Saturday, January 29, 2011

Part 39 of "Miracle Boy"

In Sunday's New York Times Book Review, a rant about how there are too many memoirs complains that we as a culture are obsessively over-sharing personal yet uninteresting details.


It may be true, but the reviewer unfairly blames the memoirists themselves. He should blame the publishers.

To me, the more important question is: Why do so many ho-hum memoirs get published when really good, important ones (like mine) go wanting?

And here's a soup├žon more:
When I return to high school, it's late-October. The weather has turned chilly and gray. The kids are already settled into a new routine, but there's little change from last year. It's the same teacher, Ekkehard Piening; the same kids—there is only one class per grade—and, at Steiner, the routine scarcely varies from year to year or, I suspect, generation to generation.

To my surprise, I'm greeted by an abundance of bonhomie. The essay I dictated to Mom about my hospital experience has appeared in the school paper, and my words worked their magic!

I have to wear the upper-body cast, which protrudes from my shirt, but I have no shame about it and the kids are accepting. At recess I have someone tip my wheelchair back against the wall to ease the pressure on my spine—doctor's orders—and even that goes smoothly. Plus my terrific attendant, Kenny, decides to stay on, despite the four-month hiatus. He doesn't stay with me at school but takes me there and back every day and works late when Mom goes out at night. A medical student on leave, he's smart and we talk about everything. He becomes the nice big brother I never had.

I begin to see how important the quality of my attendant is to my very quality of life.

Every second weekend I visit Stamford, where Dad's my attendant. Jeff is growing up, which is fun to see, but I have no friends and nothing to do there and it's boring. My friends have become very important to me.

With each year of high school my roster of friends increases. On warm afternoons and evenings we hang out in Central Park or on the museum steps—either the Metropolitan or the Natural History, depending on which side of the Park we're on. We drink Budweiser and smoke cigarettes, though I don't inhale. Most of the guys smoke pot. It makes me a little nervous when they're pushing my wheelchair over the potholes and bumps, but I never let on.

At school, one of my friends, Nanci, remembers my penchant for cartooning and wants a drawing of a shirtless Robert Plant, based on a magazine picture she cherishes. Flattered, I take special care on the important details, which doesn't go unnoticed. She squeals in delight when I present her with my penciled masterpiece. "Look—he even got the bulge in his jeans!"

Alec, still the big brain, aces his S.A.T. and will probably go to Harvard, like Dad. I don't want to go that route or be like that. I've learned to stop being a dork, trying to impress others with my intellectual chops, which I'm not sure I have anyway. The new Ben goes with the flow, lets the good times roll, and never forgets that misery and suffering are as close as my shadow.


  1. Ben-

    Great post. I read that article yesterday. As a frequent consumer of all things memoir, I find that any story is worth telling. The author of the article makes the absurd assumption that memoirs are written to evoke sympathy. It's not about making people feel bad, it's about making them feel at all. Don't we just write so we can relate?

    At any rate, I love the line "It makes me a little nervous when they're pushing my wheelchair over the potholes and bumps, but I never let on."

    Can't wait to read more.


  2. Thanks, Kati, and please keep spreading the word. We've got to convince publishers that there's a world of readers out there who, like you, are waiting for more… (At least I hope so).

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