Saturday, January 24, 2015

"New Beginnings," Ch. 15, Memoir BUT...AT WHAT COST


Randy graduated from a General Studies program which was heavy in history and business. It prepared him for nothing, career-wise, so upon graduation he lived at home and drove delivery trucks and worked in construction to earn money.

At some point while working in construction, he started complaining about severe pain in his wrists and knees and a litany of other seemingly unrelated symptoms. I knew the pain must be really bad because this kid had played basketball on a sprained ankle the size of a stove-pipe. Thinking his maladies were work-related, he went to an orthopedist first and had water drained from his knee. At this point, I must applaud all the doctors he saw; upon learning he had no health insurance, the doctors did everything they could to keep the expenses down – even to the point of not charging him for visits.

Within two weeks of the initial symptoms he couldn’t drive. In fact, his fingers were so swollen he couldn’t even hold a toothbrush. He was so debilitated and in so much pain, he couldn’t work at all. He couldn’t do anything but lie in bed.

After hearing the extent of Rand’s complaints, the orthopedist recommended he see a rheumatologist. I started calling around but could not get an appointment for weeks. Finally, I freaked out and told the next office I called, “You don’t understand, he’s twenty-four, an athlete, walks like a ninety-year-old, and can’t hold a fork!” We got an appointment for the next day. He was diagnosed with Reiter’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that is usually self-limiting, but can cause permanent damage to joints, eyes, and heart. Randy was very brave, but I was distraught when not in his presence. When word started to get around, we were asked every day how he was doing. Ashley’s answer was usually, “Well, Randy is doing okay, but his mother might not make it.” Ash was right. Randy never complained or gave in to the pain. All he asked for was a puppy to keep him company and for us to split the wood into smaller pieces so he could lift them and feed the stoves while we weren’t home. He insisted I keep working and not worry about his having to fend for himself. I obliged on all counts except the worrying part.

He named the dog “LT” after his favorite N.Y. Giant football player, Lawrence Taylor. LT was very possibly the most destructive dog we ever had – just like his namesake the all-star linebacker. The dog was a menace. I had to replace nearly my entire shoe wardrobe, and my diaphragm which he somehow managed to remove from a suitcase, remove from its case, and eat. He served a good purpose, though. He kept Randy going.

Heavy-duty anti-inflammatories were the only treatment, and they did help reduce the pain and swelling, but he was not himself for almost six months. Reasonably, he sought a less physically demanding job, and got one selling insurance and investment plans. Rand always had been a fast and convincing talker; he would have done well as a lawyer, or perhaps, a used-car salesman. After a few months of doing that, however, he proclaimed it was not for him, “I don’t feel right talking people into buying something they don’t need.” Hooray for him!

Soon he decided – mostly due to his diagnosis – to go back to school to become a teacher. He figured he could probably teach even if he had rheumatic flares.

It was a great decision. What better thing for a natural-born salesman to sell than information? He got his Master’s Degree in Education and was hired to teach social studies and government at his high school alma mater where he still teaches today. I hesitate to deem many jobs a “calling,” but in his case, I think it was.

In 1986, before Randy had settled on teaching, he had started dating Sue, the woman he would marry. They’d known each other from high school, but not well, because she was two years behind him. They seemed an ideal match to me. Sue had her feet firmly on the ground – a good complement to Rand’s wilder side. She had a year left to receive her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. Smart, pretty, funny, and practical – what more could I want in a wife for my son and a mother for my grandchildren? Besides, I’m sure Sue was instrumental in getting Rand back on track and into his “calling” after his illness.

They married in 1990. He was a teacher, she a nurse. They were on their way – Mr. and Mrs. Middle America.


Upon graduation from college in 1988, Beth headed straight for New York City and a job at a medical publications company. A biology major and always a terrific writer, she had formulated her plan fairly early on, and followed it. She left country-life behind and became a full-fledged city girl.

I remember her saying about her house-mates in college, “Mom, these girls don’t know how to do anything.” She was the “go to” person to fix everything that went wrong in the house because, of course, coming whence she came, she was more than capable. I was proud.

The way I saw it: Beth had the world by the tail; she was prepared to face any challenge and excel. I loved watching her become a very stylish metropolitan type… who was still willing to use a screwdriver.

Within three months of graduating, she had a good job in her chosen career, was taking Master‘s-level courses in medical journalism and was sharing an apartment with other young professionals in NYC. No grass grew under this girl’s feet.

In 1989, Beth met Mr. Right. Andrew was from Belize, lived in Brooklyn with his family, and worked for IBM in the Wall Street district. I’m tempted to say it was love at first sight. The first sighting came from across a crowded bar-room, but apparently, that sighting was enough. They clicked immediately. Only weeks later, I was invited to meet him and his father for drinks at the South Street Seaport.

I was excited because Beth was clearly smitten. From everything I’d heard, I thought Andrew was probably the one! Though Beth was relatively inexperienced with men, I trusted her instincts, and I was right to trust them. Andrew is a gem.

Race, of course, had to come up in our first conversation. None of us was na├»ve enough to think “race doesn’t matter.” It didn’t matter to any of us, but we didn’t think we were typical of the masses either. Beth had told Andrew about “my drummer,” Rod – who, coincidentally, has the same last name they have. That was a good ice-breaker. Their knowing about him removed any elephant that might have been in the room, because they knew I had ventured into the world of interracial dating before.

When Andrew’s father left, I climbed the first molehill. At the time, the argument in politically-correct circles was about what to call people of color (another contrived term I hate to use, by the way), so I asked Andrew which he preferred being called, “black” or “African-American?” He said, “I prefer being called Andrew.” I was in love too! He went on to say he was from Belize and grew up here, so Africa didn’t really have anything to do with who he was.

We made it through the problem of Nana (94 at the time) perhaps using the “N-word” with no intended malice. “Well, that’s when she grew up,” he said. Could this man be any better? Not from my perspective. We didn’t talk politics, but his attitudes seemed to be very similar to mine when it came to matters of race.

Both my chicks had flown the coop. They were coupled and on their own with their life-partners. I had never had a mother-in-law to deal with, but the age-old tales of trouble convinced me it was best to butt-out under any and all circumstances, so I did. If I wasn’t asked, and sometimes even when I was, I kept my mouth shut, or at least, tried to.

We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir, BUT...AT WHAT COST, available from on-line retailers like Amazon and from its publisher Outskirts Press. It is the story of her transition from young liberal to mature conservative. I am proud to have edited it.
My writing-coaching-editing site is

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