“Oh Monday at 4, that would be perfect! Oh and I uh should probably let you know that uh my son has muscular dystrophy. His limbs are almost paralyzed. He’ll be the 10-year-old boy in the blue wheelchair. You’ll know him when you see him.”
SESSION 1: 54 West 66th Street
My index finger, one of my last mobile parts, just barely pushed the black plastic button on my armrest. My wheelchair inched through the door to Dr. Sara Mindboch’s office, while my mother peered at me over her newspaper in the waiting room, always anxious when my twisted body went off alone. A feelings doctor. My dad came up with this, not my idea.
In front of me was a tall brunette whose lips attempted a happy face. Little did she know I was an expert on false smiles and genuine ones. A feelings doctor. Isn’t she supposed to fix my feelings, not damage them? You’d think she could hide her discomfort better than that.
“Hello, Owen. Nice to meet you. Come on in,” she faltered robotically.
She turned the silver metal doorknob, closing the unstained birch door behind us. I followed her over to the burnt mango colored couch in her canary yellow crypt. I tried to disregard the inviting couch as I parked my wheelchair in front of it. The doctor tightly crossed her legs over her, gray slim pencil skirt while she sat in her black, leather Eames chair.
“You know I didn’t want to come here. This is even worse than I expected,” I fired rapidly. “You’re supposed to make me happy, but you’re not. I would have thought they might have taught you this at school. Discomfort is contagious.”
She fidgeted uncomfortably, proving my point.
“I assume you have a plan, Mind Block.”
“I know that that outburst was caused by some strong inner feelings. Today, Owen, we will start our journey into the heart of it.”
I cracked up. “Mind Block, please make sure that journey is
DR. SARA MINDBOCH’S NOTES:
Monday, 5 o’clock
Owen Maestro: disabled, muscular dystrophy
Seems to miss social cues and thinks he’s funny when he’s not. Art therapy next week.
SESSION 2: 54 West 66th Street
“Mind Block, I’m back! So what does our second journey have in store for us?” I saw crayons on the table, as my dependable finger manipulated my wheelchair over to the couch. “Kudos, I see you also have a sense of humor. Crayons, how appropriate for a paralyzed van Gogh. The price of a masterpiece – an ear…or an arm and a leg. But I get the picture.”
“Omigosh! What was I thinking?! I’m so sorry.”
“At least you can draw the line,” I teased, as she pulled a book out of her drawer, ZACHARAY DOESN’T FIT IN: Book one of the Psychoanalytic Guide to Understanding Children with Social Disorders.
“My limbs might not be mobile, but my mind is. I can read! But Moby Dick is more to my liking.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, my br— …My head was in the clouds. I’m really sorry. You’re obviously a really bright kid.” I wondered what she had really wanted to say.
DR. SARA MINDBOCH’S NOTES:
Wednesday, 5 o’clock
A blunder on my part today. Brilliant! A more philosophical approach next week.
SESSION 3: 54 West 66th Street
“Hey, Owen,” greeted Dr. Mind Block, no longer in her tight pencil skirt, but loose khaki slacks this time.
“Hey what’s that book on your desk. So – crates? Who or what for that matter, is that?” It was the only thing on her pristine desk.
“Oh, Socrates,” she paused. “He’s a philosopher, an ancient Greek philosopher. As a matter of fact, seeing the smarty pants you are, you might like his ideas.”
“So that’s where the Harvard degree comes from,” I said glancing at the laminated certificates on the wall. “So what about this dude, Socrates?”
“He believed in personal integrity above all else. This means he thought you should respect yourself. He would never be able to forgive himself if he purposely did something wrong.”
“I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I purposely did something wrong.”
“But no one’s perfect, Owen.”
“Well, with an attitude like that,” I said matter-of-factly, “you don’t have a chance.”
She lifted her glass of water and said, “Half empty? Or half full?”
“Full to the brim!”
SESSION 4: 54 West 66th Street
“Hey, Owen!” I heard a muffled, silly voice from the mouth of a grinning mask.
The coffee table in front of the couch was overflowing with exotic, painted, wooden masks. Mind Block dropped her sunny yellow mask onto the table. “I wanted to share these with you. I thought you’d find them interesting. You can even try on a few different faces if you’d like.”
“They’re really cool!…” I said enthusiastically. “Okay, let me guess. This one’s from Mexico because it’s… an Aztec god. And this one is Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess…Who’s that?” I pointed to the one with all the arms sticking out of her head.
“That’s Lhamo, the Tibetan goddess of disease.”
“Funny that’s the one I missed.”
“And now let’s welcome, Owen Maestro, world renowned acrobat with Cirque de Soleil. Watch him tumble and watch him turn. No one can match his might and no one can match his height. On the highest wires of the world, he can hold up not one, not two, but three men on his shoulders as he rides a unicycle – no net below.”
“O-W-E-N! O-W-E-N! O-WEN! O-WEN!”
“HE-E-E DID IT! WATCH HIM JUMP FEARLESSLY…DOWN…
“Hey, Owen, it’s time for school.”
SESSION 5: 54 West 66th Street
“Hey, Mind Block, I counted today – 12 people stared at me funny.”
“And that didn’t feel too great, did it?”
“Nope. I guess it’s cooler to win a Pee Wee game of Little League than to win the National Quiz Bowl four times.”
“I agree, Owen. As wrong as it might be, it’s true. But with the determined strength of that finger of yours and the potency of your mind, you can climb higher than anyone else.”
“Yeah, I know, but the mountain I climb is the one less traveled. No one dreams of climbing my mountain. Adults who have regular kids dream of their children becoming the president, and the small achievements along the way are expected and taken for granted. When adults see me achieve something small, it’s considered larger than life – an unexpected accomplishment and a final achievement in and of itself with no bigger expectation. Every little thing I do is a big deal, even the little things that most people learn easily, but there are no real expectations for me.”
“I totally understand where you’re coming from. But you know, Owen, the grass always looks greener in someone else’s backyard. I had the opposite experience, being the one whose achievements were always dismissed no matter how big they were. This was because my brother had Down Syndrome and like your situation, everything he did was considered a big deal because of his limitations, while my accomplishments were ignored.”
Sara Mindboch sat pondering in her office.
She picked up the phone.
“Hello, Dr. Sara Mind Block, I mean Mindboch speaking.”
“Oh my god, you won’t believe it! We got him a voice activated computer and now he’s
e-mailing. Owen’s e-mailing! It’s incredible! He’s made a new friend, Kyle…..
Mindboch shifted in her seat. She was caught off-guard.
“He won’t get off the computer and I don’t have the heart to make him do his homework. Thank you sooooo much! You’re incredible!”
“Wow. That’s great! Thanks for letting me know!
SESSION 6: 54 West 66th Street
Today Mind Block wore jeans. Looks like she’s loosening up. Who’s the therapist here? And today of all days when I really need one.
“I wanna smash that dumb, voice-activated computer my mom gave me. It’s done nothing but make me miserable. Screw that Kyle kid!”
“That’s not what I heard.”
“Well, who told you that, my mom? Well, it’s over! I never wanted to be his friend anyway. He’s a jerk, a real jerk and a robot like everyone else. I might have a motorized wheelchair, but he’s got a motorized brain!”
“And how did this happen?”
“He discovered me.”
“What do you mean he discovered you?”
“My brilliant mother told. Kyle knew my first name but didn’t know my last. My screen name is Owen, just Owen. But then my mother ruined it for me. Anyone would know that no one would want to be friends with a cripple.”
Sara Mindboch picked up the phone. “Dr. Mindboch speaking.”
“Ha! He broke his leg. Kyle’s broke his leg.”
“Owen? What’s going on?”
“Yeah it’s me, I had to tell you this. You won’t believe it! He fell on the staircase and broke his leg…He’s got a wheelchair! Kyle’s got a wheelchair! Now he knows what it feels like.”
A week later…
It was sweltering in Central Park. Sara Mindboch needed something to drink. She walked, hoping she’d see a vendor soon. In the distance she could see a big white poster with big red letters: 50¢ A CUP OF LEMONADE TO SUPPORT MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY. “Oh, goodie,” she thought, approaching the stand. She caught sight of two kids serving the crowd that had formed around the stand. She daydreamed while she was waiting for her turn. When she reached the front of the line, she noticed that the two boys were in wheelchairs. One spoke to her. “Hello, how can I help you?”
“Um,” she said, caught off guard. Her mind had wandered off to one of her patients. “I would just like one glass of lemonade.” She put 50 cents on the counter.
“Owen,” the boy yelled handing the other boy the money. “Put this in the register.” Sara stared at the other boy while she was served her lemonade. As she began to walk away it hit her. She walked back to the boy in charge of the register. He whispered into her ear. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Age 12, Grade 7