Once again, the pain in my lower back woke me from a fitful sleep. It had been getting worse for weeks. Our family doctor thought it was probably muscular. He simply ordered aspirin and bed rest. Fat lot of good that did me. I knew it wasn’t muscular. I knew it was something worse, but so far I hadn’t been able to convince anyone else of that, including my parents, whom I couldn’t persuade to get a second opinion.
Feeling the need to pee, I started to get out of bed. It was then that I realized I couldn’t move my legs; in fact, I couldn’t feel them. That really scared me. I called for Mom, but she didn’t come. I called again.
My sister Julie, who was a year older than me, came from her room next door asking what was wrong. Sobbing, I told her, and she hurried downstairs to get our parents, whose bedroom was on the ground floor. Soon, both Mom and Dad were in the room. When I told them what was happening, Dad pulled down the covers and told me to wiggle my toes. I couldn’t move them; I couldn’t feel them. He poked me with a pen on my legs. I felt nothing and I was growing more and more afraid.
Dad said he was going to make a call and left the room while Mom and Julie tried to comfort me.
I know I’ll never forget the date—September 27, 1969.
Soon, I heard a siren followed by the doorbell and then voices downstairs. Two men came into my room and did the same tests Dad had done. They asked me if I had fallen. When I said no, they asked if I had injured my back in some way. Again I said no.
They carefully checked my neck to be sure there were no problems there. Then very gently they rolled me onto my right side so they could put a board under me. The pain that caused in my back was excruciating, and I cried out. Then I wet myself. I was awfully embarrassed for doing that and for being such a baby. After all, I was seven years old, and I thought at my age I shouldn’t be crying, but I just couldn’t help it. One of the men told me not to worry about the peeing, saying they got that frequently, but I was still embarrassed.
The men slid the board under me and again I cried out. Then they rolled me back onto it and that hurt like hell! After they strapped me to the board, they lifted me onto their gurney, strapped the board to the gurney, and wheeled me out of my room.
“Where are we going?”
“To the hospital,” one of the men said. “They’ll fix you up.”
They seemed to be experts at getting me and the gurney down the stairs with a minimum of jostling. I tried very hard to be brave, but I couldn’t ignore the pain and twice I cried out. They loaded me into the ambulance, while Mom said my family would follow to the hospital.
“Can’t you ride with me?” I begged, but she said that wasn’t allowed, so there I was in the ambulance, scared and alone except for one of the men who took my blood pressure and temperature and felt my pulse while the other one drove.
I had always thought that riding in an ambulance with the siren screaming and with us zooming past all the traffic would be fun. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. Each time we went over a bump I felt pain shoot from my lower back all the way up to my brain.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was immediately wheeled into the ER and moved to another gurney. Then they slid the board out from under me, causing me to again cry out in pain. The men who had brought me said goodbye, wished me luck, and vanished. A doctor came in and did pretty much the same tests everyone else had done on my lower body, but he also moved up and tested the feeling and motion in my upper body. Finally, he ordered a shot for me, telling me it was a pain medication and would help me.
He left me lying there and went out of my cubicle. At first, I didn’t feel any effects from the pain meds, but eventually they began to take some of the sharpest pain away.
It seemed like a long time before the doctor returned, this time with my parents. While Mom held one of my hands and Dad held the other, the doctor said, “I’m quite certain that your pain is neurological and that’s something we can’t really deal with here.”
“What does newlodical mean?” I asked.
“Well, it has to do with your nerves, and I believe something is pinching the ones in the bottom of your spine. We’re going to send you to a hospital in the city where they are much better equipped to help you.”
“Can I be cured?” I asked, terrified.
“They won’t know until they do some more tests. We’ll give you another pain shot before you go.”
Mom and Dad stayed with me. I realized that Julie hadn’t come in and asked about her. Dad said she had to stay in the waiting room because there wasn’t room in the cubicle. A nurse came in and gave me a second shot, and soon I began to drift in space, or at least I thought I did.
I remember some men from the ambulance service coming in, putting me on a board, and then strapping it to their gurney, but I don’t remember feeling anything. I remember them wheeling me out and putting me in an ambulance and driving off.
I remember nothing about that trip. I felt like I was kind of awake but also like this was just a bad dream from which I couldn’t wake up. Finally, we stopped, and the men took me into another emergency room where they put me on a hospital gurney, removed their board, and left. I don’t think we talked at all the whole way.
The next thing I remember was Mom and Dad being there. A doctor came in and read something on his clipboard, and then said he was ordering X-rays and some other tests. By then, because of the meds I didn’t care what he said; I didn’t care about anything. He could have said they were packing me off to China and that would have been fine with me.
A nurse came in and changed my PJs for a gown which was open at the back. Then I was wheeled down a hall and around several corners, and the gurney finally came to rest beside a table under a big machine. Some men lifted me onto the table. One of them said that, while he was taking the x-rays, I should hold very still and that I wouldn’t feel anything—that they were only taking a picture. Then both men disappeared behind a wall. I remember hearing the machine sort of hum as I tried to lie still.
I got an itch on my nose which I really wanted to scratch but I didn’t move. Worse than that, I began to smell poop. Was it me? I realized there was nobody there I could ask. I imagined myself lying in my own mess, stinking.
When the man returned, I asked him if I had pooped. He said yes, but not to worry about it. He cleaned me up and gave me a new gown before I was put onto the gurney and wheeled back to the ER, where I was given another pain shot. A few minutes later I was turned onto my tummy and poked and prodded. Because of the shots, I didn’t feel anything, but I think maybe they stuck needles or something in my back. Although I was really spacey, I knew my parents were holding my hands and assuring me that I’d be okay. Silently, I wondered if that was true.
A doctor came and took my parents away. I don’t know how long they were gone. I remember that the pain medication was beginning to wear off. When a nurse came in to check on me, I told her that and she went to get another shot.
At last, the doctor and my parents returned. As my parents held my hands, I heard the doctor say through my fog, “Martin, we believe you have a growth on the bottom and probably the inside of your spine. We’re pretty sure it’s not malignant, but we won’t know for certain until it’s removed.”
“What does mleggent mean?”
“If the tumor is malignant, it could spread to other parts of your body, but we don’t think it is. We’ve had experience with these sorts of growths and usually they’re not malignant. But the tumor is pinching nerves and keeping you from having feeling in your legs, and it’s also preventing you from controlling some of your bodily functions.”
“What are those?” I asked.
He smiled a little and said, “It’s keeping you from controlling peeing and pooping. We’re going to take you up to an operating room in a few minutes and do what we can to remove the growth.”
“After the operation will I be able to walk again?”
He looked a little perplexed. Perhaps he was trying to think how to answer me without scaring me more. He finally opted to say, “We hope so.”
That didn’t sound too good to me, but the new meds were taking effect, so I don’t really remember much after that. I knew I was being wheeled out of the ER again, and for a bit I was able to hang onto the idea that I was going to have an operation, but things got increasingly fuzzy.
I remember being wheeled into a dark room with a bright light right over me. Again I was laid on my tummy. I heard people talking but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Someone stuck a needle in my hand, and I knew briefly that they were putting something into it. After that, I have no memories at all of what happened.
Slowly, I began to hear distant voices which seemed to come closer, but I know now that I was just waking up from the anesthesia. Finally I heard a voice right by my ear asking quietly if I could open my eyes. It took me a few seconds to remember how to do that, but when I did, I was in another room. I was still lying on my tummy. The light was somewhat brighter, but it didn’t bother my eyes. I heard machines pumping and beeping. Someone took my hand, and I peered around to see Mom looking down at me. I didn’t have much voice, but I asked if the operation was over.
“Yes, honey,” she said.
Honey? She never called me that. I was still pretty groggy I guess, because I kept wanting to go to sleep. Mom said that she, Dad, and Julie were going home to get some rest, but they would come back later.
“Can I see Julie before you go?”
“I’m right here, Marty,” I heard her say. I could tell she had been crying but I didn’t say anything. She leaned over and kissed my forehead, gave my hand a little squeeze, and said, “Rest now, big boy.” She always called me that, even though she was only a year older than I was.
They left and I really didn’t feel like a big boy. In fact, I felt like a very little boy, a very vulnerable, terrified little boy.
I closed my eyes and let the meds take over, and soon I was asleep again.
When I awoke, there wasn’t as much light in the room. I could still hear the machines, and I wondered what they were doing. Almost immediately, a nurse came in and asked me how the pain was. I thought a minute and was surprised that it wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been. She showed me a button I could push to call her if I needed something. Although I was still very frightened, I must have fallen asleep again.
I heard voices and opened my eyes. It was frustrating lying on my tummy because I couldn’t really see who was talking. My doctor squatted down beside me and flashed a light into my eyes. “Your eyes are looking better,” he said. “I think the strong drugs you were given are beginning to wear off.”
“When can I begin walking again?” I asked.
He didn’t answer that. Instead he said, “We’ll keep you here for a couple of days and then you can go to a regular room.”
I thought about that. Wasn’t I in a room? “If I’m not in a room, where am I?” I asked.
“You’re in a part of the hospital called the ICU, which stands for Intensive Care Unit. Many people who have surgery come here for a bit so they can get all the help they need.” He reminded me to push the button if I needed anything, and then he left.
I felt that I needed to pee really badly, so I pushed the button. The nurse came right away and asked what I needed.
“I gotta pee,” I said. I was sure I was blushing but maybe she couldn’t see that in the dim light.
“That’s okay,” she said. You have a catheter in you so go ahead and pee.”
“What’s a catter?”
“It’s a tube that runs from your penis to a collection bag, so when you pee, it will just go in the bag.”
“Oh,” I said. The word ‘penis’ had embarrassed me. I waited for her to leave, and then I peed. I realized that I could control my peeing and that was a good thing. It took me another day or two before I learned that I could also control my pooping. Unfortunately, no catheter would help with that, but the nurse was very calm and reassuring when she helped me with the bedpan. What puzzled me was that I still couldn’t feel my legs.
I don’t have any idea how long I lay there. A couple of nurses came in at one point and changed the sheets on my bed by gently rolling me first to one side and then the other. I was aware that didn’t hurt much.
The next time the doctor came, he pulled back the covers and did something at my feet. I guessed maybe he was tickling the soles to see if I reacted. Whatever he did, so far as I know, I didn’t react at all. Then he took something from his pocket and began poking me in various places. I didn’t feel anything until he got right up to my crotch. He was looking serious, and again I was frightened.
“How long will it be before I can feel and move my legs?” I asked.
“We’ll wait a little longer before we worry about that.”
I was worried already. “But what if I can’t move them?”
“In this kind of surgery, it usually takes some time for the nerves to function normally again, so not being able to feel anything yet isn’t unusual. We have to give it time. Don’t worry too much; it’s still early in the game.”
I didn’t stop worrying.
My family came and spent some time with me. Mom tried to smile but she looked really sad. Julie was unusually quiet. Dad just held my hand.
When they left, I think I felt worse.
Two days later, they all came back and soon the doctor came in. Everyone looked very, very serious.
The doctor said, “Martin, I have some bad news.”
I looked at him and said, “I’m not gonna walk again, am I.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Probably not. There’s a very small chance that, once some swelling in your back goes down, you might regain some feeling in your legs, but I’d be less than honest if I said I thought that would happen. The surgery was very difficult because the growth was not only around your spine but in it, wrapped around some nerves. It’s quite possible that a nerve was cut while we were operating, although of course we were trying to work very, very carefully.”
I knew tears were running down my face. I looked at my family and they were all crying too. I looked at the doctor and saw tears in his eyes as well. Mom and Dad and Julie were all touching me. Mom and Dad were holding my hands and Julie was gently rubbing my shoulders.
“If there’s any good news,” the doctor went on, “it’s that you’ve regained some control of your bodily functions. Also, the tumor was benign, which means it won’t spread to the rest of your body. Even so, we’re going to give the site some radiation and we’ll have to check occasionally to be sure it hasn’t come back, but it probably won’t.”
“So what’s Plan B,” I asked.
He even smiled a little before saying he’d help me work that out in the next few days.
My family and I were very quiet after that. What could we say? I started to think of all the things I’d never be able to do again—running with my friends, playing ball, riding my bike—the more I thought about it the longer the list grew and the sadder I became. Then the awful word came to me—‘cripple’. I was a cripple and would never get any better. I tried to control myself while my family was there, but after they left, I sobbed and sobbed.
A few days later, I was moved to a private room. I still had the button to call nurses, but they didn’t come as promptly as the nurses in the ICU did. I guessed they were taking care of more patients than the ICU nurses were.
My family continued to visit me. During the day, it was usually only Mom, because Dad had to work, and Julie had school. In the evenings they all came.
One day when they were there, I asked, “How am I ever gonna get up to my bedroom?”
Dad told me that they were making some changes to help me. He was moving his office, which was on the ground floor, up to my bedroom so I could use his old office as my bedroom. That was good, because my parents’ bedroom was also on that floor. They’d be close by if I needed something. He also said that he had a couple of carpenters widening some doorways, especially the one into the ground floor bathroom.
“Why?” I asked.
He fumbled around a bit and then said, “So your wheelchair will be able to get through the door.”
Wheelchair! I hadn’t even thought about that. In the night I did think about it, and finally decided that was a good thing because otherwise I’d be stuck in my bed for my whole life.
The doctor visited me every day and was very careful to answer all my questions, at least the ones I was brave enough to ask. Would I die earlier because of the tumor? Not if I was careful to exercise as much of my body as I could. Would my legs just fall off at some point? No, but people would need to exercise and massage them for me. If I have no feeling in my legs, how would I know if I hurt one? The person exercising me could check for that.
The more I asked, the worse I felt. I was doing a lot of crying, although I tried not to do it when I had visitors. I guess the nurses knew though, and I imagine they told my parents.
I didn’t know the word ‘depression’ back then, but I certainly do now. Ever since I was in the hospital, I’ve been dealing with it. It always lurked in the back of my mind although it’s intensity and frequency diminished over time.
When my radiation was finished the doctor told me I was going to a rehab hospital. Of course I asked what that was. He explained that the people there would help me rebuild my strength, learn how to use a wheelchair safely, how to get around, and especially how to take care of myself as well as I could.
“Does that mean I’ll always need someone to help me?”
“Probably you’ll always need help bathing, getting into and out of your bed, and getting into and out of your wheelchair. Things like that.” He looked at me very seriously for a minute and then said, “Martin, you’re a very smart boy. You ask good questions and you listen carefully to the answers. Your body may not be doing what you want, but your mind is. There’s still a whole world out there to learn about and enjoy, and you can do that, even from a wheelchair. Just keep using your brain to explore the world around you and you’ll be okay.”
I wasn’t convinced I’d be okay, but I nodded. I knew he was trying to get me to think positively. I heard later that surgeons often don’t have a good bedside presence, but my doctor certainly did, and as I grew and adjusted, I was very grateful to him. Now and then I sent him a card or a little note, and he always took the time to answer.
In October, I moved to a rehab hospital. By then I knew that, as long as I was in a hospital, any modesty I’d had was out the window. Nurses helped me with my urinal; they helped me with a bedpan and wiped my bottom; and they gave me sponge baths. At first, anytime a nurse did one of those things, I was mortified. I mean, they were even washing my butt hole and my friend between my legs. Sometimes I even got stiff down there, but they never seemed to notice at all. They just went on with their jobs.
All of them were friendly, and after I got over the embarrassment, I was grateful to them. Sometimes I wondered how all that would work at home, but I decided taking one step at a time was probably best for me. One step at a time? I wondered. I knew I would probably never take another step.
Phillip Thornburg was my main physical therapy trainer. I had to smile at his initials, which I thought were perfect for the job. He worked me hard. He always pushed me to try as hard as I could. I told him I wanted to try walking. He looked doubtful but said I could certainly try.
He got some braces and some special shoes, putting them on my legs and feet as I lay in bed. Then he helped me into a wheelchair, and I wheeled myself down to the large PT room with him walking beside me. He helped me wheel into an apparatus which had two parallel bars, one on either side of me. Hanging down was a metal bar, like a chinning bar.
Standing in front of me, Phil instructed me to use the bar to pull myself up. I could barely do it, and I realized then how weak I had become, but I did it and hung there with my feet touching the floor. Then he told me to transfer my hands, one at a time, to the parallel bars. Finally he said I should try moving my feet forward. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t do it. I tried by turning my body first to one side and then the other. My feet didn’t move. Well, they turned as my body turned, but they just hung there and didn’t gain any traction.
My arms were growing weak as I hung there, so Phil helped me sit down again. By then I was in tears once more.
We moved to other equipment meant to help build my upper body strength. There was one that was like a giant adjustable spring with handles on the ends which I was supposed to hold and stretch across my chest. There were also chin-up bars to build my arm strength. As I grew stronger, I could pull myself up from one bar to the next until I reached the top of the apparatus. Always, when we finished, Phil massaged my legs, working the muscles.
Mom visited me every day, and on weekends, Julie and Dad came too. I usually tried to be cheerful while they were with me because I knew I needed them and I wanted them to come back. I thought somehow, if I wasn’t cheerful, they might stop coming. I was wrong of course, but I couldn’t help thinking I was a cripple and eventually they’d just discard me.
Each day, I tried to walk; each day, I failed and wept. It took me over two weeks to accept that I wasn’t going to walk again. When I finally believed that, I became even more depressed. Ever since my surgery I had held out before me the idea that, if I worked and tried hard enough, I would eventually be able to walk. Now I knew I never would.
When Mom came into my room that day, she found me bawling like a baby. She just reached into my bed and held me, comforting me and talking to me very quietly.
I don’t remember all that she said, but the gist of it, which she repeated over and over, was, “Martin, we all love you and we’ll all help you deal with this. Your life isn’t over. There’s so much you can accomplish.” I guess my tears finally stopped and I just lay there wondering if it was possible for my body to run out of tears.
She stayed a long time. She called Dad and he and Julie came in the evening. They all assured me that, no matter how depressed I got, they would always love me and be present for me. By the time they left, I was feeling a little better.
I did continue my PT, of course, usually with Phil. I knew he was doing everything he could to help me, and I really appreciated that. Slowly, my arms grew stronger. Practicing with my wheelchair, I learned how to get into and out of it from my bed with only a little help. He cautioned me to always be certain the chair’s wheels were locked before I tried to get in or out.
He taught me how to wheel to the toilet and how to get onto it with a minimum of assistance. He produced a long chair which he put partially into the bathtub, leaving one end out on the floor, and taught me how to move onto the chair and slid along it until I was in the tub. He showed me how to use a sprayer on a flexible cord to wash myself. He also showed Mom how to move and massage my legs to help their circulation.
Finally, a few days before Christmas, he said, “Martin, you’ve done very well. I know you’re disappointed, but you’re learning to adapt to your situation. Don’t ever give up Martin. You’ve been working hard, and you’ll need to keep doing that when you leave here. Just take things one step at a time.”
Did he even realize what he had just said? Of course, I didn’t understand the word ‘irony’ at that point, but I smiled ruefully.
“Sorry,” he said, “bad choice of words, but do you understand what I mean?” I nodded.
“In a couple of days, you’ll go home,” he continued. “If you ever have questions, or need to talk to me, call me.” He gave me his telephone number at the hospital and then bent over, giving me a big hug. I hugged him back, long and hard.
When Mom came later in the day, I told her I wanted to give Phil a Christmas present. We talked about what it should be, and the next day she returned with a Christmas card enclosing a gift certificate to a very nice restaurant.
I told the nurse I needed to see Phil for a few minutes. When he came into my room, I said I wanted to give him a Christmas present because of all his help and understanding. Of course he told me I didn’t need to do that, but I insisted and handed him the card. When he opened it, he was very surprised and that made me happy. Again we hugged. I didn’t see him again for years, but I did write to him occasionally, telling him how I was doing, and, like my doctor, he always wrote back. I knew I was very fortunate to have such kind people helping me.
The next day I went home. My big surprise was that my parents had bought a van which had a ramp into the back. With that I was able to wheel into the van, turn forward, and strap myself in. The ride was certainly more comfortable than those I’d had in the ambulances.
At home there was a ramp up to the porch and another up to the front door. With Mom’s help, I settled into my bedroom. It even had a hospital bed which I could raise and lower. That helped a lot when I was transferring into or out of my wheelchair. A few times I fell trying to make the transfer alone. My family was always there to pick me up, check to see if I was hurt, and then help me into my bed or chair, but falling made me depressed for days.
My desk was there, and my dresser, and all my shirts and pants were in a closet with a door wide enough for me to wheel through. The clothes were hung low so I could reach them easily. Because our dining table was a little high for me yet, I had a tray which fit in front of me across my chair and attached to my chair arms. It held my plate, my glass and my silverware. Later, at school, it would be very useful for holding my work and my lunch tray. I was glad to be home, but I knew that I still had a long way to go. And from time to time I was still discouraged.
Christmas came two days later. I apologized that I didn’t have any gifts for my family, but when I said that they all assured me having me home was gift enough. At that, I felt myself tearing up again, so I tried to think about them instead of me, and that helped a little.
Of course I received gifts from my parents and Julie. Although she was only a year older than I was, to me she seemed very grown up. She gave me a couple of books I’d never heard of, but later I enjoyed them a lot. I thanked her, and when she hugged me, I kissed her on the cheek. My parents mostly gave me clothes, although there was also a hand-held electronic game. I don’t think my parents had ever given me clothes for Christmas before, but after all, what do you give a wheelchair-bound cripple?
In the afternoon our doorbell rang, and to my surprise, two of my classmates, Connor and Jeffrey, came in, each with a package. They were the first kids I had seen since my surgery. At first they were a little shy. I think they didn’t quite know what to expect or say. But I greeted them warmly and they came over to me.
When I apologized that I had nothing for them, Connor said, “We don’t expect anything. Really, these are just an excuse for coming to see you. We’ve missed you a lot.” Then they handed me the gifts.
Connor gave me five comic books which made me very happy because usually my parents didn’t let me have comic books.
As he handed me a wrapped box, Jeffrey said he couldn’t think what to give me. Opening it, I saw that it was full of chocolate covered cherries. “How did you know these are my favorites?” I asked.
“I didn’t know, but they’re mine too, so I just guessed.”
I offered some to each of them. They each took one and then we chatted as they brought me up to date on what was happening at school.
After they left, I asked Mom if I would be going back to school soon. She assured me that I would go after the Christmas vacation. Thinking about it, I decided the hardest part would be going to the bathroom. Fortunately, there was a bathroom next to the nurse’s office, and Mom told me the nurse would be happy to help me.
When school reopened after New Year’s Day, Mom took me in the van. I attended a private school in my town. The lower school, up through fifth grade, was in a building which was all on one floor. There was a ramp going up to the door so I would have no problems as long as I could get someone to open the door for me.
Mom dropped me off at the ramp and then parked her van. She opened the door for me to go into the building and I was so glad she didn’t feel she needed to push me. As I wheeled down the hall with her beside me, some kids stared a little while others greeted me with big smiles. I guessed probably everyone in the building had been told what had happened and why I was in a wheelchair.
When I wheeled into my classroom, I was greeted by a chorus of cheers. Mrs. LeBlanc, my teacher, came up and gave me a big hug and then stood back as each of my classmates gave me a hug. I had had crushes on boys for as long as I could remember, even though there was of course nothing sexual about them. That day I especially enjoyed it when my current crush, Jeffrey, hugged me. I don’t suppose he knew I felt that way about him, and I certainly never said anything to him about it.
Mom talked to Mrs. LeBlanc for a minute or two, then said goodbye and left. Fortunately, she didn’t kiss me or embarrass me in front of my friends. I always knew I had a good, understanding mom, and she didn’t disappoint me.
In the middle of the morning, I needed to pee. Since the classroom door was open, I was able to wheel out of the room and down to the nurse’s office. I was embarrassed to tell her what I needed, but she didn’t bat an eye. She just helped me into the bathroom and onto the toilet after I had dropped my pants. She told me to call her when I was through. As I’d been holding off until the last possible moment, it was a great relief to pee, and I did a lot. When I finished, I called the nurse, who came back and helped me pull up my pants and get back in my chair.
When I returned to the classroom, the kids were just going out to recess. It was a cold day, so I put on my jacket and wheeled myself out. Connor waited for me, holding the outside door.
There was a covered area outside with a picnic table and basketball nets. I sat by the table watching some of the boys trying to make baskets. They were just growing strong enough to get the ball all the way up. At one point, I asked if I could try. When they all agreed, I wheeled myself over to one of the baskets, took the ball, and shot. Swish! Nothing but net! I knew then that doing the exercises every day was really strengthening me.
They wanted me to join the game, but I wasn’t ready for that yet, so I thanked them and wheeled back to the table. There were always kids and at least one teacher at the table so I never felt alone.
Over the next few days, the boys and I figured out how I could play in the basketball games, and from then on, I was always on a team. As I got better and better at shooting, I was soon one of the first boys picked when we chose sides.
There were two other buildings we regularly used. One was the art building, which served the whole school, and the other was the lower school gym. I wasn’t able to participate in many of the activities during the gym classes, but the boys showed the coach how I played basketball and from then on, when they played basketball, I was able to join. Although I was certainly no artist, I did enjoy the art projects and chatting with my friends as we worked.
The school year passed until my birthday in the middle of May. I wanted to have a party. Mom and Dad thought about it a little and then agreed. We had a big rec room in the basement. The party was going to be on the Saturday before my birthday. Dad carried me down to the rec room before the kids came, and Mom brought my chair. There was a bathroom there too if I needed it. It’s funny how I never used to think about where bathrooms were until I had my surgery. Since then I’ve always checked to be sure one was available.
All my classmates showed up about 2 o’clock and came pouring down the stairs. They put presents for me on the ping pong table. With Mom and Dad directing things, we played the usual games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey and suction darts. They were careful to choose games in which I could participate.
After I opened my presents and thanked everybody, Julie brought down ice cream and a cake with 8 lighted candles. When we had eaten all we could, it was time for the kids to go. The first one to leave was Jeffrey. He gave me a hug before he went, and I hugged him back, extra hard. All the kids hugged me as they left. I don’t think I’d been hugged that much before excepting on my first day back at school.
When school got out for the summer, Mrs. LeBlanc sent me home with some textbooks and my math workbook so I could use the vacation to catch up with the class. Connor and Jeffrey were frequent visitors, and when I didn’t know how to do the math, they were very willing to show me.
We had a swimming pool in our backyard, and I asked my parents if I could use it. Dad said I could certainly try. After I had a bathing suit on, he carried me into the pool, where I held on to the edge. Of course I couldn’t stand on the bottom, but I was able to hold on to the sides of the pool or paddle around with a modified legless dog paddle. I loved the way the water supported me, including my useless legs, as I swam around. Dad cautioned me that I should never go in the pool unless there was an adult there, and Julie didn’t count because she wasn’t strong enough to help if I got into trouble.
I soon knew that summers were going to be boring for me. I was depressed, but I didn’t tell my parents because I really didn’t want to take the drugs. What could I do to entertain myself? Sometimes, if I could convince an adult to watch me, I used the pool. Occasionally, Connor, Jeffrey or Julie swam with me. I enjoyed the unintentional skin-to-skin touching with Connor and Jeffrey. Sadly for me, a lot of the time there was no adult available to watch so I couldn’t swim as often as I wanted to.
I read a lot and worked on the schoolwork I’d missed while I was in the hospital. Dad taught me how to play chess. Sometimes I played with Jeffrey. He and I were pretty well matched. I always learned a lot when I played with Dad. But there was too much time when I had nothing to do. TV didn’t appeal to me, especially daytime TV. I tried to get interested in the Red Sox, who were popular with most of my friends, but that didn’t work very well. So, as I said, much of the time I was bored. The summer, which I had previously anticipated as a time of freedom, became a time of captivity instead. That summer passed very, very slowly, as did those that followed.
Like all boys, even very little ones, I occasionally masturbated. I learned early on not to do it in public. I had no idea anybody else was doing it. As I grew older, I did it more frequently. I was intrigued that my cock grew hard when I did that. One summer day, when I was twelve and lying in my bed at night, I did what I had so often done before. I pushed down the covers, opened my pajama pants, and began playing with myself. Suddenly, I began to feel like I really had to pee, but when I got set with the urinal, I couldn’t pee. I just felt a little throbbing in my cock and that was all.
We didn’t have Sex Ed in schools back then and I had never asked my parents about sex because I would have been mortified, so I had no idea what was happening when I played with myself.
In the weeks that followed, the feeling gradually grew stronger, and the throbbing became more powerful. Then one night, when I throbbed, I also squirted a little bit of white fluid. As the nights went by, I shot more and more fluid. I used tissues to clean myself off, but I didn’t hide them because I didn’t know what was happening. I just dropped them on the floor beside my bed. I did know I really liked the feeling I was getting, so I began masturbating every night.
One morning, when Mom came to help me get up as usual, she picked up the tissues on the floor, sniffed them, and then kind of smiled before she threw them in the trash.
That night, instead of Mom, Dad helped me into bed. When I was under the covers, he did a very unusual thing. He sat on the edge of my bed looking at me.
“Martin,” he said, “I think we need to have a little talk. In fact, I guess the talk is overdue and I’m sorry about that.”
I wondered what he was talking about, but I tried to look interested.
“Martin, you’re a growing boy and I think you’ve begun to have an experience which all boys have around your age.”
Again, I looked puzzled and tried to figure out what he was talking about.
“I think,” he said, and then he paused before he took a deep breath and went on. “I think you’ve been having erections and have been masturbating and ejaculating. Am I right?”
He didn’t sound at all upset, but I had no idea what words like ‘erections,’ ‘masturbating’ and ‘ejaculating’ meant.
“What do those words mean?” I asked.
So he went on to tell me, in somewhat graphic detail, what they meant. He defined the words and used the word ‘semen’, which he also explained, while I wanted to vanish under the covers. Finally he said, “Martin, all boys masturbate, and ejaculating is a perfectly normal bodily function. You don’t need to be embarrassed by it. It’s okay, and, in fact, I’d be worried if you weren’t doing it.”
Well, I was embarrassed, very, very embarrassed, and I’m sure he could see me blushing. Finally, he moved the wastebasket right beside my bed, kissed me on the cheek, said goodnight, and left.
I lay there feeling chagrined. We had, of course, never had a talk like that before and I hoped we’d never have another one. As I was trying to calm down, I realized that, without thinking, I had pushed down my covers, opened my pajama pants, and begun rubbing my cock while I pictured Jeffrey, naked. In a very short time, I came, or, in the words of my father, ‘ejaculated’, shooting a string of semen onto my stomach. I sighed, wiped myself off with the tissues, tossed them in the wastebasket, and tried to go to sleep, thinking about masturbating.
Later I learned the terms boys usually used, like ‘jerking off’ and ‘cum’. Of course I had known the word ‘boner’ for years. Often after I jerked off, I fell asleep quickly. That night I didn’t. I lay awake for hours, thinking about jerking off and watching the clock as it moved slowly towards midnight. At length I felt myself begin to grow hard again, so I moved the covers and the PJ bottoms, and jerked off again. I didn’t get as much cum that time, but it was the first time I did it twice in a short period of time.
After that, I was able to go to sleep. I slept soundly until morning.
Of course, when I awoke in the morning, I had another boner, so I took care of it with Dad’s approved method and then began to get ready to rise and shine.
In the weeks that followed, I continued my nighttime activities. As the summer progressed, I realized I was shooting more cum and sending it farther. In fact, one night just before school began, it shot so far it hit me in the chin, nearly landing in my mouth.
All through the summer I swam when I could, read, and played chess with anyone I could persuade to join me in a game. I had gotten pretty good and I often won. Occasionally I even beat Dad. But summer continued to be a time of boredom and captivity for me, and I looked forward to the beginning of school.
By then, Connor had become my crush and I tried to be with him whenever I could. He was filling out more than Jeffrey and I thought he was quite good looking.
When school began and I was in seventh grade, I occasionally heard boys talking in low voices about jerking off. They never seemed to talk about it, however, if I was in the group, and I wondered if they thought I couldn’t do it.
One day at recess, when I overheard them, I wheeled over to them and said, “You guys, do you know I can even hit my chin when I cum?”
They looked stunned for a minute and then laughed. From then on, I was more a part of the group than ever.
It was in seventh grade that I became a basketball junkie. I went to all our junior varsity home games and some of the varsity ones. Besides my interest in the game, I enjoyed watching the boys, who usually wore just T-shirts and rather skimpy shorts. At halftime in our JV games, I wheeled out onto the court and shot baskets, while one of my friends retrieved balls for me. As the winter wore on, I grew better and better.
Dad took me to a professional game at the big arena in the city, which had some of the first sky boxes. His company owned one of them. We took an elevator up to the sky box level, and I wheeled into the room. There were steps down to the lower seats in the box, but I could sit behind the seats and see everything. There was even delicious food to eat. I was fascinated watching the patterns of offense and defense from above. That trip got me interested in the pro teams. From time to time, Dad and I would go to a game. That went on for several years.
On the first day of eighth grade, as I was sitting at a lunch table with some other boys, I noticed a new boy sitting at another table. Certainly not for the first time, I reacted to a boy by thinking he was cute. From where I was sitting, I could pretend to be looking at Connor but look right past him to the new boy. He had a mop of dark brown, curly hair which flopped over his forehead. From that distance, his eyes appeared dark. I later learned that they matched his hair. I could see he was already one of the taller boys in the grade, and he filled out his T-shirt nicely. His face was expressive, with a cute smile, and I loved the little mole down low on his right cheek.
Before we left the dining hall, I asked Peter, who was sitting next to me, if he knew who the newcomer was. “His name’s Ben Haskell, and he’s a great basketball player. His family just moved here.”
“How do you know so much about him?”
“He and his family moved into a house across the street from us. He and I shot baskets all summer, and he’s really, really good.”
I thanked Peter as I prepared to take my tray to the washing area. Ben Haskell, I thought. How can I get to know him? I knew where Peter lived and thought about trying to wangle an invitation to his house sometime.
At the end of the school day, I managed to time my departure from the building so Ben opened the door for me. We said hi, but that was all.
For the next week, I chatted up Peter. I invited him to my house to swim on the weekend while the weather was still pretty warm. He came, and as he and I and Julie played around in the pool I got a chance to chat him up more and realized he was a nice kid and becoming a good friend.
When we finished swimming, he invited me to his house the next Saturday. I asked my mom and then accepted, praying it wouldn’t be raining that day.
Saturday dawned clear and cool. At about 10 o’clock, Mom took me to Peter’s house. My luck was holding, because Peter and Ben were shooting baskets in Ben’s driveway. As Mom drove away, Peter invited me over. For just a second I worried about bathrooms, but I put that behind me and wheeled over to Ben’s driveway, where Peter introduced us.
Ben and I looked at each other, simultaneously smiled, and said, “Hi.” Ben moved closer and shook my hand. “I’ve seen you around school, I’ve held the door for you, and I’m glad to finally know your name.” Then he asked something I hadn’t been expecting. “How long have you been stuck in that chair?”
I was taken aback for a moment. Usually, people scrupulously avoided mentioning anything about my disability. Finally I said, “Since I was seven.”
He nodded and I expected that he might ask why. He didn’t. Instead he said, “I’ve noticed that you get around really well in it. You must have some good upper body strength.”
It was my turn to nod before saying, “Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Peter tells me you’re a pretty good shot with a basketball. Wanna play HORSE?”
So Peter had told him about me. I wondered what he had said, but I didn’t ask. Instead I said, “Sure.”
Of course, the rules for the game vary locally, but basically, HORSE is a game in which one person takes a shot at the basket from anywhere on the court. If he misses, the ball goes to the next player to try a new shot. If, however, he makes the shot then the next player must try to make the same shot from the same spot. If that person misses, he gets an H and is on the way to spelling HORSE. Each miss of a previously made shot results in a letter. When a player spells the whole word, he’s out of the game.
Ben handed me the ball and told me that since I was the newest guest I should go first. I suppose he was expecting me to just take a layup right near the basket. Either Ben or one of his parents had painted a foul line on the driveway. I moved down the driveway about three feet behind the line and shot. Nothing but net!
Peter had to try then, and he missed it, so he was an H. It was then Ben’s turn to take a new shot. He moved over to the lawn at one side of the driveway about parallel to the foul line and took a shot. Swish.
I had a little difficulty getting up on the lawn, but Peter helped me. I sized up the basket and shot. Nothing but net!
So then Peter had to try it. Again he missed.
The game went on, but Peter soon spelled HORSE and was out. He amused himself by retrieving the balls that Ben and I shot. The two of us continued, and I think we both enjoyed the challenge. I know I did.
A couple of turns later, Ben took a hook shot. I had never practiced those, but I tried anyway. I almost made it, but the ball rolled off the rim and out, so I had an H.
Ben took another shot and missed, so it was my turn to set the challenge. There was a shot which I was pretty sure nobody would try in a game, but I think all boys tried it at some point. I wheeled my chair to the foul line and turned it so my back was to the basket. Then I took a breath and shot over my head. It hit the rim, bounced up, and went through.
Ben shook his head a little and tried the shot. He missed, so he too had an H.
We challenged each other for quite a while. We seldom missed, and it took some time before we were both at H-O-R… Finally, Ben tried another hook shot and made it.
This time, I thought through the shot before I took it, trying to tell myself in slow motion just how the shot should go. Finally, I took it. The ball bounced off the backboard and through the net.
Neither one of us got to HORSE before Ben’s mother called him for lunch and invited Peter and me to join him. Ben and I shook hands and he said, “Damn, you’re good!” I thanked him, smiled, and told him he was too. By then we were both sweating some, and I liked the way his T-shirt clung to his body.
I wondered how I would get into the house, but the step was low, and Ben pushed down on the handles at the back of the chair so the front wheels went up. Then he wheeled me forward until the back wheels hit the step. He simply lifted the back of the chair – and me – up and wheeled me into the kitchen, where lunch was set out on the table.
By then I was quite smitten with Ben, and in the following days, Connor faded into the background, although we remained friends all through high school.
The three of us ate and ate, while I tried to sneak looks at Ben whenever I could without getting caught. Clearly Ben’s mom knew about the appetites of growing boys. We also drank two bottles of soda apiece.
Perhaps because of the sodas, near the end of the meal, I desperately had to pee. I was embarrassed, but I told Ben what I needed to do.
Ben looked at his mom and she looked back at him. Then he said, “I’ll take care of this.” He wheeled me to a lavatory, but the door was too narrow to get the chair through. Without any hesitation, he moved in front of me, picked me up, and carried me into the toilet where he set me on the edge of the seat and proceeded to pull down my pants and my underwear. By then I’m sure I was bright red. He was seeing everything I had. Nobody outside of the hospitals except my parents and the school nurse, and probably Julie when we were little, had ever seen my cock, and it suddenly grew hard and stood straight out. Ben acted like a pro. He helped me slide back on the seat and told me to call when I was through. Then he went out the door.
My cock was still hard. I had to wait a bit until it relaxed enough so I could point it down below the seat and into the toilet.
When I finished, I called Ben, who must have been waiting right outside the door. He came in, pulled my underwear and pants partway up before he picked me up and somehow pulled them up the rest of the way. Then he put me in the chair, went back and flushed the toilet, and wheeled me back toward the kitchen.
“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked.
“I didn’t. I just did what I thought needed to be done, taking one step at a time, and it seemed to work.”
The three of us chatted some more at the table, munching on chocolate chip cookies before we went outside again to shoot some baskets.
When my mother pulled up about 4 o’clock, the three of us went to the car. Ben said he wanted to see how the ramp worked. I introduced him to Mom, and she showed him how she could push a button to lower the ramp. I wheeled myself in and strapped myself down before Mom raised the ramp and closed the door.
“Cool,” Ben said through the open window. I asked him if he could come over and swim with us when it got warmer. He seemed really pleased to be asked. He and Peter waved as we drove off.
“He seems like a nice boy,” Mom said. “Is he new?”
I told her he was and then told her how he had helped me in the bathroom.
After that, Ben, Peter, and I usually ate lunch at school together, often with Jeffrey and Connor. The lunchroom was terribly noisy. I blamed that partly on the architect who had designed the room with a high ceiling, a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, and no sound-absorbing panels. Sometimes, even though we were near each other, it was difficult to hear our conversation and we had to nearly shout.
At one point I asked, “Will you guys try out for the junior varsity basketball team?”
Ben said he definitely would. Peter said he wasn’t sure he was good enough, but he was going to try. Both Jeffrey and Connor said no.
When basketball practices began, I went to the first ones for both the middle school and the high school teams. Since they were in separate gyms, I split my time between them. In the middle school practice, Peter was having some difficulties, but Ben was clearly the best player on the court. Meanwhile, the varsity team was struggling a little.
On the third day of practice, Ben was missing from the JV practice. When I asked Peter about it, he said Ben was now working out with the varsity. I had never known that to happen before, had never seen a middle school player on the varsity.
As I watched the varsity practice, it was obvious that Ben fit right in and was even one of the better players on the floor.
When the team sat for a few minutes to rest, Ben came over and sat on the end of the players’ bench beside me. “How did you manage to get on the varsity?” I asked.
“I don’t really know,” Ben replied, “I was just told at the beginning of the JV session that I was going to try out for the varsity, so I came over here.” He gave his signature smile, adding, “But I’m having a blast!”
In the following days, it was clear that Peter was struggling, even though he tried hard. By the end of the second week, he was cut from the team. After that, I only went to the varsity work outs, with Peter often joining me.
The varsity coach was an excellent teacher, and I could see Ben absorbing new ideas, especially about positioning and anticipating on defense. He learned quickly and seldom had to be told something twice.
The more I learned about Ben and the closer we grew, the stronger my crush on him became. I had not accepted that I might be gay. When the thought occasionally occurred to me, I dismissed it, because, straight or gay, I felt I could never have sex with anyone. However, that never stopped me fantasizing about Ben when I jerked off, and I was just doing whatever came naturally to me.
The first varsity home game was not a league one. We were playing a team from a bigger school and their team had a lot more depth. Peter and I watched closely during the first quarter. Number 31 on the opposing team seemed to be scoring almost at will, and Ben was trying to guard him.
Because I was in a wheelchair, I was sitting right at the end of the varsity bench. Near the end of the quarter, Ben was taken out and given a breather. After he talked with the coach for a moment, he sat down next to me.
“God, that was awful,” he said.
“Ben, I think number 31 is left-handed. He always drives to his left and shoots with his left hand. I’m not even sure he can shoot with his right hand. Why not overplay him a bit to his left and force him to go right?”
Ben thought about that for a minute and then nodded.
In the second quarter, I could see Ben was trying what I had suggested, and it was clear that number 31 was getting increasingly frustrated. At last he tried to go right. Ben was right beside his left hand, so the boy tried to shoot with his right hand. The shot didn’t even make it to the rim. As the quarter went on, Ben continued to overplay to the boy’s left and the boy had no option but to pass or try to go to his right. By the end of the quarter, our varsity had nearly caught up and Ben already had 11 points, not at all bad for an eighth grader.
I saw the coach talking to Ben as the team made their way to the locker room. Ben said something and the coach looked over at me for a moment before they disappeared through the door.
At the beginning of the third quarter, our varsity went on a scoring binge and by the end of the quarter it was apparent the other team was disheartened. The fourth quarter belonged to us and we won by a large margin. Ben had scored 23 points. The team was exuberant as they left the gym for the locker room.
Peter and I waited for Ben to come out after his shower. He was smiling when he emerged and the first thing he said was, “Martin, thanks for the tip. I told Coach you had made it and he seemed surprised. I don’t think he’d even noticed you before, although you come to all the practices.”
In the subsequent home games, Peter and I always sat together. I couldn’t always go to the away games. It depended on how far they were and what Mom was doing that day. When she could, she took me and Peter.
Sitting right beside the court, it was harder for me to see the patterns developing than it was when I sat in the skybox at the pro games. But I learned to figure them out. It seemed to me each team we played had a limited number of set plays, and when one of their plays was disrupted by our defense, they had to improvise. The set plays often worked well, but the improvising was less successful. Occasionally, during a break, I would tell Ben what one of the set plays was, and he and his teammates were able to disrupt the other team’s offense.
One day, as Peter and I sat waiting for a practice to begin, the coach came over to me. He sat where Ben usually did. “Ben tells me you’ve been giving him some pointers during our games,” he said.
I just nodded, shyly. The coach had never spoken to me before, and I was afraid he was going to tell me to mind my own business. Instead he asked, “How is it you know so much about the game?”
I looked at him and said, “You mean because I can’t play?”
He looked embarrassed but finally nodded.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I know sometimes it’s hard for people to know what to say to me because of this,” and I patted the arms of the chair, “and it’s hard for them to know that I’m really just like everyone else. So I don’t mind you asking. I just wanted to get it out of the way.”
I went on and told him that, for reasons I didn’t really understand, I had become a basketball junkie. I had read every book I could find in the town library on the subject and had been ordering books from the bookstore. I told him about going to pro games with my dad, sitting in a skybox and watching the patterns on the floor. I ended by saying, “I guess, if I could play, I’d be a gym rat and you wouldn’t be able to get rid of me.”
He laughed and said, “Ben also tells me you can shoot really well.”
I nodded and was not at all embarrassed about it. I knew I could shoot better than a lot of the boys who were warming up on the floor. Then he said something that surprised me.
“Well, anytime you want to, during our warmups or at halftimes, you’re welcome to go on the floor and take shots. I can’t tell you that you can do that at away games because it would depend on the composition of the flooring, but your chair won’t damage our floor.”
I thanked him, we shook hands, and he departed, blowing his whistle as he left.
So after the practice, while Peter and I waited for Ben to emerge, I went on the floor and took some shots. I had practiced in the other gym before, but this was my first time on this court, and I was kind of pleased and, to be honest, excited.
From then on, when we had a practice, I was out there shooting during warmups. At home games, I would be on the court at halftime, and eventually, without realizing it, I became the halftime entertainment. I’d take foul shots and the fans in the stands would count the ones I made out loud. Sometimes even the fans for the other team joined in. One day, when the teams came back on the floor as I took a foul shot, the crowd shouted “Forty-nine” and stood cheering.
Ben came over to me and asked, “Forty-nine out of what?”
I was reluctant to answer him, but Peter said, “Fifty foul shots.” Ben’s mouth dropped open and I could see him talking to the other players as they went onto the court. They looked at me with either awe or surprise. Privately, I was pleased, but I didn’t say anything to Peter.
Sometimes during warmups or games, the coach would come over, sit next to me, and we’d talk basketball. Occasionally he even invited me to sit in on a huddle during a game. If he then asked me something and I responded, the players looked at me with new respect.
After the day I made the forty-nine free throws, Coach introduced me to the team as the new free-throw shooting coach. He said a lot of games were lost when boys didn’t make their free throws. From then on, during warmups, I was on the floor giving tips.
I had never found making free throws particularly difficult. To me it was just a matter of practice and always doing exactly the same thing, so that’s what I taught. I’d ask a boy why he held the ball differently during his second shot than he had during his first. Whatever boy it was almost invariably answered, “Because I missed the first one.” I showed him how I held the ball and told him to always hold the ball in a way that felt right to him and always do exactly the same thing, even to how many times he bounced the ball before he shot. I put a lot of emphasis on position. “Find a position that’s comfortable and repeat it time after time.”
One day, one of the boys asked me why Wilt Chamberlin had never been able to make free throws. That was before our time, but of course I had read about him. I said I had no idea except that he kept trying different ways, even shooting under-handed one year. I speculated that he had just gotten it into his head that he wouldn’t make the shot and that he had approached the foul line thinking exactly that. “You always need to believe you can make the shot,” I added.
The boy, whose name was Tommy, thanked me and began practicing again. He was a junior, and juniors never had anything to say to someone who was not even a freshman yet, but from then on, if the space on the bench next to me was free, Tommy always sat there and we talked basketball.
By the end of the season, the team was doing very well and had made the playoffs for the first time ever. Mom took me and Peter to the first away playoff game and positioned me on the court next to the end of the bench. She sat behind me, watching the game and, unbeknownst to me, also watching me as I interacted with Ben and Peter and Tommy.
About five seconds before the game ended, Tommy was fouled. Our team was behind, 66 to 67. Tommy stood at the foul line holding the ball. Then he looked over at me. Turning back, he bounced the ball three times and shot. The ball went cleanly through the net, tying the game. Tommy looked over at me, bounced the ball three times, and took his second shot. Swish. We won!
After the boys had done the traditional handshake, Tommy came over to me, grinning all over. “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed,” he said, “but you told me to always do the same thing before I shoot. Well I do and I did. Every time I take a free throw, I look over at you first. If it’s an away game and you’re not there, I look over at where you should be. I’ve only missed three times since you taught me that.”
While the players were in the showers, I told Mom I wanted to wait for Ben so he could ride with us.
When Peter and Ben got in the car and had said hi to Mom, our talk was all about basketball. We chatted happily until Mom dropped Peter and Ben off. On the way to our house she said, “You really get along well with the players, don’t you?”
I hadn’t ever told her what I had been doing during the practices and games, but I could tell by her tone of voice that she was pleased.
At dinner that night she said to Dad, “Martin seems to have been keeping secrets from us.”
Dad raised his eyebrows and said, “Oh?”
So then I had to tell them what I did during the practices and games, how the coach sometimes talked with me and how he had made me the foul-shooting coach. Then I told Dad that it was all his fault because he had taken me to the pro games.
He laughed, saying, “I can’t take any credit for what you’ve learned and done. Like your mother, I’m very pleased and happy for you.”
We lost the next playoff game, so the season was over. At the end of the game, the coach came over and told me to be sure to return in the fall and to make Ben practice shooting with his left hand over the summer. I laughed. But then all the team lined up, shook my hand, and thanked me for helping them. I was flabbergasted. When I told Ben later, he answered, “Well, you deserved it. You were a real help. Did you notice how our free throws improved after you started coaching us?”
I could only nod and smile.
Despite my basketball involvement and my new friends, depression hit me from time to time. When it hit, I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and sometimes I didn’t. I lay in bed all day, and I must admit to feeling sorry for myself. Tears came easily and were unstoppable.
On those days I found myself worrying about my future. I felt as though I didn’t have any. I assumed that, when I finished school, I would continue to live at home with my parents caring for me. I felt like I was a burden on them, although they never in any way indicated that. What would happen to me when they died? Perhaps I would become a burden on Julie. I believed college was out of the question because I would always need someone to help me getting in and out of the chair, bathing, and so on.
Usually, just the one day was enough. I had spent a lot of time in bed after my surgery, and I knew if I didn’t make myself get up and exercise, I’d become stuck in my bed and helpless. I certainly didn’t want that, so I forced myself to get up. I didn’t go to school, and I had crying jags those days, but at least I was moving, and a day or two later I returned to school, not really wanting to, but realizing the work was piling up. Often, friends helped me pull out of a nosedive even though they were not aware of what they were doing.
During the summer, I invited various friends to come to my house and swim with me in the pool while Mom watched. Camron, Jeffrey, and Peter had come before, but Ben had never been to my house, so when he came, I gave him a tour of the ground floor. He was surprised by the hospital bed and wanted to try it, but I reminded him it wasn’t a toy, so he dropped the idea.
We all had a good time in the pool and Julie often joined us, sometimes with some of her friends. As I swam and played, I often found creative ways to touch Ben. What surprised me was that Ben seemed to be doing the same thing to me.
The pool became a hangout for our friends. Mom cheerfully made sandwiches and iced tea, and on a nice day we were in the pool from mid-morning till nearly supper time. If these visits did nothing else, they kept my depression at bay.
My bedroom was big enough so that my parents had added a single bed and I began to have friends over for the night, one at a time. At some time during the summer, each one of the boys came. It was good to have company but having someone else in my bedroom temporarily curtailed my masturbation sessions.
Ben visited twice. The second time he was with us, I just had to jerk off, so I did it very quietly. Then I became aware that, on the other side of the room, Ben was doing the same thing. In the dim light I looked over at him and caught him looking at me. We both smiled and went back to what we were doing.
Of course, I sometimes visited Ben’s and Peter’s homes during the day. Ben was working on shooting left-handed, so we played HORSE games where he and I shot with our left hands, but Peter could use his right. As the summer progressed, Ben and I both grew more adept. Ben was looking forward to the next basketball season with his improved arsenal.
In the fall we were all in ninth grade and in the high school building. I had a friend or two in most of my classes. I knew I could have a study hall instead of PE, but I convinced the vice-principal, who determined our schedules, that I wanted to go to the gym classes. When the boys were outside, I just watched what they were doing. When they were inside, I was sometimes able to shoot baskets or work on my pull-ups.
One of the reasons I wanted to go to PE was that I was becoming more and more aware of how attracted I was to boys, and I enjoyed watching all those lusty and probably horny boys playing and sweating. I often wondered if I were gay. I certainly hoped I wasn’t, but I decided it didn’t matter. I knew I could never do anything about being gay. I knew I could never have a partner. After all, who would want to have sex with a cripple? More depression.
The varsity team had a good year. I went to all their practices and home games and was again invited to coach the boys, especially the new team members, on making free throws. I was also invited into the huddles during games and occasionally asked for comments. As expected, now that Ben could shoot with either hand, he became a more prolific scorer and occasionally scored over 30 points.
All through the winter, each of my four friends came for overnights. Ben came several times. As it was winter and cold outside, we stayed indoors. Ben often looked at my basketball books and I always told him to borrow some, which he did. We also played a lot of chess. We were evenly matched and both of us were competitive, so we enjoyed the games.
In the summer, we were again in the pool, with lots of touching, especially with Ben. Other days we played HORSE. Rainy days were lonely for me, and usually caused me to feel down. But I got through them.
By fall I felt I had to talk with someone about being gay. I think my parents and Julie might have suspected, but nobody ever said anything.
It took me a long time to decide who to talk to and to screw up my courage, but finally one day, when Ben was staying over and we were in my bedroom, I took the plunge. I told him I had to talk with him. He sat on the side of my bed and looked at me, waiting for me to speak. Damn, it was difficult. I sat there trying to get up the fortitude to tell him. Finally, I took a deep breath and just blurted it out. “Ben, I think I’m gay.” Then I burst into tears.
He sat for a minute and I was afraid he might leave. Instead, he reached out and gently took my hand. When I stopped crying and had used tissues to wipe away the tears, I looked at him, waiting for him to say something, to pronounce my fate.
What he said surprised me. “Why are you crying?”
“Because I’m sad and I’m scared. I don’t want to be gay, but I am, and I’m afraid you’ll decide to have nothing to do with me.”
“Does it look like that’s what I’ve decided?”
I looked down at his hand holding mine. “Well, no, but I can’t make out what you’re thinking.”
He paused a minute before saying, “What I’m thinking is that you’re a beautiful boy, that I have a crush on you, and that I want you to be my boyfriend.”
I was stunned. The thought had never occurred to me. Ben? Gay? He was such a jock! He couldn’t be! “Why would you want to be a boyfriend of someone who’s stuck in a wheelchair and will never be able to have sex?”
“Who says you can’t have sex?”
I thought about that before answering, “I do. I don’t see how I can.”
“Okay, we’ll deal with that later.” Then, to my surprise, he leaned over and kissed me on the mouth. He lingered there for what seemed like a long time before he broke the kiss and leaned back.
“Will you?” he asked.
“Will I what?”
“Will you be my boyfriend?”
I was so confused, but I realized I was smiling, and my mood was quickly changing from deep sadness to becoming more and more joyful. I was ecstatic. Ben was the one I had been dreaming about; he was the one I visualized when I jerked off. I found I couldn’t speak, so I just grinned and nodded.
Smiling, he said, “Wait till tonight.”
That was the night we discovered that, if I moved over and we lay on our sides facing each other, there was room in my bed for both of us. That wasn’t the only thing we discovered that night. There’s an awful lot of things you can do without using your legs, and we had a great time discovering some of them.
When we finished our explorations, we kissed a final time and Ben moved back into the other bed. Neither of us awoke until morning.
After that, Ben became an increasingly frequent visitor at my house. I know my parents were happy that I had a real friend. I often wondered if they suspected what we were doing. I certainly never asked.
When school began in the fall, Ben and I spent as much time as possible together. We ate lunch together, we went through the school halls together, and, when he was in my class, we sat together. After a while, we began to get looks from some of the kids. There were occasional frowns; there were more grins of approval. Many of the kids were just curious, but they accepted us as we were.
During a basketball practice at the beginning of the season, Ben fell awkwardly, and I heard something crack. The coach went over to him and then asked one of the players to bring his first aid kit. Ben was in pain, but he tried to be stoic. The coach put an inflatable cast on Ben’s right wrist and then called Ben’s mom. She came at once. The coach helped Ben stand up and his mother took him out to the car. I wanted to go with him, but then my mother wouldn’t know where I was, so I stayed in the gym.
When Mom came to pick me up later, I told her what had happened, and after we got home, she called Ben’s mother to find out how he was. As she talked, she looked relieved and then handed me the phone so I could talk with Ben.
“Hey, Martin,” he said. “Thanks for calling. I’m fine. My right wrist was broken but it wasn’t a bad break, and I should be back playing ball after Christmas.” We talked for a few minutes more before we hung up.
In the morning, Ben met me at the school door, and we went together to our lockers. For once, I helped him with his lock and his books instead of his helping me.
He and l went to all the basketball practices and games. I could see he was frustrated at not being able to play, but he watched and listened as we discussed things we noticed.
I continued to practice shots during halftimes, and Ben or Peter retrieved the balls for me. By then I had quite a following and even had people tell me that they came to the games to watch me shoot.
For Christmas, Dad gave Ben and me a trip to a pro game and we sat in the sky box, watching everything attentively and pointing out things to each other. During time outs we made the most of the snack bar. Ben had never been to a pro game, so it was a special treat for him, and he thanked Dad repeatedly.
That night he stayed at our house. By then, we were both sleeping naked when he came over. Because of his cast he couldn’t really get into my bed, but he pulled my covers down and took hold of my very proud appendage. Slowly, using his mouth, he brought me off. I was in heaven of course, but I wondered what I could do for him. He just smiled and assured me that I didn’t have to do anything. Then he went back to his bed.
After Christmas, Ben’s cast was removed. At first, he was a little protective of his right arm, even though his doctor had told him the bone he had broken was now probably stronger than the one in his left wrist.
He quickly got back into practicing and, in his second game, he scored the one thousandth point of his career. Coach checked with the other teams in the league and found that Ben was the first sophomore to ever do that.
Earlier in the season, without Ben, the team had not been nearly as good and had lost several games, so they didn’t make the playoffs that year. They accepted that and just played hard and for the fun of it. As a result, they learned a lot and that would help the players returning the next year.
Summer passed with the usual swimming, basketball, and rainy-day chess matches. Ben spent so much time at my house and slept over so often his mother complained she missed him. Ben and I knew it was a joke, so we all laughed.
The depression seemed somewhat less that summer unless I thought of the future. I really didn’t see a future after high school, and I was reluctant to bring it up with my parents. Julie would be graduating in the spring, and I thought they should focus on her. Sometimes I felt guilty that I took so much of my parents’ concern and time and that she was left a little on her own. Mind you, she never complained, and we got along fine. Guilt is not necessarily a rational feeling.
I was usually a good student and did well in school. Mom had said at one point that, if I kept my grades up, I could get into a good college, but I just didn’t think that college was in my future.
My favorite course in my junior year was American History. The teacher managed to make what could have been a dry, boring subject interesting and challenging. I got involved in studying the Constitution and went into it in much more depth than we could in class. In addition, I studied the amendments and some of the Supreme Court decisions, such as Brown vs. Board of Education, which, while basically a decision regarding the integration of schools, also expanded the definition of rights. I learned too that the 1970s were a time of increased advocacy for the rights of the disabled. I pursued the question of those rights and found that our state legislature had changed the building codes so new and rehabbed buildings had to be wheelchair accessible. I thought maybe, if I could find a company in a new or rehabbed building with wheelchair accessibility, I could work in an office or something. But the issue of personal hygiene kept recurring in my mind, and I had no solutions.
This was the year that Ben and I came out as being gay both at school and at home. Our parents were fine with it. At school, we were the only ones who were out. Two others came out during the year and I sometimes wondered if, because Ben was obviously a jock, it helped the others take the plunge. Other than a very few dirty looks in the halls, we never had a problem.
When the basketball season began, I was once again at my post near the end of the bench. As I watched the first practices, I thought this might be the year we won the state tournament.
Sometimes at the lunch table the discussion now turned to what people would be doing after high school. We were aware that if we wanted to go to college, it was time to be thinking about where to apply and how to get in. All my friends were planning on going to college. When Jeffrey asked what I planned I said I didn’t know.
Ben stared at me for a minute before asking, “Aren’t you going to college? Your grades are certainly good enough.”
“You’re talking to someone who’s stuck in a wheelchair,” I reminded him. “How could I live in a dorm and get to classes? Remember, I have hygiene issues and I don’t see how I could deal with them.”
“You’ve gotta go,” he said. “We have to find a way.”
“Forget it. Maybe I can get a job in an office somewhere here in town.”
There was an embarrassed silence before Peter tactfully changed the subject.
I found I was most comfortable and involved when I was at the basketball court. Reflecting on that, I thought it was rather weird since I couldn’t play.
The team had a great year and even before the last two games, had clinched a berth in the state tournament. The coach began inserting into the lineup players who didn’t usually get much playing time.
In the last game we were way ahead when the coach turned to me and said, “Martin, borrow a jersey and get on the court.”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Are you sure?” I asked.
“Never been more sure of anything,” he replied, smiling.
I borrowed Ben’s shirt since he was on the bench at the time. I must admit I enjoyed the sweat and scent in his jersey as I wheeled onto the court. The kids in the stands who had been watching me shoot baskets for three years stood and cheered.
We inbounded the ball and I headed towards the basket. The other team didn’t bother to cover me. I guess they thought I couldn’t shoot. Were they wrong! I got a pass to the side of the foul line and shot. Swish. Nothing but net. The kids in the stands erupted.
The next time I got the ball, I passed off to our center, who drove towards the basket drawing defenders to him. Then he turned and passed to where I was, just outside the three-point line. My defender had left me, and I was wide open. Swish. Nothing but net.
In the five minutes I was in the game I scored seven points. At the end of the game, one of the other team’s players came to me and shook my hand, saying, “I thought your coach was putting us down, but you were great!”
We did win the state tournament that year. Of course, I didn’t get to play in it, but that was okay. I had had my moment of glory.
Ben kept after me about going to college and I asked him not to because the subject only depressed me, especially as I realized that we’d be parted when he went.
As spring approached, Julie was excited to graduate. She had been accepted at four schools and planned to go to one which had a strong chemistry department. Chemistry was her passion. She bought a new dress for the senior prom.
When she came down the stairs dressed for the prom, I realized she was beautiful. I don’t think I’d ever really noticed before. Her dress was lovely, and her eyes were sparkling with excitement. Her escort arrived in his tuxedo and managed to pin a corsage on her dress without stabbing her. After Mom had taken several pictures of the couple, they departed.
A week later, Mom, Dad, and I went to the graduation. A spot had been reserved for the three of us and my chair. As the seniors processed in wearing their caps and gowns, I watched, wondering whether I could even do that. Then they began to climb the steps up to the stage. My heart sank.
I don’t remember much of the ceremony after that. I was in a blue funk. We sat through boring speeches and the school chorus singing something and then the diplomas were presented. I remember Julie beaming as she walked across the stage to receive hers and my knowing I would never do that. I know now I was being pretty self-centered. I should have been happy for her, and in a way, I was, but I just couldn’t get out of my funk.
Ben still slept over frequently, and we continued our awkward pleasuring of each other. One morning when I woke up, Ben was not in his bed. I peed in my urinal and then called for help getting out of bed and dressing.
Mom came in and helped me. By that point I needed to shave about once a week, but I could shave sitting in my wheelchair in the bathroom. As she left me in the bathroom, she said, “You need to come to the living room when you finish here.” I wondered why but just shrugged and shaved.
In the living room I saw Mom, Dad, Julie, and Ben looking as though they were conspiring, huddled together and talking in low voices. I pulled up beside Ben and asked, “What’s going on?”
Ben looked at the others, who all nodded, and he began to speak. “Martin, you’ve told me many times this year that you didn’t think you could go to college. You threw up all sorts of barriers to even thinking about it. Well, I think you can.”
“But…” I interjected.
“Let me finish before you say anything,” he said gently. So I nodded but I was beginning to feel angry. He went on, “Mostly you’re concerned about what you call your personal hygiene. I get that. But if you had someone with you who could help you then that wouldn’t be a problem. I’m suggesting that someone could be me. We could room together, and go to classes together, and I could help you when you needed help.”
As he was talking, I was growing angrier and angrier. Even before he got the last words out, I erupted.
“You’ve been trying and trying to get me to go to college, and I’ve asked you over and over not to talk about it because it depresses me. So stop! Stop! STOP!” I wheeled around and went back to my room, slamming the door behind me.
I was steaming and it took me a while to calm down. I suppose Ben knew that, because I didn’t hear anything for nearly a half an hour. Then the door opened, and he walked in.
“Who invited you?” I grumped.
“No one, but I’m coming in anyway.” He sat on his bed and just waited.
Finally I said, “You just don’t get it do you?”
“I think it’s you who doesn’t get it. I think you’re scared of the idea.”
“Look,” I said. “You want to take care of me in college. You’d probably think that was the noble thing to do, and a lot of the guys would admire you for it.”
“Is that what you think?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes, I do, but it wouldn’t last. After a while you’d get tired of it all the time and you’d either resent me or you’d leave me. I’m a cripple. It won’t work!” As I was speaking, my voice was rising again, and I shouted the last sentence.
He just sat there, not talking, not doing anything but looking at me.
“Don’t look at me like that!”
“Why do you hide behind the word ‘cripple’?”
“Because that’s what I am.”
“No. That’s only part of what you are, but you’re right. If you let that word define you, you’ll never have a future.”
Even though I was angry, that brought me up short. I had always thought of myself as a cripple. If being a cripple was only part of me, what was the rest?
After waiting a few moments to let his words sink in, he asked, “Have you forgotten what your doctor and your PT trainer said? They both said you were smart and capable and to focus on that, not on your being unable to walk.”
I hadn’t thought about them for a long time. I’d even stopped writing to them, and I wondered why. At last I asked, “Why do you want to do this? What’s in it for you?”
“Because, Martin, I love you. I know we just had crushes at first, but I’ve grown to love you, so you’re what’s in it for me. And if you think I would do it because it was noble, you’ve got me all wrong. All I ask is being allowed to be with you, to love you, with everything that entails.”
“It wouldn’t be fair,” I said.
“Because you’d be giving up a lot of your college experience to take care of me, and I don’t think that would be right.”
“Look, Martin. I’ve decided this is what I want to do. It isn’t a matter of fair or unfair, right or wrong, it’s a matter of what I want to do. I want to be with you.” He paused for a moment and then said very quietly, “Martin, I love you and I want to do this. And if you won’t let me, then I’m not going to college either.”
I was shocked. Neither of us had ever talked about love, and that was the second time he had said it. We certainly had never done anything around other people that would make them think we were anything but good friends. We had never done anything to make me think that our sex was anything but sex.
“You don’t mean that,” I said.
“I most certainly do.”
I could feel my resolve weakening.
Ben got up, came to me, and gave me a big hug. “Will you let me do this, Martin? Can we do this together?”
Finally, holding him tight I whispered in his ear, “Ben, okay. I love you too and yes, we’ll do this together, although I have no idea how we’ll manage.”
Ben hugged me again and said, “We’ll just take everything one step at a time and figure it out, like you’ve been doing ever since your surgery.”
When we had both recovered and dried our tears, we went into the living room and told my parents and Julie what I had decided.
During the summer, Mom drove me and Ben to several campuses that weren’t too far away. Usually we were shown around by an upperclassman. We saw classrooms, elevators, dining halls, dorms, and even gyms. If we found a school that wasn’t really handicapped accessible, we listened politely but didn’t stay long.
By the beginning of our senior year, we had selected three schools we wanted to apply to. I had decided I wanted to become a high school basketball coach. I wasn’t sure anyone would hire someone in a wheelchair, but I wanted to give it a try. Ben wanted to be a PT trainer, like Phil, so we looked for schools with strong programs. We filled out form after form together. Each one required a personal essay and since they asked for different things, we had to write a new one for each application. They also wanted personal interviews, either at the school or with someone designated by the school, and they wanted high school letters of recommendation. Coach wrote glowing letters for both of us. For the interviews we chose to visit the schools. Ben drove the van and we felt the meetings went well. All the interviewers were interested in our situation. I was asked about coaching from a wheelchair. Both Ben and I told the interviewers what I had been doing with the varsity. They seemed impressed and assured us we could be roommates. The subject of our love never arose, but I wondered if they had figured it out.
Ben spent a lot of time with me outside of school. He learned from Mom how to massage my legs to keep my circulation going and how to inspect them to be sure there were no sores or cuts on them. He learned how to help me dress, how to bathe me, and even how to help with a bedpan. We knew I wouldn’t have a hospital bed in a dorm, but we decided I was big enough now that wouldn’t be a problem.
Meanwhile, I was growing more and more positive, even excited. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt depressed, and, while I assumed the depression might come back from time to time, at that point I didn’t really care.
Our basketball team wasn’t as strong in our senior year. We had lost several good players to graduation. But the team played hard, listened to the coach and me, and enjoyed playing together and the competition even though they didn’t win every game.
Nearing the end of our penultimate game, kids in the stands started chanting, “Martin! Martin! Martin!”
All the players knew what had happened before, and one of them came to me and offered me his shirt. While we weren’t ahead by much, the coach laughed and put me in. I scored six points in that game before the other team took me seriously. After that, I couldn’t get clear for a shot.
Unbeknownst to me, the team had voted and asked the coach to let me start the final game. Ben knew, of course, but he didn’t say anything. When the coach handed me a jersey and told me to suit up for the game, I assumed he meant that I might get in for the last few minutes if we were ahead. That wasn’t what he meant.
There I was, on the floor, starting the game. I was both nervous and elated. Ben had tipped off my parents, so they were both in the stands.
We worked the same play we had used before, with our center penetrating to the basket and drawing the defense before passing to me at the three-point line where I was open for a shot. Swish! Nothing but net.
After that, I was guarded closely. I had the drawback that I couldn’t really dribble the ball, so I always had to either shoot or pass it. I didn’t make every shot I took. Who does? But I made a fair number including three foul shots. It was the only game I played in where I scored in double digits.
Once, as I returned to the bench, I looked up at Mom and Dad. They were both smiling, but what surprised me was that my PT trainer, Phil, was sitting beside them. I waved and he smiled and waved back.
As usual at the end of the game, the two teams lined up and shook hands. My hand was shaken warmly, and I got a lot of pats on the back as well. No, we didn’t win the game, but we didn’t really care.
I couldn’t shower with the rest of the team, so I waited with Peter for Ben to come out of the dressing room. Mom, Dad, and Phil came down to me, and Phil gave me a big hug. I introduced him to Peter. “I told you that you could do a lot, but I never dreamed that you’d be able to do that,” Phil said pointing at the court. “You should be very proud of yourself.” Mom and Dad nodded, and I realized that I was. Phil hugged me again and left. From then on, I began writing to him and to my doctor again, telling them all about playing and coaching basketball and my plan to go to college. To this day, I still write to them.
In March Ben and I both received acceptance letters from two of the schools we had applied to. We decided which one we wanted to attend and wrote appropriate letters to the schools in return.
As we neared the end of the year, I began to worry about the prom and graduation. I certainly couldn’t dance, and I couldn’t walk up the steps to the stage.
When I told Ben I wasn’t going to the prom, he shook his head and said, “Of course you are.”
“But I can’t dance.”
“So what? It’s a big party and you’ve earned the right to be there, just like everyone else. In fact, you need to begin to think of yourself as just like everyone else.”
“But I’m not.”
“But you are. Like all of us, you have your strengths and weaknesses; like all of us, you have a good mind, better—I might add—than some of us; and like all of us you have fears and doubts. If you think you’re the only one in the class who has those, let me tell you—you’re wrong. We all have them, and we have to learn to live with them and, if possible, overcome them.”
“Yeah?” I challenged. “What are your fears and doubts?”
“Well, first of all, I think we all have them about going to college. It’ll be a complete change for us. Most of us have never lived away from home, and that includes you and me. And I have doubts about being able to play basketball at a Division 2 level. But I try to look at it as an adventure. Stepping out on my own. Being more independent. Making new friends. And those are all things you can do too.”
I guess I’d never thought of college as an adventure, but from then on I began to. Of course, when you’re on an adventure, sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t. Dealing with a challenge, that’s what an adventure is, and I decided I would embrace it.
I rented a tuxedo and prepared to go to the Senior Prom. Neither Ben nor I had a real date. We considered each other our dates. Ben had rented a tux too and had borrowed the van so he could drive me there. When he came to the door that night to pick me up, I said, “My God, you’re handsome!” Just looking at him made my heart beat faster.
He smiled and answered, “Well you’re pretty handsome too.”
After Mom had taken her pictures, we left.
When the prom began, I didn’t know what to do, so I sat on the sidelines. Ben would have nothing to do with that. He wheeled me out onto the floor, where he stood in front of me, just moving his arms to the music. Finally, I began to do the same thing. Of course. I couldn’t move my feet, but so what? I found I could still move to the music. I was dancing!
During the final dance, which was traditionally a slow one with dimmed lights, Ben and I danced together, facing each other and moving together. Near the end of the dance, he bent over, hugged me, and kissed me on the lips. Peter saw us and he and his date started to applaud. We just held the kiss and soon everyone in the room was clapping, even the adults. I’m not sure I was ever so embarrassed and yet so happy at the same time.
Three days later, there was a graduation rehearsal. I went because I was supposed to, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get on the stage. Wrong again!
The school had constructed ramps on and off the stage. I had learned at Julie’s graduation that the graduates marched in alphabetical order and the diplomas were given out that way. But for our year things were changed. Ben and I would process together. He would push me up the ramp, help me to my place among the graduates, and then sit beside me. We would receive our diplomas together and recess together.
And that’s just what happened. When it was our turn, the two of us were announced together. We went up to the principal and received our diplomas. Ben turned to the audience and said, “In case you’re wondering, I’m Ben.”
Not to be outdone, I said, “And I’m Martin.” People laughed and clapped, even our principal, who was not known for laughing.
During the summer, we bought clothes and supplies for college. My parents had given Ben the use of the van, which, although old, was still in good shape. Usually, freshmen were not allowed to have cars on campus, but the van had a handicapped license plate and we were an exception.
Right after Labor Day, Ben and I drove to college. We had little idea what would happen. We each had our fears and doubts. But so what?
IT WAS AN ADVENTURE!