Friday, September 10, 2010

Part 18 of "Miracle Boy”

Here's this week's installment:

… Perhaps it's not surprising my parents' marriage dissolves after seventeen years. It's 1972—practically everybody is divorcing! I'm nine years old, Alec is twelve. Dad, forty-four, is doubtless in the midst of a midlife crisis. Yet could my disability—the strain it puts on them, the differences in their reactions to it—be partly responsible? In those days, before disability-rights becomes a widespread movement, they are all alone, with no support system to fall back on, nothing but their wits and perseverance to guide them.

Before I'm born— before Alec, for that matter—Dad quits teaching freshman composition at Boston University to take the editorship of a new quarterly magazine called Apparel Arts, later renamed Gentleman's Quarterly, or GQ. The young couple moves to New York's Upper East Side. Paula lands a job at CBS television, where she works alongside celebrities such as John Houseman and John Frankenheimer. Richard Burton propositions her while she's pregnant with her first child (she turns him down), who will be named Jay Alexander—“Jay” after his late grandfather Jacob/Jack, though the family always calls him Alec.

When Paula, then twenty-five, brings her beautiful, brown-haired baby to Cincinnati to show her parents, she's greeted with faint half-smiles. "Don't you want to hold your first grandson?"

Molly has been having pains she won't talk about. With infant in tow, Paula has to drive her mother to the hospital; Sam won't go near the germ-ridden place or spend the money for gas, and Molly never had a driver's license.

She's diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Oh Lord! One of the deadliest forms, says the doctor, and highly hereditary!

Within months Molly, barely fifty, is dead. An indelible foreshadowing haunts my mother the rest of her days.

When I'm born, two-and-a-half years later—an adorable round head and sad blue eyes, with reed-thin arms and legs—I'm given the middle name Michael and Hebrew name Melech after Molly. "Benjamin" is after the obstetrician.


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