Was it the fish oil or the walnuts that gave me away, or was the program on public television about how to strengthen the brain itself to blame for my undoing? If I knew then what I know now about juggling, might I have continued watching, or simply changed channels?
All things considered, after fifty-four years one does not generally have great expectations for change, or for much else than perhaps running out the clock with a splash of dignity and dash of grace.
Which reminds me of Joan Prescott. For those of you who attended Wilmington High School in Western Ohio in the early 1980s, you will surely remember Joanie. Think of the girl next door with a step up in bra size and a lot more class than your average pom-pom giggler. Big blue eyes and soft, milky pink complexion, full lips, comforting hips, coils of thick chestnut hair that caressed her shoulders and an uncommonly innocent smile.
We’d been up in her bedroom talking about why she was applying to Syracuse University when we heard her brother’s car pull into the driveway. After seeing each other only a few times, she wanted me to meet her pre-med brother in their kitchen, not in her bedroom. We started down the carpeted stairs, and in a not too aggressive gesture, I dropped my right arm over her right shoulder.
She turned, her eyes flashing a hail of anger sprinkled with disappointment. Then she slapped me. Not hard. I had never been slapped before. I didn’t like it.
The sting of her displeasure remained on my cheek long after her brother joined our artificial attempt at conversation. She walked me to my car later where I asked her why she slapped me.
She was suspicious of the question, than she revealed herself. “You tried to grab my breast.”
My hand had slipped down over her shoulder as she took the first step downstairs and glanced over her breast. I decided not to tell her that I had no feeling in my right hand, or arm, and had no idea I had even touched her. I was hurt. I felt like she should have trusted me, though there is little basis for any hormone-ridden, sixteen-year-old boy to claim innocence as a defense.
She was one of the most beautiful girls in the senior class and, until last year, was dating the captain of the wrestling team, who had died in a terrible boating accident the summer before.
And I was still angry. She should have trusted me.
I called and explained, in a disconnected tone, about my birth injury. I told her I was sorry, which I wasn’t. I generally took extra care not to put my right hand in harm’s way. It was none of her business, and I didn’t really like to talk about it. I resented having to expose my weakness or sharing a secret that made me feel vulnerable.
We went out on a date the following Saturday where, in the dark cool balcony of the Majestic Theater, she deftly guided my left hand under her blouse and over her abundant, warm breasts.
I hadn’t thought of Joan in many years, through one wife, several girlfriends that I adored though timing didn’t grace our future, to innumerable girlfriends whose tug on my heart was faint, to one who I learned days after our second date had reached out to take my right hand as we walked through Central Park in Manhattan where I had moved, and getting no response, pulled away and never returned.
The summer before Joan, I went to catch a pass and the football slammed head-on into my poorly positioned right index finger. A month later, the exact same thing happened to the ring finger on my right hand as it reached for a ground ball. I wanted to catch the ball. It would have been suspect if I hadn’t made any attempt, regardless of the outcome. That was the surest way to be the last kid chosen when sides were picked for the next pick-up game.
And this Sunday, like so many in recent years, I was having lunch at Café Yura on Madison Avenue in New York City after working out. It was the second Sunday in what was turning out to be a bitter, depressing November.
I was glad to have a job, modest as it was. Working as an economic advisor for a small not-for-profit organization had its advantages, which did not include a salary commensurate with my professional skills and insight.