We moved over the summer and the change from one state to another was like a culture shock to me. Although both Kansas City’s are separated by a river, there are places where the river moves into Kansas and one can drive across state lines without seeing any water or crossing a bridge. In places, it’s very difficult to tell you have moved from one state to another unless you carefully watch for the Welcome signs in either direction. When I was eleven, the main thoroughfare between the two cities was down town on both sides of the river and there was no interstate at that time that circumvented the cities. So driving into Kansas and just reaching the west side of the bridge over the river, you would find yourself in downtown Kansas City, Kansas.
The buildings were not as tall here in Kansas and the streets were not four lanes wide in all instances. Somehow, Dad found the campus where he would take up his studies and we moved into a four-family unit that was one of four buildings forming a square with a large playground for the children in the center. There were swings and teeter totters and very little green grass. I was reminded of old black and white movies I had seen of military bases where all the housing looks the same and the only way you know you are in the correct building is to make sure of the number above the two doors leading into the structure.
Our home, a “modest” apartment, had one bedroom although it was touted as an apartment for a family of three. We were housed on the first floor and soon met our neighbors who lived directly above us: a minister—also studying to further his education—and his wife, a nurse at one of the larger hospitals in Kansas City, Missouri.
They became Mom and Dad’s friends but did not have any children. In fact, there were not that many children in the four building sector where we lived. However, the next complex over had lots of kids and they would usually end up playing in “our” little realm of the world.
Sixth grade started off just fine, although I was once again relegated to the sidelines during recess and the boys chose teams for baseball. Thompson was always the last one called on and I dreaded any thought of sports activities, biting my tongue every day when the recess bell rang and wishing I could just hide somewhere until recess was over.
The teacher seemed nice at first, although she was very demanding and made it clear who was in charge. Part of our sixth grade activities in the classroom included writing practices that she would time. We wrote and printed the alphabet, used capital and lower case letters for our ABCs and the last segment was always that thing known by all as “cursive” practices. I had no idea what “cursive” meant until we actually started the fun practices and I then found it easy. Although I was left handed and all childrens’ desks were made for right handed people, I somehow learned to turn my papers in such a way that I was not too uncomfortable in the desk-chair while we practiced our little hearts out. The “last” exercise of the practice assignments was drawing continuous circles across the page, making sure we stayed within the lines on the paper. I pressed so hard on the paper while making my circles that my wrist hurt by the time we were finished with our practices.
Since the school was just a short distance from home, I usually walked home for lunch if Mom had planned a “quick” meal, or Dad would pick me up if we were having something more grand for lunch. Usually, however, I would have a sandwich waiting when I finished walking home and the sandwich was most always my favorite: a cheeseburger with onion and mayonnaise. I think I either drank a glass of milk or Kool-Aid and then walked back to school. I enjoyed the surprise lunch Mom usually had waiting for me when I got home. Having been raised on hamburgers, onions and navy beans, this one particular day the burger was especially good and the onion slices were extra thick and had a real bite to them.
With a full stomach, I gave Mom a kiss on the cheek and walked back for classes, the first of which for the afternoon was writing. Some time during the afternoon class time that day while the other students were busy with their assignments, I needed to ask the teacher a question. When I raised my hand to get her attention, she motioned for me to approach her desk instead of speaking loudly and disturbing the other students; I saw nothing wrong with that and approached her desk to ask whatever my question was. Since it was so quiet in the room, I bent over closer to the teacher to ask my question so I would not bother the other students and I had only started asking my question when she loudly asked if I had gone home for lunch that day. Upon saying that I had, she raised her voice just a teensy bit more and said, “Please turn your head the other way. Your breath is making me as sick as a bunch of kittens.” For some reason, I could not finish my question, but just stood there by her side and quickly stood straight up and noticed that not only was the classroom silent, but everyone was looking right at me. I do believe if there had been a hole in the floor at that moment, I would have jumped in it if for no other reason than to hide my embarrassment. My face was bright red as I slowly walked back to my desk and made a mental note that day I would not approach her again if my life depended on it. I think she seemed to sense that feeling for the rest of the year went downhill from there. Having been the brunt of so many fatty jokes for so long, I retreated further into a hole so no one would bother me. Oh, I did my assignments, got average grades on my tests and “made out” through the school year, but never volunteered to answer questions that were posed to the class in general and never again went to the teacher’s desk to ask a specific question.
And, I almost made it through the rest of the year without incident until six weeks before classes ended. Unfortunately for me, I was playing with some of the kids on campus one Friday evening and being chased by two of the boys from another building. They delighted in chasing me, shooting rubber bands at me while I ran around the playground. In a way, I was having fun but was also feeling mental repercussions of being the fatty that everyone points out in a crowd. In one of my many trips around the playground, I was looking over my shoulder to see just how much distance I had put between me and my chasers when I tripped on one of the wire supports holding up the metal T-frame bars that were a part of the clothes line. As I fell, I tried to catch myself and put both hands in front of me to break my fall. In the past when I had fallen down, my hands had always not only broken my fall but slid across the grass, concrete or whatever I fell on; this time, my left hand did not slide and I felt a sharp pain in my left wrist. I was crying by the time I stood up and tried to dust off my pants, gain my bearings, tell the boys to leave me alone and head for Mom’s help.
When I got inside and Mom had brushed the tears away, I showed her my hand, but only the top of it; I could not turn my hand over to show her my palm because the pain was excruciating and there was a large knot just below my left wrist. Mom took me in the bathroom and ran hot water in the sink and I dunked my hand in the water and the warmth felt so good and made the pain go away—just a little bit.
I was not hungry and could not be consoled about the way I felt. At that point, I did not know which hurt the most: the boys chasing me and my falling for everyone to see that I was still a nincompoop and dummy, or the pain I was feeling in my left hand. Dad was home and studying for classes the following week as well as preparing his sermon for Sunday morning and evening services. I tried to sleep, and did quite well for a while until I turned over in my sleep and hit my hand on something; the pain became much worse and I began getting sick to my stomach.
By morning, my hand was no better—no worse, either—and had not swollen. The nurse upstairs knocked on our door, having heard of what happened the evening before on the playground. She looked at my hand and when she tried to turn my hand over to look at my wrist, I must have grimaced because she told Mom she thought I had broken my wrist and needed to go to the hospital.
Dad got me in the back seat of the car and Mom sat in the front seat as he drove to the hospital where our nurse friend worked. When we arrived, I assumed she had called ahead because another nurse was waiting to help us. She had us seated in the hall on one of the floors of the hospital and my wrist was hurting so badly I was ready to beg for something to stop the pain; the pain was far worse than anything I had ever experienced including my ingrown toenail experience.
A doctor finally arrived and asked what I thought was a stupid question, “So you think your wrist is broken? Hmm?” I could only nod as I looked at him through the tears in my eyes. He reached for my left hand and twisted my hand over so he could see both my palm and wrist and that’s when he noticed the knot just below my wrist. But for him, that was not enough. He pressed on the knot and asked, “Does that hurt?” I could only nod at him and the tears really began to flow. He admitted my wrist was broken and finally ordered a nurse to give me a shot for the pain. I think I would have kicked him somewhere on his anatomy if he had stayed close by me much longer. He disappeared down the hall and everything became a blur after the nice nurse gave me an even kinder smile and a shot that relaxed me so much I almost melted away on the floor.
The rest of the morning was a blur and I only remember bits and pieces of time and place while in the operating room. I was so out of it when they finally wheeled me into OR that I only remember someone putting a mask over my face and asking me to count backwards from one hundred; I believe I made to ninety-five before I was out. I do recall having a very vivid dream while they were stretching my hand to put the broken wrist bone back in place with weights. I was in a tank of some kind of liquid and found I could still breathe. However, I did not have a body, but was this little bubble that moved in a clockwise direction and every time my bubble reached noon on the clock, I rubbed against another stable bubble and then passed on around the clock in a circular motion again. The sound of our two bubbles meeting was much similar to that sound of someone rubbing a wet finger over a balloon to make the balloon squeak.
When I finally regained consciousness, there were staff all around me and I could see Mom through my hazy vision as the staff worked on me. I had no idea what they were doing, whether I was at home, alive, dead, you name it. I remember being sick and Mom holding a cold cloth on my forehead while others bustled about. Mom finally explained that I was placed on oxygen after getting to the recovery room because I had started choking from all the ether the doctors and nurses had fed me during surgery. To this day, I still get deathly ill if I smell anything that closely resembles the smell of ether.
When I was lucid enough to sit up in bed, I realized I had a new “friend” with me: the cast on my left arm from wrist to shoulder. It was heavy, cumbersome and warm and I began to itch. The doctor visited with me and Mom and told us he was able to make a “perfect” lineup so the broken bones would heal back together as they should. The only negative issue he brought up was that in years ahead I would probably be more susceptible to pain and arthritis especially during colder weather. I let most of that conversation go over my head because I had now a new trophy to carry around and make everyone envy me because “I” was the one with the broken arm, the one with the cast on it, the one they’d better be careful with.
And, I did get a resolution to the squeaking sound I heard during my “bubble” dream while in surgery: the sound was really not a squeak, but one of the controls on the oxygen they were giving me; it would hiss every few seconds and the hiss just happened to be timed in my dream to when I bumped into the other bubble.
Six weeks of school to go. Or I should say suffer. It was hot and I was miserable. My arm itched and I could not scratch it. Kids signed their autographs on my cast and the doctor gave me the bad news that after wearing the arm-length cast, I would need to switch to a cast only to my elbow because the x-rays showed there was still a hairline fracture that needed to heal further before doing without a cast at all. All of that was timed so well with school: six weeks of school, five weeks of the arm-length cast, five long weeks of hot, summer days wearing that darn cast from wrist to elbow. I did, however, wallow in the good news about having a cast on my left arm: there was no way Miss Ugly Teacher would make me do those writing practices. Oh, was I ever wrong! The first day back in class after “obtaining” my cast, Miss Ugly informed me I would do my writing practices with my right hand! I managed those practices although my circles didn’t stay within the lines and my grade in penmanship dropped significantly for the year: an F! Miss Ugly decided to fail me in penmanship; I guess that was her way of getting even with me for speaking to her earlier in the year with onions on my breath.
But, guess what? I’m “still” a Preacher’s Kid!