Flavortown Sickboy Blues

Photo Credit: Texas Monthly

 

Guy Fieri is my blood relative,

Please, nobody look that up.  


     I’ve, primarily, been two kinds of kid in my life, the sick kid & the funny kid; usually at the same time. Sick can be funny, funny can be sick, but the connection between the two has yet to be unveiled in any number of 300-dollar appointment with my shrink. He does not see my silly boy antics as a psychiatric concern, and he may be right, but the joy of being a funny sick kid is that I never know if I’m being funny or exercising my sickness.


Seriously, don’t look it up,

Just believe me.

 

This year

On Father’s Day,

And Mother’s Day,

And on both of their birthday,

I posted a picture of my

Real life relative Guy Fieri

And talked about what a good job he is doing.

 

It is unclear if this makes either of my parents sad.


     When I was a small kid, around 2, I got scarlet fever. It was Hawaii in 1996, Kona was small and isolated and hot, it happened sometimes. They had to take the blood from me hourly. I am scared of doctors’ offices now. A small known issue associated with young kids getting bad infections of this type is Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (or PANDAS, kinda cute, right?), which basically states that the disease cooked part of my brain to the point of causing early and severe onsets of OCD and other Tic disorders.

I Also have ADHD, which I got from my father.

And Bi-polar disorder, which I think came from my maternal grandfather.

     I don’t want this to sound like complaining I’ve had a LONG time to come to terms with all of these, but I just wanted to catch you up.


Do you watch the news?

You know the moment when the

“On the scene reporter” is

On a delay from the main anchor?

So the anchor will say

“and now to Tim who is on the scene

At the world-famous Taranto cannoli fest,

Tim?”

Then they cut too him

But it’s like 7 seconds before Tim answers,

Like “Tim?”


     My mother says she had to hold me down while they took my blood, that I would kick and scream and now doctors make my heart beat fast and hot; needles make all the muscles in my body turn to a fist and punch. I get made fun of sometimes by friends and family for fearing needles but at the same time I am adorned in ink like my skin is thin paper, but a tattoo artist has never held me down and taken the warmth from my arm using a tattoo machine.


“That’s right Henry…”

How has nothing bad ever

Happened in those seven seconds?

It only takes one second to be crushed by a

Vending matching, and one of those seven

Seconds is never that funny one second.


     Justin, my shrink, thinks my mother made me sicker. That she liked having a sick kid. I’m not sure I believe him. At most, she just taught me to be vocal about it. To talk about myself in useful ways, to communicate my existence to anybody who would listen. To tell my story so that even though people couldn’t, like, relate; they would still be able to understand me.


My partner also has OCD but she got it the normal way. her brain has never been seared or brûléed.

My brain was once cooked medium rare, like a steak.

I wonder if all medium rare things have OCD? Just cooked enough to be

Interesting to those who consume them.


     I have set out to make a career as a writer, a comedy writer, and for a long time I didn’t think I could do it if I was sick/sad/anxious/hungry; but I don’t think that anymore.

     Comedy comes in 2 forms, I believe: taking a funny situation very seriously and taking a very real situation lightly; this polar rule rules for this bipolar boy, as I swing my jokes swing with me and the sick boy and the funny boy can exist alongside each other.  

It’s a beautiful thought; I’ll let you know if it ever works for me.


Guy Fieri is my blood relative.

Not an uncle, that is too specific.

A distance, a cepheid blinking

On the edges of a family tree I have

Never looked at.

 

Nobody look it up,

Please, it is not that I am

Attached to the concept

So much as it has become

Attached to me.

People ask me every day

If it is true.

 

I say yes,

Why ruin the sick kids fun?

 

By: Brennan Staffieri

Zombies for Organ Donation

knee

 

It’s become a joke, but a happy one. My family and I attribute every milestone of my progress to the donated tissue holding my knee together. When I took my first step up a flight of stairs, my dad said it was thanks to my “zombie strength,” as if a ligament donated from a dead person gave me superpowers. It sounds strange, but this donation did give me power. By choosing to be an organ donor, this anonymous person gave me a better life in the midst of their death, and I will always be grateful to be a “zombie” because of them.

The first time I dislocated my knee, I was nine. It was father’s day and my brother chased me around our yard with water balloons. I tripped and fell. My kneecap displaced and stayed on the side of my leg, poking out of my jeans in a way I’d never seen before. The pain was sharp and constant. Moving made it acutely worse and I didn’t know what to do. I screamed, my brother found my parents, and my dad scooped me into his arms. They drove me to the hospital in our minivan. I was carted into the emergency room, I refused painkillers because needles scared me, they cut the leg of my jeans, and I saw my misshapen, grotesque bones out of place. The doctor came. He was distant, unphased by my injury. I looked away as he slid my kneecap back, in a sharp, unnatural contortion. The absence of pain was glorious; each part of my body was in its place again.

I went to physical therapy for a while after that. My therapist taught me how to walk, how to move in a way that wouldn’t upset my fragile leg. Still, I was unstable.

For nine years afterwards, my knee would occasionally dislocate. It would always right itself, almost immediately. I walked and ran with a limp and I never let anybody touch my knee. I grew up afraid of my own steps.

Then, when I was eighteen, I took a bad step on my way to class, and my knee fully dislocated again. It was the same crack in my ears as my bones shifted and my ligaments tore, the same pain. It was cold, and I shivered. Each involuntary movement stung me. I was angry that my body betrayed me, again. I was pissed because I couldn’t walk down the street, like everybody else. People stopped, they called my dad and an ambulance, and a boy put his sweatshirt under my head. A girl in my class distracted me while we waited by talking about how annoying the professor was. I was sent to the hospital and the doctor put my knee where it belonged.

Even thinking about it now, I tense up, curl my left leg in, protect myself. Some days, when I’m walking down the street, I remember how dislocation feels, how easily my knee slid to the side of my leg. My fists tense, and I feel the pain, but I know it’s over. I’m fixed. It’s just that unpredictable pain like dislocation has a way of haunting.

After the last accident, I had a knee operation and in that operation, I received donated tissue. Since surgery, I have re-learned how to bend my leg, how to walk and how to go up and down stairs, all through the same physical therapy program I graduated from when I was nine. Today, I can even go for runs. It’s not always easy. I stumble and limp a lot sometimes, but when I get a good run, it’s empowering. I’ve re-claimed my body. I like synchronizing my legs to move like I was taught, pushing myself hard enough that I can feel a breeze against my skin, and I love that all of it is powered by my body.

I didn’t do it alone. Somebody chose to give their body to me, after they died, so that mine could function. I don’t know anything about them, but because of their decision, we are deeply connected—we share a body. Not only am I grateful for what they have given me, but for what they have given every other person who received their heart, their kidney, their liver, anything. Organ donation is an act of love that lasts beyond death and through life, and it is one of the most beautiful things I have been a part of.

The little box on my driver’s license says “Organ Donor.” I’m proud it does, and I hope yours does as well. The next time you go to the DMV, take a second to think back on me and every other zombie out there. One day, far from now, you might create a zombie, too.

 

By: Julia Thompson

Nothing but Silence Now

Watercolor

Silence can grow and it can be broken, but silence is all we have left when everything is said and done. My sister, Cathleen Marie Childress, passed away in 2009. She was 38. Catie, as she liked to be called, suffered from Bipolar Disorder; she was verbally abusive, and when I was little she was my personal tormentor. When I got older our relationship evolved but it was still subject to her wild mood swings and depression. Catie wasn’t the easiest person to be around or communicate with. Each day came with some kind of emotional eruption that alienated not only me but my two other older sisters, Tracy and Becky. When Catie wasn’t pinning me down and lowering spit down to my face just to suck it up inches before it made contact, she was certainly getting under my skin with verbal abuse. If you asked me now what kinds of things she said, I couldn’t tell you, but I do remember her ice cold glare when she was enraged and looking for someone to unload on.

Most of my life with my sister was anything but silent; she had a rage in her that at times was beautiful passion that translated into her artwork. She loved to draw, paint with water colors, and create visual work with all sorts of paints, pencils, and markers. I think I remember her watercolor works best, especially the sunsets. The reds, oranges, purples, yellows, and blues blended into one another, with no clear borders of where one color ended and another began. Those watercolor sunsets were a lot like her Bipolar Disorder; she had no clear borders of where happy Catie ended and angry, hurt Catie began. But like a sunset, eventually her rage fell below the horizon and was extinguished for a time. In retrospect I can see the nuances whether intentionally or unintentionally translated through watercolor fusion. They say that hindsight offers perfect vision on the moments in our lives that start out as blurry and unclear; for me this is definitely the case.

Catie went to Portland Community College and then Portland State well after high school, and I went to PCC and then Pacific University in the same manner, even though we graduated almost a decade apart.  What I have learned that I know we could connect on, but our experience with being nontraditional students could have become common ground for us as well.

The midday phone calls my sister would make to my sister Becky and I still haunt me. I often think that after spending close to a decade as a low voltage communications contractor that I would have been able to keep the conversations going when my sister would call me at work and the words between us quickly ran out. We had lost the ability to speak meaningfully.

Catie usually called me at work, “Hey,” she would say.

“What’s up?” I would ask.

“Oh nothing, what are you doing?”

I’m at work. What’s up?” I would ask again while wondering why she called.

“Just wanted to see what you are doing,” She would say.

“Just working.” It was about this time in the conversation where the ability to communicate would break down. It was as if she wanted me to keep the conversation going, but the absence of conversation was where it led every time. I wonder if those calls were a quiet cry for help or an attempt to push back the loneliness that she often felt trapped in. But being young, in my twenties, I was pretty selfish with my time or I just couldn’t recognize that something was broken.

I had become quite proficient at troubleshooting when lines of communication were dead, and I was good at finding paths for new lines to be installed in even the most difficult places. Maybe I chose not to hear her unspoken message. Looking back, I was drowning at that time just as she was, but the irony of having a job troubleshooting dead telephone lines and establishing new ones doesn’t escape me now.  There is not a day that goes by where I don’t give part of it to remembering my sister. I recall the times my other sisters and I had the Catie we loved to be around.

Catie wasn’t always vindictive; sometimes she was loving and fun to be around. I can remember moments with her when I was little, watching MTV in the living room with her and my other sisters. MTV was all the rage in the 1980’s and for a while in the 90’s, but that channel gave us all something to connect with. What I remember most from the ‘80s was that she always styled her hair in the fashion of Robert Smith from the Cure. She was always so influenced by music, and that I think was something she gifted to me. I can still remember watching certain videos together. One video I remember was Billy Squire’s “Rock Me Tonite,” we laughed as we made jokes about Squire’s flamboyant dancing around his make believe bedroom. I couldn’t say what it was besides the music that had a way of keeping us together and not fighting. But MTV and movies were two common areas we could all connect.

We eventually established “stupid movie night” when I was in junior high. We would go to the video rental store and rent five movies for five days for five dollars. The films were all B-rated movies with titles like: Ed and His Dead Mother, Serial Mom, and C.H.U.D.  There are no more “stupid movie nights,” and I do miss them terribly. I miss my unpredictable sister and I miss those damn phone calls where the silence my sister and I had was better than the absence that swells in the aftermath of an overdose of prescription pills.

 

By: Steven Childress