possible.
Dec. 13, 1966
Kathie's spirits are up and down-‑recently, it seems, more down than up. Her emotional barometer affects mine -- I can't bear it when she's depressed. I feel almost suffocated by the awareness of all she must cope with for the rest of her life. It's so cruel, so unfair. But after a day or two, she pulls herself together and is once again her valiant, animated self. Right now it can't be easy to keep smiling when she is facing an operation that may or may not prove to be helpful.
Getting engrossed in her school work is the best therapy in the world for Kathie ‑ on a recent mid‑term exam she received an A‑minus. Her other courses have only one exam at the end of the semester, but I'm sure she will handle them equally well.
We took Kathie and Dick out to dinner Saturday night to celebrate his promotion -- and $1000 raise! They came here first for cocktails, and for a minute I hardly recognized Kathie when I first opened the door. Dick had decided it would be good for her morale to spend the afternoon at the beauty parlor. She took him up on it, announced to Mr. Arthur, "Do with me what you will," and the result was a cute new short haircut, very becoming. In fact Ed said he'd never seen her look prettier. I just wish she'd put on a little more weight. Even Dr. Kermond, who had advised her to avoid gaining pounds that would make it difficult for her to lift herself, now says she is too thin.
Ed's folks will be arriving any minute to see our new house. Ed and I can't get over how lucky we were to find it. He has been talking to the local conservation committee about the possibility of dredging out the swamp on the left side of the property and creating a pond. Looking at our lot from the air last Sunday, we could see that there was already a small pond adjoining the swampy area, so it shouldn't be too big an undertaking to expand it. We have heard that the state, interested in preserving sanctuaries for wild life, helps defray the cost of such projects.
From Vonnie to her parents
I was really depressed about Bob the other day and felt nothing but regret about the divorce. After I talked to Kathie, she convinced me that I have been living too much in the past and only torturing myself. I hadn't realized how much I kept looking back instead of ahead. Ever since, whenever I find myself thinking of Bob I change the subject. It's not easy, but I'm making progress. If I can't control my own thoughts, who can?
The baby and I have each other and love each other's company. Now when I'm alone at night after Michael has gone to bed, it's because it's a normal routine, not because my husband is out with his buddies. When I go to bed alone I know I'll stay alone, and I don't have to worry about when my husband will come home. I'm far from content but at least I have some peace of mind. It's easier to have nothing at all rather than something that's never there. (Yikes! I understand it, do you?)
Michael is the man in my life now and I owe it to both of us to make it a good life. I have to accept the fact that the past is over and I should close the doors behind me.
March 4, 1967
When I was exercising Kathie's ankles recently, the cat jumped up on the bed. "Come here, baby," Kathie crooned. "Your grandmother's allergic to you, so you mustn't wave your tail in her face." She petted Lurch for a few minutes, then said to me, "Tell me if your nose starts to drip—and I’ll have you leave the room."
The fresh kid has a genius for coming out with the unexpected. Gets it from her father, no doubt. He and I were reading and half listening to a radio discussion featuring a guest who believed in reincarnation. Ed put his book down and said, "Would you marry me if we were reincarnated?"
I stopped to think about it for a minute. Under what circumstances did he mean? Would we be the same two people or two other people? How old would we be? Would we . . .
"I don't need to hesitate," Ed said, interrupting my pondering. "I'd marry you again in a minute— which just goes to show," he added, "I never learn."
March 9, 1967
From Vonnie to her grandmother, “Isha”
I just love getting your letters. There you are, miles and miles away and still you think of me and write to me. I don't know quite how to explain it, but it's a thrill to come into work and find a letter sitting on my desk waiting for me. It's like an adventure, really. Don't you agree? Opening it, not knowing what it will say, knowing that the person who wrote it cared enough to sit down and pass a few words on to another, so far away. I truly love it.
Oh, Isha. That baby of mine is getting brighter every day. He's not even two years old and he can go potty by himself. He's not trained, by any means, but I can put him in training pants and feel relatively safe as long as I grab him every five or ten minutes and bring him into the bathroom. He gets such a kick out of being so grown up, and he loves the way I clap and cheer him on while he's doing his business. . . .
March 28, 1967
North Terminal, Inc.
From Vonnie to her parents
This stupid typewriter is driving me crazy. I think Mr. Malley should think about getting his faithful little secretary a new one -- BEFORE SHE QUITS! There's a threat for you. If I ever said that to his face he'd think it was Christmas and this was his present for being good all year.
Today and tomorrow I am going to bring Kath to school on my lunch break. I love seeing her and being able to fill in for Mommy while you're in Florida.
I really hope this will be a good summer. Last year it led to my divorce. Maybe this year it will lead to something wonderful. It's hard for me to cope with the way things are now, with everything I've worked and strived for crumbling at my feet. I signed our house away today. That house at one time meant a great deal to me and Bob. Why do things have to turn out so empty? Guess what? I think I'll shut up.
I have a lot to be thankful for -- my family, my baby, my job, my health. I do love life. However bad things seem at times, there are always good things to involve myself with. I'm so lucky to have Michael as one of my involvements.
My favorite time with him is right after his bath when he's all fresh and ready for bed. We have such a good time tickling each other or playing hide and seek or just hugging and loving each other. He looks like a little angel with his blond, blond hair and deep blue eyes and rosy red cheeks. His nose squinches when he smiles, his mouth is soft and never stops or shuts up, his eyes sing, and his little frame is perfect.
Something else makes me tickle all over. Sometimes he'll tell me something and I won't quite understand him. He'll look at me with his big eyes, as though I were the child, and patiently try to explain himself or make his words a little clearer. What a charmer. I could just squeeze him. We have each other.
Yikes, I gotta go get Sissy. I love ya.
April 2, 1967
From Vonnie to Dr. Clay, administrator
Dear Dr. Clay:
I've never had the displeasure of writing a letter like this. Last week I brought my sister, Kathie White, into Mass. General Hospital at about 1:00. I drove the car up to the main entrance on Cambridge Street and parked where I thought it would be easiest and quickest for her to get out of the car ‑‑ in front of the door. Kathie started to organize herself as I got out to help her. The parking attendant came over and roughly told us we'd have to move, his tone implying what a nuisance we were.
When I asked him where we should go, he told a taxi driver in front of us to move and signaled me to follow. Kathie got out as fast as she possibly could, and just as we were ready to head for the entrance, the attendant directed another taxi to pull up behind us, so close that Kathie was wedged in.
Then he came over and began yelling at us for blocking traffic ‑‑ after he had told us to park there. I was horrified by the way he was shouting while Kathie struggled to get unstuck. He added to all his other mean words that neither of us should ever return to Mass. General. What a wicked man. He may have his own problems too, but no problem justifies being unkind to an unfortunate girl.
Kathie finally maneuvered the wheelchair between the two cars, no thanks to the attendant. I grumbled some indignant words, said goodbye to my sister, and drove off with a lump in my throat and a sick feeling in my stomach. I love my sister dearly and it hurt me to see her treated in such a cruel way. All I could think of as I drove away was how she was feeling. If I felt so bad, how must it have affected her?
What do you think, Dr. Clay? Wasn't this a horrid experience for a patient to have? I realize she's going to have many unpleasant moments, but it's these unnecessary ones that are the most unbearable. How could this attendant have caused a situation like this and then have the stupidity to be so impatient and unkind. Kathie can't help it if she can't simply get out of a car and walk away, as he can.
I understand you've got a fine staff at Mass. General, but I thought you should know there’s a rotten apple in your barrel.
April 4, 1967
Now that we’re back in the Real World, it seems as if our two‑week vacation must have been a dream. My first day started at 7:45 when Ed dropped me off at Kathie's. She had practiced driving my car with hand controls while we were away, but is understandably nervous about driving her own car. I spent the next three and a half hours putting her house in order.
After dropping two dozen of Dick's shirts at the laundry, I drove home to Westwood, picked up our mail, set my hair, spent an hour trying to figure out where I stood with the bank due to a slip‑up on Ed's alimony check, got a phone call from Kathie telling me her automobile's hand controls had arrived C.O.D. and would I please bring her $75 dollars when I came back to Framingham. I arrived at 3:30, exchanged the $75 for Kathie's check, picked up library books that were to be returned and a list of others she needed, and drove into Boston 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
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? Then I was immediately repentant.
"Kathie, I'm sorry, but I feel as if I just can't do this any more. The stress is more than I can take."
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 her.
"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 20, 1967
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 she let go with the kind of shriek that used to embarrass us kids in movie theaters. Whenever there was a newsreel of a bullfight and the bull-fighter came out second best, Mom 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 tidied her up. She never has been fond of animals and I guess they sense this because she's the one they zero in on when they feel like doing something inappropriate. 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.
When we arrived at Ted's house, Mom and I had recovered, and she enjoyed the visit. The kids named the pup Patrick, despite his French ancestry.
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.
June 23, 1968
Sunday night in San Francisco
One thing I forgot to describe on the phone was my fascinating traveling companion on United. He was a youngish attractive chap with a friendly, smiling face, who said when I asked him how to tilt my seat back: "Parrdohn?" He spoke a leetle English, and since I could remember even leetler French (un peu), our conversation was punctuated by many long, brow-furrowing pauses. He said if I spoke very slowly he might understand, although he deed not study the English, he confessed, as well as he should have in school. Between us we established that I was going to San Francisco for the first time to visit my daughter, and he was going for the first time on business ‑‑ nuclear engineering business (adieu, cher monde). After a while he asked me if my doctor was a hippo. "Comment?" say I in French, meaning: How's that again? He repeated his strange question, so I said confusedly, "Do you mean hypnotist? Is my doctor a hypnotist?"
Bruno (I think that was his name although it could have been his home town) took out his pen and wrote the word h y p p i e. "Your daughtaire‑‑she is hip‑peh?"
"Oh, hippie! Yes! I mean no! Well, un peu, when . . . she's . . . in . . . the . . . mood."
Bruno laughed appreciatively or politely—I was never sure whether he understood all my little quips. Nevertheless I kept cracking jokes, figuring it was good practice in case I ever again met anyone who spoke English. What with the movie being a dud, it was a long five and a half hours to San Francisco.
After we landed I boarded one of those leave-the-driving-to-us-but carry-your-own-damn‑ suitcase buses which deposited me, bag and ten tons of baggage, in their San Francisco terminal. The driver explained that he couldn't even touch a suitcase and pointed to a sign that said something about union rules. I asked him to keep an eye on my valuables, especially my hair dryer (I'd noticed several long‑haired youths eyeing it acquisitively) and went off to look for a porter.
I ended up in this $75.00 per week two room kitchenette efficiency without so much as a toothpick in any of the cupboards. Don't you think it would be fairer if the landlord quoted a rent charge that included housekeeping necessities and then said: “However, if you don't want any silver or dishes or pots or pans in the kitchen, you rent will be $3.00 a day cheaper”?
Thump, clump, crash, bang. Mr. 305 is stomping around again, banging into furniture and dropping bits of plaster on my head. He must be twelve feet tall and weigh 940 pounds.
I wish we could work things out so you could come out here and see me and San Francisco and give me an English speaking seatmate to fly home with.
I'm lonesome, I miss you, I love you ‑‑
June 30, 1968
Like Vonnie, I have fallen in love with San Francisco. My defense against the wind is a beehive hairdo that looks strange to me, but your sister likes it. A woman about to leave the beauty parlor lifted the canister and added spray to her hair until there was surely more spray than hair covering her scalp. What a nuisance our crowning glory can be in a windy city.
I went along on one of Vonnie's "swinging party" tours last night and had a quiet, mature, unemotional discussion with a man who turned out to be a bloody Goddamn hawk. His basic argument was that "they" had started it.
"What would you do if I pushed you, like this?" he asked, giving me a shove.
"Kiss you," I said, having recently seen Tim and a couple of his flower children buddies back in Massachusetts.
"Hmm," he said. "Well, suppose you were a man, and I pushed you like this." Another shove.
"From what I've observed in San Francisco . . . I'd still kiss you."
Somehow the subject of Christianity came up. I was assured by the hawk that Jesus would tell us we were doing the right thing.
I met another man whose name was Jim Knowles. He mentioned that his brother had written an article or story for Esquire‑‑or maybe it was Playboy, he decided vaguely. Rather than shock his mother by sending her the magazine, he sent her the tear sheets. His brother, I realized, was John Knowles, who wrote A Separate Peace and an excellent story in a recent Playboy titled "The Reading of the Will."
I phoned your friend Phyllis and introduced myself. She sounded warm, happy, delighted with your progress and achievement—and asked me to convey the news that she is pregnant. I also talked to your principal who will be, as you had heard, transferring from Manzanita to a smaller school with less demanding responsibilities. He sends you his affectionate regards.
Your friend Roscoe Dellums urged me most cordially to call her if I came to Berkeley so she could show me around. I took the bus over today, but during the two hours I spent exploring the campus, I was unable to get through to the Dellumses. Their answering service thought they might have attended church; and it was such a beautiful day they might have gone on to the beach. I was sorry to miss seeing them but had fun on my own, picturing you and Dick in these surroundings.
Give my fondest love to Dick and your other pets.
April 4, 1970
I think you're going to make it, too. Let's not think it, let's know it. As for Michael, I'm saving your letters for you to share with him some day. You express your feelings so eloquently, he'll have no doubt about your love.
"Privacy of mind." That's such an insightful phrase, Vonnie. If only it applied to Mimi, whose mind is an open, endlessly talking book. She has been visiting for a few days, and as usual, keeping her entertained is no problem. All I have to do is let her ramble on about the man who bumped into her fender down in Florida, the saleswoman who was rude to her, Mickey's finicky eating habits (". . . he won't eat beef kidney, it has to be lamb kidneys, only twenty-one cents for three, down in Florida they cost eighteen cents apiece,” etc., etc.)
Late this afternoon I went into the bedroom to change and get ready for dinner in town with your dad. Mimi followed me and continued her monologue about everything under the sun and inside her digestive system. Suddenly my attention was caught . . . what was she saying?
"You never can tell about a lot of men, Barbara, even after you've lived with them for twenty-five years you just can't tell what they'll do next, but I'll say this for Edward, he really loves you a lot, he even wrote me a letter once telling me how much he loved you, he said if anything ever happened to you he wouldn't want to go on living."
"When was this?" I asked, astonished.
"Oh, a few years ago. I found it when I was cleaning out my desk, he said you'd taken Kathie and gone down to Florida to visit your mother and Vaughan -‑ "
"That was thirty years ago!"
" ‑ and he missed you both so much, he said, `you know, Mother, she's only a little baby herself, only seventeen years old' -‑"
"Nineteen," I said, memories squeezing my heart and leaving me breathless. Did she have the letter? I didn't dare ask.
"He was explaining why I hadn't heard from him at Christmas, he was looking for an apartment for you and the baby, he wanted to be sure it would be something you'd like, it was really a beautiful letter, Barbara, I guess that's why I saved it so long."
"Mimi -- did you -- do you still have it? You can't imagine how much I would value it."
"Oh no, dear, I tore it up, I thought of sending it to you but then I thought maybe it was confidential between Edward and me and if some stranger ever went through my things it wouldn't mean anything to them. It was eight pages long, four double sheets on both sides."
"Can you remember anything else, Mimi? You have such a good memory, I'd appreciate whatever you can tell me."
"Well, it was the nicest letter he'd ever sent me. He started out apologizing and saying he was sorry he hadn't written before, and then he said `I'm going to weep on your shoulder, Mom, I'm going to tell you how much I miss Barbara, he said you'd gone to Florida with the baby and you were just a little girl yourself, `she's had no experience with married life,' he said, `it takes a lot of learning' and he said, `I'm looking for an apartment, I don't know exactly what she'd like but you know, Mother, you can't get much on $30 dollars a week, I'm hoping Dad will give me a raise.' I found the letter in a cigar box when I was destroying all those old bills and things, it was a real pretty box I got in Havana for Ed's dad."
This was as much as I was able to salvage, but I was grateful for every little bit and piece she was able to remember. All awash with romantic feelings, I greeted your father with the news about his long-ago letter. Instead of sweeping me into his arms like Rhett Butler, he said, "We were two different people then."
His romantic button needs a new battery, wouldn't you say?~~~
Kathie has received her doctorate and is now Doctor White, but she wants her students to continue calling her Kathie.