Read Life Happens Next Online

Authors: Terry Trueman

Life Happens Next (6 page)

On weekends Debi hangs out in the basement and plays her favorite movie over and over and over again. She calls this movie
The Sound of
the
Music
and she's watched it, and this is not an exaggeration, two times each Saturday and two more times each Sunday every weekend since she moved in. And she plays it LOUD! My main sitting spot upstairs is right above a heat vent that carries the sound. So I've heard “Doe, a deer, a female deer; ray, a drop of golden sun” and every other line from every other song twelve times over the last three weeks. I have no reason to believe I won't hear it another four times every weekend for the rest of our lives together. One word: torture.

Yesterday when Debi returned from school, Mom noticed something odd in her appearance. “Debi,” Mom asked, “are you hiding something under your coat?”

Debi said, “No hiding … it okay.”

Mom approached her and said, “I need to see what you have, honey.” Mom gently pulled Debi's coat open. Stuffed into the arms of the coat and under her shirt, down the front of her pants, and even into her bra, were plastic bags. Mom helped her pull them out, counting as she went: twenty-eight, ranging from the small, lightweight bags they give you at supermarkets to carry your apples to the larger ones you get when they ask “Will that be paper or plastic?” Apparently Debi is the unofficial plastic bag collector for the North Neighborhood Community Center.

“What are all these for?” Mom asked Debi.

Debi didn't answer right away. “I need dem.”

Mom asked, “What for?”

Debi said, “To go with me … my bed.”

“Your bed?” Mom asked.

“Under,” Debi answered.

Mom followed Debi downstairs and twenty minutes later came back upstairs carrying a huge armful of plastic bags, hundreds and hundreds of them, some covered in dust bunnies and all of them mashed together, wrinkled up into a giant ball. Debi must have been bringing them home every day.

Cindy said sarcastically, “Well, everybody needs a hobby.”

Mom gave Cindy a dirty look, but Debi said, “Yeth, hoppy good,” and laughed.

Mom said, “There isn't enough space in your bedroom, Debi, for so many of these bags. We'll have to get rid of a few.”

Debi kind of nodded and mostly just stared at the floor.

But the plastic bag collection wasn't all Mom found. While pulling out the bags, Mom also discovered twenty-three library books, ranging from kids' picture books to three volumes, A, B, and D, of the
World Book
encyclopedia.

Mom asked, “Do you have a library card?”

Debi answered, “It okay … don't need.”

Debi somehow managed to steal all these books, getting them through the book detector machines at the downtown public library during field trips there with her Learning Skills group.

Mom said, “Actually, Debi, you need to check books out when you borrow them from the library.”

Debi said, “No, they free.”

Mom said, “They're free to
borrow
, Debi.”

Debi answered, “No borrow … keep 'em … I like 'em.”

Mom sighed and said, “No, Debi, we have to return these.”

“Dat okay,” Debi said. “Dey got more.”

I'm not sure Mom's efforts to explain to Debi the concept of a lending library made a lot of sense to Debi, but in the end she said, “It okay, Linny … I okay.”

Like I said, our family is making a new normal because of Debi.

And Rusty is part of this too. Rusty has become the family dog. Well, more truthfully, Paul's dog, although Debi doesn't seem to mind or notice. Rusty and Paul wrestle all over the house with Rusty barking and wagging his tail, jumping and scratching and biting Paul in ways that leave little red streaks on his arms and hands but never break the skin. Paul gives as good as he gets, tossing Rusty off him and slapping him around in ways that make Rusty more and more excited and playful.

Paul has Rusty trained really well. They can be fighting, rolling around, looking like they might kill each other, and then Paul just says, “Rusty, sit,” with a certain tone in his voice. Immediately, Rusty will plant his butt on the floor. If Paul commands, “Stay,” he can walk away and Rusty won't budge. When Paul says, “Okay,” Rusty will come running back up to him, wagging his tail.

Paul has even trained Rusty not to attack and bite the wheels of my wheelchair anymore. From his very first day here, the dog has thought of my wheelchair as a dangerous satanic object that requires constant monitoring and attention. Despite Paul's training, whenever Rusty comes into a room where I am, he dips his head low, staring with scary intensity at my beautiful chrome ride; sometimes the fur on his neck puffs up and he lets out a low growl. I wish I could explain to him, “Hey Rusty, I don't like this wheelchair any more than you do.”

Actually, I'm still scared of Rusty. Even though he's average size—I heard Cindy say fifty-five pounds—he's so strong and powerful. If he wanted to hurt me, he could do it easily. So far he hasn't mistaken my leg as part of the evil enemy wheelchair—so far.

15

D
ebi came home from “schoo” yesterday and announced to Mom, “I no friends with B-B-B-Barbara no more.”

Mom said, “Did something happen at school today?”

“Yeth,” Debi answered.

Mom asked, “Did you and Barbara quarrel?”

“No me,” Debi answered, “J-J-J-Janeth.”

“Janet and Barbara quarreled?”

“Yeth … no quarry … hit and bite.”

Mom asked, “But you didn't hit or get involved?”

“No tanks,” Debi answered.

Mom said, “Well that's good, sweetie. You just be nice to everyone and they'll be nice to you, right?”

“Yeth,” Debi answered, but I'm not sure she really accepted Mom's logic. Truthfully, I'm never sure how much Debi gets or doesn't get out of any conversation.

Thinking about Debi, I wonder about her seeing her two classmates hit and bite each other. No matter what advice Mom gives her, Debi is pretty much defenseless. If you think about that word, it's pretty heavy.
Defenseless
. It never means “less defense.” It means
no
defense. When a person is defenseless, it means that he can't defend himself at all, right?

Sometimes I get scared that I'm defenseless, too. Debi is slow, but at least she can run away or yell or hit back if someone is bothering her. When you look at me, you'd think I am completely defenseless. And technically my only defenses are my central nervous system, the automatic part of my brain—the kind of defenses no one ever thinks about. If I never blinked, my eyes would quickly dry out and I'd become blind, but my eyes blink when they need to; if something like a fly or a gnat gets near them, my eyelids do their job. I also breathe, sleep, awaken, swallow, wiggle, shift positions, stretch, yawn, laugh, excrete, and dream. In these supersimple ways, my body takes care of itself. Also, it's not like I'm paralyzed; I feel sensations of touch like pain and pleasure and I react to these feelings. When the doctor hits my knee with his little rubber hammer, my lower leg kicks. If you grab me by my arm and squeeze too tight, I'll cry out. I can't will my body to do what I say, but my body wills me to do what it says.

We consider old people and babies as being defenseless, but if you think about it, most everyone in the world can easily become defenseless. Swim in the ocean and get eaten by a great white shark. Jump from an airplane 150 times for fun, and on the 151st jump, your parachute and your backup chute both fail. While walking into your house from the mailbox on a cloudy day, you get struck by a bolt of lightning. If you think of it that way, we're all always at risk at some time or another. And either by chance or bad luck or even by just living long enough to get old and weak, every one of us ends up defenseless. It just so happens I'm like this all the time.

As I sit in the family room by my window, my head happens to shift and Rusty comes into focus. He's lying on the floor in what has become the regular spot for him, the passage between the family room and the kitchen, where Mom is cleaning up. I see Debi in the background, out of focus, waiting for her bus. Paul and Cindy have already taken off for school.

Rusty stares at me and I look back at him. He doesn't growl now, but he doesn't blink or look away either. We gaze straight into each other's eyes.

It occurs to me that Rusty is definitely
not
defenseless.

This thought, however, is immediately crushed by another more pressing realization—I'm slipping into a seizure.

16

A
slow, low buzz starts to hum inside my head and I know instantly what it is: the weird zone before my seizure gets a full grip on me. In these last few seconds before my spirit escapes, I see my mom. She hasn't noticed that my seizure has started, so instead of coming to my side to comfort me, she turns and leaves the kitchen, walking up the stairs toward her room.

Debi's bus arrives.

I hear Mom say, “Have fun at school, Debi.”

Debi calls, “B-b-b-bye,” and goes out the door.

I'm just about to slip away from my body when I focus on Rusty. He was calm and quiet a few moments ago, but now the fur on the back of his neck rises as he watches me. I twitch around, drool even more heavily than usual, and am unable to breathe for several long seconds.

Rusty starts to inch toward me, growls low, and bares his teeth. I can't blame him for being scared—even normal human beings get frightened watching me have a grand mal seizure, but people know better than to attack me. I don't know what Rusty is going to do.

As I've said, I love my seizures and my chance to escape my body for a while. But although I can usually will myself to stick around, in this seizure I can't. My spirit leaves my body and flies far away before I can see what Rusty will do next.

I find myself in a library with a large glass wall, looking over a river raging down below.
Where is this place?
I am sitting in a comfortable chair—I can feel my butt on the soft cushions of the upholstered seat, and I lean against its upholstered back, eyeing the rows of shelves holding thousands of books.

Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I see a dark figure move quickly behind one of the bookshelves.
Who is it? What is it?
I don't know how I know, but I sense that this figure has been staring at me.

I want to go look, but now I feel too hot, like I'm being suffocated under a stack of pillows. I feel like I am gasping, struggling to get enough oxygen.
What is going on here?

I awaken from the seizure, slowly coming back to my senses. I'm confused and a little frightened. I've never had a dream like this before. My dreams and seizures usually feel the same to me, but this one feels more like a nightmare than a dream. Who was that dark figure? What did it want with me? A chill runs through my body, a shiver of fear. After a few moments, I realize that I'm still in my wheelchair, my head tilted way back, staring at the ceiling. My breaths come in short, panting gasps. Finally my head drops forward so that I'm looking out the window, seeing my regular view of the water. But I still feel suffocated, and only now do I realize why I'm so hot; Rusty has hoisted his front paws onto my legs and has draped himself over my body. Although he seems calm, his head is raised, his expression attentive and alert, totally in control. Rusty has felt my fear and he has overcome his own fear of my wheelchair. He is protecting me. Somehow, in his dog brain, Rusty understands that I am
not
my wheelchair, I am alive and here with him.

I can't make myself look at him, but after a few moments, he seems to sense that I've noticed him lying across my lap. I'd like to say, “Good dog, Rusty, you can get off me. I'm okay.” Of course I can't say this, but as I'm thinking it, Rusty shifts his head, arching his neck so that he gazes directly into my eyes. He makes a tiny whine, as if he's saying something back to me, and gently lifts himself up and drops to the floor.

My head shifts and I'm looking at Rusty again as he goes back to his favorite spot and lies down. He looks back at me, lowers his head onto his front paws, and stares, as if he is waiting to see if I might need him again. I think, “I'm okay now, Rusty—you can relax.” Rusty cocks his head as if he's unsure, watches me for a moment, and seems satisfied as he rolls onto his side, takes a deep breath, and slides into a nap.

Rusty defended me. He is my friend. A new feeling rises up inside me and overwhelms me—
I have a friend!
And I know that he feels it too. I now realize that I have nothing, nada, zilch, zippo, zero to fear from him.

By adding this moment to my birthday realization, that I have more to be happy about than my pouty, crybaby attitude has been letting me see, I realize that there're a few more pretty cool things about being
me
!

     
1. I've finally made a connection with another living soul. Unfortunately, that soul didn't belong to another human being, but hey, it belongs to a dog! And Rusty, my protector and friend, doesn't give a rip what I look like or act like—what I can and can't do—Rusty's a
real
friend!

     
2. Obviously, it feels good that Dad did not decide to kill me. Imagine how Dad would feel if he somehow knew that Rusty and I had found a way to connect. I mean, I'm sure part of Dad's thoughts about ending my pain must have been tied to my loneliness. And with Rusty here I'm not alone anymore!