“Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time” – Let’s Go Crazy
Let’s face it. No matter the location, be it playground, school, rest stop, or hospital, all kids want to make friends.
His name was Paul. All I knew was that he walked funny and had no hair. His parents would speak with mother and father daily. They all got along. It was a long hospital stay.
The memories flash like a bad super eight film that was spliced all wrong. My dad wanted my first ray gun and emphatically asked that I lend it to a younger boy who was across the hall in the only room with a closed door. This was unacceptable to me at the time. And no respectable Italian father ever emphatically asks either. They demand.
I was approaching seven years of age and most adults were giving me everything I asked for within reason of course. So why should I part with my toy now?
I lost the ray gun.
I didn’t understand.
I didn’t have the capacity to comprehend what my father was attempting to do – comfort a boy who was in desperate need of it. I don’t remember his name. He had chubby cheeks and kinky curls for hair. I never knew what happened to him.
As for Paul, he needed help just to walk down the hallway. I remember his mother being kind and his father having a beard with no mustache. He always looked like the old maritime sailors coming in from trading in Asia. Their son needed help with all phases of life. I recollect a nurse giving him his meds ground up in applesauce. It seemed like he was swallowing razors.
I didn’t understand.
I was in an offbeat dormitory. A prison for children where oddball pajamas, strange lighting and singsong nurses all were commonplace. The children were measured by how much energy they had. The more the better. That meant you were on the mend.
One of the final memories was of me going home. I am told it had been four weeks. I was anxious. I had cried myself to sleep as the last of my dorm mates left with his family. I think his name was Kevin. He was in the same room with me for over a week due to a spinal injury when he fell off a swing. I watched from the third story window as he piled into a lime green station wagon with his brothers and mom.
When the day came that I could go home, I could taste the electricity. I could don my own clothes that didn’t smell rubbing alcohol or stale mothballs. I could leave the dingy yellows of the hallways that I often caused mischief in. I didn’t need to ask permission to be ‘let out’ to the concrete playground that some of the children would visit on the sunny days.
I was going home.
Some time after, I don’t recall how much had passed; I realized that some children never make it out of the prison. That moment defined mortality for me. Children are often sheltered from such things as death, more so their own. There is too much life to be had when you are young.
I wonder how many children from my floor actually left with their families. I’ve always fancied them as lost souls - ones that I will meet again someday simply by crossing the street.
Paul wasn’t one of those children. He passed away. From the boy I barely knew, he taught me so much. What it is to overcome struggles in life. How to define a ‘bad day’. How to actually live.
Decades later, I understand it now.