It’s morning. Circa 1972. I turn over in bed and gaze down at my gray marble linoleum floor. It’s coming up around the edges, and there are all sorts of dirty stains, punctures, and dried bubblegum spots on it. I remember when it was new. My father laid it down himself. He brushed on glue, applied the linoleum, trimmed the corners with a sharp razor so it could snugly fit against the walls, and hammered the baseboards in with long, skinny nails.
The window shade over my bed hangs crooked off to the right with one of its brackets dangling on a thread. If I try to pull it up, the window shade will collapse, and I don’t want people to look in my room at night.
The room is in the shape of a small rectangle and tends to get very stuffy in the summer. I turn on the little rotating fan that sits on the metal desk, even though the fan just circulates hot air. My mother found the desk on trash day. She gave a neighbor five-bucks to haul it up the stairs to my room. My mother quickly put a bunch of crap on it, like a green rotary phone, a 13-inch TV, a grimy fan, and a small reading lamp. Now I can’t use the desk to do my homework because there’s no space to put down my spiral binder and books.
Inside the desk drawer are my old baby records like DPT, Polio, and Smallpox vaccinations. My mother listed the dates and times of every shot and chronicled every doctor I saw. She documented that I was 6 pounds and 7 ounces at birth, and that I had hazel eyes and a little tuft of brown hair on the crown of my head. I pretty much look the same but lost most of my baby fat.
Old report cards are also stuffed in the drawer. They are yellowing and stuck together with small pieces of tape. All my evil deeds are thoroughly noted in red ink, my poor math skills emphasized with capital Ds, and my inability to pay attention in Mr. Fisher’s Science Class had labeled me a major class disturbance.
It’s the afternoon. I smell the sandy, metallic dust in my room, and my eyes follow the little lint balls floating in midair as the sunlight shines through the open window. Sometimes my mother sweeps the linoleum floor, but that’s a waste because the broom just brings up more dust and she rarely gets all the dirt into a dustpan.
If my mind’s active, I don’t think about dust or about wheezing or if that annoying gurgle at the bottom of my throat will ever stop. But if I’m bored and restless, I notice everything as if my internal organs are on loudspeaker and I have X-ray eyes that can see the minutest details of my existence.
I try to cough up phlegm periodically to clear my airways, but no matter how much I hawk, the wheeze always remains deep in the bottom of my lungs like a sunken treasure that no one could ever pull out. The doctor tries to help, but he says that there’s no cure. “You have to have good asthma maintenance,” is all he says, and gives me a bunch of steroids like unwrapped presents to take home.
Once, he stuck a long, snaking metal tube down my lungs trying to dislodge a thick glob of phlegm. There was a camera at the end of the tube and a monitor showing the inside of my lungs and what nasty stuff was happening. But I couldn’t look at the screen when the doctor was pointing because he was choking me to death. After my face turned blue and I waved my hands in desperation several times, he pulled the damn thing out. I told him never to try that again or my mother would sue the hell out of him.
I dig into my pocket and feel my emergency inhaler just in case I need it. It’s my life support, and I’m careful not to overuse it. One night I must have taken fifty puffs, and I ended up in the emergency room, which resulted in one week in the hospital with tubes in my arms and up my nostrils. I had lost ten pounds in the hospital that week, couldn’t sleep, and all I thought about was how the hell am I going to get out of there.
It’s days like this with nothing to do that I spend a lot of time thinking in my room. I wonder what life will have in store for me and what I will become in ten or twenty years. I often get headaches just thinking about it because I have no clue. My father wants me to work for him in his produce store on the highway. I want to be a rock singer like Mick Jagger or a baseball pitcher like Nolan Ryan, something where I can be famous and where girls would notice me. All my mother says about my future is “Get a respectable job selling washers and dryers at Sears & Roebucks so you can wear a shirt and tie.”
It’s nighttime. Even though my head feels achy, I lay in bed enjoying the cool breeze coming through the window screen. I turn to the side of the bed where I look out of the window and wait for it to rain. I love watching clouds burst into a million scattered raindrops and hearing the jarring combination of thunder and lightning shake and rattle the night.
I know I should be falling asleep, but I’m wheezy again and pull out my inhaler and take two puffs. The inhaler makes me hyper, so I walk around the linoleum floor in my bare feet and open my closet. There’s my glen plaid bar mitzvah suit hanging along with the plush Hebrew bag stuffed with yarmulkes and prayer shawls. My old blue cub scout uniform with the badges sewn to the shirt hangs there too, a little dull with age. The Louisville Slugger baseball bat that Uncle Perry bought lays on its side, and my Mickey Mantle glove with a hardball is tucked in the corner. I wonder how long these things will be in my closet. I wonder what new closets that I’ll have when I get older and what different things will be inside of them.
The next morning, I wake to a soaking wet bed. When I remove the sheets, the stains ingrained in the mattress look like my personal urine signature. They are my emotional wounds, sores that have never healed and seem to linger in this putrid air. They are many times that I unintentionally pissed the bed in my shame-ridden childhood. I try to convince my mother that it’s only spilled water, an accident. Of course, she doesn’t believe me. So, I let the bed dry, sprinkle some Talc Powder on it, and turn the mattress over, as if it were a fresh new start.
About an hour later, I pick up the receiver of the lime-green rotary telephone, and I hear Jeff’s voice. We talk about seeing Godzilla at the Tyson and scheme how much money we can get from our parents for candy and hoagies. I tell him that I really want to see Village of the Damned at the Castor and that I can’t wait to buy a meatball grinder from Dante’s Inferno. I quickly get dressed, and before I know it, I’m walking in the bright sunshine on Longshore Avenue toward my friend’s house with Ticket to Ride playing in my head. The air is super clean from last night’s rain. My body feels energized as I take bouncy steps in my Converse Hi Tops on the cement sidewalk that seems to lead me to the Promise Land.