When I finally pick up Karen, and start to read it, I drive Mom nuts for a while. I’m running into words I’ve never seen. Eventually, I’m able to figure out the unfamiliar words by reading the surrounding words. If understanding certain words isn’t necessary for me to comprehend a situation, I skip over them so I don’t bother Mom too much.
Karen’s family is wonderfully crazy, a lot like my ours. The biggest difference between her family and mine is that she grew up Catholic. I don’t understand Catholicism. But that doesn’t matter.
When I get far enough into the book, I can very easily plug myself into any situation in her place. But in reading the book, I become aware of just how much different society was in Mom’s generation. Mom ‘s about a year younger than Karen would be. It makes my blood freeze when one doctor tells her parents that in China, Karen would be left on top of a mountain to die. The ignorant doctor thinks abandoning her is acceptable. Her parents tell him they’re not interested in that kind of solution. Most of it is enjoyable to read. But incidents like this are hard to read about.
By the time I’m staying awake reading all night, Mom decides I’m ready for a tutor.
I’ve been out of school six weeks when she calls the school board. If it took much longer to start catching up on my schoolwork, I ‘d never catch up.
My tutor is a very sweet, attractive lady, probably around thirty. In the day time she works in a resource room at one of the local schools. Once in a while, she and Mom discuss Jeanne’s problems with reading and spelling. She had no problem with ‘A is for Apple, and B is for Ball.’ But when she started first grade, the school board changed to a new method of teaching, which left my poor sister completely confused. She started to have to learn the the new system where a flat tire represents the S sound because it hisses when it leaks. Jeanne couldn’t understand this, and totally lost interest in reading.
The principal in our old neighborhood said Jeanne shouldn’t repeat a grade, because she didn’t deserve that kind of punishment. The principal in our new neighborhood said he wouldn’t put her back in second grade after school had started, because she was already in third grade, and her friends would know she got held back.
Jeanne’s school problems are confusing. She’s smart. When Dad and Glenn spend two hours putting Glenn’s new aquarium together, she figures out where the last piece goes. I think it’s the piece that keeps the filter from bumping the tank. They’re both staring at it for half an hour. She looks at it for half a minute and says, "Dad, that goes here, because it needs to do this." Jeanne’s only eight. But when she shows Dad what it does, he can see she’s exactly right.
Every day, I wait for Mary to come home. When Mom’s too busy, she writes in my notebook for me. I’m writing poems, and limericks. Mary also draws whatever pictures I want.
First a breeze. Then, a sneeze. Now it’s thirty two degrees. A snowball fight. A fire at night. But it’alright.’cause Springs in sight.
One of my untitled limericks goes:
There was a young man from Peru.
Who decided to live in a zoo.
He lived in a cage.
Packed up her bags and went too!
I try to write a letter to the hospital. A lot of things the nurses did weren’t right. I want to keep them from being mean to other kids. But it makes me so angry, I can’t finish the letter. Just recovering from the surgery is hard enough.
I’m home three weeks when I visit my friends at school. I’m more comfortable talking to my handicapped friends I’d like to see everybody else too. But what will they say when they see me in my plaster suit? David tries to take me down the hall to see everybody. I’m just scared I’ll feel to strange. We talk to Mrs. Hildebrandt outside her class for ten minutes. Mrs. Groene, the school nurse, joins us in the hall for two minutes. She pretends to sign my cast with a pretzel stick. Then she takes out a magic marker, and signs it. She gives me the pretzel stick.
A week goes by. I have a doctor appointment. Everything looks good when Dr. G. sees the x-rays. So the casts come off my legs. Each piece of the casts goes inside a sleeve. They put velcro on the outside. Until the pain quits, I’ll use them as splints. But I can start moving around a little bit, because I can have them off for a couple hours a day.
When the casts are off, Mom starts to wash the dried blood and dead skin off of me. She accidentally bends my legs a little.
"Ow Mom, be careful. That hurts!"
"I’m sorry, Honey. I didn’t mean to do that."
She wouldn’t have to say it. I know it was an accident. But I can’t help reacting to it. How stupid I feel that I’ve worried about a little thing like having stitches pulled for over a week.
When I try to call a friend, and accidentally reach an operator in Florida, it’s embarrassing. She says, "Your child is is playing with the phone." The frustrating thing is the same thing happens again in a week. The problem is my finger goes too far around the dial. Dialing lying down is awkward. But I don’t want to ask Mom to dial for me.
One afternoon, Vikas’ Dad calls. He asks if he can bring Vikas to see me. He was out sick the day I went to school to see everybody. Mom says okay. So, we cut the Saturday tutoring session short.
Every time Miss Newhous’ class calls, he asks, "When you coming back to school?" It’s just the same when he comes to see me. "I’ll be back when I can sit up." I tell him. It feels like I’m saying it for the tenth time. He’d like me to tell him how long it’ll be in days or weeks. I wish I could. But I don’t know that.
Around Easter, when I ask, "Mom, do you think I’ll be able to go back to school this year?" she says,"I don’t know, we’ll see."
She says it the same way she does if I’m asking permission to do something she’s not sure about. It’s the last thing I want to hear. I’m already older than a lot of sixth graders. I started school a year late because the kindergarten class was too full. Repeating sixth grade would feel like the end of the world. Mom doesn’t want to promise me I’ll go back to school for sure when she can’t control that.
It seems unfair that I’m only allowed an hour of tutoring for every day I’m out. This is the most the school board will pay for. Luckily, the time keeps adding up. I don’t keep asking about whether I’ll make it back to school. I hate it, but Mom’s right. We’ll have to see what happens.
There’s something else that pops in my head tonight."Mom, if you want to go upstairs and be with Daddy for a while, I’ll be alright."
She knows I don’t mean to be a smart mouth kid. I’m just thinking they’ve spent so much time taking care of me, they don’t have time to talk to each other.
She says, "Honey, that’s sweet. But I can’t leave you down here by yourself."
That’s what I figured. But I had to ask anyway.
There aren’t as many really bad days as when first got home. But one day,I ask, "Mom, will the pain ever go away?."
"Yes Sweetheart, it will. Think about this summer, when you can go swimming, and fishing."
She has me put my arms down at my sides. She’s trying to get me to do biofeedback. But when it doesn’t help after twenty minutes, she gives me one of the monster tablets.
My emotions get stirred up, just like they always did. When we read about the pilgrims coming to The New World, I get tears in my eyes. Many of them died of starvation or disease on the voyage. Others didn’t live through the first winter. The survivors were incredibly brave people.
One day when Miss Smith describes an incident from her teens, involving an overflowing bathtub, I laugh hysterically. I can just see the water leaking through the kitchen ceiling.
Laughing isn’t so great when you need to pee. I make the mistake of thinking I can wait until after the tutoring session to go. So Mom has to change the bed. Besides being embarrassing, it’s painful to have to be moved.
Vikas comes to see me one more time. Maybe it’s hard for him to go to a friend’s house very often. But he’s being a complete jerk. He hits Glenn over the head with the Monopoly board, and dumps the pieces on the floor.
That’s bad enough. But then he puts a marshmallow candy under my leg behind my knee. Mom has to bend my leg to remove the sticky mess. He must think I’ll get back to school sooner if he forces me to bend. What he doesn’t understand is how much it hurts. I’m as mad as I’ve been at anybody all year.
"You rotten egg, I can’t believe you did that!"
I’m happy when Mom and Dad decide it’s okay to go bowling. I love Mom with all my heart. I’d never get through all this without her. But we both need a break from being together all day every day.
At first, Mom has a neighbor sit with with us. It’s not much of a break for me. By now, I’m totally sick of having adults in my face. When Mom lets Sherry, our regular babysitter come back, everything gets back to normal. She’s fifteen, so when she comes over,we just hang out and have fun. We don’t have to worry about how we talk to each other. She writes things down in my notebook for me. She even asks if she can copy one of my poems and share it with one of her teachers. That makes me feel so good.
When Miss Smith first came to tutor me, she gave us a puzzle to try to solve. " There are three words in the English language ending in G-R-Y. What are they?"
The first two are easy. Angry and hungry. I’ve had notes, cards, and phone calls asking what the third one is. Every time somebody comes up with one that could be it, they say, "Wait a minute that can’t be right. After more than three months, we’re just as curious as the kids at Miss Smith’s school. What could it possibly be? Nobody knows!