It usually takes me about 12 minutes to jog home from the park after
a soccer game. Today, I had one of my headaches and I wanted to
run home as fast as I could and just crawl into bed, but the pounding
transmitted to my skull with each footfall was more than I could
bear, and forced me to change my gait to a sort of skating walk, keeping
my feet as close to the ground as I could, reducing the contact
to a near-geometrical tangent. The occasional stop to press my hands
against the sides of my head just put me that much further behind, and I
decided to take the short cut through Old Man Dinkins' vacant lot. Fortunately
his German Shepherd was chained to one of the birch trees, or I'd've been
in quite a pickle. I had the feeling that I should have known that it would be there.
Arriving home with only my one goal in mind, I forgot that the hydraulic
mechanism on the screen door was broken; the crash of the aluminum
frame on the wooden jamb flew past me and filled the house, bringing
Mom storming out of the kitchen. "I must have told you a thousand times
about that…" Her demeanor changed in an instant as she recognized
the grimace on my face. Seeing her baby in pain, her maternal self pushed
aside the concerns of a second before into irrelevance. She put my arm
around her neck and supported half my weight as she helped me to my room.
"I'll get it", she said as she steered me straight to bed. My eyes closed, I heard
the cart with the one slightly squeaky wheel roll over. The bed beside me sank
under the weight of Mom sitting at my side, as she wrapped the cuff around my
left index finger, followed by a suction cup at each temple. "It's all set, honey"
she said, and gave me a soft kiss on my forehead. With the machine's help,
I immediately began the preliminary biofeedback exercises. My several years
of practice quickly transformed the random wails into a steady train of gentle
bongs. In the groove, I then began persuading my brain that the pain
was not that bad, that with each passing bongggg it was fading, until it
agreed that, in fact, it wasn't there at all.
Continuing my yogic breathing, I reviewed in my mind what I hadn't seen, but
that I knew had happened. On her way out, Mom had pressed Play
on the CD player, initiating the sussurrating surf sounds, and flicked the switch
on the projector, causing a hypnosis-aiding light pattern to start pulsating on the wall
in front of me. She knew that it was the biofeedback that really got me through
these episodes, but she always brought in these backups because, what the
heck, they couldn't hurt.
* * *
As Art came in the front door at about 6:00, the vacuous "How was your day, dear?" had left my brain and was set for an on-time departure via my mouth,
when his sallow face caused a high priority intercept to be dispatched. Instead,I took his coat and gave him a squeeze on the shoulder, then turned him toward
the sofa. He was ensconced upon it, though exhibiting terrible posture,
when I returned with a snifter of warmed Amaretto. He took the drink and I
squeezed into the space between him and the end table. He lost himself in
the vapors while I rested my head on his shoulder and intertwined the
fingers of his free hand with my own. I knew I had to bring up Douglas'
problems before the night was out, but it could wait.
Finally he let out a long sigh. "I was called away from the office this afternoon.
Mom's neighbor went to visit her and had to break in because she saw her
sitting on the couch; she was totally unaware that anyone was ringing
the bell and pounding on the door. Marie told me that she was pretty sure Mom
hadn't eaten all day, and may even have been on the couch all night. I think
we need to move her in with us."
"Yes, dear. Margaret's old room is all ready. And I have a nurse that can
come in two or three days a week when we need her."
"What? When did you arrange that?"
"I've been anticipating this for weeks. I knew she was getting worse."
"Geez, it came out of nowhere for me. How could I have missed it?"
"Don't beat yourself up about it, Art. We just have different things that we
spend our days on. It's not like you've been neglectful or anything." I nuzzled
his earlobe and whispered, "You're a good man." I took the glass from his
hand and leaned forward to set it on the coffee table; returning to upright,
I dragged his feet up unto my lap, which forced him to lie down on the couch.
I took off his shoes and started in on a slow foot massage. His eyes closed;
his breath became deep and slow.
After several minutes, I broke the comfortable silence. "It is a bit of
unfortunate timing, though. I think Douglas is getting worse. You remember
the doctor who diagnosed his tuberous sclerosis said we should just be
thankful if there are periods when it seems to be in remission, but it never
really will be…"
"What are you saying exactly?"
"You know he's been okay since before he turned
sixteen. That's been over
five months. Well, today he had a headache again — a bad one. We
got it handled, and he's been sleeping since then. Even though there's
nothing we can do about it, I just want us to keep him in mind while we're
going to have to be paying a lot of attention to Mom."
* * *
"Hi, Christy? This is Doug. … Yeah, from school. If you're not busy, I thought
you might like to go bowling with me. … Great! How's
one o'clock sound? … Okay, I'll meet you there. Bye."
"Hey, Mom, no lunch for me. I'm gonna go bowling with Christy."
"The new girl at school I told you about."
"All right, dear. Be back by 5. And don't forget your jacket."
"I know," I said, as I turned on my heel to return to my room for my jacket.
Moms. Jacket billowing behind me as my right arm was still trying
to push its way through the inverted sleeve, I fairly flew out the back door,
resolving the sleeve problem just in time to jump on my bike and break
my old zero-to-twenty record. I whooped a Woo Hoo! as I launched
myself over the curb and into the street. Christy is so hot!
Shoot! There she was, standing outside the entrance to the alley. Was I late?
I'd meant to get there before her. I parked my bike, didn't bother locking it. I jogged up to her and apologized. Trying to hide the slight huffing and puffing,
I managed to say to her "I'm really glad you came, Christy."
"Thanks for asking, Doug. When you asked for my number, I didn't think you'd
really call — but I wanted you to."
"No problem. I never understood that thing about not calling a girl. Why ask
for her number if you're not going to? Anyway, you ready?"
We went in and got a lane. I didn't want to brag about my 192 average. It's
a good thing I didn't. Christy can really distract a guy; her 158 put to shame
my 135. We had fun.
* * *
I got home a bit later than I'd promised, and found Grandma already in the
living room with Mom, while Dad was still carrying some of her things in.
With one knee on the couch, I leaned forward and gave her a hug. "Hi,
Grandma!" I was taken aback when she greeted me as Dennis, but I was
able to stifle my response after Mom tapped me on the shoulder and shook
her head slightly. "Why don't you go and give Dad a hand."
Later, after settling Grandma in Meg's – her – room, they sat
down with me in the kitchen, and explained that Grandma's memory was
pretty bad, and appeared to be deteriorating quickly; doctors said there was
nothing to be done. It was going to be hard on all of us, but I needed to be
* * *
"That was very good, Anne. That was a very original
interpretation of The Three Musketeers. All for one, indeed. And now we're
going to hear from Douglas. What book have you chosen to report on, Douglas?"
"Flowers for Algernon, Ma'am."
"Very good. The floor is yours."
In the three months that Grandma had been living with us, I'd watched her
memory and reasoning functions get worse. That, combined with the reading
I'd been doing about the problems that likely lay in my future when the tuberous sclerosis started causing lesions to grow in my brain, had made me very afraid
that I would follow in her footsteps — only decades ahead of her
schedule. Then came the day that the midnight movie
I was watching in my
bedroom was Charly, and that pushed me into action. It's the story of
a mentally retarded adult who is made the subject of an intelligence enhancement
experiment, which succeeds grandly in making him a genius. Far surpassing
those who had transformed him, it fell to him to discover that the effect would
only be temporary, and to experience the terror of knowing that he would lose
it all and revert to his former state, which he now despised. The only silver lining
is that after it happened, he was unable really to understand what had happened
to him, and what he had been. Flowers for Algernon was the novel
that the movie had been based on.
I'd now read it four times. I don't know if I managed to convey the horror of it to
my classmates as they listened to my book report, but I didn't really care. It had
changed my life. After much research and preparation, I was now ready to begin
the implementation phase.
I found it slightly ironic that the training I'd received to help me deal with the
early effects of the sclerosis was what I'd use to hopefully turn the tables on
* * *
"Douglas! Come down, dinner's on the table." The second call has no more effect
than the first one had. Douglas wasn't one to miss a meal. "I'll go up and see what's wrong." I couldn't get the bedroom door open. The knob turned, but the door
wouldn't budge. There'd never been a lock on it; it had to be barricaded. My knock
was quickly followed up by full-scale hammering with my fist. "Young man, you open
this door immediately!" Not a peep. Turning my head to press my ear against the
door brought into my view the corner of an envelope on the floor. "Stop playing
games" I muttered as I bent down to retrieve it. I got no further than the first sentence before I screamed "Arthur!" and slumped against the wall. I heard his
footsteps taking the stairs two at a time, and just decided not to deal with things
for a few minutes.
After he carried me downstairs, we sat in the living room and he read Douglas'
Dear Mom and Dad,
First of all: don't freak out. I know my saying that will probably make you
freak out, but it seems that I have to anyway. You've already found that my
bedroom door is blocked. I assure you, there's nothing to worry about. I'm
going to need to be alone for about three days. I'm asking you to leave me
alone for that time, but I know that as parents, you'll feel it necessary to find
out what's actually going on. So I'll tell you.
If you break into my room, you'll find me apparently asleep in bed. DO NOT
ATTEMPT TO ROUSE ME. I don't think you'll be able to, and you might actually
cause harm. I'm using the skills I've developed over the years to retrain my
body in a revolutionary way. When I come out of it, the prospect for my life
to be longer and happier will be improved. I'll tell you all about exactly what
I'm doing when I see you Friday or Saturday.
We sat in stunned silence for a moment; then Arthur roused himself and started
for the kitchen. I struggled to my feet and was just in time to see him
disappear through the doorway into the garage. I caught up
with him after he'd manhandled the ladder from the hooks where it hangs
on the wall and, picking up the feet, helped him steer it out through the side
door into the back yard, and set it up against the side of the house. When he
reached the window of Douglas' room, he shaded a spot on the glass with his
hand and peered in. As the seconds stretched on with no report forthcoming, I
bit my lip to keep from demanding one in a shrewish shriek.
Eventually he started backing down, and rejoined me on the ground.
"Well, it's as he said. He's in bed, sound asleep. I didn't see any weird
paraphernalia, not even any sleeping pills. I think we should give him a
"Well, … a very little time. I was going to the PTA meeting
tonight anyway; I'll see if any of his teachers have noticed anything lately."
* * *
"Any change?", I asked, a bit breathless from my
run in from the car.
"No," said Art as he gestured toward the video monitor. It was displaying
a picture of Douglas's room, apparently from the point of view through the
window. "Still sleeping peacefully – I guess." In the backdrop of
his words I could hear the confusion and desperation of a man thrust into
an unheard of situation which he could neither understand nor influence.
"Anything interesting at school?"
"Yes, and I think it's no coincidence. Douglas's biology teacher said that
a couple of weeks ago, he stayed after class one day and was asking for
a lot more detail about that day's lecture. They'd been studying the brain
lately, and that day he'd been particularly talking about theories of memory
storage. She said Douglas had been quite excited —"
"Do you think that's related to the anxiety he's been displaying about
"Yes, definitely. His English teacher also told me about a book report
Douglas gave on Monday; the book was Flowers for Algernon, and she said
she'd never seen a book report given with so much emotion. She said he
was really choking up near the end and was barely able to finish it.
So the real question is — what's he doing?"
I think Art saw my lower lip beginning to quiver; he put
his arm around me. "I don't know, but I still think we need to give him
the time he's asked for. I have faith in Douglas – he's never done
anything too crazy before. Doesn't mean I'm gonna be able to sleep well
Thursday night though. Come on, we ought to get some good sleep while
* * *
"Oh, Art! He's moving!"
"I know, dear, I saw. But we can't just rush up. I know it's probably
the hardest thing you've ever done, but we have to sit here and let him
come out of it. Whatever his plan was, it seems to be going as he
said it would – so far, at least – so we can't stop trusting
him now. But it does look like he'll be getting up soon. He'll probably
be famished. Why don't you make some sandwiches so they'll be there when
he's ready. It'll be better for you than sitting here biting your nails."
While I was doing so, I heard the upstairs shower begin to run. All the
tension of the last few days evaporated instantly, leaving me a bit weak
in the knees, and I dropped the knife on the floor. I hadn't heard him
come into the kitchen, but there was Art behind me, holding me steady
and murmuring "Everything's all right" in my ear. I think I loved him
more at that moment than ever before. My baby was going to be okay, and
I had the best husband a woman ever had. I let myself go limp and fell
into his arms, and began sobbiing softly into his chest.
I'd had my cry, and Art a new shirt, by the time Douglas came downstairs
(holding the handrail, contrary to habit). I think we both had intended
not to, but we ran to him and there was a wordless family hug for a
few minutes. Then we hustled him to the kitchen table and wouldn't let
him say a word before getting half a smoked-ham-and-Gruyere into him.
Then Art pushed a glass of milk toward him, saying "Okay, son:
out with it!"
"Well, you know that, for several years now, I've been aware of the
future that lies ahead of me, given the tuberous sclerosis. Well, theoretically
anyway. As with other dire predictions, it didn't really mean much to
me as a ten year old kid. But seeing Grandma made it real for me; seeing
Charly on TV was kind of the last straw. So anyways, when
Mrs. Marshall was talking about how the brain stores memories, I talked
with her, got a lot more info, and there was a kind of an a-ha moment
and I knew how to get around that problem. And I did!"
"So … what exactly have you done, son?"
"I can't put into words the process, but my memories – new ones –
are now being distributed throughout my body!"
Art and I were sitting there with jaws a-hanging. The notion was absurd.
But if he was right? Had our son really cheated the cruel genetic trick
we'd unwittingly played on him?
Finishing up his third sandwich, Douglas continued. "I know it sounds
crazy, but believe me, it's true. The memory dispersal is handled at
an unconscious level, though if I really want to, I can find out where
particular memories are coming from. I don't know if I can ever teach
other people how to do this, but I'm going to work on it. I do
know that it wouldn't have been possible without all the mental discipline
training I've had to handle the headaches, so in a way, you could see
this as a silver lining of the sclerosis."
All Art could say was "That's … incredible.", but I reached
across the table and took my son's hand. "Douglas, dear, I don't care
if you can teach this to other people or not; I'm very happy for you.
We both are, and proud, too."
* * *
"Bye, Mom. I'm going to see Christy off." I didn't wait for a response, but
jumped on my bike and started pedaling slowly. It wasn't a happy day.
Christy's family was moving to Butte, about a hundred miles
away. We'd started going steady over the last two months, but her father's transfer
had come as a surprise to everyone. As I dropped my bike on the
lawn, I saw that the moving van was already closed up. Christy was sitting
on the porch waiting for me. I joined her on the glider, and we held hands.
We'd already said what had to be said, promising to keep in touch and
someday, somehow, be reunited. She gave me the phone number of their new
house, and I watched with my new insight as it got stored away. Then her
parents appeared, locked the front door, and said it was
time to go. They climbed into the cab, and I waved as they drove off.
I picked up my bike and started off down the street in the opposite
direction. My eyes were tearing up a bit. I missed Christy already. The
light at Crescent Blvd. was blurry; I couldn't really tell
how far —
* * *
"He's going to be okay," said the doctor, forestalling our rush upon him
as he came out through the swinging doors. "He's got a broken rib, and we
had to remove the spleen. But the spleen is easy to live without. He'll
never even know it's missing."
"Thank you, doctor. Can we see him?"
"In about an hour. He's fine. There's nothing to worry about."
* * *
As the days wore on and turned into weeks, Christy didn't understand
why Douglas didn't call. She really thought he was different.
Yes, I know, you could poke a lot of holes into my description of
Douglas' new memory. But the story sort of appeared in my head one
day when I was thinking of the title phrase.
Thanks to our resident doc, doyle for some medical suggestions. He
knew nothing of the story or why I was asking, so don't blame him.