Excerpt from 'Face, A Memoir,' Part Eight

 

This is Part Eight of my memoir, Face, which tells the story of my being hit by a car and severely injured as a five-year-old. You can read the book from the beginning here. In this excerpt, I talk about my dad.

 

Part Eight

July 11, 1961 - Surgeon’s notes: Dressing change is done under anesthesia to reduce trauma to the patient.

I am lying in my hospital crib. Dr. Kislov and several nurses surround me, and the doctor is peeling away the dressing on my cheek and eyelid. Gauze sticks to my cheek. He pries it, loosening it with water, slowly pulling it away, minute by minute. My skin holds tight. I want to cry, but the nurses hold my arms close to my chest and say: “It’s okay. It’s okay. Stay still, stay very still.” I do not want to stay still! I want to push them away from my face. But the nurses hold me tight. I cannot move. So I cry. But I cry with my mouth closed, my lips pursed and my breath held, because that is the way Dr. Kislov wants it. He is the surgeon, the chief revisionist, and I have no say in this restoration project.

 

When I found Dad’s list, I thought, This is so like my dad. Meticulous, careful to record every expense and include everything, down to my blood-soaked panties. Oddly, one thing is glaringly missing: my mangled bicycle. I can’t imagine that he would leave that off. Maybe some kind soul got rid of it so my parents wouldn’t have to confront it, and he just overlooked it when he was making his tally. Perhaps it was just too painful to consider. I don’t know. But today I wonder about it. About whether he considered the cost versus the emotional toll. Whether in some way ignoring the bike allowed him to cope. I don’t think he would have blamed himself. That wasn’t like my dad. But he may have overlooked it if someone discarded it in an act of kindness. And when he realized it was gone, he might have decided it was too late to include in an insurance claim.

The amount my parents had to pay overall—$2,086.48—was the equivalent of more than $16,076 today. It was a lot of money. They struggled to pay the hospital bills, despite the insurance payments. They were fortunate to have the security of the family business. Even so, with four children to feed, mounting medical bills were a burden. Perhaps, in intimate moments, my mom and dad talked about how they would make it through. How they would pay for the Catholic education they wanted for all their children, the uniforms, the schoolbooks. They did what they could to make it work.

Mom sewed a lot of our clothes, and Molly and I always wore hand-me-downs. Dad worked six days a week and Mom, who had an English degree, substituted at St. Joe’s to make extra money. I was oblivious to much of it. But as I got older, though no one ever said it, I began to understand at some level that the financial struggle was my fault.

Fortunately, the dry cleaning plant offered a steady – and over time, growing – income. Dad often left the house before 7 in the morning, and returned just before 6, when Mom would place dinner on the table.

When we were young, my dad’s job was to give Molly, Chuck and me baths after dinner while Cherie helped Mom clean up the kitchen. Bath time always meant lots of splashing, submarining and water on the floor. He loved to make us laugh. And he laughed just as heartily – until Mom would call up from downstairs and scold us for taking so long. He’d pull the towels off the racks and say, “Okay, out!” Once we were in our pajamas, he’d oversee our prayers and tuck us into bed.

When we were small, he’d snatch our noses and hold them behind his back, laughing as we pointed to his hidden arm. He would often get down on the floor in the living room and romp with us, laughing and letting us ride on his back. My mother would yell if things started to get out of hand. Then he would say: “Okay, kids. That’s enough. Go help your mother.” And we’d head off to the kitchen.

I have struggled to bring my dad to the page. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because he meant so much to me. He always was there, surrounding me with the sense that I mattered, that I was somebody worth loving. So many times since his death I’ve wished he was here to talk with, to discuss world events, or my job, or complain about one thing or another, to which he would always reply, “You have the power to choose how to see things, Marcia.”

He loved jelly beans, hard Christmas candies, and golf. He would stop on the street to pat the head of a stray dog. Would go out of his way to help an employee, lending money, advice, whatever was needed. He believed in God and Jesus and going to Mass every Sunday, and on that point he could be rigid.

He taught me to dance, though I could never get the hang of following his lead. To be honest, I never got the hang of following anyone’s lead, which some might regard as one of my many flaws.

He didn’t tolerate dishonesty. Once, when I was a teenager, he caught me in yet another lie about one thing or another. To my surprise, he told me to leave, to go away and not come back. We were standing in the driveway of our house near the lake, and I looked at him with disbelief. But then I realized he meant it. I turned, tears springing to my eyes, and I started to walk down the street away from the house. I had barely gotten a hundred feet away when I stopped and turned. He was standing in the driveway watching me. I ran back, sobbing: “Please let me stay. I promise I’ll never lie again.” He considered me for a moment, and finally said, “Okay.” I never told him an untruth again, until he was dying.

(Part Nine)

Excerpt from 'Face, A Memoir,' Part Seven

When my dad gave me the blue folder, I was surprised, dismayed, curious about why he waited until I was getting married to give me something so concrete, yet so powerfully mundane. Why did he save it? I don't know, but I'm grateful he did. It contained this list. (Read Face, A Memoir, from the beginning here.)

Part Seven

Week of 6/17/61

C. Jeanne Roslanic, special nurse 7 nights........................................ $126.00

Ruth Fairris, special nurse 7 days......................................................... $88.50

Mildred Tayor, special nurse 7 days..................................................... $126.00

Ambulance      ............................................................................................ $12.00

Clothes ruined, undershirt, t-shirt, shorts and pantie.................... $5.00

Mrs. Henry Medema, caring for children............................................ $10.00

Carol Black, caring for children............................................................. $5.00

Kathy Wirkutis, caring for children....................................................... $6.00

Housecleaning ............................................................................................ $5.00

Total               .............................................................................................. $384.00

 

Week of 6/24/61

C. Jeanne Roslanic, special nurse 4 nights......................................... $72.00

Mildred Tayor, special nurse 3 days...................................................... $54.00

Ruth Fairris, special nurse 4 days.......................................................... $54.00

Mrs. Medema, caring for children.......................................................... $10.00

Carol Black, caring for children.............................................................. $6.00

Kathy Wirkutis, caring for children........................................................ $7.00

Housecleaning ............................................................................................. $7.00

Total               .............................................................................................. $210.00

 

Week of 7/1/61

C. Jeanne Roslanic, special nurse 3 nights.......................................... $54.00

Mrs. McMann, special nurse 1 day........................................................... $18.00

Mrs. Medema, caring for children........................................................... $10.00

Carol Black, caring for children............................................................... $2.00

Kathy Wirkutis, caring for children........................................................ $4.00

Patty Wirkutis, caring for children......................................................... $1.50

Geraldine Green, caring for children..................................................... $3.00

Housecleaning ............................................................................................. $5.00

Total               ................................................................................................ $97.50

 

Week of 7/8/61

C. Jeanne Roslanic, special nurse 3 nights........................................... $54.00

Mrs. Medema, caring for children............................................................ $15.00

Carol Black, caring for children................................................................ $4.50

Kathy Wirkutis, caring for children......................................................... $2.50

Patty Wirkutis, caring for children.......................................................... $1.75

Barbara Green, caring for children......................................................... $1.50

Total               .................................................................................................. 79.25

 

Week of 7/15/61

Patty Wirkutis, caring for children......................................................... $13.00

Kathy Wirkutis, caring for children........................................................ $2.50

Geraldine Green, caring for children..................................................... $0.75

Carol Black, caring for children............................................................... $3.00

Total               ................................................................................................ $19.25

 

Discharged from Hospital 7/22/61

Dr. Kislov       .............................................................................................. $650.00

Dr. Crawford.............................................................................................. $195.00

Dr. Bond         .............................................................................................. $150.00

Dr. Askam      ................................................................................................ $65.00

Dr. Smith        .............................................................................................. $105.00

Hospital Expense .................................................................................... $1,302.92

Total               ........................................................................................... $2,467.92

Grand total      ........................................................................................ $3,257.92

 

John Hancock Insurance paid Hospital ........................................... $834.94

John Hancock Insurance paid Surgery............................................. $336.50

Total cost                    ........................................................................... $2,086.48

 

When I found Dad’s list, I thought, This is so like my dad. Meticulous, careful to record every expense and include everything, down to my blood-soaked panties. Oddly, one thing is glaringly missing: my mangled bicycle. I can’t imagine that he would leave that off. Maybe some kind soul got rid of it so my parents wouldn’t have to confront it, and he just overlooked it when he was making his tally. Perhaps it was just too painful to consider. I don’t know. But today I wonder about it. About whether he considered the cost versus the emotional toll. Whether in some way ignoring the bike allowed him to cope. I don’t think he would have blamed himself. That wasn’t like my dad. But he may have overlooked it if someone discarded it in an act of kindness. And when he realized it was gone, he might have decided it was too late to include in an insurance claim...

(Part Eight)

An Excerpt from 'Face, A Memoir,' Part One

“I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

As some of you know, I was severely injured as a young child and ended up having to endure twenty surgeries from the time I was five until I went off to college. I wrote a memoir about that experience—Face—and finished it three years ago while doing my MFA at Antioch University LA. I am in the process of revising it, but want to share it with you as I do. So, today’s post is the first part of Chapter One. I will be posting pieces from the book in serial fashion throughout the next few months. I welcome your feedback and thoughts.

Face, A Memoir

CHAPTER ONE

June 17, 1961

I had a brand-new bike, cherry red with chrome fenders: my first two-wheeler. Did my dad teach me to ride it? Did he run along beside me as I pedaled, holding the back of the seat until I found my balance, tipping from one side to the other, then finally discovering that middle place where you know you’ll never fear tipping again? I don’t remember. But I know it was a Saturday, the first day of summer vacation, because after breakfast my older sister went around the corner to her friend’s house instead of to school.

The heat and humidity of a Michigan summer already gripped the day. As I went out to the garage to get my bike, I could feel my blue t-shirt grow damp and cling to my back and stomach. When summer takes hold in Michigan, moisture settles near the ground, sucking everything down with it. By late afternoon, people would be sitting immobile behind screened porches, praying for the whisper of a breeze.

Mom had shooed my brother and older sister and me out after breakfast. We lived in downtown Muskegon, where neighborhoods were arranged in blocks of small clapboard or brick-faced houses, with alleys that bisected each block. The narrow streets were lined with tall maples and oaks, which scattered acorns and, when the temperatures dipped, dropped leaves like graceful magenta and citrine flags signaling the coming winter.

Our neighborhood was filled with kids, and it was never long before a dozen or more would gather. Soon there’d be a game – Hide and Seek, Hop Scotch, Tag – it didn’t matter. We’d play for hours, coming home only for meals. Adults didn’t worry.   

My new bike had a white basket on the front handlebars and red streamers that fell from the hand grips. I had finally mastered riding on my own and was anxious to show off for my friend, Annie, who lived across the street. But on the way, I ran into our neighbor, Mrs. Medema, who was sweeping the sidewalk in front of the apartment building next door.

“What a beautiful bike, Marcia,” she said. “And a two-wheeler! Wow. I noticed your dad was helping you balance on it. When did you take off the training wheels?”

“Yesterday!” I said, and smiled proudly. “I can ride all by myself now.”

“Well, that calls for a celebration. Want to come up for some cookies and tea?”

I liked Mrs. Medema. A widow, she lived next door and often babysat for us. She always wore a dress under an apron, stockings and thick black shoes. Her gray hair was cut short and curled. Three other widows lived in the brick building, but only Mrs. Medema paid any mind to us kids. She lived on the second floor, and her apartment was cozy and bright with sunshine. I parked my bike on the sidewalk in front of her steps and carefully set the kickstand. Then I walked up the narrow stairs with her, holding her hand.

The smell of freshly baked peanut butter cookies filled the apartment. My mouth watered as she took a blue-and-white ceramic plate from the cupboard and put four warm cookies on it – two for me and two for her. She reached for her blue bone china teapot above the stove, poured hot water from the kettle into it and filled a silver tea cylinder with loose Earl Grey leaves. “We’ll let it steep for just a minute,” she said. “Let’s go sit at the table.”

She carried the teapot and the plate of cookies over to a small table near the window, then turned back to get two tea cups and saucers that matched the cookie plate. She placed one cloth napkin beside each cup, and poured the tea.

“Is your mom busy this morning?” she asked.

“I think so,” I said, lisping. I had lost my two front teeth just a few weeks earlier. “Molly is crawling all over the place. And Chuckie keeps trying to break my toys.”

She laughed.

“Your dad at work?”

I nodded and bit into one of the cookies. My dad, my grandfather and two of my uncles owned Meier Cleaners. Dad worked every day but Sunday, when we walked four blocks to St. Joseph’s for Mass and saw my grandparents and most of my aunts and uncles and cousins. After Mass the families would linger in front of the stone-faced church, catching up on the week and exchanging the latest gossip. The monsignor, Father Stratz, would wander through the crowd in his colorful vestments, nodding and smiling at the adults. I didn’t like Father Stratz. Short and squat, he had a full head of gray hair, a thick German accent, and he scowled at the kids who ran between the adults.

A slight breeze came through Mrs. Medema’s screen as I bit into a cookie. I could see my friend’s house across the street, and then I saw her in the front yard.

I took a sip of the tea and ate the second cookie quickly.

“Thanks, Mrs. Medema,” I said through the gap in my teeth. “I have to go now.”

I ran down the stairs, grabbed the handlebars of my bike and pushed up the kickstand with my toe.

At the corner, I carefully looked for cars before crossing. I started into the intersection, where there was a four-way stop. A man and woman in a tan sedan had stopped at the corner. I was halfway across the street when he began to drive forward. I was so startled I stopped and watched. I didn’t understand why he didn’t stop. I shrugged up my shoulders and turned my body as if to fend off the blow.

 

Roscoe and Muriel Benn were driving home from the market. I imagine they were in a rush: Their children and grandchildren were coming that evening to celebrate their grandson’s fourth birthday, and Muriel was anxious to get home to clean and prepare.

They drove down Fourth Street to the stop sign at the corner of Fourth and Mason. As they approached the stop sign, Muriel was fussing.

“Can you go a little faster, Roscoe? I still have to make the cake and get the roast ready to go into the oven. You’ll have to help with the potatoes. This darn arthritis. I can’t work the peeler anymore.”

Roscoe pulled to a halt at the stop sign, paused, then drove forward through the intersection. Muriel heard a strange scraping sound. Then she noticed people on the sidewalk yelling at them. What were they saying? She rolled down the window. “Stop,” they were screaming. “Stop!”

Roscoe braked and the car came to a halt about halfway down the block. People were running toward them, surrounding the car. Muriel didn’t understand what had happened. 

“You’ve hit a child!” they yelled.

Muriel looked at her husband of forty years. His face was the color of fresh Michigan snow.

(Part Two)