I’ve started a memoir Life and Deaf and thought if I put excerpts on my blog I might be more apt to keep up with it and maybe even finish it before I either lose my mind, my life or my urge to write. Here goes:
Feeling flushed I get up to look in the mirror. Spots. Couldn’t be. Don’t want it to be. I lean closer. My heart pounds in fear. The sight swells around me rushing blood and adrenalin through my body and before my very eyes the spots multiply all over my face and neck like in a horror movie. German Measles. There’s an epidemic raging. This is a mild disease when kids get it – a little rash, a little fever, runs its course in a couple days. But in pregnant women, especially first trimester, it attacks the fetus and destroys the cells of whatever isn’t fully developed by then.
I’m three months pregnant with my first child. I grab at impossible straws. I want to believe I already had them as a child. My mother would know. I call her.
“Hi Jill. How’re you feeling? You over the morning sickness yet?”
“Yes. Much better. I wanted to ask you? Umm. Did I have German Measles as a kid?”
“What? The epidemic! Oh no! Oh yes, I’m sure you had it. Oh my God! Do you have symptoms? I’ll have to find your health records. Don’t worry.
I’ve been hearing about it on the news. Biggest epidemic they’ve ever had. Already affected ten thousand babies in the US.
“I’ve got a rash spreading over my face, throat, and chest. I’m going to the doctor tomorrow, but as soon as you find anything please call me back.”
“Is it going around your school?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
“I love you. Try not to get upset. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Two years married in 1967, but still so young, my husband and I are in stage two of our lives together. Phase one ended with our graduation from the University of Florida, me with a degree in English/Biology and Ray in Business, which neither of us will follow for awhile. The military has recruited us to Ft Bliss, Texas where Lt. Ray will be a fixed wing pilot. That didn’t sound too bad when we got here, but now the winds of war are blowing stronger as the first U.S. combat troops are sent to Viet Nam. They don’t need fixed wing pilots. They need Huey pilots. The helicopters are easy targets as they hover over the killing fields picking up the newly dead.
Ray’s best friend Mo is one of the first to go. It cuts us to the core. Pushes me left of center. Makes me remember my first SDS protest that filled the Gainesville streets; the redneck cops walking the edges of the crowd joyously wielding their billy clubs. Florida hadn’t had protests like this since the civil rights Sitdown in St. Augustine a few years earlier. The cops in gleeful agreement with the leashed dogs barking and slathering wildly to fulfill their training and ‘kill them niggers!’ And I was there, but horrifyingly on the wrong side with my husband’s racist relatives cheering, egging the armored men on to attack these defenseless stool-sitting black lunch counter patrons who had been denied service only because of their black color. I’m mortified, back away. So this is the other side of the ruling gentry that treats their “help” well by giving them life's leftovers. Why wasn’t I thinking? We’ve left the herding instinct of the 50’s behind. The 60’s bring a new war of no good purpose with it and the young and newly educated begin to rebel. We’ve been spouting ‘Make peace not war, man! Make love not hate!’ Now we have to do something about it. Protest. Nonviolently. Throwing flowers as we go.
Teetering on the brink of shipping out to Vietnam, a doctor friend of Lt. Ray’s returns with a purple heart, a shrapnelled ass and a belief in the injustice of this war. He gives Ray a medical reprieve from helicopter training. No Viet Nam. We’ve settled into life on the base. At Fort Bliss, close to El Paso and surrounded by desert and mountains. Ray takes care of courts martial and the mess hall. I’m just finishing my second year teaching in an elementary school close enough to the Mexican border to have a cafeteria with Mexican food so good you wished the other two days of the week they didn’t serve American.