Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Mumps Story

Usually I try to make the rounds on weekends, check out all the journals John Scalzi mentions for the Weekend Assignment, and leave comments if I have something to say.  If I like the writing and I'm not too pressed for time, I'll read more entries by that person.  Pretty standard, right?

Well, I tried to do that today, but although I looked at every journal on his list, I left very few comments. Why?  Because most of the party stories were about alcohol.  And even though I understand intellectually that people I like and respect do drink the stuff, sometimes even to excess, I can't take the subject light-heartedly.

It's not you.  It's me.

Let me tell you about it.

after the mumps, before the staph. That's the bed in the story.When I was in fifth grade, the family next door had a girl named Sarah, one year older(?) than me, a boy, Brad, two years younger, and Cathy, who was in first grade.  Brad was an amazing artist.  He used to design Hot Wheels cars on paper, and could draw all the Peanuts characters about as well as Schulz could, at least in my estimation at the time. Sarah was mostly friends with Sue, who lived next door to me on the other side. But we all hung out together at least part of the time, all five of us, when we weren't starting competing "clubs" of two or three members each.

Well, one day I was hanging out with little Cathy.  I don't remember anything we did, just that we were in her back yard.  The next day, my parents got a call from her parents that Cathy had the mumps. So I heard all about mumps and incubation periods.  The next day I went to school and told people that I would be getting the mumps in two weeks.

Two weeks later....

My brother Steve had borrowed my mom's Rambler station wagon to go to a party.  This was about 1967 or 1968, so he was about 17 or 18 years old at the time.  I was 10 or 11.  I had braces, and had reach the stage in the process in which I had to wear headgear at night that hooked onto the braces.  I think I had just had my bands tightened, a rather uncomfortable procedure, if not usually too painful.

But that night, I woke up and my teeth hurt.  So did my cheeks, my face, my throat, my whole head.  I had forgotten all about the mumps, and was blaming the discomfort on the headgear and the braces. As I lay in bed, trying to decide whether to wake Mom up and tell her about it, I heard the door open downstairs.  Soon Mom and Steve were talking rather loudly on the stairs about the fact that he'd rolled and totalled her car.  Yes, he'd been drinking.  (The drinking age in New York State at the time was 18.) And in the middle of all this sturm und drang, I finally got up and announced, "Mommy, my bands hurt!"  Oh, yeah.  I had the mumps.  I was in bed for a week or more--which wouldn't have been so bad had my parents not chosen this occasion to replace my ancient outer spring bed mattress with a hard, modern inner-spring one.  It was agony to lie on that thing!  Took me years to break it in properly.

Fast forward to Christmas (December 23rd, actually)  when I was in eighth or ninth grade.  Steve was in his first job as a professional computer programmer. This particular day, I had just had a staph infection lanced by the family doctor.  I was in the bathroom, using Betadine and trying to soak in hot water as instructed, when Steve came home from the company Christmas party.  He'd been sick in Dad's car on the way home, and I kind of gather his co-workers weren't too pleased with him. (Let me hasten to assure you that Steve was not in the habit of getting drunk.  These were unusual occurances, which is part of why they were so memorable.)  As I kept reheating and reapplying the washcloths, every few minutes I'd head Steve call out, drunkenly, "Tell Karen I hope she feels better!"

Somewhere in the lower reaches of my brain, I'm sure the following is firmly entrenched on an emotional level:

Someone drunk = Karen hurting = bad things happening.

Add that to the following facts:

* I hate the smells of wine and beer and the taste of alcohol,
* My mom treated alcoholics for a living for years and years at Soule Clinic,
* My high school boyfriend (Dan) was killed by a drunk driver,
* My mom had another car totaled and her neck injured by a drunk one year as she drove home from the Speakman camp, and
* John's mother was an alcoholic,

and I think you begin to understand why I have such a hangup about alcohol. I suppose I could try to overcome it, but why should I?  As long as I'm not putting other people down about it, it seems like a pretty pro-survival trait to have.

So if I don't comment appreciatively about your funny stories of drunken people at parties, I hope you'll understand. 

I'll appreciate you the next time around.


Photo by Joel Rubinstein, 1971.  The mumps was behind me, Steve's Christmas party ahead. That's the bed and the mattress I was all mumpy on, but by 1971 it was much more bearable. The wooden "Love" sign was left over from a hippie costume, and painted in neighbor Sue's art studio / garage.


plittle said...

Dear Karen,
 If you haven't found an excuse to drink so far, there's no reason to start now. Good on ya, girl.

ryanagi said...

My John is a total non-drinker. I don't care for beer, very few wines, and only a couple mixed drinks. I think I drink maybe twice a year, one drink each time. I drank in college and learned some lessons. None of them were fun lessons to learn. :-/

blakta2s said...

I've never been into reading blogs. As a matter of fact, I've avoided the whole "Blogging" thing like, the mumps. I happened on to your entry though by searching for info. about the mumps and I must say I really enjoyed it. I too suffered from the mumps in the 60's! Not only that, I feel the same way about drinking. Not one damn good thing has ever come of it for me.