"Dreaming America" by William Fry

It's as if the artery in my head blew up to save me from myself. Here. I. Am. Wake up to a birthday inoculated by a paralysis inoculated by cost management. It still amazes me how little doctors know about paralysis.

Here, we'll hook you up to electric diodes to "activate" your muscles.

Daddy, when can I come home? Honey, you are home. You're here. But I didn't feel home. I didn't feel like I did before. But there was the dry wall, the carpet, the warm light. There was the lawn. There was the car. There was my room.

I'm often wrong.

Here, we're going to shoot BOTOX into your arm so you can accentuate the use of your wrist muscles.

I can't close my hand. I can't... close my hand. That's normal, don't worry about it.

Still can't close my fist.

We need to document your paralysis for your insurance company.

You need to prove I'm a cripple?

No. We need to prove how crippled you are.

The monitor next to your bed 'blip blips' with the rhythm of the American dream and as you lie sleepless listening to the wail of death surrounding you you keep checking that monitor. Keep checking if the dream is still there. Keep checking if you are in fact still alive, or if the faux existence dreamed up in your head has given up the ghost and you can get back to the nothingness you once were.

Brothers and sisters the worry here, at this hour, is whether Brother Lehman and Father Mac can save they own ass or if they stick it in ours. Take 700 billion for the team, you know? We didn't know that Arrogant Ignorant Goliath's were running the show until now. But shit, they got us under a pressure cooker now cuz, though we may be broke out off our own surpluses, we's about to get broker. Now I know what your saying my brothers and sisters:

What the fuck do I care about some rich folk up on Wall Street for?

That's a good question sister. That's a fair, fine question. You see,  this is what happens when the plantation master falls dead in a field, whip and all. Word gets round town and they think, "Oh no, no no, what would these slaves do without their masters. What would these poor ignorant assed people do? They might starve to death. Though we already starving. They might resort to violence. While our backs still bleeding. They wouldn't learn to adapt. When we've done adapted for the last four hundred years."

Now I know what your thinking, brothers and sisters. And guess what? You're right. Goddammit, if you ain't right. But what we gonna do? What we gonna do? We been doin ' it to death brothers and sisters. We gonna turn the other cheek. We gonna do whats right. We gonna let Auntie Fannie paddle our broke asses. Cuz if we don't, well, shoot, if we don't. Well then, we all gonna end up dead. And none of us wants that. I know, I know what your thinking. Your thinking, well ain't that a bitch. And you know what? You're right.

But goddammit if it ain't the American Dream.

I died on May 10th, 1996. I now can say this without any true discomfort. But rest assured, my body fell to the ground with the proverbial thud of a lifeless shell, and I woke up two intrinsically mindless weeks later in my deathbed.

I am at a strange crossroads in my life. For ten years I was classified as, I suppose, "normal." And while 'normal' remains in my mind an obscure notion, lacking the clairvoyance our homogenized society has prescribed it, I lived the first ten years of my life defined within it. And now ten years later, I've lost all definition.

But I realize that I am, of course, in a crowd of free-minded people. I am not under the dogmatic gaze of prejudice that lies in the annals of this culture, this city, this country.
The other day a little boy ran up to me and said, "Hey mister, what's wrong with your hand?"

I looked into the little boy's eyes, and after the shock of being called mister faded, blankly replied, "Oh, I was paralyzed when I was ten."

He looked at me with a curious expression on his face and said, "What does paralyzed mean?"

I looked at him, smiled and said, "I suppose it means that my arms broken."

He responded to my smile by smiling back, but then abruptly put a look of horror on his face, grabbed my left hand and said inquisitively, "Why don't you fix it?"

His question, lacking the coy tack of a formal acquisition, but of a curious mind trying to learn all that it can soak up, was utterly reasonable, but at that present moment in time, was the last thing on my mind.

It is odd how children act. If you are an unknown authority figure, children mostly maintain reasonable behavior. They know that you have some inexplicable superiority over them, and so they preserve civil, albeit innocent, discourse. However, when I was a child I was, after my aneurysm, called cripple, beaten up, severed from social gatherings, and cast out. This was by everyone, including my friends of that time, and I was left alone by something I couldn't control, but kids are kids. And I understand now that children have a hard time coping with something they can't understand, and they tend to deal with that difference by belittling it, and holding themselves above it. Perhaps this is human nature?

But this little boy grabbed my fingers. His loving little paw cusped my impotent, paralyzed, hand with an empathetic grace that I had never known, and have never felt again. He was not afraid of my disability, and, perhaps unconsciously, lifted a veil of disparity between me and the rest of the world.

People respond to my handicap differently, but there is one common truth: I am not allowed to label myself. When I utter the word "crippled" to define myself it is frowned upon, and people act like I injured their ears. I receive complaints of, "Will don't say that about yourself." or "Why do you have to dwell on your handicap Will?" Some even have the gall to say, "No, Will, you are not a cripple." It seems hypocritical to me to tell someone not to say they are something, especially if that thing is the truth.

For I died ten years ago and when the new me rose out of that bed my left side was lifeless. I tried to get out of bed and when I realized that I could not feel my left leg I hit the floor and brought down all the equipment hooked up to me with it. As the nurses ran in I looked up with tears in my eyes and said, "Why can't I walk?" The head nurse looked at me and replied, "Child, I am sorry honey, but you know that your left side is paralyzed." I have been living with those words for the rest of life.

I have had to accept that yes, I am crippled. When I walk into a store, or get on the bus, I get stared at. When I wake up in the morning I put on my clothes with one hand. When I ride a bike I have to strain to get my hand on the handlebars. I live with it every day. My handicap is not some transitory stage that I can simply dismiss except on those rare occasions it comes up. Much the same as anyone who is physically diverse from the norm.

But I know that I am not only that. I am also William Fry: son, painter, writer, musician, and all that jazz. Yet I do not feel comfortable without the word cripple on that list. Not because that classifies who I am, or that I am pleading for your sympathy, but that it is what made me who I am today. I really did die ten years ago, my brain erupted in a puddle of red and I flat lined. Somehow my heart came back to echo the drone of t-thud-thud, but that wasn't all. When I woke up, I shared the same memories as the child born: William Leonard Fry, but humility left only the name the same.

But none of this mattered to this gentle little boy. He had true concern, and dismissed everything that our culture tells us, and touched my soul. He did not ask, "Does it hurt." or "Can you feel it?" He just felt bad for my hand being broken, and wanted to help me, a stranger, fix it. And with his innocent touch I was totally comfortable with who I am.
Total comfort is something I think we, as humans, lack. We take medicine to be more socially acceptable, use narcotics to forget the pain of reality, drink alcohol and all our woes wash right of our minds. We have sex, over eat, under eat, masturbate, dress a certain way, and listen to a certain brand of music all in the name of not being comfortable with our selves. We even pay people to tell us how to be comfortable, and watch television shows selling us their pokerfaced commodities.
And yet this little boy gave me pure consolation. With just his touch my body disappeared and all that was left was 'Me.' I looked at the little boy's little hand clinching at air and fall to his waist. His mother called for him and reality hit me in the face. I wanted to run after him and tell his mother what her son did for me. I wanted to pik him up and hug and thank him. But I was still in shock, and my young seraph went to live the rest of his life without ever knowing that he had changed mine.

I continued on that walk four years ago and realized I really only had to answer one question to be at peace with myself: Who am I?

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