for this month's
tasteless crip humor, don't miss the very bottom of the page . .
I don't see my younger and only
brother very often. He and his wife live about as far from San Francisco
as you can get while still in the Continental United States. Last
month they stopped off for a brief visit on their way to a backpacking
vacation somewhere out past Yosemite.
You know how when you bring up
the subject of siblings the first thing people are likely to ask
is, Do you look alike? Do Tom and I look alike? I'm 5' 8" and he's
5'11". My hair is straight, his is wiry. I've got my father's
big German (maybe Jewishit's a point of family contention)
nose, while Tom's is the little nose that identifies everybody on
my Mother's side of the family. The little Bavarian Potato Nose,
I used to tease.
Still, everybody who knows us
insists that we do look like brothers. Incontrovertibly. From my
Crip Perspective, I see differences more profound than noses and
hair. I'm talking about the fact that Tom, unlike me, has two feet
and the requisite number of fingers. I tell him that he got the
good body while I got all the irony, a remark I intend as ironic
proof of my own ironic observation.
Does that sound a little hostile?
How much is irony worth, after all? Would I give up the irony for
the body? ("Would you be cured if
you could be?" Well, I would.)
Maybe I'm harboring some resentment
that I need to get in touch with. Or maybe it's nothing more than
garden-variety disappointment. You see, I asked Tom some time ago
if he would write something for BENT. While it's true that first-person
cripfag narratives enjoy pride of place here, wouldn't it be valuable,
I thought, wouldn't it be revealing, if a few ABssiblings,
parents, spouseswould write about life with . . . us. I
don't recall reading many accounts of My Life with a Crip, and so
far, still, I've had no takers for the assignment.
It was more than a year ago when
I asked Tom if he would write something. He's not a writer by profession,
but I know he's an unusually thoughtful guy and I know he writes
well. In fact, the urge to get it all down on paper seems to be
a defining characteristic of the men in our family. During the last
year of his life, when he knew he was dying, our father would sit
at the kitchen table every morning, while his wife slept, covering
page after page of yellow foolscap. He wrote about his childhood
during the Depression, about training his horse, "Glitter," when
the US Army still seemed to think it was going to send the cavalry
to war, but mostly he wrote about what happened once he got shipped
overseas. About rescuing his buddies from snipers and getting blown
out of a jeep and being the only survivor and ending up in a Stalag
in the Schwarzwald for eight months
and other dark stuff that nobody wanted to hear about for most of
his life, even though it was the stuff that got him welcomed home
as a genuine shot-up-hero with Silver Stars and Purple Hearts pinned
to his chest. The war things he wrote about, I finally learned,
were things he was deeply proud of and deeply ashamed of at the
If Dad could write about all that,
I figured, Tom would have no trouble with my "Life with a Crip"
assignment. Piece of cake. Rolling off a log. And there he was at
breakfast the first morning, a sitting duckor at least a sitting
brotherin my editorial clutches. (Yes, it's true. The shameless
editor will stoop so low as to accost his own brother before coffee.
Anything to get the story.) I thought I would soften him up by printing
out a few of my more recent favorites, to show him that BENT is
a webzine worthy of his efforts. A little prodding, a little encouragement,
how could he refuse?
But when I popped the question
again (after coffee, it's true),
his answer surprised me. What he told me was that he didn't think
he had anything to say, because growing up with me had seemed pretty
ordinary. Ordinary?! Well, that floored me. I mean, here I am, your
typical egocentric crip, sitting in the middle of my own angst and
just assuming as Holy Writ that everybody else was wallowing in
it with me.
Never easily defeated by someone
else's sunny outlook, however, I prodded a little more. Hadn't his
friends ever teased him about having a crip brother? I asked. Had
he ever been embarrassed by me? No and no were the answers, but
he did think he could remember Mom and Dad being worried about how
to pay for all those operations and wooden legs. And he knew that
Dad sometimes felt guilty for spending so much time with him instead
of mehunting, fishing, ball gamesall those things I
could not do and did not care to do. (Aha, the Fag Factor enters
the picture. Do I recall feeling resentful because Dad was not sitting
with me listening to opera LPs?).
Finally we were getting somewhere,
I thought. After all, how much more significant can you get than
financial anxiety coupled to paternal guilt. But no. That was it.
Our conversation petered out just when I thought we had struck gold.
Maybe I don't know how to ask the right questions. Maybe Tom is
in denial. Maybe there isn't much there to obsess about after allfrom
I can't help thinking, though,
that when you grow up disabled and gay it must have a profound influence
on the whole Family Romance. Am I the only one who refused to speak
to his father for twenty-seven years, who continues to feel a nagging
sense of family estrangement?
But all families are different.
Aren't they? Or is it just the details that are different? Now I'm
really confused. I want to believe that finding out how everybody's
emotions played themselves out in the family circle will help me
understand myself (Nature vs. Nurture, and all that) and, by extension,
help me understand what I'm continuing to try to do here at BENT.
Maybe that's far too ambitious
a goal. I won't give up on offering my writing assignment to siblings,
parents, and lovers, however. There's got to be somebody out there
willing to spill the beans. I'll even open up the invitation by
reversing the perspective, too, so if any of you cripfag readers
want to take a crack at the assignment yourselves, all you need
to do is let me know (email@example.com).
In the meantime, The Mysteries
of the Gene Pool prevail. At least as far as I know.
has been a bilateral amputee since the age of six as the result
of multiple birth defects. His writing has appeared in The New York
Times, Stagebill, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco.
© 2001 BENT
It's CALLAHAN time . . .