The Rubber Biskit Road Show Presents, "Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One, Part Nineteen: I'll Have What She's Having
In Part Nineteen of Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One Past Episodes in Shirley's life paint a tragic picture of her mental state and ongoing collapse. While her son must learn how to deal with her illness while dealing with his own coming of age.
Join The GYPSY as he takes you on an Epic Journey into his life, the life of his family and the life of his mother; Shirley Elizabeth Hummel, who suffered from mental illness her entire life.
Shirley's story is not an easy one to hear. At times you will be uncomfortable with her situation. Other times you may laugh or fill the warmth that all to often eluded her. You may even find yourself angry and horrified at the situations and tragedies that drove Shirley further and further into her illness. The one thing you will not leave with is ignorance.
The telling of Shirley's story will educate and inform you. You will come away with an understanding of the highs and lows that mental illness plays in the sufferer as well as the family, friends and acquaintances of the mentally ill.
Each Tuesday On The Rubber Biskit Road Show The GYPSY will present a new chapter of his novel "Never Say Never: An Epic Journey - Volume One"
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I'm The GYPSY and You're Not and This Is The Rubber Biskit Road Show Presented By Artist Alley Studio Featuring The Artisan, Handcrafted and Branded Creations of The GYPSY and Mad Hatter. Visit Us At www.ArtistAlleyStudio.com
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING
I pulled into the truck stop at Meriden. Black Betty ticked silently cooling off as I headed into the store. Grabbing a Coke I headed back out the big Harley. I leaned against the bike and taking a big drink from the ice cold bottle watching the traffic zoom by on K4. I turned and looked at the truck stop. It held a lot of memories for me.
When I had a studio in southeast Kansas I used to spend the summer months going to different motorcycle rallies across the United States. I had a custom made 32’ fifth wheel trailer that I would tattoo and pierce out of at the rallies. One of the rallies was the National ABATE (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education) Labor Day Rally. The rally took place at Lake Perry and this truck stop was where I would stop and fuel my truck and grab a drink and snack before starting the 150 mile journey back to Independence, Kansas.
The truck stop held one other memory for me that happened before the truck stop was a truck stop. This truck stop sat where the steel sailboat had once sat that welcomed visitors to “Meriden, Best Little Town By A Damn Site.” I had sat, on my BSA, in this exact spot on that cold March Day in 1979 when I had come this way to bury my biological father. That day I smoked a cigarette and my knee had not hurt. Today I sipped a Coke and my knee was killing me. I rubbed my left knee and lifted my bottle to the sky, “Here’s to fate.”
Gypsy returned back to West Platte High School for his junior year. He had made it a point to have as little as possible to do with his mother after the comic book incident. Even though it had been a couple of months since his return home from South Dakota and the discovery that all of his comic books had been burned up in the trash barrel Gypsy still felt a rising anger every time he was around his mother for any length of time.
All Gypsy’s friends we're happy that he was back, his enemies not so much. The person that was the happiest that he was back in school again was his on-again-off-again girlfriend Jeannie Lovelady. However Jeanie was now dating a local country boy so Gypsy decided to explore his other options in the dating pool. Soon his eyes feel upon a cute brunette by the name of Denine Sanders. Their romance was hot and intense but short lived.
Shirley came running in the door of Ross’s drive-in excited and out of breath.
Spying her son sitting in a booth with Denine and a couple of his other friends. “James you have to come with me now, I have news!”
“Yeah, James go with your mommy.”
Gypsy shot his friend a sharp look. “Shut up Butch! What’s up Mom?”
“You have to come now, this is important.”
Gypsy leaned over and giving Denine a quick kiss said, “See you later.”
Denine protruded her lower lip in a fake pout and said, “You better.”
As Shirley pulled her Lilac Colored 1965 Chevy Caprice out of the parking lot and onto Washington Street Gypsy said, “OK, Mom what is so important you had to pull me away from my friends?”
“James, do you remember when we met Congressman Jerry Litton at the Platte County Fair this past summer?’ Without waiting for her son to answer she continued. “I had asked him if there was some sort of help for your condition.”
Gypsy put his fingers to his temple. His mother always referred to his shattered left patella as “Your condition.”
“Mom, it isn’t a ‘Condition’ it is a disability I have suffered with since I was 3 when the car hit me. I know you blame yourself but your continued denial…. “
Shirley cut him off. “This morning at work I received a call from Congressman Litton. Missouri Crippled Children’s Foundation is getting you the help you need. I spent all afternoon filling out the paperwork. Tomorrow morning you have an appointment with Doctor Bernard at Saint Luke’s in Kansas City to see what can be done.”
Dr. Bernard’s examined Gypsy and had determined that he was indeed a candidate for a left knee patella transplant. The date of the surgery was scheduled for September 17, 1974. Gypsy was very nervous about going under the knife. He never much liked hospitals, doctors or anything to do with needles. Gypsy was pretty sure that needles would be involved. Shirley for her part was ecstatic telling everybody that, “Her Jimmy was getting a new knee." Shirley reveled in the attention this got her. Gypsy felt like his Mother acted more like it was her surgery and not his.
Gypsy tried to go about his business as normal yet as the day approached his apprehension got worse. He tried to tell his mother how he was feeling but Shirley wasn't listening. All she would say is, “It will be just fine don't you worry about it.” Gypsy was worried, what if something went wrong during surgery? What if he died? Shirley failed to realize that a 17 year old boy on the verge of manhood would naturally be afraid of the unknown. Being put to sleep to have a major surgery done was the unknown.
Late one afternoon after school and with just a week to go before his surgery Gypsy walked past the Weston Drug Store. Looking at display in the window Gypsy came up with an idea for a prank that, if not relieving his apprehension entirely, would at least give him a good laugh if he survived the surgery. Gypsy went into the drugstore and purchased the item that was sure to create the controversy that was to come. He briefly wondered as he left the drugstore, will mom be shocked by this or will she just accept it as normal. He decided that Shirley would accept it as normal since normal to her was usually abnormal to everyone else.
Gypsy had said goodbye to Denine and all his friends before rushing home to put his prank to work. He would not see anyone at high school again until after the surgery. Being a bit of a joker Gypsy liked a good prank and this was a big one. Gypsy took pride in the fact that no prank he had ever pulled had hurt anyone. Hurting people is not a prank, he reasoned, it is malice.
Gypsy stood in the bathroom of his home and looked at the Box in his hand. The front of the box featured a very hot blonde woman smiling seductively at the viewer. This struck gypsy as funny since usually women were the only ones that purchased hair stripper. So unless the woman looking at the box was a lesbian Gypsy doubted very seriously if a seductive blonde had any effect on other women holding the Box.
Gypsy looked at the sexy model and thought to himself, Hell I’d do her. At 16 years old and still a virgin Gypsy was Getting tired of his hand and longing to know what it felt like to be inside of a woman. He had always hoped that Jeanie Lovelady would be his first and that he would be her first. But with her seeing someone else and Gypsy now with Denine it looked like that wouldn’t happen. Gypsy and Denine had some pretty heavy make out sessions but to date he hadn’t been able to get her to go all the way. Gypsy read the directions on the Miss Clairol box and went to work.
Shirley arrived home around 6 p.m. She immediately went to the stairs that went upstairs to Gypsy and his sister’s bedrooms. The bedrooms were actually the attic which had been divided into rooms. Gypsy had the more private of the two rooms.
Shirley called up the stairs, “James do you have your bag packed we have to head to the hospital."
Gypsy called down “On my way.”
As Gypsy came down the stairs with bag in hand Shirley had to do a double take. "Dear God in heaven what the hell happened to your hair?"
Gypsy smiled, “Let’s go to the car and I'll explain on our way to St Luke's."
As they drove to Kansas City Gypsy explained that he was going to tell everybody in school that the medication that they had put him on for the surgery had taken all the color out of his hair. He would try and convince everyone that his long wavy hair that was the deepest darkest Brown had changed overnight to the brightest orange color anyone had ever seen.
"You look like Whizzo the Clown." Shirley said referencing a kiddie show host Gypsy had grown up watching.
“Who’s always smiling, never sad? It’s Whizzo!” Gypsy started singing. “Who makes the boys and girls so glad, Whizzo. He’s a merry fellow with a big red shiny ted to his head nose, dressed in crazy mixed up clothes from his head down to his toes.” Gypsy pointed to his head and flourished his hand towards his feet. “He has a great big trunk of tricks, has Whizzo. He’ll sing a song or do a dance for you. And when you’re sad he’ll make you glad, The very best friend you ever had, Whizzo the clown, that’s who.”
Gypsy’s anxiety level had been high all day but singing the joyous Whizzo The Clown theme song had done what Whizzo had always promised; Gypsy had been sad and now he was glad.
They rode along in silence. Gypsy watched the country side roll by lost in his own thoughts. If the surgery goes south this may be the last time I see any of this in this life.
As they neared the junction of Interstate 29 and Interstate 70 Shirley broke the silence. “They do wonderful things with surgery now days. Medical treatment is far advanced from when I had cancer…”
Gypsy cut her off, “Mom you never had cancer…. That was just your fantasy.”
“I did have cancer. You don’t know what you are talking about.”
“I know”, Gypsy said gritting his teeth, “that you made my thirteenth summer a living hell.”
Shirley stood at the back door of the little house on Belleview. She was looking towards the west. “August first, blood sun. August first, blood sun. August first, blood sun.” She muttered repeatedly. She twisted the Elizabeth ring on her finger as she watched the blood red sun slowly sitting in the west.
Jimmy walked up behind Shirley. “What’s going on Mom?’
Shirley turned around and looking past Jimmy she walked back through the kitchen and into her bedroom.
The house had once belonged to Shirley’s mother. Pearl had purchased the house after she had remarried and sold 700 Western. Pearl lived there until her husband, Walter Scott, accepted an art teaching position in Lyndon, Kansas. They had sold the house and recommended Shirley as a tenant to the new property owner.
Walter Scott had made a built-in bookshelf in one corner of the bedroom for Pearls book collection. It was upon these shelves that Shirley kept her large oil lamp collection. Shirley walked over to the shelves and taking a book of matches started lighting her oil lamps. Large, small and somewhere in between oil lamps got lit; 30 in all. The 3rd shelf from the top contained a small oval framed photograph of Shirley’s father Oscar. Shirley took her two smallest oil lamps and placed one on either side of the photo. Shirley looked at the photo of her father and crying said, “I’m coming home Daddy.” Moving away Shirley laid down on her bed and crossing her arms across her chest stared at the ceiling.
Jimmy had watched the strange ritual from the kitchen doorway, and he was scared. With trepidation he approached his mother’s bed. “Mom? Are you OK?” Shirley did not answer. “Mom?” Shirley still did not answer. Jimmy turned to leave and Shirley said, “Jimmy.”
Her voice sounded distant, hollow. “Is Patty asleep?”
Jimmy left his mother’s room and crossing the small living room went to his sister’s doorway and looked in. His sister was sound asleep. Jimmy returned to his mother’s bedroom. “Yes mom she is.”
Shirley still staring at the ceiling said, “I am dying. I have cancer. I will not see Christmas.” Jimmy started to interrupt her, but Shirley went on. “Promise me that when I am gone that you will not allow them to separate you and your sister. Promise me you will do everything you can to stay together.”
Jimmy was crying, “I promise mom, I promise.”
Shirley closed her eyes and went silent. Jimmy stood next to her bed for a few minutes, but she did not move, she did not talk. Jimmy left her room and went to his own. Laying down on his bed he stared at the ceiling. As the blood red sun sunk below the horizon the sound of the Cicada’s mingled with the hum of his rotary fan and soon Jimmy fell into a fitful nightmare filled sleep.
Gypsy felt his body move as he was lifted from the gurney into the bed. He tried to open his eyes. They would open then snap shut. His mouth was dry and he couldn’t speak. The world seemed to spin around him as he remained fixed in one place. Then without warning he would spin around the world as the world remained fixed in place.
“Here.” someone said. “Here’s a straw. Sip some water.” Gypsy felt a straw pushed into his mouth and he did as he was instructed and sipped. “Here”, the voice said, “Sip some more.” Again, Gypsy did as instructed and sipped some more.
“He’s coming around Mrs. Stewart.” The voice said. “The Doctor Bernard will be in shortly to speak with you.”
A hand grabbed his wrist. It was a warm hand, soft yet firm. Gypsy knew it belonged to the voice. If you asked him how he knew he could never tell you, he just knew. He tried to turn his head toward where the voice came from and found that his head weighed 200 pounds. That’s strange, Gypsy thought, my head weighs more than me.
Gypsy forced one eye open. He could see that the voice belonged to a nurse but she was standing behind a piece of gossamer fabric. He forced his other eye open and tried to focus. The nurse was young and pretty. Gypsy wanted desperately to say something witty to impress her. He forced the words out of his all too dry mouth, “Drink please.” The nurse gave him a drink.
Shirley leaned over her son. “Jimmy, I am stepping outside to have a cigarette, I will be right back. Gypsy nodded, at least he felt like he nodded.
Where am I? Why do I feel so strange? Then he remembered. I am in the hospital, Saint Lukes. I have a patella transplant. Gypsy reached down and let his fingers graze the top of the cast that now completely encompassed his left leg. It was at this moment that two sensations hit him at once; pain and an urgency to urinate. The urgency to urinate won out over the pain.
When Doctor Bernard opened the restroom door Gypsy was standing by the stool holding onto the sink. “I don’t feel so good.” He said and then felt the world go black. The bright light played across Gypsy’s eyes as Doctor Bernard shown the tiny flashlight into his pupils.
“That was a very stupid stunt my friend. Do you want to ruin my work?” Gypsy shook his head no. “Then stay in bed. Do you need something for the pain?” Gypsy nodded yes. “OK, I will have the nurse get you some Tylenol 3.” Doctor Bernard turned his attention towards Shirley. “Mrs. Stewart, your son came through the surgery with flying colors. But you need to stress to him how important it is that he stay in bed.”
“I will Doctor.” Shirley promised.
As the Doctor started to leave Gypsy said, in a raspy, dry voice, “I saw you.”
Doctor Bernard chuckled and said, “I thought so.” Shirley asked what he was talking about. The doctor explained. “The morgue is by surgery in the basement. We were harvesting your son’s patella and someone left the door open. The surgical orderly left James’ gurney in the hall across from the morgue. He saw us before we got the door closed.”
Shirley laughed and looked at her son. “So now you know where your new knee came from.”
It wasn’t long before Gypsy was alone in his hospital room. Well as alone as one can be with an old man in the other bed on the other side of the curtain softly snoring.
Gypsy lay in the bed for a long time staring at the ceiling. He could feel his heartbeat in his left knee. He wondered how long he would have to endure the pain before he felt normal once again.
Jimmy wondered how long he would have to endure the pain before he felt normal once again. August had been a living nightmare and now he would have to return to school and tell his best friend that there was nothing wrong with his mother.
Every day during the month of August Shirley would spend most of the day in her dark bedroom. The aroma of scented kerosine filled the small house as Shirley’s oil lamps remained forever lit. Jimmy tried to talk to his mother but all she would say is, “The cancer will take me soon. Keep your sister with you.” She would then fall into a rhetoric of incoherent gibberish punctuated with, “I’m coming Daddy.”
Jimmy had done as his mother requested and planned for him and his sister to stay together after his mother was taken by cancer. Two days after Shirley had first announced that she was dying Jimmy had come up with a plan. He went to the home of his best friend Tim and talked with Tim’s parents. Jimmy explained to Tim’s parents that his mother was dying of cancer and that she wanted him and his sister Patricia to stay together after she was gone. Tim’s parents had been very understanding and had told Jimmy they would discuss it.
Three days later they called. They said they had checked into being foster parents for Jimmy and Patricia. They said that they had prayed about it and felt it was something they could do. When Jimmy tried to tell his mother the good news all she said was, “I’m coming Daddy!”
Now it was September 8, 1970, the first day of the new school year. Jimmy would be returning to Eisenhower Junior High and would have to find Tim and tell him that his mother had a miraculous recovery over Labor Day weekend. Shirley came out of her room on Sunday morning and announced that God had heard her prayers and had healed her of the cancer.
“What’s wrong son? Aren’t you happy? This is a great day; God created a miracle.”
Jimmy’s heart hung heavy in his chest. He was embarrassed and he was afraid with how his friend would take it. Jimmy now knew that his mom had been faking her dying days. Tim was smart and Jimmy knew he would figure it out also.
As Jimmy entered the school Tim came up to him. “How is your mom today?” Jimmy couldn’t look at his friend. He looked at the ground.
“Tim, I have something to tell you…”
Denine stood in the door of the hospital room, her mouth hanging open. “What the hell happened to your hair?”
Gypsy shrugged, “I don’t know, I think the medicine I was on did this to me. The doctor says it is only temporary.”
Tim had said nothing. He turned and walked away. The next day Tim found Jimmy in between classes and said, “My parents said do not contact us again.” Tim turned and walked away and out of Jimmy’s life.
Gypsy leaned on his crutches and watched Denine walk out of his life. She had confronted him when he returned to school. “I know that’s bull shit about the medicine turning your hair orange. Your mom told me all about your practical joke and I don’t think it’s funny. I think it is stupid and you are stupid.”
Those were the last words Denine had said to him, and Gypsy watched her disappear into the mass of students up the hallway.
“Man that sucks!”
Gypsy about jumped out of his skin. “Oh hi Rose.”
Rose Medford had walked up behind Gypsy just in time to hear Denine’s parting words. “You can do better than that snobby bitch. If that orange hair is a practical joke, I think it is funny as Hell. Don’t worry stud, your secret is safe with me.”
Rose reached over and squeezing Gypsy’s shoulder said, “You can tell me all about it later.” She moved off down the hall and Gypsy watched her small round ass tucked into her tight hip hugger bell bottom Levi’s sway away.
Maybe she is right, maybe I can do better.
Jimmy sat in the Principal’s office, hands folded in his lap. Shirley was yelling at the Principal and a representative from the school board. “What the fuck do you mean you have to make sure he didn’t cheat? How in the fuck do you cheat on an IQ test?”
Jimmy was embarrassed by his mothers display of outrage. She always over-reacted and made herself and all too often her son look foolish and low bred. Jimmy had scored extremely high on a school wide IQ assessment. The monitor had alerted the school board. The school board had contacted the principal and a meeting was set up to discuss the test results with Shirley.
“Mrs. Stewart, we did not say he cheated.” The school board representative said. “What we were trying to explain is that to take the question of cheating out of anyone’s mind we want to readminister the test under controlled conditions.”
“It’s the same thing!” Shirley yelled.
“Please Mrs. Stewart calm down.” The principal stood up behind his desk motioning with his hands that Shirley should calm down. “There are people that would question such a high IQ score on a child James’ age. This would remove the detractors from the equation.”
“Are you saying my son is stupid?”
Jimmy could see that the principal and representative were reaching their frustration limit. So he intervened.
“Mom they are not calling me stupid just the opposite. They are saying that they want to make sure that no one can say that it was just chance that I got such a high IQ score. They want to remove all doubt as to my intelligence. Taking a test a second time is just a control measure.”
Jimmy looked over towards the principal and representative and they both nodded their head. Jimmy looked at his mother. Shirley looked at the group that looked back at her. Clearing her throat she said, “Just don’t call my child stupid or a cheater.”
Rose and Gypsy became a hot item. They had started dating and spent as much time together as they could. Gypsy was aware that people were talking, and it made him angry. Rose had a reputation at West Platte, and it wasn’t a good reputation. Rose liked boys and had a long list of former boyfriends and boyfriends yet to be.
Shirley did not like Rose. “You know what kind of girl she is.”
Gypsy said, “The type of girl you were mom.”
Shirley got angry and tried to slap Gypsy but he quickly moved out of her reach.
“Why is it OK for a boy to have lot’s a girlfriends and chase after every girl who turns him on but it is not OK for a girl to do the same thing? I’m sorry mom but you told me that you have always liked men and that you wish there were men you see that you could get to know better. If Rose is that type of girl then you are too.” Gypsy walked out the door letting it slam behind him.
Gypsy was not naïve; he knew that he was a momentary amusement for Rose, and he didn’t hold it against her. He did not know how long their moment would last but he hoped that Rose would wait to move on until after she had made a man of him.
At almost 17 years old Gypsy still had not had sex with a girl. His testosterone was running rampant, and he felt like he would explode. Opportunities had come close in the past, but they had not ended the way Gypsy had wanted them to; full, ultimate and climatic sex.
The cast on his left leg was an obstacle to the possibility of sex with Rose and he was aware of it. His frustration level was high, and he had grown tired of his practical joke. He had done a pretty good job of convincing the gullible that he lost the color in his hair due to the medications he was on. But the smart ones knew better. Some laughed with him, and some laughed at him.
Gypsy decided the joke had run its course and it was time to get rid of the orange hair. The night before his 17th Birthday Gypsy purchased a box of Raven Black hair dye and made the bright orange hair disappear.
The next morning Gypsy limped into the school on his crutches and was immediately the center of attention. His now blue, black hair was a lot darker than his natural soft black hair. The blue sheen made the shoulder length hair look ethereal. People were wanting to know how his hair was black and not orange and Gypsy was happy to tell them. “I don’t know. I woke up this morning and my hair looked like this.”
Rose had run her fingers through his hair. “I like it, very sexy.” Gypsy felt his jeans tighten as his penis started to swell. Rose stood on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear. Meet me at the front door at lunch time, I have a birthday present for you.”
Gypsy met Rose at the appointed place and time. Rose’s best friend Pam was with her. Rose said, “We are skipping school. We are going up to four corners at the laundry mat to hang out.”
Gypsy laughed. “The laundromat? Wow what a present.”
Rose gave a sly grin and said, “Trust me.”
The going was slow as they headed up Washington Street towards four corners. Four corners had gotten its name because it was where Washington Street crossed Highway 45. The parking lot at the laundromat was the turnaround for cruisers on Friday and Saturday night. Every teenager in town was familiar with this end of town.
Though only 4 blocks from the school Gypsy’s crutches made the journey seem like miles. When they entered the cool interior of the laundromat Gypsy heaved a sigh of relief. This 25th day of October was exceptionally warm and the air conditioning in the building quickly cooled off the hot teenagers.
Rose jumped up on a table and pulled Gypsy over to her. Gypsy leaned his crutches on the table as Rose wrapped her legs around him. Pam giggled and opened a book she had brought with her and started reading it. Rose was wearing a lightweight yellow flower blouse. She wore no bra and Gypsy could see her nipples poking against the fabric. He reached up and placed his hand on her breast. Rose drew in a breath and then met his lips with her lips. Darting her tongue into his mouth he pushed back with his own tongue. Gypsy could smell her perfume and the scent made his already swollen penis even harder.
They kissed for several minutes and then Rose pushed Gypsy back away from her. Looking around she said, “Pam, keep an eye out.” Pam nodded but never looked up from her book. Rose jumped down from the table and said, “Leave the crutches and lean on me.”
Rose guided Gypsy over to the men’s restroom. Pulling Gypsy inside she locked the door behind them. Fifteen minutes later the couple exited the restroom, sweaty, flush and satisfied. Gypsy was laughing as he grabbed his crutches.
“What’s so funny?” Pam asked.
“When I finished Rose said Bravo.”
Rose said, “Well he looked at his watch and said 12:35 pm.”
Pam said, “What does that mean?”
Gypsy chuckled, “I lost my cherry at 12:35 pm in the men’s room of a laundromat with a cast on my left leg. I was so impressive that my girlfriend said Bravo. It was a feat never before attempted by man or woman and which may never be attempted again in the history of the world.”
All three teenagers were laughing just as a man carrying a laundry bag came into the laundromat. They stifled their laughter and tried to look innocent and busy. “Excuse me, where is the men’s room?” the man asked. All three teenagers pointed to the men’s room door and broke out in peals of laughter.
It had been a month since Jimmy had retaken the IQ test under controlled circumstances. Eisenhower’s principal, the representative from the school board and Jimmy’s homeroom teacher had all been present watching him like a hawk. Their staring made Jimmy nervous, but he did his best to block them out and concentrate on the test. Jimmy was thankful when the test was over, and he was permitted to return to class. Now he was sitting in the living room listening to his mother talking to his grandmother on the phone in her bedroom.
“I’m telling you mom it was great. I am starting to think that there is nothing that Patricia won’t be able to do. The sky is the limit for her.” Shirley paused to listen. “No mom I couldn’t believe it, they had her take that IQ test a second time to make sure of the results.” Shirley paused again. “Yeah and she not only passed it but she scored even higher the second time by two points.”
Jimmy listened to his mother giving credit to his sister for what he had done. This was nothing new. In his mothers eyes his sister could do no harm and he could do no right. It had started when his sister was just a little less than a year old.
Jimmy’s grandmother and mother had been visiting with the tenants in the upstairs apartment of his grandmother’s apartment house. Shirley had laid Patricia on the bed in their bedroom and Jimmy had been happily tickling his little sister while the adults visited. Jimmy grew tired of the game and headed to the living room. He had just gotten to the bedroom door when Patricia rolled off the bed.
The loud thud and wailing scream from Patricia brought all the adults running. Shirley pushed past Jimmy and picking the crying baby up off the floor turned back towards her son and screamed; “What did you do to my baby you little bastard?”
Jimmy started crying, “Mommy…”
“Shut the fuck up. You tried to kill my baby, you tried to kill my baby.” Shirley was sobbing uncontrollably. The lady and her husband who rented the apartment took Jimmy into the front room and sat him down on the couch. The lady wrapped Jimmy in her arms. “Shh, it will be OK.” She cooed.
“Shirley stop it!” Pearl demanded, “Jimmy didn’t do anything. He was at least ten feet away from the bed when Patty rolled off.”
“She’s too young to roll! He pushed her off! He is jealous of her. He tried to kill his own sister!” Shirley said as she rocked the crying baby in her arms.
“Shirley, you need to get a grip. Jimmy is not jealous and has not done anything wrong. Patty rolled off the bed, that is all.” Pearl grabbed her daughter’s arm. “Listen to me! Go in there and apologize to your son.”
Shirley pushed past her mother and went into the front room. Stopping in front of her son she said, “I am sorry I cussed at you, but you shouldn’t have pushed your sister off the bed.” Shirley left the apartment and her crying son behind.
There had been other instances too numerous to name but Jimmy sat listening to his mother and thinking back on a couple of them. There was the time his sister had been running through the house, had tripped and put her head through the sheet rock next to the bathroom. Patricia told Shirley that Jimmy had pushed her into the wall.
Then there was another time that Shirley had told Jimmy to make sure Patricia did the dishes before she came home from work. Patty had refused and in a fit of anger threw a vacuum cleaner head at Jimmy. Jimmy batted it away and it sailed right back at Patricia and split her forehead open. Patricia had told Shirley, “I was trying to go do the dishes and Jimmy wouldn’t let me. When I tried to get around him he hit me in the forehead with the vacuum head.
Shirley had believed Patricia over Jimmy both times and both times Shirley had beaten Jimmy with a broom. Now Jimmy sat listening to his mother attribute his accomplishment to his little sister. A little sister who was still 6 years away from even taking an IQ test.
“Jimmy your grandmother wants to say hi to you.”
Jimmy left the couch and went to his mother’s room. Taking the phone from his mother he said, “Hello grandma.”
“Hello Jimmy. How are you doing?”
“I am fine grandma.”
“Is your mother still in the room?”
“No, she went to the kitchen to get a glass of iced tea.”
“What’s that?” Shirley called from the kitchen.
“I was just telling grandma that you were getting a glass of tea.”
“Do you want a glass of tea?” Shirley asked.
“No thank you.” Jimmy said.
“Jimmy I need you to do something for me.”
“I am going to ask you a couple of questions and all I want you to do is respond with only Yes Ma’am and No Ma’am; understand?”
“Good.” She said. “Now was it your sister that took the IQ test?”
“I knew it wasn’t. Did you have to take the test twice?”
“Did you score higher the second time than the first time?”
“So your score was 177?”
“Does it hurt you that your mother has attributed your accomplishment to your sister?” Pearl softly asked.
“Jimmy listen to me.” Pearl sighed. “You know how your mother is, you know she favors your sister.”
“Part of that may be partially my part. When your mother was growing up, I favored your Uncle Karl; I made mistakes. I am sorry that you have to suffer for my mistakes.” Pearl paused for a moment. “Jimmy, your mother is not well, she is not well in her head. Do you know that?”
“I knew you did; you are a smart boy. Will you do something for me?”
“Try to understand that your mother does not always understand what is real and what is not. Your mother will always be sick in her head and will probably never be well. It is important that you understand that. It is also important that you try and be patient when she acts like she is acting now. Don’t argue with her, it will do no good. Just understand that she cannot help herself. Can you do that for me?”
“…you know what the truth is and that is all that matters. It makes no difference what tale your mother spins within her fantasy world as long as you know what is real and what is not. Your sister is as much a victim of your mother’s illness as you are. You may not like your sister, but she is what your mother is making her. That is not your fault, and you should never blame yourself.”
“Yes Ma’am. Mom just came in the room.”
Shirley had come back into the bedroom and sat down on her bed with a glass of tea in hand.
“I love you, Jimmy. Stay strong, OK?”
“Yes Ma’am. I love you too grandma.”
Jimmy handed the phone back to his mom and went out into the backyard to feed and water his dogs.
I stopped at Valley Falls, Kansas. The café on the hill was gone as well as the old service station. In their place was a new convenience store that held no interest for me. I continued on towards Atchison.
As the big Harley roared across the Atchison Bridge and on into the Missouri side of the Missouri River I marveled at how the landscape still showed scars from the flood ttwenty years before.
The flood of 1993 had completely covered these farmlands and wiped out many farms just as effectively as it had wiped out my home in Baxter Springs, Kansas. When I had called my mother who was now remarried and living in Canada to let her know me and my family were alright she had said, “What flood?”
I explained to her that there was a great flood taking place and that I had been a victim. Her response was, “Well James maybe you shouldn’t live where there is a flood.”
I rode Black Betty through the river bottoms. Farm fields were dotted with piles of dead trees that had been bulldozed into giant brush piles that may or may not one day be set a flame.
At the junction of US 45 and US 59 I turned Black Betty around. I was tempted to head south on US 45 and into Weston but it was getting late and I needed to get back to Lake Shawnee and my campsite before night closed in.