The Alchemy of Relationships

My relationship with Rufus began early fall 1981 in Washington, DC. I was spellbound by Prince Charming’s wit, charisma, athleticism, and twinkling blue eyes. The world seemed perfect.

Can you remember the magic when you found “the one?” Did you hear the music and see the fireworks? Everything changed.

I embraced this new beginning, along with the promise of new friendships, new interests, and new rituals. Getting acquainted meant learning each other’s strong suits and even quirky nuances. Sports became a major piece of our world. Rufus went for the gold in everything athletic event he attempted. I was content in the spectator role, at least initially. My physical acumen was meager at best. I welcomed this relationship as an opportunity to reframe my life, alter the script, and rewrite the music. I joined his neighborhood soccer team, a type of farm league with friendly competition its goal. My teammates welcomed me and my new life had the potential for much more. Could this fantasy endure?

Soon winter winds blustered ushering in new activities to explore with Rufus. He loved skiing and the thrill of racing with the wind. This created a relationship pause for me. Did I mention my fear of height and speed? Skiing is the ultimate insult. Should I flirt with this alpine sport? Could I subjugate my fears long enough to derive the same pleasure that Rufus did when he had the wind at his back? Or, would this become the roadblock to halt me in my transformational tracks? I could taste my dread just thinking about attaching smooth boards onto boots and navigating a slick downhill slope. Dare I cross my line in the sand?

“Bonnie, would you like to go to Ski Roundtop,” he asked one day.

“Sure,” I said without hesitation and my heart skipped a beat.

We shopped for ski gear the next week and I was outfitted to the nines. I was ready to challenge my adversary. Ski Roundtop, a short drive away in nearby Pennsylvania, was my chance to face demons and rise triumphant. Roundtop was no infamous Vail or Breckenridge ski resort. It boasted only paltry hills. Doubt seeped into my pores. Any snowcapped hill seemed like a treacherous black diamond slope to me.

The easy part, riding the J-bar lift to the top of the hill created no problem. Jumping off and looking down the slope. Now that was cause for concern. I developed vertigo in my body, mind, and spirit. My legs became lead and made doing the simple scissor dance that skiers do prior to the downhill drive an impossibility.  Rufus noted my reaction and realized I was paralyzed by fear. In short, we made it to the bottom only when he and I skied in tandem.

“Bonnie, if you really don’t like skiing, it’s okay,” he offered.

That wasn’t the point. I really wanted to like it because it was important to him and besides this was my relationship makeover journey. Quickly, my mind flooded with images of other things I had never mastered over the years, such as driving over bridges, riding a Ferris wheel, and dare I mention a roller coaster ride? The source of my dread was unknown, but my fear was real.

The next week while at lunch with a work colleague, a licensed psychologist, I discussed my predicament. He suggested a potential solution. I could try regressive hypnosis if I wanted to explore what blocked me from being all that I could be. Under this type of hypnosis technique you answer a series of questions hoping to trigger the memories that were the genesis for my feelings of trepidation. Once those were revealed then it was possible to tackle the fears.

I was game. I had everything to gain in my estimation. I focused on a positive outcome. Love can conquer all, can’t it?

Rob and I met at the clinic. After a few exercises I easily succumbed and settled into a hypnotic state. He began asking a retinue of questions probing my feelings related to my life at various ages and milestones beginning with my current age and progressing back in time. Initially no memories elicited negative responses. I began to question the potency of this practice. I saw hope slipping from my grasp, but Rob persisted in this jog down my memory lane.

“You are five now, Bonnie, is anything going on,” he asked.

Tears poured from my face like a wide-open spigot. It was spontaneous; it was visceral. My memories, so vivid!  It was as though I could again feel the cold bars of the crib in the quarantine ward where I’d felt imprisoned secondary to contracting a terrible virus. I had been ripped from my family and found myself in a sterile, stark room with fifty other kids. Each of us wore a similar mask of bewilderment and fright. Our conditions meant limited opportunities for human touch and no visitors were allowed at our bedsides as that could put them at risk for contracting the contagious germ. We had to settle for isolation and despair as our playmates.

“It’s okay. Tell me what is happening,” Rob asked evicting me from my reverie.

Between sobs I emptied my heart, describing my experiences as a hospitalized polio victim in rich detail. In the retelling I began to realize that I had believed my demise was my fault as only I five year old can. I determined that I must have done something terribly wrong to warrant my banishment to this chamber of misery. At some point, this immobile tiny tot vowed to remain “in control” of my circumstances no matter the cost. I would not allow myself to experience these feelings of abandonment, desolation, and disbelief again if at all possible. These overwhelming states would never cross my path again. Loss of control and any activity that hinted of it, such as falling from heights or whipping down snowy slopes would be avoided at every turn. This perpetual bargain of bargains was locked in my memory. Whenever I strayed from the contract, a persistent, unnerving voice rattled my being.

This cathartic moment resolved, and with Rob’s help I took painstaking steps back to the present. The recommendation for solidifying the benefits of this discovery meant immediate or near term participation in an activity that elicited my fears. A ski slope not readily available meant searching for an alternate in my smorgasbord of dread. Diving off the side of the pool was an appropriate candidate that fit the bill. I sought out the nearest pool, stood steadfast on the solid concrete platform. I defied the mental and physical grips on my composure and let gravity have its way with me. Lukewarm water surrounded me in a comforting cocoon of solace putting my fears into a state of suspension. I savored my victory and could not resist voluntarily diving into the pool sixteen more times. It was transformational.

In January 1982, Rufus and I skied our hearts out during an excursion to Montreal. It was glorious. My fairytale continued. I had tempered my demons and my relationship with Rufus and skiing flourished.

It is amazing how a new relationship unlocks a bounty of possibilities. New personal interpersonal chemistries change the order of things. It is a time of renewal, a time to cast away old ways and invite new challenges, discover hope, erase old patterns and strike out down new paths. My relationship with Rufus ended differently than it began. But that’s another story. Being with him did change my life in remarkable ways. It was the impetus to experience the joy of participation in a myriad of new activities. I created a new relationship with fear and loss of control. I reveled in my relationship with happiness ever after.

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Things Aren’t Always As They Seem

Things aren’t always as they seem. Let me explain.

Today’s dating scene for the ‘older’ crowd, those 50+ in age, demands perseverance and a strong personal constitution. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried many options to improve my odds of attracting elusive male targets. Some methods include video dating, blind dates, lunch dates, speed dating and online dating. I’d recommend any of them if you delight in being frustrated, disillusioned, and bewildered.

Dater beware. Prepare yourself for an assortment of washouts, failures, flops, and fiascos. Truth in advertising is suspect. Cynicism is difficult to escape.  Even eternal optimists like myself, are not immune to the vagaries inherent with these dating episodes. You can become downright jaded, but green is not my color!  Oh how I digress.

Is it possible there’s a strategy I haven’t considered?

Would you believe the revered Smithsonian Institution ventured into the dating business? Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but in 1992 this renowned association offered a course titled ‘The Friday Night Singles Meet and Mingle’ lecture series. Smithsonian events usually have lofty goals that center on a program’s educational content. Most of us were fixated on the circulating and socializing component that followed the lecture. Whether we learned something was not necessarily a requirement.

The associated cost for these programs generally meant that meeting like-minded individuals of similar backgrounds was likely meaning less-desirable clientele would probably not be inclined to attend such venues. I chose the program that offered information about the Mid-Atlantic States region. It seems that one obvious by-product meant that visiting these very locations could materialize at a point in the future by course pairings that developed as a result of this class.

The Shenandoah Valley, the first class subject, attracted a capacity crowd. I made sure that I arrived early in order to secure a good seat and a strategic vantage point to covertly scrutinize prospects as they entered the lecture hall. I wanted to increase my odds for amorous success.

The one-hour, fact-filled, slide-laden lecture ended. Now the match-making games could commence. Attendees filed out of the auditorium, slowly making our way to the reception. Eager and excited were badges none of us wanted to wear this evening.  The serving tables bore no resemblance to those at a gala celebration as the spread was less than bountiful. (I was referring to the food.) Instructors must demand decent wages judging by the quality of the wine and the meager bites masquerading as hors d’oeuvres.

I chose to join an innocuous unit of one unremarkable-looking gal and a young man both dressed in office attire. You can get overlooked in a larger gaggle. Our chatter centered on inane topics as is typical at these types of functions.

I’m not sure when I noticed, but I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye. He was headed straight towards me I was certain. I realized he wasn’t Sean Connery, but his smile was engaging, his eyes bright, and his face expressive. His nicely tailored suit spoke volumes. Shortly he landed right next to me and boldly introduced himself to the group. We exchanged introductions and slipped into casual repartee. His charm, wit, age and height proportions made him a convincing contender in my book. Gradually our group settled into pairs.

He asked me directly, “Would you like to get some real food?”

Well, he certainly had good gastronomic sense confirming that the paltry offerings were less than satiating after a long day’s work.

“Yes, but I don’t have my car.”

“No problem, I have mine.”

“Okay, that would be great.”

Right out of the gates, he was a winner because he knew the importance of moving on to greener pastures: a real dinner. Before you think I’d left my wisdom and judgment at the reception, this man generated good vibes and I felt reasonably secure I’d made a sound decision. I felt no intuitive dissonance. Besides axe murderers don’t usually wear suits. I was confident if things soured, I could make a quick escape to the nearest Metro (Washington DC public transportation) stop and head home before he realized what happened.

We continued our engaging conversation. He worked at the IRS. I’d made a note to ask him to give me some pointers later. I was certain he’d prove to be an asset at income tax time. I shared that I was in the military. This was an assurance that if he decided to pull any funny business, I could call in the reserves. I’m certain he considered that possibility.

“Have you ever been to the 701,” he asked.

“No, I’m not that familiar with restaurants in downtown DC,” I said.

“It’s a topless bar,” he remarked with no noticeable change in his demeanor.

I was stunned! His words stopped me in my tracks. He didn’t say what I thought I heard.  How could this satisfying package of testosterone suggest such an outrageous junket? Surely he wasn’t serious. Besides didn’t attending a Smithsonian course garner me a reasonable expectation, if not an almost certifiable guarantee, that such an outlandish spectacle wasn’t likely?

Now my personal GPS was fully engaged. I honed in on my surroundings to register where the nearest metro was. I was incensed and insulted, more than I was fearful.

Within minutes we parked the car. I eyed the nearest metro, but decided to hedge my bets and at least validate my suspicions about his character. As we approached the door, he opened it gallantly and we walked into the establishment.  The room was noticeably absent neon lights, chrome poles, and loud, garish music. Nothing in this suspect establishment fit my expectations. Was I mistaken or were the tables adorned with linen covers and napkins?

“Would you like to sit at a table or the bar,” he asked politely.

In rapid fire I responded, “The bar.” I assured myself a bar seat was desirable to insure a speedy getaway without creating an untoward scene. We continued walking to the rear of the room and finally reached our destination. I saw the bar. It was beside a sleek glass case with numerous shelves loaded with delicious, eye-catching fare.

He asked, “What type of tapas would you like?”

All I could do was grin.

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Seek the Silver Chalice

My gut grumbled incessantly and my mind swam in an ocean of doubt. Perhaps this was a fool’s journey. The status quo was not an option. My self-confidence see-sawed. Could I surmount my unremarkable past to envision a new horizon? I had postponed this action for two years now since graduating from high school. Would more preparation truly make a difference? Would I ever be ready for this test? The stakes were high, but delaying the inevitable would not improve my odds at the card table. I strained to hear the barely audible voice inside me. Was the faint refrain, you can do it; you can do it, sufficient enough to bolster my courage to climb a mountain whose apex seemed unreachable? Could I reach the summit and plant my dream-come-true into solid ground? 

I signed up for the test.

Three weeks later I waited in the crowded hallway listening to a flurry of conversation that belied the anxiety and apprehension of the group who dwelled there. Once we crossed the classroom’s threshold, quiet would reign. We filed into the room, found our seats, and began individual rituals to get our butterflies to fly in formation.

The test proctor broke the silence.

“You have four hours to do the best you can. I will inform you periodically about the remaining time you have to complete the test. You can begin now,” he announced and amid my speedway noises, I heard, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

 The industrious energy among the group was palpable. Heads bowed in sacred reflection scanned papers with printed words and blank circles arrayed on the right. Each testee placed lead marks in a determined order, hoping to create a score to the symphony of their future.

I dared not glance about the room for fear of being found out. I felt like a fraud. Who did I think I was kidding? I harnessed my fear by slogging through each question with the grand expectation of distinguishing the correct answer. Unfortunately, each question seemed to confound me, creating an apprehension that was almost paralyzing at times. My pencil hovered over responses for inordinate periods of time before I forced it to eke out a black mark in the appropriate A., B., C., or D. circle. My mind slowly turned to mush with each passing minute. It seemed I was on a fishing expedition without the proper bait and that I was simply guessing at many of the answers. The tedium of concentration was interrupted only when the proctor announced the remaining minutes or an individual signaled the need for a trip to the water closet.

“Time is up,” he finally said. 

I feared that my thousand-mile journey was over before it had begun.

The interminable waiting for the results commenced. Each day was sheer torture. I felt like an inmate on death row. My previous faint refrain soon changed from you can do it to you blew it. I was a caged lion waiting for my feeding time, but the zookeeper kept passing me by. Didn’t he know how hungry I was?

My moment of reckoning arrived. I caressed the envelope to my chest, hoping that infusing it with my boundless love might alter the dreadful message I feared it contained. Did I dare to open it and face the discordant music, no matter what?

I tore into like the voracious beast I had become over the six weeks. My eyes grabbed each word while I valiantly suppressed my despair long enough to comprehend the message. Were my eyes deceiving me? These scores were better than I had anticipated.  How wonderful.  But then doubt reappeared.  But were they good enough? Was it possible I could now take the next step? Should I schedule an interview with the school?

The stakes were high for this face-to-face meeting. I knew everything had to be perfect. My appearance, that ubiquitous first impression, had to be a homerun.  I feared my present sense of style lacked sensitivity and sophistication. I decided a trip to a high-end fashion store was in order. The sales staff would outfit me in a perfect ensemble so I would successfully close the deal. After numerous trips from the racks to the dressing room, I finally settled on an attractive new dress with a complementary scarf and vest. A soft beige crepe blouse topped the attached hunter green polyester skirt. It was unlike anything I had ever owned, and the price tag validated that. I still needed shoes and a purse since nothing in my meager wardrobe would suffice.  I searched finding the ideal items. My perfect interview outfit was complete with the addition of a pair of amber patent leather shoes and a matching purse. 

The day to knock them dead arrived and I looked the part in my “dressed-for-success” ensemble. The ride to Boston went according to plan, including a pit stop to pick up my good luck charm, Kathy. She had previously navigated these same waters successfully. I believed having Lady Luck at my side would make all the difference.

The waiting area was nothing special. I pointed to the closed door and remarked,

“That is the door to my future, Kathy.”

 She nodded in agreement.

“Bonnie,” the secretary announced, “Ms. MacDonald will see you now.”

I was anxious down to my fingertips, which was revealed when I greeted the woman with a nervous, wet handshake. This did nothing to bolster my confidence quotient. We sat down and the session began.  First, there was the usual medley of trite remarks, followed by the hardball interview. She might as well have been Dan Rather. Ms. MacDonald’s questions hit me like a barrage of bullets. There were no warm fuzzies floating in this atmosphere. Instead I was plummeted with a multitude of questions. Mere minutes felt like an eternity. We exchanged polite mandatory handshakes and I left the session feeling less than positive about the results.

I was held hostage several more weeks while I awaited the verdict, which would determine my life’s fate.  It would be delivered in either a bulky envelope with a stamp of approval or a six-cent postage stamp envelope containing a message of dread.

I spied him walking down the street laden with his bulky weathered, leather mail sack. Would he have something for me today, February 28, 1970? Why was he walking so unhurriedly or was I only viewing him moving in slow motion? He had no spring to his step which infuriated me. Didn’t he understand I was standing at the end of my sidewalk for a reason?

“Hi’, he said, I have something for you today.”

There it was. The envelope in his large, expansive hand was painfully thin, obviously containing only a single sheet of paper…

But that was enough…

“We are happy to advise you that you have been selected to attend Boston University.”

I grasped my coveted silver chalice ready to begin my new life journey with bold steps while listening for that recurring refrain, no matter how faint it may be: You can do it!  

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October Blog Challenge Participants

Jane Ann McLachlan
Joy Weese Moll @joyweesemoll
Amanda M Darling
Katie Argyle
PK Hrezo
Claudette Young
Kay Kauffman
Deb Stone    Twitter: @iwritedeb
Gerry Wilson
Susan Hawthorne
Satia Renee
Pearl Ketover Prilik

Rebecca Barray (occassional)
Lara Britt  (occasional)
Linda G Hatton (occasional)
Stephanie Ingram (Unable to join us now – maybe later)

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The Wrinkle Remover

Did you have any personal rituals as a kid?

Mine was removing wrinkles. It began as a mom-imposed task. After all, she had her hands full with three boys under the age of two and then there were the other three siblings, myself and two younger brothers. I was the oldest and the only girl. It was the late 1950’s. Certain tasks befell girls back then simply because these tasks were considered women’s work. This was long before the women’s lib movement and I don’t think it applied to me as a nine year old. So asserting my right to refuse this chore was not a viable option.  The major requirement of this activity centered on ironing white, button-down, long-sleeved shirts. These were the staple of the parochial school uniform that my brothers and I attended.

Each school night I would gather up these rather wrinkle-laden garments and head to the ironing board. The cause of the embedded wrinkles lay with the Laundromat washer.laundramat

The range of cleaning cycles limited to hot, warm, and cold. Contrast that to today. A plethora of choices include hot/cold, warm/warm, warm/cold/, and cold/cold and that doesn’t even account for further distillation with an array of whitest white, heavy duty, normal/casual, delicate, and hand washable settings. Downy fabric softener wasn’t available either and we wouldn’t have been able to afford it even so. The idea of miracle fabric was only in people with active imaginations.

The creasing demise was exacerbated by the Laundromat dryer. There were no special settings such as permanent press. The knobs allowed a simple choice of hot or hotter and I doubt that there was little difference between the two. Cotton shirts didn’t stand a chance in that heated metal cave.  dryer image





There was no escape from this tedious task of ironing. What’s a girl to do? I decided to learn to like it. Reframing it and tweaking my attitude towards it made ironing more palatable. I decided this practical approach was best since ironing would remain in my near and long-term future. With three in diapers, this task would not go away anytime soon.

I actually created quite the routine. Armed with a spray bottle of water and a hot iron I would tackle the collar first. I pressed with all my might as you can imagine a nine year old was capable of. Then it was on to the back of the shirt. This wide expanse of fabric relative to a kid’s size 7 shirt, offered me more latitude and I could gracefully guide the iron up by the shoulder seams, around the armholes, and down to the shirt tail. Could this be the beginning of a romantic relationship?

Now onto the front. This posed some challenges. Maneuvering around the buttons was a bit more bothersome requiring precise movements so as not to create ripples whenever I caught those plastic disks with the forward motion of the iron. This would inevitably necessitate additional girl-hours to remove them. Sure, I was beginning to warm up to the task, but let’s not be ridiculous!

I became rather adept and developed my own signature style of ironing. After all two shirts a night times 180 school days adds up. I’ll never know the tally of shirts I ironed, but I soon forgot how unpleasant task as I focused on my technique rather than surviving the ordeal. Since there was no escaping the task, having a good attitude made it more tolerable.

Today I remain an avid wrinkle remover. I’m not in the Guinness book of records, although I probably could be. In a world with miracle fabrics that allow you to jump into your outfit right out of the dryer and go, I continue to like the gratifying results I get from my iron maiden. In fact, I feel my technique is a type of art form.  Almost no piece of fabric is excluded from this heated, steamy regimen. Even T-shirts can be crisp like those little white shirts.

parochial white shirt

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No Ordinary Tuesday

Some Tuesdays are not ordinary.

My excitement was palpable as dad drove from Providence to my cousin’s house in nearby New Haven. Trips to the Conway home were a treasure trove of fun. This particular August weekend in 1955, I was not my usual perky five-year old self. Once we arrived, though, playing outside trumped being out of sorts, and off I went. Later that day my nagging discomfort morphed into chills and a slight headache. I wanted to tell Mom and found her in a spirited conversation with my aunt about an “I Love Lucy” episode.

“Mom, I don’t feel good,” I interrupted.

“Is it your stomach?” she asked. I had a history of stomachaches so naturally she thought this was the culprit.

“No,” I said.

“Let’s see if you have a fever,” and she placed her hand on my forehead.

My aunt offered, “Maybe she’s coming down with a cold.”

Mom rejoined, “Just take it easy.”

Relieved with that decree I guessed that whatever bothered me was of no major concern, I rejoined my young partners in crime. The weekend, complete with skinned knees, arguments about who hit whom and who started it first, and blatant pure fun, ended. It was time for goodbyes and mandatory thank you’s. Dad helped us corral our belongings and we piled into the car to head home.

Shortly into the ride, I whined, “I don’t feel good.”

My mom juggled my baby brother on her lap and turned around. “We’ll be home soon and you can get a good night’s sleep in your own bed. Why don’t you try to take a nap?”

Mom turned to my father, “I don’t know, Jim, she must be coming down with something.”

“Yeah, maybe so,” he said.

An exciting weekend along with the hypnotic rhythms of backseat riding performed magic. I slept the rest of the way home.

Monday morning routines resumed. Dad left for work and Mom began the numerous tasks necessary to raise three youngsters under the age of six. My brothers and I played games or watched TV. Fatigue, chills, and a slight headache teased me throughout the day while my mom remained vigilant for serious changes in my condition.

Tuesday dawned. I eyed my brother in the twin bed next to me and in unison we exclaimed, “Let’s go watch cartoons.” Ted raced to the living room. My younger brother wouldn’t outdo me, so I began to run.

I fell to the floor like a lead balloon. What happened? I was baffled and attempted to push myself up, but I couldn’t. Why was this happening? I thought I had a common cold. These symptoms were far from common.

Puzzled with my lack of mobility, I tried getting up again, but I couldn’t budge. Could I be dreaming, I wondered? The linoleum floor felt too cold against my skin not to be real. When I tried to turn my head, it moved like a ratchet wrench instead of a smooth swivel. I could see dust bunnies under the bed beside me as well as the metal legs of a chair nearby. I was confused. Getting up and going was always automatic. My bewilderment was laced with alarm and I needed answers. I shouted repeatedly, “Mom, Mom!”

Continuous efforts at moving proved futile. Sweat pooled under my chest and plastered my hair to my head. Exhaustion and frustration became my constant companions. Nothing worked. Tiny tears crept down my face and dropped to the floor creating a warm puddle under my cheek. I heard my mom stop at the doorway and struggled to turn my head. Her eyes were wide-open when she saw me on the floor. Within moments, she was at my side.

“Bonnie, what’s wrong?” Her hands moved rapidly along my arms and legs as if she was searching for something.

“I don’t know, I can’t move,” I said with a quake in my voice. “I was getting out of bed to watch cartoons with Ted and I just landed on the floor.” Overwhelmed by all of this, my tears began to flow like a wide-open spigot. Frightened and sobbing uncontrollably, I asked timidly, “Mommy, why can’t I move?”

“There, there,” she said in a reassuring, calm voice. She rolled me over and squeezed me tightly to her chest. I could sense anxiety as she lingered in the embrace longer than usual. Without saying anything, my mom gathered up my lifeless limbs and carried me to her bed.

“Everything will be okay,” she responded as every mother does to an ill child and lowered her rag doll onto the mattress. Her persistent fidgeting of the sheets appeared to keep her distracted as she contemplated about what was wrong with me.

“Just lie here quietly while I call Dr. Cohen. I’ll be right back.”

She exited briskly making it impossible for me to check her face for further clues. After she left, I laid in the bed trying to figure out this illogical riddle surrounding me.

Ted popped into Mom’s bedroom, stopped short of reaching the bed, and cocked his head like the RCA Victor puppy and asked, “How come you’re in here?” In rapid fire he said, “Don’t you want to watch cartoons?”

“I don’t know. Mom put me here and I’m waiting for her to come back. I can’t walk. She’s calling Dr. Cohen.”

“Oh,” he said as if none of this was unusual. “Do you want Gigi?” and he placed his beloved, well-worn Teddy bear next to my face thinking this would make it all better. His mission finished, he trotted back to the TV.

Now Gigi and I, the lone inhabitants on this island of paralysis, waited for my mom. She returned, sat down gently on the edge of the bed, and touched my forehead checking my temperature.

“You are a little warm.” She averted her eyes for just a moment as if to garner strength to deal with this peculiar reality.

“I called Dr. Cohen and he’s coming over as soon as he can,” she comforted me.

“Here, drink some water.” She propped me up placing a glass to my lips. Young moms often called doctors with questions and this situation required a house call. In an odd way, this put me more at ease because I was sure Dr. Cohen would give me a magic pill to make this nightmare go away.

Like two cooks watching for water to boil, we waited for Dr. Cohen. Initially she attempted to mask her anxiety by massaging my arms and legs. I focused on the muffled TV sounds emanating from the living room wishing I was there instead of this bed. We slipped into chatter about the weekend in Connecticut to redirect our thoughts until our miracle worker arrived. Our conversation halted when we heard the knock on the door.

My mom shouted, “Ted, answer the door for me.” She spoke louder than usual because of   the TV volume.

“It’s Dr. Cohen. Bring him in here, please.”

I sensed a strained urgency in her voice.

Finally, Dr. Cohen stood in the doorway. He was dressed in a dark suit and tie, not the customary white coat he wore in his office. He carried his black leather doctor’s bag. Mom stood to make room for him and their eyes connected. He nodded slightly, but I couldn’t decipher their body language. He placed his bag at the bottom of the bed.

“So, your mom says you had trouble getting out of bed this morning,” he said in a low voice as he popped the latch on his bag.

“Yes,” I answered tentatively.

I heard the familiar Ker ‘plunk when the sides of his bag dropped open. This was a sound I had heard on other visits to his office. I focused on him, thankful for the distraction, and watched while he rummaged through his bag to locate a specific instrument. He found it and put the ends of a stethoscope into his ears rubbing the shiny silver part with his hand. He always did this so it wouldn’t be cold when it touched my chest.

“Well, let me have a listen to your heart, okay?”

“Okay,” I surrendered. I knew this was part of the drill.

He dropped the stethoscope back into his bag and grabbed the funny-looking flashlight to look in my ears. I turned my head to the side but with difficulty.

“That one looks good, little lady. Let me see the other one.”

I again struggled to turn my head to the other side. He completed this procedure and dropped the flashlight back into his bag.

“Okay, I need you to touch your chin to your chest,” and he demonstrated what he wanted me to do. This was an unusual request. I understood exactly what he needed me to do. It should have been a cinch, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t do it even though I tried with all my might. At that precise moment, although no words passed their lips, my mom and he each knew immediately what was wrong. I looked up at him and then at my mom reading resignation and disbelief in their faces making it difficult for me to decode their meanings.

Words weren’t necessary. Mom realized an unwelcome guest, had entered our home. She knew a hideous virus had come into our house as if on little cat’s paws. My vague, nondescript symptoms now told a probably story. This master of disguise cast a menacing spell on unsuspecting individuals. A dreadful illness was spreading like wildfire in Rhode Island.

Her mind raced as she imagined the likely course her life would now take. After a short incubation period, those afflicted with this unruly fever could face mild to devastating paralysis to one or more limbs. When it attacked breathing muscles, victims were often condemned to a life imprisoned in metal canisters called iron lungs. My mom was now the newest member in a club she never wanted to join.

“Honey, let me talk to Dr. Cohen for a minute.”

I wanted to shout, No! I knew she would walk out, return, and tell me something I didn’t want to hear. They talked in whispers and I strained to grasp what they were saying, but to no avail. The minutes seemed like hours while I awaited the verdict. Dr. Cohen and my mom returned and I lay in rapt attention waiting for the judgment.

“Honey, Dr. Cohen says you need some special tests that they can only do at the hospital. You will need to go with him so I can take your brothers to Aunt Helen’s and Gramma can watch them. I’ll come see you as soon as I can. Do you understand?”

I was stunned. What kind of medicine was this? It seemed unbelievable that I had to go to the hospital just because I couldn’t touch my chin to my chest; getting a needle would be more welcome than this.

Dr. Cohen left the room and telephoned the Charles V. Chapin Hospital for Communicable Diseases informing them about their newest statistic: me. I would join 420 other unlucky Rhode Islanders, mostly children, admitted to the state’s largest polio ward.

A flurry of activity ensued. Mom bundled me up in a blanket like a mummy. I couldn’t move now even if I wanted to. Ted, hearing the commotion, entered the bedroom.

Mom looked up from what she was doing and said, “Ted, Dr. Cohen needs to take Bonnie to the hospital for some tests. I’m taking you and Barrie to Aunt Helen’s. You can stay with Grandma D. and I’ll go visit Bonnie at the hospital.”

Taking it all in stride, he said, “She can take my Gigi with her.”

“Thanks, Ted, that will make Bonnie feel a lot better.”

Mom carried her precious cargo with painstaking precision down the stairs from our apartment on the third floor. Dr. Cohen walked to his car and opened the door. My mom positioned me safely onto the seat, kissed my forehead, and reassured me that everything would be okay.

“Remember, I’ll be there right away.” She hesitated before she closed the door to savor this view of her sweet little girl. Mom stayed on the sidewalk and like a sentry, watched and waved as the car pulled from the curb, I saw tears in her eyes.

Ironically, Dr. Jonas Salk discovered his famous vaccine that year, but it was no consolation to families already victimized by polio.

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The Memoir Muse

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