Abigail Williams

Silver-Lined Struggle

June 20, 1959 - a child is born. He doesn’t know the experiences he will miss and battles he will win with his hips of brittle bone and heart of gold. It’s called Hip Dysplasia, the doctors said. Nothing a little surgery can’t fix. Try pulling the hips out of their sockets to allow hip socket bone growth. Legs locked like a “W” in a perverse alphabet lesson. A grotesque way to enter a judgmental and exclusive world. He’ll be immobile for a year or so. He’ll need transportation, said the neighbors who made a personalized scooter. With a contraption shaped like a “T”, he lies stomach-down, wheeling around the house, making marks through all the door frames three inches off the floor. Paint chips from the uncontrolled movements of a handicapped eighteen month old child on a scooter. The buyer of that house probably doesn’t understand the significance and pain that goes along with the marked doors. He was a born too early for better treatment developed one year later in Boston. The casts are removed. His operation seals his fate of having permanent damage to his hips, cutting off the joint’s blood supply. I’m sorry, but your life of struggle has only begun.

Kindergarten begins, but he’s a little different. Not like the rest of the kids. The childhood learning is confined to a bed, however, because the doctors want to build a bone shelf for his right hip. He knows he is missing out, and he gets to think about it, a lot, while lying alone in a hospital bed for six tedious months. The bone shelf doesn’t work, and he misses half of kindergarten.

He is a sports fan. The Red Sox, as seen from the treasured shirts he is captured wearing in yellowed photographs. He plays, and he loves it. Come 7th grade, lack of speed becomes a liability. He can’t keep up. Try outs for the Babe Ruth league settle the inevitable athletic and social destiny of him, because Cool Kids play sports. Cool Kids can run. Cool Kids get the girls. That was the end. But ‘the end’ was only the bottom of the wall he began climbing. In desperation, he was manager for the basketball team. As he watched the players racing up and down the court, his mind exhausted.

He has a paper route. Everyday, marching the same path, trying to get closer to what he wants: he buys a stereo, a camera, baseball glove. And a drum set; pulsing beats of his young life. Walking is hard; it resembles a “teeter-totter”: shifting weight from one leg to another with each deliberate step.

College comes. The testing ground for everything that he learned as a child. He is deferred early decision from Hamilton, but this is his dream. That spring the phone rings: he gets in, finally. It doesn’t happen very often that we call our admitted students, but we think you’re special. But cash gets a little tight with six kids. He has to do this on his own. He applies for a federal grant for students with handicaps, and covers the rest of his tuition by working: cashing checks at the student union, waiting tables, driving elderly alumni at homecoming, and dishwashing. He keeps climbing. Second semester junior year he travels to Brussels, Belgium; his first time out of the country. Despite physical challenges of arthritis, he does his own laundry, learns French, and lugs a backpack around Europe.

The lesson of independence is carried with him through his life after college: Working on Wall Street, paying off student loans, and living in a grimy apartment in the middle of Manhattan. Then he meets her on a blind date. Debbie. She is petite, confident, and a runner. She overlooks his limp as he opens the taxi door for her, and he knows that she is the one.

Years later, in 1993, he is directed towards hip surgery with Doctor Brian Kavanagh. He can get a good twenty-five years out of the new technology, anchoring the femoral implant without cement.  He decides to go for it. Be a good boy his mom says on the eve of his surgery. Rehab isn’t fun due to extreme muscle atrophy. Losing weight is key in order to stretch maximum life out of his new hips, but pressures at work drag him away: three days a week on an airplane, sometimes with crutches, but always with his cane.

In 2001, he decides to take control of his physical health he never had. He works out and gets stronger, relieving the weight from his stressed hips. Twenty-five pounds later the cane and signature teeter-totter walk begin to fade. The love of exercise is revived. He initiates skiing: something the whole family can do. First, he is the chauffeur who reads in the lodge. Then, one run with Mom and the children. Soon after, he gives into his temptation and rents skis for the weekend. Eventually, this evolving pattern turns into a man ensuring season passes at Sugarloaf Mountain, pushing his three kids into ski school. When it’s not snowing, he compensates for his love of sports by biking and rowing.

Time alone makes a person think of what they could be. Pain makes the taste of life sweeter. Someone who knows the ache of yearning overcomes everyday setbacks, because they can appreciate small riches in everyday life. Recovery through struggle molds a person who won’t take no for an answer, because they have been on the receiving end. By experiencing that pain is a natural part of life, one learns at a young age that anything worth living for takes strength from both body and mind.

We were walking home from skiing one night, goofing around, seeing who could do the best ‘slow motion run’ (sound effects and everything). Suddenly, he takes off in a triumphant dash towards home. “Wow dad! I didn’t know you could run.”


Copyright 2002-2007 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2007 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.