Friday, June 19, 2015

"Each one sees what he carries in his heart."  ~  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The phone rang, and Mom answered it.

"Yes… OK, I'll be there tomorrow. 9AM… OK.  Thank you.  Goodbye…"


"Yes, Mom…"

"That was your school counselor on the phone. She wants to see me tomorrow morning… about YOU! Terry, what have you done?"

"My counselor… I don't have a counselor… which one is it?" I whispered.

What had I done? I didn't even know any of the Stamford High School counselors by name. Why would the shyest kid in the whole junior class of over 600 students know a counselor unless she was in trouble…BIG TROUBLE?

The next day at school was torturous for me. My actual MOTHER was summoned to school about ME! I never saw Mom come into school or go out of it that day, but when I got home and crept in the front door, I sure didn't let it slam shut.


"What, Mom?"

"Sit down… I have something to tell you. I saw your school counselor today, and she told me that your grades and your tests have made you eligible for the honors English class..."

WOW! I thought, silently. Me! Honors! WOW…

"But, you are not going to be placed in the honors English class, Terry. The teacher and the counselor decided that you were just too shy and quiet to be a part of that class. She said that honors students discuss and talk and argue, and they were afraid that you would just sit there in class and never say a word. They said that it was a large class, and you would just be lost in it."

…and I thought to myself, Well, at least I was smart enough to be considered for honors English…

And then I thought some more… The cutest boy in school in my eyes sat right next to me in my English class, and that was a gooood thing. He never talked to me, but I could sneak peeks at him during class when I got bored… so all was well.

My junior year passed, and then, in my senior year of high school, it was time to take the college entrance tests, and so I did.  I sat all morning taking those exams… just me and 1/2 of our senior class of 687 students. Then I sat some more in the afternoon taking the writing tests for entrance to the university. The writing tests were optional, but I loved to write, and who knew… it might be just the thing that would catch the eye of some college or university chooser-person. I wasn't scared of the writing test, I was just very tired that afternoon…

It took a long time to get the results of those entrance tests, and I hadn't heard a thing. But somehow, my English teacher, Miss Favroe, had found them out. I was scuttling down the hall, on my way to some class, and there was Miss Favroe.

"Terry, come walk with me." So I did. "Your scores on the College Boards are high, Terry. You can be accepted to Smith, my college, with those scores. I hope you will think about it." And she clomped away in those heavy black shoes she wore, wearing that long black dress that reached nearly to the tops of those shoes, her hair pinned up in an unruly bun on top of her head, and her black mustache intact.

Well, no, I wasn't going to go to that legendary all-women's college. I chose the University of Nebraska where my Dad had worked at the Cornhusker Hotel dining room to make enough money to attend UNL for one year. My father's family all lived in Nebraska, and I was glad of that. Home for me would be about 1300 miles away, and it would be nice to have some family nearby for some of those university holidays when I couldn't afford to be flying all that way back to Stamford, Connecticut.

But one day that senior summer they sent me my schedule of freshman classes, and there it was: Honors English! And so I went off to University, "scared spitless," as my Mom used to say.

The first day that I walked into that freshman honors English class and sat down in the second row, I found that only about 18 or 20 students made up the entire class, and that included me. The professor wandered in, nearly on time, looked us over one-by-one, and that was my beginning. I didn't speak out or anything, but I read… and I read and I read and I read. I listened, too, and smiled and reacted, but I was very quiet. I was the mouse of the class.

And then came Geoffrey Chaucer and his tales. That meant that we'd read The Wife of Bath's tale, among others. And the Wife of Bath was the one that the professor decided to spend time with in our honors class that day. By this time I had actually moved to the front row of seats in our classroom. In fact, I had even added a comment or two in the weeks before this "Wife of Bath" day.

"She was quite an old woman!" said the Prof. "She got around… Know what I mean…" And he chuckled in a way that guys do when they talk about things that women weren't supposed to hear.

"She was gap-toothed!" he grinned. "You know what that means…"

What HE didn't know is that my two front teeth had a major gap between them. I'd practiced and practiced my tight, timid smile so that no one would see that awful gap. I never ate apples in public unless I was with good friends. What if a chunk got caught in that gap? How could I possibly gouge that out in public?

"… It means that she was… hmmmmm… let's see… attractive to men! Get it...?"

Did he mean that boys found a gap-toothed smile pretty? I wondered…

I didn't hear the rest of the prof's lecture-discussion, though, the part when he began to explain just who this old bag of a woman was, and what her gap-toothiness really meant. I was lost in thought… pleasant thoughts… gap-toothed thoughts.

All at once our tiny English Honors class was laughing at something the prof said that I hadn't heard… something about Chaucer's use of double entendres… or whatever. I smiled, though, a mouth-opened smile. And then I laughed and laughed and laughed, my gap-teeth exposed publicly for the first time since I'd turned 13 years old!

Of course, later I didn't do well on that essay test question about The Wife of Bath. But on Saturday night I had a date with the only good-looking guy in our honors class. And later that Saturday night I had to set him straight about the fact that the Middle Ages' ideas about gap-teeth women were NOT the same as the 20th century's facts about gap-toothed girls… yes, I did!

Friday, June 5, 2015

"Endure and persist; this pain will turn to good by and by."  ~ Ovid

All this can be found in an immaculate rectangular room with one floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall. I know this because that's where I have my physical therapy sessions three times a week for my poor old neck. It's such an innocent-looking room, filled with huge plastic balls and weights and these 3- or 4-foot-long, styroform cylinders that you throw on the floor and then lay on top of. It has long, thick, bright blue straps that you stand on with one foot and drape the rest of it over your shoulder. There are wooden steps and slanted footstands and all sorts of things that make it seem so interesting and full of fun. But it's NOT! 

I have 18 sessions prescribed by my doctor, and when I arrive for each session, I check in with the receptionist who has the biggest, tallest, roundest bowl filled right up to the brim with candy waiting for us all. She is the sweetest lady, and she has exceptional taste in her candy selections.  

Now, many of you candy aficionados understand that Smiley's are smallish, powdery, colorful wafers, with about 12 of them wrapped in a clear plastic roll. I always grab 2 of them (3, if the sweet receptionist is not watching me), stuff them into my jean's pocket, and sit down quietly until my trainer comes to get me. (I explained about the Smiley's so that if you happen to need physical therapy and choose this wonderful place that I go to, you will understand that you are free to grab any candy you like, EXCEPT those Smiley's. They are MINE! ALL MINE! STAY AWAY FROM THEM! STAY VERY, VERY FAR AWAY FROM THE SMILEY'S!)

You see, my neck hurts! And I'm not there to lose that Smiley-fat that's gathering around my waist since I started my therapy. That will come after my 18th visit. Then I will have to find a gym with a lovely receptionist who doles out just one Smiley to the Smiley-addicts like me who are trying to lose the weight and the Smiley's-craving. Wonder how many sessions my doctor will prescribe for that therapy?       

But in this immaculate room are always about a dozen people, along with at least 3 trainers and 3-4 experienced doctors who work with each patient all day, 5 days a week. Every patient is doing something different from me, it seems. Some are lying on the lovely big bed-like tables that can be raised and lowered at will… not my will, but the doctor's will. Some are facing the mirror-wall doing all sorts of thoughtful moves or standing still in awkward positions, but still, nevertheless. It is quiet in that room, except for some nearly silent music, soft and lilting songs by soothing singers. No groans from the patients, no loud voices from the trainers.

As I stand there with my neck twisted upwards and sideways for one whole minute of pain, I can see out of the corner of my eye that there is a lady standing on the slanted box while she holds onto the bar hooked to the wall. It looks fun and easy, and I want to do that one.

"Can I do that exercise next?" I ask my handler.

"No," she says nicely.

Then I do my next exercise, the one where I wish no one could see me because it's soooo dorky. I hold my hands straight out in front of me and make "OK" signs with my fingers. Then I bring the "OK" circle of my fingers up-side-down to my eyes like up-side-down spectacles. See… DORKY-looking! I do it 10 times twice-over. I've never seen anyone else have to do this but me. Sheesh! 

While I'm looking at myself in the mirror, I can see a lovely girl lying on the lovely bed-like table doing lovely leg-risings, or something to that effect. I want to do THAT! It looks sort of ballet-ish, even though in ballet you are standing on an actual floor.

"Can I do that exercise over there?" I point to the lovely girl doing leg-lifts.

"No, you can't," says my nicest trainer. 

As I change my movements to one where I stretch my hands in front of me and behind, as I turn them up and down, I can feel the pain in that stretch from my little finger all the way up to my neck. Ouch! But I must do that twice, 10 times each. The pain burns. But that's what it's supposed to do.

Meanwhile, in that blasted mirror wall, I see a sweet-looking older lady laying on another bed-like table, and she's lifting her knee and folding it over her other leg as she gracefully turns only from her waist down. Now, I've done that before, and it's fun… no pain, no burn.

"Don't you think that exercise would help me?" I snivel.

"No, Terry, it wouldn't."

If I were my trainer, by now I'd ask the P.T. overseer if I could change patients because that one named Terry is a pain in the …  Oops..

But she doesn't do that! She just looks at her clipboard and hands me a hard styrofoam cylinder. So I lay it on the floor, and I balance my body on top of it so I can bend my knees and stretch my arms out and down on the floor. I will lay that way 2 times each for 60 seconds. It may sound silly to you, but it burns all the way across my chest from shoulder to shoulder.

And, just for the record, 60 seconds is a loooooong time when something hurts because you're doing it! Now I realize that if you touch fire, your reflex to get away from it must be counted in nano-seconds! It's all I can do to stay in that hurful position for a minute at a time. Who would have thought…

"The doctor will be with you in just a couple minutes," says this angel-trainer. She is the sweetest girl who is looking after more patients that just me, and she seems to enjoy us all! Yup, she's an angel of mercy. But I hurt!

And, while I wait, in the mirror-wall I can see a man lying on his stomach, not moving at all. I look at his back to see if there is any breathing motions, but there's not a flutter! No snores… no gasping… no moaning. Now that seems to me a great way to help my neck… but, of course, no one there will offer me that sort of healing. 

Then my doctor bids me to come over to the comfy bed-table, and I do. He begins his treatment, and it hurts, all of it, everytime he touches some place in my neck. But the shock is when he presses a place where my jaw and my neck collide, I mean meet… That pain is like no other pain I've ever felt in my life. It's the most intense and, to me, the most completely unbearable pain I've ever felt. But that's not enough…

"OK, Terry, make a double chin," he says in his soothing voice. 

That means racheting up that intense pain to double what I'm feeling. Me hurting ME even more… I can't! I CAN'T!

"Relax, Terry, and make a double chin," he says again as he presses harder on that place. 

Afterwards, I tell him that it hurts so much that I can't do it… I can't make that double chin and hurt myself even more… I can't…

"Yes you can, Terry," he says knowingly. "Just for a second… make a double chin…"

When I pass out from the pain (only in my dreams do I pass out…), he stops and says, "Your neck is really getting better. Next time it isn't going to hurt as much."

And, he's almost right! None of it hurts like it did the first time I went into my physical therapy. But it still hurts… a LOT! 

But as I drive home from my P.T., I realize that my neck goes up and down easier than I can ever remember. When I shake my head "no," I don't hear the crackling like I used to. And the weirdest thing is that my head sits straighter and a little higher on my neck. And it took me that long to realize that every patient in that physical therapy room was hurting as much or much worst than I was, I'm ashamed to admit. Even the lady who stood on that slant-board was in pain as she stood there... 

My doctor is a miracle-worker! I have 5 more sessions to go, and I will celebrate when I'm through. But, when it is all over, I will thank these people for the rest of my life, even though they won't know it. Now, I'm off to change into my therapy garb of jeans and a sweatshirt. I'll drive over to the office, grab my allotment of Smiley's, wait for my trainer to finesse me into hurting myself for several minutes while the doctor finishes with his current patient before moving on to me.

"Relax, Terry… Let me do the work on your neck."

"I can't relax here. This is the best I can do. But, Mark, it really, really doesn't hurt like it did. Thank you."

"Terry, what I'm doing now is making your neck better than it's ever been in your life! Now, make a double chin for me while I press this spot…"