Chapter 2 – Mirth Defects
Bob and I did everything together, but not at the same time. I went to kindergarten, Bob went to kindergarten. I learned to ride a bike, Bob learned to ride a bike. I broke my arm, Bob broke my arm. He swears to this day it wasn’t on purpose but I know better. And it was all because of a woman.
Ma was holding my hand when I walked into kindergarten on my first day of school. I soon overheard an older woman introduce herself as Mrs. Nelson to another mom, and Ma whispered in my ear “That’s your teacher.” She looked like a nice lady, and had a genuine smile. I liked her immediately.
I had a preconceived notion of what school would be like but I wasn’t prepared for the mass of new girls. They were everywhere. Every shape, size and hair color. Every mood, energy level, and voice timbre. And then I saw my new girlfriend walking across the room, coming to a stop next to Mrs. Nelson. She had brown eyes and brown hair that framed her face in a semicircle. She was beautiful. I watched in awe when dimples mysteriously appeared on her cheeks as she smiled down at Mrs. Nelson. Those very dimples came and went repeatedly as she talked to another student, and I turned my head slightly so I could eavesdrop. What I heard was the voice of an angel.
“I’m Miss Smith, Mrs. Nelson’s teaching assistant.”
I was happy that she wasn’t married.
I suffered through my unrequited love affair with Miss Smith. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her when she was in the room. I even enjoyed watching her walk away in her tight little skirts. And watching her suck on that paper straw during Milk Break made her dimples pop out and gave me an odd sensation in my jeans I didn’t understand. I had her all to myself for weeks before Bob tried to move in on her.
During Show and Tell one day, a kid had shown a rock he found on his family’s farm. I gaped at his boring presentation. It was a rock. I saw a million like it every time we went to my grandparent’s homes, and I wanted to liven things up a bit. I asked Miss Smith if I could bring my pet turtle Sparky for Show and Tell. She said it was fine with her as long as Mrs. Nelson agreed. Mrs. Nelson was an easy sell because she thought I was cute and precocious. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was after Miss Smith. I hadn’t learned the fine art of closure yet. That, and she was married already.
Ma and Bob came to school the next day, bringing Sparky the Red-Eared Slider turtle for Show and Tell. Miss Smith met them at the door to the classroom and bent down with her hands on her knees to introduce herself to Bob. I watched with intense jealously as the Dimple Convention rolled into town. Miss Smith’s dimples would pop in and out talking to Bob, and then Bob’s would do the same as he replied. It made me want to shove cotton balls in Bob’s cheeks so he didn’t have dimples.
When it was my turn for Show and Tell, I lifted Sparky from his glass home and began my spiel. I told about getting him at the pet store, and his diet, and how we could set Sparky on the floor and not worry about him getting away. And then Bob stole my thunder.
“He just sits there and then he poops!”
The classroom erupted in laughter, but Ma and I were mortified: Ma because Bob had no social speaking filter, and me because Miss Smith laughed so hard she choked. I had seen her smile, I had seen her giggle, but never a belly laugh. And she couldn’t stop smiling at Bob. I made a mental note to make sure Pa’s inherited straight razor was still in the medicine cabinet when I got home from school. It seemed to me that Bob’s throat still needed some slitting.
When the laughter died down, I finished up my Show and Tell presentation, and the classroom went to recess. Mrs. Nelson invited Ma and Bob to stay for recess. Ma stood with Mrs. Nelson and my beloved Miss Smith, and Bob joined me and several others on the monkey bars. I always had to climb to the very tip top first, and I always did it carefully so I wouldn’t slip, but Bob didn’t have a Personal Safety filter. He reached the top before me while I wondered about his true genetics. They say humans are descended from apes, but on the monkey bars Bob also *ascended* like an ape.
Bob was starting to piss me off. Random images of straight razors and Bob’s tiny body tied to the railroad tracks downtown were clouding my judgement. When he reached the top he raised his arms in victory and yelled “Look, Ma!” Ma, Mrs. Nelson and Miss Smith smiled, applauded, and waved at Bob. I couldn’t take it anymore and clambored for the top tier full speed ahead.
When I reached the top I turned around so the back of my legs were braced against a rail, raised my arms, and yelled “Look, Ma!” Ma and both teachers repeated their show of appreciation for the showoff abilities of the Ferguson boys. Bob, however, wasn’t too pleased I blocked his view.
“Move, JD! I can’t see Miss Smith!”
“She’s my girlfriend, Bob,” I hissed over my shoulder. “That means you can’t look at her. Ask Pa!” And then I made a nearly fatal mistake: I whacked Bob upside the head with one of my two free hands.
If my body was as coordinated as my mind I would have been able to save myself, but us Ferguson’s aren’t known for our athletic abilities. We can fight with the best of them unless boxing gloves and rules are involved. Our best baseball bat swing is reserved for barroom brawls and bad umpire calls. We can never kick a football through the goal posts but we can lift a man off the ground with a kick to his privates. And Bob aimed squarely at the back of my right knee and kicked out like a mule in retaliation for my backhanded blow to his head. And he was sneaky enough that no authority figures on the ground saw him strike.
When my knee buckled I shifted to the right like a tree being felled by a lumberjack. I was sure I could grab a bar on the way down. I held out hope until I smacked into the asphalt, landing on my right arm. The sound even resembled a tree splintering. The fleeting image of turning Bob into kindling with a chainsaw flitted through my brain until the pain caught up with me. When it did, I turned into a five year old boy’s ultimate horror: a screaming, crying girlie boy.
Through my sobs, I ratted Bob out but nobody was buying it. Bob was too sweet and too cute to have done a vicious act. I silently vowed to escalate the arms race between Bob and I, even though my working arms had been reduced by half.
Ma took me to the Roadapple Ridge Hospital and Veterinary Clinic to get all my bones pointing in the correct direction and make sure I was up on my distemper shots. I could tell Bob felt bad. He even gave me the sucker the nurses had given him when they saw his curly red hair and dimples. If I had tried to extricate it from his sticky fingers he would’ve fought me to the death, but he actually offered without me asking. That made me very suspicious but he seemed sincere so I ate it anyway.
I thought the snapping of my arm was painful until the doctors ganged up on me in the ER after the x-rays were developed. Our family pediatrician pulled the curtain back, and he was flanked by two guys who looked like they were professional football players except larger. Doc gave me a sick little smile and told Ma my arm was definitely broken. I knew in the pit of my stomach what it felt like to walk to the electric chair. We were fixin’ to wrestle, and they outweighed me by a factor of ten. I made a promise to myself to cause Doc as little pain as possible but those other two monolithic butt nuggets were going down in flames if I had anything to say about it. Turns out I didn’t.
“This is going to hurt a little bit, JD, but it’s nothing you can’t handle,” Doc said, avoiding eye contact.
“That’s what you said when you pulled that nail out of my foot.”
Doc’s warm grin spread across his face as he turned to face me. “It was sticking out of both sides of your foot. I told you it hurt going in and it was going to hurt coming back out.”
A new strategy popped into my head. “How come you pulled that nail out, Doc?”
He regarded me with a healthy dose of skepticism and a creased brow. “Well, because it was sticking out of your foot, and it wasn’t a part of your body.” He grinned then as if I wouldn’t have a comeback.
“That bone in there *is* a part of my body and it’s *not* sticking out. How about we just let it heal up right where it is?”
I heard Ma and a nurse or two giggle quietly. Doc stared at me with his Mona Lisa smile. “We have to set it, JD. It’s pretty crooked.”
I knew I was doomed but aimed for another giggle from Ma and the staff. “It’s bent but I could reach around corners better!”
I heard Ma giggle again and one of the nurses snorted, apologized, and excused herself from the ER. I still wasn’t happy but I was getting better.
“Good one, JD.”
“Are you ready?”
I shook my head no but said “Yes sir.” It made Doc grin again. I couldn’t help but smile back. He nodded at the aide standing at the head end of the gurney, and the big man pinned me to the padding by my shoulders. I felt the other giant at the foot end of the gurney grip both of my ankles. My good arm was lifted off the gurney, and I felt a hand squeeze mine. I opened my eyes, turned my head, and there was Fearless Bob, squeezing for all he was worth. The kid literally feared nothing, and he was trying to get my courage worked up to a frenzy. And just like that, I wasn’t mad at the little sumbitch anymore.
“On three, JD. One. Two. Three.”
The entire episode lasted maybe four seconds. I did pretty well until the last second when I felt my bone simultaneously pop and slip back into place. I let out a brief shriek that made Ma sob from somewhere next to me. I felt a warm washcloth on my forehead and opened my eyes to see two redheads hovering above my face. If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.
Ma was on my left, standing next to Bob. She was doing three things at the same time that have confused me about women since the day I was born. She was biting her lip, crying, and smiling at the same time. On my right was a redheaded nurse, mopping up the sweat from my forehead and smiling down at me. She was hotter than an autoclave in August. She had big hair, big boobs, a sultry voice, and beautiful blue eyes. Her job, as far as I could tell, was to keep me calm while Doc built the new plaster casing for my mangled arm. It was working. She could have gnawed off my good arm for all I cared.
“That wasn’t so bad now, was it? How do you feel, JD?” she asked.
“Better. Pretty good now. What’s your name?”
“Sarah,” she smiled. “I’m glad you’re feeling better. The doctor should be done real soon and then you can go home.”
“What? I don’t get to spend a night here?” Sarah giggled, music to my ears. I giggled back, and tried the only pickup line I knew by my kindergarten years. “Do you come around here often, Sarah?” I heard Doc and his assistants giggle, and an exasperated “Oh my God” from Ma.
“Yes I do,” Sarah cooed. “I work six days a week so I’m here quite a bit.”
“Good. I’ll look forward to seeing you next time Bob snaps another bone in half.”
Sarah’s head snapped backward and she belly laughed. I could hear Doc, his helpers, and Bob giggling too. Ma was shaking her head in my peripheral vision but I didn’t look at her.
“Okay, JD, you’re all done,” Doc said. “You have to be careful with your cast, especially while it’s still drying. Do you have any questions for me?”
I could feel the heat from the chemical reaction soaking into my arm. It was soothing, but the cast felt like my arm weighed a ton as I lifted it for inspection.
“How soon can people sign it?” I asked.
Doc seemed taken aback, probably because I have a tendency to ask weird questions. “Well, I guess within 30 minutes or so if they’re careful.”
“Goody goody goody. Will you sign my new cast, Sarah?” I pleaded.
Sarah glanced at Ma before answering. “Uh, sure, JD. I’d be happy to sign it.”
I made it a point to give Bob a smug look because he was drooling over Sarah as much as I was.
Ma, Bob and I went to one our favorite haunts for ice cream while we waited for my cast to dry: the hospital cafeteria. Since I was the wounded party, my ice cream was free and unlimited. Ma allowed Bob just one ice cream cone but I ate two just to rub it in. I was bursting at the seams when we caught up with Sarah so she could sign my cast. On our way out the door, I voiced my biggest concern.
“I can’t wait to get my cast off.”
“Is it bothering you already, JD?” Ma asked.
“No, I just want to see Sarah again.”
“Just like your father,” Ma sighed.
I didn’t know at the time that it wasn’t a compliment.