I call him “Wild Bill.” Most of the family refers to him as, “Billy” His friends call him Bill.
He calls me when he’s broke.
Yes, my older brother, the guy I’ve mentioned before. He’s often on my mind, more so these days as we move closer to his prostate cancer treatment. The last few decades I’ve been his – well hard to describe but it’s some place between guardian, case manager and caretaker. I don’t do much of the day-to-day care, but I do check in from time to time to make sure his caregivers, doctors and others, know that I am watching.
It hasn’t always been this way. There was a time, when were young that we’d tie a wagon to Billy’s three-wheeled bike and he’d take me an my friends for rides up and down our quiet suburban street. There was a time he could walk and drive a car. There was a time he was my babysitter. There was a time I caught him smoking a cigarette and he paid me two dollars not to tell (hey – $2 doesn’t buy forever, you should have given me the five).
Bill was born in 1949. He was the first child and both my parents often told the story of getting Mother to the hospital and how they barely got there in time – my father could spin that story to an uproarious 20 minute tale that would get everyone laughing. What they didn’t talk about and I didn’t learn until I was in my teens was that Billy was a ‘blue baby.”
The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and he was turning blue from suffocation when born. The doctors were able to revive him but within 18 months it was clear that something was wrong. By the age of two years Billy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerebral_palsy for a basic description ) – basically a form of brain damage. It affected his right side and he has very little muscle control over his right arm which tends to move seemingly on it’s own – often jumping at loud noises. His CP is spastic and impairs his ability to control some muscle groups. He also suffers from speech difficulties and mild dyslexia.
As a young child I never really understood that there was a problem with Bill. He seemed to do everything a normal kid would do: went to school (in a special bus to a special school), had a bike (a three wheeler with a large basket), was in the Boy Scouts, went to church and in high school a few girl friends (one whom he married).
That was largely due to my father, who insisted that Billy was, “A normal American boy who happened to have cerebral palsy.” My father was actually very progressive for his time and thought the best way to help Bill, was to ensure that he had as normal a life as possible. At first Mother wasn’t completely sure that dad’s approach was right, but she quickly saw the wisdom in it and went to great lengths to ensure that Billy had a chance to do all the normal things a boy got to do.
It was Mother’s idea to get Billy a bike to ride – all the boys in the neighborhood had one and it was a normal thing to get your boy a bike. Because of the CP, Bill has little natural sense of balance and could only stand and walk after years of physical therapy. Mother did what she did for all of her life, adapted. The bicycle shop had a red three-wheeled bike with a big basket in the back. No doubt the intended consumer of this contraption was a senior citizen who’d just lost their driver’s license but to Mother it was the perfect solution. She brought it home and taught Bill how to ride it.
And ride it he did. Everywhere. All the time. He rode to the store, the play ground, the movies and even did the normal daredevil stuff you’d expect from a 16 year-old.
I remember it well. Billy was out with me and my friends. We all had roller skates and Bill was giving rides. He’d line us up on the sidewalk and one kid on skates would hold on to the basket and he’d ‘haul ass’ pulling us down the sidewalk as fast as he could go and he could go fast – fast enough to thrill us 7 year-olds. At the corner he’d turn right and we’d let go to jump off the curb into the street.
In the ‘60s mothers would often say, “it’s all fun and games until someone looses an eye.”
No, Bill didn’t lose an eye, but he did miss the turn and lost a tooth. We’re not sure how it happened – either he turned too late or took the turn too fast but the result was Billy flying over the curb, the bike turning on it’s side and blood running down his face.
I was about four houses away when it happened and one of the older boys with us came running to me and said, “Go get your mother fast, Bill’s hurt bad.”
I skated home as fast as I could and ran into the house yelling, “Mom, Mom, Billy’s hurt, Mom!” She came at a run and years later she said there was something about the way I looked that caused her to worry. Whatever she saw in me, she never mentioned the fact that I came into the house with my skates on.
Mother bought Billy home and I was sent to the back patio and told not to come in. I remember being quite miserable out there on the patio. I felt personally responsible and felt in physical pain because of it. I desperately wanted to make it alright and wanted to know how bad he was hurt.
After what seemed like years, I heard Mother on the phone and my other brother Rick came out – sent by mother (likely to make sure I was still there). Rick told me that Bill was badly scraped up and had lost a tooth. Mother was calling the dentist.
Mother never said much to me about it, but I still feel that she held me mostly responsible for the accident. I suspect that, because that night after dinner father came to my room and gave me one of his special fatherly talks on, “How important it was for all of us to make sure Bill had as normal a life a possible, but also make sure we protect him when he exceeds his abilities.” That’s about as short as I can make that. As I recall the lecture lasted about three years of kid time and by the end I was wishing he’d just spank me and get it over with. The lecture ended when I was able to repeat and paraphrase father’s major points and promised not to let the other kids take advantage of Bill’s good nature.
Then father made popcorn and gave us all a Coke to drink. Likely not the best thing for Billy at the time but dad was more of a theoretical parent rather than a practical one – great ideas with no clue how to put them into practice.
The dentist was able to put Bill’s tooth back in but about 20 years later it needed to be removed. Today Bill has a bit of a toothless smile and every time he laughs at me I see that missing tooth and …
Well, Wild Bill’s cancer treatment procedure has been set for May 16.
I feel very responsible.
Till next week,