Friday, October 25, 2013

Chapter Seven: Nuns and Brochures

          The first summer of the mist tents came and went, along with the previously mentioned visit to the Catskills, with the tents and all the combined accouterments that went with them.
         As you can probably guess, this is quite a project just in and of itself. It involved dismantling the tents, folding up all of the plastic, disconnecting all the bottles and various other parts with their accessories, packing them in the car, and then reassembling them again once we were upstate.
         This became a summer ritual; and it never got easy. One year, my mother was so focused on getting all the equipment into the car that she accidentally left one of our suitcases on the street, and we drove off leaving it behind. Luckily, my father noticed that the trunk was making a lot of noise, because of many things bouncing around inside. Realizing that with everything that we had should be packed so tight that that would probably be impossible, he pulled over to check and realize we had left the bag behind. We drove back and retrieved it before anyone decided to make away with it.
         At any rate, the summer was over and it was back to school for Maureen and myself. I was to start First grade, which was all together a new school experience for me. Kindergarten had been at P.S. 20, and really was nothing more than organized babysitting. There was finger-painting, making hand-turkeys, cutting with safe scissors, school glue and story books.
During one of our visits to the CF center at Columbia Presbyterian in upper Manhattan, we were given brochures by Dr. Denning to give to our teachers telling them exactly what CF was and how they should deal with it. It informed them that the child would do a lot of coughing but CF was not contagious. It also explained some of the therapies that the child had to contend with, and how he or she might miss some school because of the disease causing a lung infection exacerbation.
So, armed with our brochures and a new sense of feeling the odd outsider, we headed off to my first day at St. Michael School.
         St. Michael's had a schoolyard at the back of the building, which was surrounded by a black wrought iron fence. Parts of the yard were invisibly divided into sections, according to a grade. Right from first grade on you learned the rules: stay in your section, never straying into another grades’ space less an older, bigger child make short work of you. The youngest classes lined up towards the front of the yard. The deeper you got into the yard, the higher the grade would go. The seventh and eighth grade had a yard all their own on the side of the building, and only an insane first to sixth grade child would dare to venture into that territory.
         The principle, Sister Constantia, had a window in her office from which she could look down and survey all the first to sixth graders, and there was always a nun present to prevent the seventh to eighth graders from getting out of hand. Below Sister Constantia’s window was a large outdoor speaker, part of the PA system that echoed orders down on the yard below.
This was 1965, when a nun was a NUN, and they looked every bit the part. They wore long flowing black robes, and when they walked the seemed almost to float over the ground, as we rarely saw their feet. The habit also came with a giant set of Rosary beads hanging on their side, big enough to choke the life out of a delinquent child that misbehaved. They wore a rounded bib on their chest, starched and brilliant white. A large silver crucifix hung around their necks, with the chain just long enough for the cross to stick out below the bib. Lastly, a black veil covered the Sisters heads, with another starched white cowl covering all but their face. For all we knew, they could be bald, because we never saw any hair. If their habit was designed to intimidate, it worked. I, for one, was terrified of them.
         The convent, where the nuns lived, was a massive building across the street, from which the sisters floated in and out as we all gathered in the morning. We had no idea which nun we would get as a teacher, so we surreptitiously observed them all as they glided into the yard. The clue was they would head for the part of the yard nearest to their grade, so we anxiously watched where they would float.
         The maddening din of a yard full of children would reduce in steps as the nuns entered the yard, especially on this first day of school. Who you got as a teacher was something you would have to live with for the coming year, therefore it was an all-important factor in deciding your level of agony to come.
Suddenly all our attention jumped to Sister Constantia’s window, where she now stood ringing a large, shiny brass bell.
With what today would be considered unbelievable precision, we all ran to our yard section, and quickly formed 3 lines per grade. First graders like myself looked to the older grades for this positioning, and copied it as quickly as humanly possible. Just as quickly, the nuns glided to the front of the grade lines. I scanned the sister in front of our row, and what little I could see (which was just her face) she was young, with a pleasant smile. I was encouraged. Some of the nuns were older looking than my Great Aunt Susan, and she seemed ancient.
Sister Constantia raised a large, silver microphone to he mouth and began to speak, her voice booming out of the speaker below her window. “Welcome to the first day of the new year at St. Michael’s school…”, she began.
“It is our hope that you will work diligently and hard at your studies, and conduct yourself in a manner that will bring pride to our school. Poor behavior will not be tolerated, in the classroom as well as this schoolyard. Understand at all times…” (She then paused for added drama), “we WILL be watching.” I stood there, shaking in my shoes. It was as if God Himself were booming orders from on high, and I took it all very seriously. None of this was what I signed up for. I could feel my breakfast wanting to come up.
Sister Constantia continued, “We will now all face the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I remembered this from kindergarten, but that was just said facing a small flag in the classroom. This was a bigger deal all around. Here there was a large flag on a pole that was just outside the schoolyard. I noticed our nun placed her hand on her chest, and I copied her. Being a lefty, I used my left hand. “Right hand, dummy,” a boy in line next to me said after poking me in the ribs with his elbow. I quickly switched hands.
Sister Constantia’s voiced boomed out again, the whole yard following in unison, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic of which it stands, one nation under GOD (special emphasis on the “God”), indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
The pledge finished, we put our hand down and again turned to face what I figured to be our nun. I scanned our line for a familiar face, and found some; two or three from P.S. 20. We all were in uniform… the boys in blue navy pants, dress shoes, a starched white shirt, and a plaid blue tie. Mine, as was the case with many other boys, was a clip-on. The girls wore a one-piece plaid skirt and top, with a white shirt underneath, and a black tie that crossed at an angle with a snap in the middle.
The troublemakers were already making their dress statements… like the boy wearing an actual tie that was not pulled all the way up with an open collar on his shirt. I had to watch out for him, such flagrant disregard for the norm made him an obvious radical.
Suddenly the entire yard reverberated with the music of a John Phillip Sousa march, and the rows closest to the school door orderly began to orderly march (literally) into the school. We were the last to enter the building. I shot a look back at the yard, as the school doors closed behind us. We were trapped, and I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Then the tears came, and kept coming. Some the other kids looked at me with distain, a few others with sympathy.
I just wanted to go home, but that was not in the cards. All of this regimentation was terrifying; at least it was for me. This was nothing like Kindergarten. Our nun gave me a look, and I believe it had a hint of compassion. That made me feel better, but only a little.
We marched into our classroom, which was on the first floor, and all stood in the back as the roll was called. We were seated in alphabetical order; I ended up in the second row, third from the front. I had never seen a desk like this before. It was obviously very old; made of a dark wood, with a top that tiled open, which revealed a well where you would keep books, a indentation for a pencil or pen and a round 2 inch hole drilled into the desk top on the right corner. Years later I learned that was the place for the ink-bottle where children of generations back dipped their fountain pens. I rubbed my eyes, I was still sobbing, but now almost silently.
Mom had bought me a little leather book bag, which contained a pencil case and the brochures Dr. Denning had given us. I had no idea how or when I should give it to the nun, I was frozen in my seat.
I started to cough, partly from all the crying and also because with CF, that’s what you do a lot of… cough. I started to really hack, and felt a tap on my shoulder from the little black girl sitting behind me. I then turned around; I was a total mess.
“What is WRONG with you?” She asked me pointedly. I had no answer to her question, so I sheepishly turned back around.
We all sat with our hands folded in front of us, quietly squirming in our seats. Finally the nun walked to the center of the room and began to speak.
“Hello to the first day of first grade…” she said. My name is Sister Muriel Ignacia, and you should address me as Sister Muriel or just Sister. There are a few rules that you should follow while you are in my classroom. First off, no one speaks unless first spoken to. You are to pay attention at all times to your lessons; wandering eyes will be dealt with immediately. If we are doing a lesson and you finish before the other children, you should put your head down on your desk.”
There were other rules that Sister gave us, but I had a hard time paying attention, I was still crying and just wanted my Mom to come and get me and to take me home.
It was then I realized I was the only child in the classroom crying, and I felt embarrassed. Sister seemed to notice this too, and she walked down the isle toward me, holding something on her hand. I did my best to stop and I braced myself for whatever punishment was coming my way.
Instead, Sister Muriel handed me a composition book, the type that had a black speckled cover, and a sheet of stickers, all with a fall theme… leaves of various fall covers, pumpkins, scarecrows and other stuff.
“You’re John Cotter, is that correct?” she questioned. I just wiped my eyes and nodded in agreement.
“Would you do me a favor, Sister continued, “Could you put all these stickers on the first page of this book so it makes a fall picture? If you do a good job, I’ll hang it up, okay?” I sniffled, and nodded. She seemed very nice, and I liked stickers, so I wiped my eyes with my sleeves, and started my project. Maybe this would be okay after all.
I don’t remember a lot of the rest of the day. At one point I remember we practiced putting handles on the pictures of umbrellas that were in the workbooks we were given (actually practicing making letter Js), along with our other books.  
But true to her word Sister did take my art, and stuck it up with a thumbtack on the corkboard that was on the wall next to the cloakroom. In the coming days, whenever I felt the tears coming on, I looked at my sticker picture and felt better.
At the end of the day, a bell rang, and we were told to form a line again, and we were to march out of the school, to our parents who would be waiting outside the big wooden doors of the building.
I had still not managed to find the right time (or the courage) to go up to Sister and give her the informational brochure about CF the doctor had given to me. As we filed out of the classroom, I pulled it from my schoolbag, and as we passed Sister at the front door, I handed it to her.
“My Mom said I should give this to you…,” I said as I placed it in her hand.
“Oh, what,” Sister said, looking at the folded piece of paper. Before she could say much more, I was down the line of march and out the door.
Mom was waiting for me outside, along with my sister Maureen, and my younger sister Helene in her stroller. Being in the third grade, Maureen was out before me as we all left the school in the same order we went in; the littlest kids in and out last.
After giving me a hug, Mom asked, “So… how was your first day?”
“It was okay, I guess,” I muttered.
“He cried like a baby,” Maureen said to my mom. I was shocked she knew about that, but I guess gossip travels around a school pretty fast, and someone must have blabbed about me in the schoolyard at lunchtime. Anyway, I was busted.
“Well,” Mom said, “it’s a little scary your first day in a new place. Tomorrow will be better.”
I shot my sister Maureen a look that could kill for squealing
on my baby-like behavior, but she just wrinkled her nose back at me. We turned to leave the school and suddenly I realized a large shadow was behind us, I turned around and realized Sister Muriel had followed us out to the street.
         “Mrs. Cotter, may I speak with you a minute please?” Sister Muriel questioned my mother.
         “Of course, Sister.” my mom replied. “Stay here, I’ll be back in a minute…” Mom said to Maureen and I.
The two of them walked off away from our prying ears. I would have loved to hear what they were saying. But between the distance and the unrelenting din of kids just released from school, there was not a chance of catching a single word. Occasionally Mom or Sister would look our way, or point at a page of the brochure, but that’s all I could get from the conversation.
After a few minutes, Mom and Sister split up, and Mom came back to us, and the stroller.
“Was she mad?” I asked my mom when she came back.
“Mad? Of course not, she wasn’t mad, just concerned. I had to explain that it was something we all had to deal with, and that Maureen had CF too,” Mom said.
“Okay, as long as she wasn’t mad,” I said. I looked Sisters way, and she looked back and gave me a finger wave. I felt better, and we turned for home.
The next day would be different, I vowed myself the next morning. No crying today, I would act less like a baby. As Maureen and I walked to school, I kept repeating in my mind “no crying, do NOT cry…no crying…” As we turned the corner for the school, I suddenly had a strange feeling, and I grabbed the iron fence and promptly threw up onto the dirt outside the Convent grounds.
“Eew, are you alright?”,  Maureen asked, as her face crinkled up in disgust.
I am now, I guess,” I replied. I had made myself so nervous about not crying that I had made myself sick… literally. I wiped my mouth with my coat sleeve and got back on the sidewalk. I did feel better. I guess I needed some outlet. If it wasn’t tears, I guess this was the next thing my body could think of. It became a regular thing for the next couple of weeks; I’d throw up on the way to school every morning. Eventually, after a time, it stopped, as mysteriously as it started. I guess I was a high-strung kid.
We got to the schoolyard and split up, Maureen off to the third graders and I to my first grade class. Sister Muriel showed up minutes later and walked over to me. I felt awkward; the last thing I wanted after my crying fit yesterday was to stand out from the crowd again.
“How are you feeling today, John?” Sister asked crouching down to face me.
“Fine, I feel fine Sister,” I replied. I hoped she did not have a great sense of smell, I still felt she might notice my ‘incident’ from just a few minutes ago.
“Good, that’s good,” Sister smiled and patted me on the back. I smiled and walked over to the fence, leaned on it and stayed there until Sister Constantia rang the bell. The morning ritual was repeated and we marched into the school.
I settled into my seat, which made me feel good. Even after only one day it felt familiar, and I hadn’t cried at all. Everything was looking up.
Then suddenly the brown wooden P.A. speaker above the coat closet sprang to life, and I think we all jumped in our seats. Sister Constantia’s voice boomed from the speaker.
“Will first grader John Cotter and third grader Maureen Cotter please come to the Principal’s office? Thank you.”
I was frozen, I’d even go as far as saying I was petrified. Sister Muriel looked at me and said, “John, do you know where the Principals office is?” I just slowly shook my head. What had I done? Is crying so bad that I’m to be punished for it? Was I in trouble for throwing up on convent grounds? That explanation made no sense, Maureen was in trouble too. What would punishment entail? My mind raced.
“Wait here,” Sister said and left the room. I could see she went down the hall to another classroom and disappeared into it. A moment later she re-emerged, and with her was a large boy, he had to be from the fifth grade at the very least.
“This is Tommy, John, and he’ll escort you to the Principal’s office.” said Sister.
I just nodded and got out of my seat. “This way,” Tommy said, looking down on me, in more ways than one. When we got to the bottom of the first floor stairs, Tommy spoke, “What did you DO?”, was all he asked.
“I don’t know, I cried and threw up…” was all I could respond. Tommy just shook his head and we headed up the stairs. On the second landing, we went through a set of double doors and I realized we were in some sort of balcony that overlooked the gym floor.
“Come on, move,” Tommy urged me on. We went through a second set of double doors and found ourselves just outside the Principals office. There was a wooden bench outside the door, and Maureen was already there, squirming in the seat.
“Good luck, kid,” Tommy smirked and went back through the double doors from which we had come.
“What did we do?” I asked Maureen.
“I didn’t do anything, this must be YOUR fault,” Maureen answered. “I’ve never had to come HERE before.”
Sister Constantia was on the phone, and I peeked a look into her office. There sat the big brass bell, and the big slilver microphone attached to what looked like a radio. Also hanging on the wall, in a very conspicuous spot was a large, wooden paddle, with a word burned into it. I nudged Maureen and asked, “What does that say?”
Maureen eyes grew wide when she looked at the paddle. It says PENANCE,” she answered. I was kind of sure I knew what that meant, and I felt the tears coming up again. NO,! I said to myself and forced them back down.
Just then Sister Constantia got off the phone. “Cotter children, come here, I need to talk with you.” Maureen jumped off the bench and I followed.
Sister took her seat at her desk, which sat perpendicular to the office window she spoke from each morning. I braced myself for the worst.
“I just want the let you both know that I’ve had a conversation with both your teachers, Sister Muriel and Mrs. Sager, and I am aware of your condition. We hope we will be able to work with you and both your parents to do all we can to help. “ I was still braced, but then she simply said, “That’s all, go back to your classrooms and continue your studies. Maureen, escort your brother back to his room before you go to yours.” We both just stood there.
Sister Constantia smiled, probably figuring what had gone on in our minds. “That’s all, now, off with you both!” She just shook her head and quietly laughed to herself.
You didn’t have to ask us twice, we got out of there, and fast. It was like seeing God Himself and surviving the burning bush, It seemed that we would live to see another day.
And oh boy, did we have some days to come.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chapter Six: Mist Tents and Scotch Tape

         At six years old my bedtime was at 9:00 p.m. That was always a struggle for my parents, as I was one of those “ten more minutes, pleeeeeease?” types of kid. This was especially true in the summer, as often I’d be sent off to bed before the sun had completely set. It had never seemed fair to me that my day had to end before the sun’s did. My sister Maureen, although 2 years my senior, had the same bedtime, and that always annoyed her. Truth was, neither of us was happy to go to bed, ever.
         This was especially true tonight. Tonight would be the first for Maureen and I in our new mist tents. It had been a hot, sticky late June so far that year, and the rest of the summer was predicted to be the same, if not worse.
         Our small experience in the tents so far had been less than stellar, and we had discovered that they had a major flaw, and that simply was that they were little hothouses. That made perfect sense, actually; since the tents main purpose was to keep the atmosphere inside as controlled as possible. But the controlled air in the tent was heavy with moisture, hence the big problem. Because you know what they say, “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity”.
         I glanced at our wind-up clock. 9:00 p.m. was approaching fast, and my mind had already been spinning for a while with schemes to make my little hothouse livable. I knew that my mom would tuck Maureen and I in bed, as she did most nights, but especially tonight.
          Tonight she would make sure that everything with the tents was functioning properly, and that Maureen and I were properly positioned to receive an optimal benefit from our machines. That meant that I would have to mess that up as fast as I could after she left the room, and I had assured myself she wasn’t coming back any time soon. I was confident that I could figure some work-around pretty easily; it would be a cinch.
         I discussed none of this with Maureen; as I was not sure of her position on the whole ‘say one thing-do another’ strategy I was planning. We had both agreed with mom that we would give this tent thing a try, and I would, I guess, but I had to have a safety net in place. If it got too hot in there, I was going to bail out, no question about it.
         But watching my sister, and the way she was looking at her tent, I had a feeling she was on the same page as me. At one point, I watched as she practiced how hard it would be to throw her tent’s front flap up and back while still lying on her back in bed. She made several attempts, and it was surprisingly difficult to throw the flap hard enough to wrap it around and stay on top of the tent.
         I watched as she attempted this feat, once, twice, three times, finally saying to her, “Whatcha doing, Maureen?”
         “Nothing,” was her sole response. I just nodded. I knew what she was up to, but was curious if she would say anything to me about it. She was apparently planning her escape too, and had no intention of discussing it with me. Seeing that made me feel a little better.
         The light was fading outside, and I had hatched my plan. It was a simple one. My bed was closer to the window than Maureen’s was, and therefore closer to the window fan. I would simply push the front tent flap so that it would billow forwards, like a sail, and that would catch the breeze from the fan and bounce it into the tent. If I heard anyone coming down the hall, I would pull the flap down tight against the bed, and no one would be the wiser.
         I waited until Maureen went to the bathroom to change into her pajamas, and took a test run. I lay down in bed, and grabbing the bottom of the front tent flap pushed it up and to the side. It created a nice, billowy sail; that was immediately filled with the wind from the fan, and the breeze was then directed right on top of me. It worked like a charm. Best of all I could hide my subterfuge quickly, as I proved to myself when I heard Maureen returning down the hall. I grabbed the bottom of the flap and pulled, and the sail immediately disappeared. Maureen came back into the room, and gave me a look as I lay in the bed.
         “Whatcha doing?” she asked.
         “Nothing,” I replied. She stared at me a moment longer, then returned to watching the TV. She had her plans, and I had mine. It was not up for discussion.
         Mom stuck her head in the door. “Ten minutes, then bed.” she said. The countdown clock had started, just like the one I had seen on TV when I watched the NASA rocket ships. T-minus ten minutes till blastoff, but that was okay, I was ready for launch, you bet.
         It was my turn in the bathroom getting into my pajamas. This being the summer, I was wearing my short pants and short sleeved set, which were normally cool enough except for those really brutal summer nights. But with my sail strategy set, I had no fear that I would be okay. I was quite full of myself actually, I had everyone fooled. I looked up and I could see in the bathroom mirror I was not just wearing my pjs, but also a sizeable smirk. But all too soon I would have that knowing grin wiped right off my face.
         I shortly returned to the bedroom, and gave a quick glance to the clock between our beds. It was T-minus two minutes, and counting. I sat down next to Maureen on the floor; the Addams Family was just ending on the TV. She glanced at me, then looked at me even harder. I looked back, grinning.
         “What’s with you?” Maureen asked.
         “Nothing, why?” I answered, and continued to grin. Maureen just continued to stare at me.
         “You’re weird,” she finally stated. I just sat and smiled.
         Then sadly right on time, mom suddenly appeared. “Okay, bed, let’s go, bedtime…” she stated. Dad followed behind, a rather unusual occurrence. Our normal routine was to get the high sign from mom, and then go down the hall to the living room, and give dad a kiss goodnight. Not tonight. I guess they both wanted to be present to make sure everything went smoothly with the tents. I could understand, but it made me a little nervous. There was entirely too much scrutiny going on, and it made me wonder just how much of my plan I was going to get away with. At the very least, things were going to be more difficult than I had planned.
         Maureen and I kissed both mom and dad, and jumped into bed. Then dad flipped down my tent flap, as mom did with Maureen’s. We were now enclosed in plastic from our heads down to about our knees. I was already starting to feel hot.
         Then dad went over to the compressor, and flipped the “on” switch. It roared to life, and we all winced a little. I wondered if we would ever get used to that sound. I can now say with the distance of time, we never really did.
         Smartly, mom and dad did not say goodnight, as we were all aware we would not be able to hear them. They just waved at the door, and turned off the light. As was the custom, mom left the bedroom door slightly ajar, normally to allow a cross breeze from the fan in the window. But with the exception of a gentle wind on Maureen and my lower legs and feet, that now had become a complete waste of time.
         The compressor sounded even louder in the almost-dark room, if that was even possible. After what had only been a couple of minutes, I already could feel the sweat beginning to run under my pajama shirt. I felt it on my face, too, but it was hard to tell if it was sweat, or mist from the machine condensing on my skin. Either way, I was really starting to get extremely uncomfortable.
         The worst part was on my upper legs. There, the bottom part of the front flap of the tent lay right on top of me, heavy thick plastic sticking to me like a pair of synthetic boxer shorts. The weight alone was almost painful, and the fact that its sheer mass prevented any air from getting to my midsection was already starting to drive me crazy.
         I looked over at the iridescent face of our clock, and tried to make out the time through the plastic. The clock read about 9:07 p.m. That had to be wrong. It had better be wrong, or I was in big trouble.
         Five minutes later I had had enough. All right, I thought, I tried, I really did, but it was as bad in this thing as I was afraid it was going to be. It was time to launch the back-up plan.
         I gave a quick look towards the hall, or as much of it as I could see through the partly opened door, and accepting that the coast was clear, I pushed the flap up and to the side to create the “sail”. Two things happened almost immediately: A cool breeze from the window fan blessedly rushed into the tent, and almost all of the mist that had accumulated inside blew out.
         Almost immediately Maureen took notice of my game plan, and even through the half-darkness, I could see her smile of approval. Taking quick note of my method, she proceeded to copy it, almost exactly. Thus having solved the tent problem with creative expediency, I smiled to myself, closed my eyes and rolled over on my side, now sufficiently cooled off to fall asleep.
         I began to drift off, the roar of the compressor slowly beginning to drift off in the distance, its drone taking on a white-noise quality that was almost bizarrely soothing. Then, suddenly, I felt a sensation that caused me to be jarred instantly awake.
         My eyes flew open and I realized my father was standing next to my bed, “adjusting” the tent flap, which meant he was closing it securely again. “You have to keep that closed, okay?” he sternly stated; more than asked. I just lay there and nodded.  I looked over at Maureen’s bed, and apparently he had done to same thing to her tent before he had done mine. She just lay there, and I couldn’t tell at first if she had fallen asleep or not. Then she rolled over facing me, and even in the dim room light I could make out how mad she was.  I’m sure my expression was the same.
         The sound of the machine was so completely enveloping that I realized that with my eyes closed, there would be no way I could possibly hear my dad or mom in the room, let alone coming down the hall. And since I couldn’t sleep with my eyes open, it would now seem that my plan contained some major holes, large enough to fire a NASA rocket through.
         I looked over at the clock. It was just past 10:15 p.m. I guessed that my dad had checked on us as he went down the hall, either to get into his pajamas or use the bathroom. I knew that my folks would be going to sleep when the 10 o’clock news was over, and my guess would be that they would check on us one more time before they went to bed. I had to rethink my strategy.
         By this time I was fairly sleepy, and I hoped that it was enough that I would just drift off before I got too hot. No such luck. The hotter I got, the more conscious I became. Shortly I was wide-awake. It was now 10:30 p.m., and I had to figure out a way to stall until 11:00 or so, when mom and dad would be off to bed. I figured it was time for a bathroom run. I could drag that out for a bit, I was sure.
         I was just out the door and heading down the hall to the bathroom when mom’s head popped out from the kitchen doorway.
         “Where are you going?” she asked.
         “I gotta go… to the bathroom,” I answered. I don’t think I sounded very convincing.
         “Okay, in and out, your supposed to be asleep over an hour and a half ago, you know it’s an early morning, dad’s got to do your treatment before he’s off to work. In and out and back to bed, I mean it!” mom insisted.
         “Okay, okay, alright, sheesh…” I moaned. Well, that stall idea was a bust.
         The cool tile of the bathroom floor felt good on my feet, and I ran some cold water and wet my face to chill down a bit. I laughed to myself, realizing that my face was already wet from the mist tent. That was also true of a great deal of my pajama shirt, from a combination of sweat and water vapor. Actually, the irony was that being slightly damp; the little breeze coming in the bathroom window gave me a slight chill. This was a very weird night.
         After I got as much mileage out of the bathroom ploy as I thought I could get away with, I knew I’d have to head back to our bedroom. When I opened the bathroom door I found dad waiting for me in the hallway. “Mom said in and out, and she meant it,” he said. I just nodded and went past him into our room. I climbed back into bed and closed the mist tent front flap. The bedroom door opened slightly more, and I saw dad checking out that I was properly “sealed” in. Assured that the tent and I were properly positioned, he closed over the door again, back to its normal slightly opened position.
         I was back in the hothouse, and this time I knew that I couldn’t pull any fast ones any time soon. So I figured that I would just have to put up with it, “Offer it up to God…” as my mom would say. I looked over at Maureen, and I was pretty sure she was sound asleep. If she could do it, I thought, so can I. So I imagined what the cool fan would feel like, and eventually, somehow, I fell asleep.
         In the middle of the night, my father suddenly awakened me. I had no idea what was going on.  The roar from the compressor slowly increased as I came awake, but everything was confused, turned around. Nothing in the room was where it was supposed to be. It was then I realized that for some bizarre reason, I was lying at the bottom end of my bed. I had no idea how I got there, but however it happened, its main result seemed to be that it had gotten my dad real mad.
         “Jack, I’m sorry, but you have to stay in the tent, I told you,” dad whispered as he picked me up and put me back at the top of the bed and back in the tent. “No more of this now, enough,” he angrily insisted.
         “No more of what?” I asked, still not quite understanding what the hell was going on.
         “No more getting out of the tent!” he stated.
         “But I didn’t, I stayed in, really, I did what you said!” I answered, completely bewildered. How the hell did I end up at the bottom on the bed? I hadn’t a clue.
         “All right, we’ll talk about it in the morning, go back to sleep,” dad sighed, and went back out of the room.
         I was completely confused, and rather pissed off. I was in trouble for doing something I didn’t do, or at least I didn’t realize I had done. That was not fair, not in the least. I looked over in Maureen’s direction, and she was sound asleep. That pissed me off even more. I had no idea what time it was, but eventually, I fell back asleep.
         My mom awakened us the next morning in the usual manner, except this morning it was more like, “Maureen, Jack, time to… GOOD LORD!”
         I opened my eyes, confused again, and sure enough, I was back down at the bottom of my bed. I looked over in Maureen’s direction, and amazingly, she was at the bottom of her bed, too. We had both unconsciously, in the middle of the night, made our escape.
         Dad came in right after mom, having heard her gasp of amazement, to see what was going on. Maureen was just waking up, and I could tell she was as confused as I had been earlier in the night. By now this was old hat to me, so I was fine.
         “How did I get down here?” Maureen questioned. Mom looked at her, then to me. I just shrugged.
         “We didn’t do it on purpose, honest, mom,” I assured her. “I guess we really didn’t want to be in there, so in our sleep, we fixed it,” I surmised. It seemed like the most logical solution, and probably, the correct one.
         Dad just rubbed his hand over his face, began to chastise us, and then stopped in mid sentence. How could he get mad at us for something we did in our sleep? Truth is, he told me years later, if it had been him, he probably would have done the same thing. He just dropped the matter and Maureen and I started our treatments.
         Later I heard mom and dad talking in the kitchen before he left to work. “We’re going to have to figure something else out,” dad stated, “This will never work this way.”
         “Any ideas?” mom questioned.
         “I’ll think about it at work, and you see if you can come up with something during the day. We’ll work it out tonight when I get home.” dad answered. With that and a good-bye kiss, he was out the door.
         I was very happy. It seemed that my body had figured out a way all by itself to do what I was unable to do consciously. It was literally a get out of jail free card. I was sure that it would only be a matter of time until the tent idea was history. I looked at my mist tent and stuck my tongue out at it. Good riddance soon enough, I thought. Oh, if that were only the case.
         The next night was another hot one, but I was not too stressed. Mom and dad had been pow-wowing a good deal of the night, and I had yet to hear a concrete idea on how to keep us in the tents.
         Nine o’clock rolled around, and I had still heard nothing. This is fantastic, I thought. At the very worst, I’ll just wait until mom and dad go to sleep, and I’ll just move out of the tent to the bottom of the bed and sleep there. It’s actually closer to the window fan anyway. If mom and dad say anything the next morning, I’ll just say I must have done it again in my sleep. Not my fault, I did the best I could, really!
         Right on time, mom appeared at the door. “Okay, bed, let’s go, bedtime…” she announced. No dad today, that was good. Things were back to normal, thank goodness. Maureen and I got up to head down the hall to kiss dad goodnight, when we practically ran into him as he came in the room. Uh-oh.
         “Okay, we’re going to make sure you stay put tonight,” dad stated. In his hand he held my new nemesis: a roll of thick scotch tape.
         “What’s that for?” Maureen asked, a millisecond before I asked the same thing.
         “After we tuck you two in,” dad explained, “were going to tape the flaps on the tents shut.”
         “You’re going to TAPE us in?” I exclaimed. “How will we get out, we’ll be sealed in!” I moaned, trying to sound incredulous.
         “Oh, stop making such a fuss,” mom lightly chuckled. “It’s just scotch tape…”
         Oh course, I knew she was right, but I was hoping if I sounded desperate and scared enough, they might feel guilty and abandon the whole idea. No such luck. My folks knew me too well.
         After the required moaning and complaining, Maureen and I climbed into our tents, and dad proceeded to tape each side of our mist tents tightly; using several layers. Actually, I got more and more upset and depressed with each successive layer. At first, I had just been pretending to panic at the thought of being sealed into the tent, but now it was actually starting to slightly freak me out. I had never been claustrophobic before, but I was starting to feel that way now.
         Finally, dad put on the last layer of tape. The front flap was now less like a flap and more like a 4th solid side. Of course, Maureen and my legs still stuck out under the flap, but now it had no give whatsoever. Wiggling out from under there now would be quite difficult, which I guess was the idea.
         If there is such a thing as well meaning, loving child abuse, I guess this would be it. But in fairness what else could my folks do? Back in those days, if the doctor said jump, people would say how high, and by the way, how much tape should I use?
         So that night, there was no “sail”, no ending up at the bottom of my bed. Instead, there was just a long, hot, fitful sleep. Although, when I awakened the next morning, I had managed to worm myself under the flap half way, with just my head still in the tent. My folks didn’t complain, however, since that was really the only part of me that had to be in there.
         From that day on, the tents became my familys’ evil nemesis, but one that, unfortunately, we had no choice but to put up with. In the summers they were a nightly sauna, ruining sleep and damaging mattresses. In the winter, thanks to my apartment building’s often-finicky boiler, they sometimes became damp iceboxes.
         I can remember waking up many a winter morning buried under the covers up to the neck and shivering from having a cold, wet head. My damp hair was often plastered to my skull, and the trip from the bed to the bathroom and back again was often a frigid jog. On those mornings I actually enjoyed my treatment, as the towel padding and the clapping would serve to warm me up.
         And then there was vacation! My folks still tried to get all of us out of the city for a few weeks each summer, and head up to the Catskill Mountains and visit our familiar home away from home, East Durham, near the village of Catskill. Of course, we avoided certain places, like good old Carson City and Indian Village. We all felt that one case of Encephalitis was enough for one lifetime, and although we knew St. Jude had my back, we all figured we’d not push our luck.
         But the difference now was as we went, so went the tents. And although thanks to very kind and understanding neighbors we had all adjusted to the bizarre life of roaring air compressors and plastic hothouses at home, that would not necessarily be the case in a rented cabin in the mountains.
         The first problem was we had to take the entire tent set-up apart, pack it all up, along with all of our masks, drugs and various respiratory contraptions, and re-assemble it all up again when we arrived in the mountains.
         But that was just the beginning. We were often left with a moral quandary: do you let the people who are renting to you know you are coming with a mini respiratory ward? Or do you hope against hope that you’ll get away with no one noticing the incredible compressor racket coming from your cabin? In the deep still of the peaceful mountain air, all you could say was good luck.
         So most times we split the difference. My folks told the owners of the various mountain cabins where we stayed about our health condition, and that we needed certain “equipment” for the maintenance of our health. Of course the owners would have no problem with that, how could they? Sick kids want time in the mountain air, what could be better?
         I often wonder what those owners actually thought that first night when we fired up that sucker. But I never found out, as no one ever had the courage to throw us out, however much as they might have wished to.
         Just like everything else in our lives, after awhile, even all of this became routine. Treatments for us were just a normal morning event; mist tents were just funny looking beds. If all you know is what you have, then what you have is all there is. Normal is just a state of mind; it has no solid basis in reality. That’s how my family lived its life, because we had no choice.
         A couple of final mist tent notes. After enduring the monster compressor for a few years, technology rolled around and came up with something called an ultrasonic nebulizer. In laymen’s terms, that was a misting machine that made no sound whatsoever, except a slight gurgling noise as the water ran into it. Suddenly, nighttime became silent again. It actually took a little time to get used to, but shortly we all, (including the neighbors), could get a peaceful night’s sleep again.
         Lastly, you might remember in the last chapter that I said how sad my mother was that her children would have to sleep in those tent contraptions, possibly for the rest of their lives. But it didn’t turn out that way, and I would explain later. So let me do so now.
         Six years or so after we started using the mist tents, the word came down from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the word was stop using the mist tents, immediately.
         It seems that a bacteria named Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes the most common occurring form of lung infections in CF patients. It is actually responsible for most of the death of people with CF.
         Pseudomonas aeruginosa grows best in a moist environment, like the inside lining of a lung. But let’s think, where else might there be an excellent, moist environment? One that had lots of nooks and crannies, in things like, say, tubes and hoses? That would be really bad, except thank goodness there was no way for those bacteria to become airborne, so it could be unwittingly breathed in by a susceptible CF patient. But wait; didn’t the mist tent constantly PUMP mist in a CF patient’s face all night long?
         So yes, someone finally figured out that unless you constantly sterilized every little component of the mist tent on a daily basis, (which of course, was practically impossible), they were doing more harm than good.
         So just like that, the tents were gone. I don’t even remember what happened to them, it seems like they just vanished, like in a puff of smoke. My hope was that they went back to the hell that they had come from.
         And that is why to this day, I try to live my life as kindly and as thoughtful of others as I can. Because if I don’t, I know what will be waiting for me on the other side.
         And believe me, eternal rest will then be tough to manage. It’s bad enough I’ll already be dealing with that all that heat, but I have a bad feeling it will be a particularly moist heat. Plus,  I’ll have to put up with that constant, roaring noise.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chapter Five: Aluminum Tubes and Carpet Insulation

        The last day of Kindergarten was completely lost on me. There was some sort of little ceremony, congratulating the class for finishing our “studies” (which was rather amusing, since back in 1964 kindergarten was really just glorified babysitting), and I think they gave us something to take home, like a diploma. Maybe it was an art project we had all done. Whatever it was, I paid almost no attention. My mind was elsewhere.
         My focus was back at home, where the new tents were being delivered that day. Nothing else mattered. I looked forward to the event like it was a second birthday; it was that big a deal.
         One of my favorite things to do when I was young was to play “fort”, where my sister and I would construct our own citadel in our living room. The fortress mostly consisted of taking the knitted cover my parents had on the couch, pulling it up in the middle and propping it up with some object, like a wiffle ball bat. Then we would gather up all our “stuff”, such as playing cards, storybooks, a favorite toy animal friend, and of course, dad’s flashlight, and secret ourselves away for the afternoon.
         In truth, this was almost always a Sunday afternoon activity, and mostly a fall or winter exercise, as it would get way too hot in the fort on a summer’s day. But the particulars of the what and when were currently lost on me, because when I got home I would no longer have to worry about mom or dad getting mad at Maureen and I for stretching their couch cover all out of shape in the construction of our fortification. Today I was getting a REAL tent, and one that was just my own, to boot.
         I had already staked out a spot in our bedroom to set my tent up, one of the few bare spots on the linoleum floor in the room. I told Maureen as much that morning. Where Maureen would put her tent was of no concern to me; that was her problem. As far as I was concerned, I had called it; I had dibs.
         At noon the last bell of the school year rang, an early dismissal, the same as it had been for the past few days. And of course that day there was a mad dash for the doors, as the frantic joy of summer vacation exploded throughout the student body. I was happily excited too, but for my own secret reason. Treasure awaited me at home; I was sure.
         Maureen and I got back home as quick as our feet could carry us. I lead the way, constantly urging my sister. “Move faster, come on, hurry up, and hurry!” I yelled behind me as I ran. She couldn’t understand my frenzied pace, as far as she was concerned; the tents were going nowhere anyway. She just didn’t get it, I thought. It’s probably because she’s a girl, I advised myself. A boy would understand without explanation, I was sure of it.
         Finally we arrived home. We always rang the doorbell; mom felt we were still too young to carry our own keys. So when she answered the door, I of course practically pounced on her. “ Did they come? Did the tents come?” I asked, breathlessly. Rather ironic, when you think about it.
         “Yes, they delivered them just about an hour ago,” mom explained. “I had them put them in the bedroom. I was just trying to figure out…”
         “I want to put mine together!” I interrupted. I had seen what a tent was supposed to look like in countless cartoons, from Popeye to Yogi Bear to Bugs Bunny, and I was not sure if mom was aware of all the complex nuances that were involved. Of course I didn’t use those exact words, but you get the idea.
         “You can help,” mom stated, “but this is not a toy, this is to help with your breathing. This is serious stuff, so you have to treat this as…” but it was too late, I was already gone and down the hall.
         The sight that greeted me was not what I expected, not even close. What I saw on the floor was a bunch of open cardboard boxes with some sort of silver tubes inside wrapped in plastic. On my bed was another open box with what looked like big clear shower curtains folded up inside of them. Another plastic bag had white tube-like things inside that looked like snakes. Lastly was another couple of boxes with pictures on the outside of some sort of machine hooked up to an upside down glass bottle hanging from a metal wire stand. The machines resembled ones I had seen when looking around at the CF center, while mom had been talking to the doctor. Those machines kind of scared me back then, and now they were sitting on the floor of our bedroom. This was no good at all, I thought, this was a big gyp, of the worst kind.
         “These are the tents?” I asked mom. “These are not tents, that’s not what tents look like!” I just stood there. I would have been beside myself with righteous anger and indignation if I hadn’t been so completely puzzled by what I saw. What were these things?
         “These ARE the mist tents,” stated my mom. “What were you expecting, tents like you would go camping in or something?” mom asked, and slightly laughed. I just stood there, with my mouth tightly closed. Mom then looked at me and slowly realized that was exactly what I was expecting. “Oh, Jack, no, no, no, where did you get that idea from?” mom asked.
         I gave that some serious thought, and slowly realized that no one had said anything like that to me. I guess I just heard we were getting tents, and made up the rest in my all too vivid imagination. To say I was now disappointed would be a gross understatement. It would seem that nothing about this CF stuff was going to be any fun whatsoever. Like I said, a huge gyp.
         Mom walked around me and, seeing my expression, gave me a hug, and I let her. Maureen just stood in the doorway, looking at me with a mix of concern and bewilderment. I guess she had a better idea what was to be expected when we got home, because she didn’t look surprised by our delivery at all. I felt a bit stupid by now, actually.
         Mom gave me a little pat on that back, and then she asked, “Do you still want to help me put these things together? You could be a big help.”
         I knew she was just trying to make me feel better, but I went along with it. Maybe it actually would make me feel better. It all sort of looked like a big erector set, actually. I liked erector sets.
         I sat down on the floor next to some of the boxes. I first grabbed one of the ones with the silver tubes. I was surprised how light it was. They were the aluminum frames of the mist tents, separated into J-shaped sections, which locked together with drilled holes and spring-loaded pins. There was an assembly diagram included in both boxes, but I didn’t need those, I thought. I set about putting the first one together.
         Doing something like this always made me feel better. I always liked to tinker, as my mom would say, I was forever taking things apart to see how they worked. This led to many objects in our house no longer functioning. I was great at taking things apart, you see, but not so great at putting them back together again. My parents still own a lovely decorative clock that is only correct twice a day. Other than that, it might as well be a doorstop.
         The first attempt at the frame resulted in half the parts being pointed the wrong direction. The next time I figured I’d actually look at the instructions, and in a few minutes, mom and I had assembled the first frame. Mom, Maureen and I had to move the mattress on my bed to put it in place, as half of the frame sat between it and the box spring. It kind of did look like a tent, I now observed; maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
         The second frame went pretty fast, as we now had a better idea what we were doing. Maureen just watched, having no interest in joining in with the assembly fun. That was fine with me; so far this was the most fun I had had in all this CF stuff.
         The next thing to do was to put the plastic tents on the frames. We took the plastic bags that the tents were in and very carefully opened them (as they had numerous labels plastered all over their outside warning us NOT to use a sharp object to open the bags, giving the customer no credit for brains whatsoever), and carefully unfolded them. They were thick, heavy, clear plastic, and smelled awful, a thick petroleum-like odor. Shortly the stench made whole room smell like a gas station. Mom already had the fan on in the window, but got an idea and quickly turned it around to blow the smell out of the room. After being unfolded a while, the smell started to dissipate, but by now Maureen, mom and myself all had a slight headache.
         Going by the enclosed instructional diagram, mom secured the tent over the frame, pulling it down tight on three sides, with the front side being a loose flap that could be raised and lowered.
         On both sides of the tent were holes, fitted with elastic in their middle, allowing a tube to enter the tent from either side, depending where you set up the mist-producing machine. The tubes were the white snakes I had seen earlier. I pulled them out of their bag, and began to annoy my mom by blowing into them, producing a truly horrid sound. She quickly took them away, much to my chagrin.
         Lastly, mom opened the boxes for the mist-producing machines, technically called Cool-Mist Humidifiers. The original ones we got in 1964 could only work if they were attached to the beast of a compressor that my dad had brought home on the subway the day before. It had valves on it that allowed it to run both humidifiers simultaneously, and so mom got it out of the hallway where my dad had left it and dragged it between our two beds. I wanted to help with all this, but was forbidden by mom, as all this stuff was very heavy and a bit dangerous.
         The mist machines were mostly pre-assembled; the only part we had to worry about was attaching them to the compressor with some rubber tubing, and connecting a large glass bottle that was attached to each side of the machine. That bottle had to be filled with water and then hung upside down from a wire stand, where it was then hooked up to the machine through a rubber hose. Again I was told hands off, as the glass bottles, once filled with water were quite heavy, and if dropped, could really hurt someone. Not to mention the fact that we had no spares to replace them with if they got broken. So I sat on my bed and glumly watched.
         Finally the tents were completely set up. I gave them a good once over, and drew my final conclusion: sadly, they were not going to be fun tents. The first big problem was that they were clear plastic. Anyone who knows anything about what makes a tent cool knows that its most important attribute is the ability to use it as a hiding place. Clear plastic defeats that purpose entirely. Next was its size. Although it covered the top half of the bed, it was only a twin bed, so that was hardly big enough to be any fun whatsoever. You could bring a couple of things in there with you and that was about it. Nope, as far as I was concerned, the gyp was complete.
         Mom and Maureen stood back and looked at our new tents too. Maureen had a twisted scowl on her face; mom’s was just blank. “They’re ugly… I think they’re ugly, Mom,” Maureen declared.
         “And they’ll stink at being fun tents, you can see right into them,” I added.
         Mom just stared. Years later she told me all she could think about was how sad she was that her children would have to sleep in those contraptions; possibly for the rest of their lives. But thank God it didn’t turn out that way, as I’ll explain later.
         “Okay,” mom sighed, “let’s try them out. You two get in your tents, and I’ll turn on the compressor. If we did everything right, there should be mist coming out of the tube stuck in the sides of the tents.” Maureen and I jumped in, and mom folded down the tent flaps.
         I immediately noticed a few things when I climbed in. Every sound inside was weird, muted, muffled. I also noticed everything looked weird through the plastic, like gazing into a funhouse mirror, except one you could see through. And almost immediately after that, I noticed something else; something would turn out to be the biggest factor of all: the inside of the tent was kind of hot.
         I was about to say something to mom about that when she turned on the compressor. The noise was incredible, and the vibrations the machine threw off actually made my bed vibrate, as they did everything else in the room. I noticed, even through the thick plastic of the tent, the wind-up clock on the little table between our beds began to slowly move around.
         A second or two later, mom loudly asked Maureen and I “Do you see mist coming out of the hoses?”
         “What?” we both answered, almost simultaneously.
         “IS THERE MIST COMING OUT OF THE HOSES…?” Mom yelled.
         “YES!” we both yelled back.
         After a minute or so, mom went over to the compressor and turned it off. The sudden absence of that amazing roar-sound was almost jarring. It was like a physical presence in the room that had suddenly vanished.
         “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, God forgive me…” mom said as she sat down on the end of my bed, almost seeming to gather her composure. Maureen and I flipped back our tent flaps and joined her. Mom had earlier turned the fan back around, and I realized how good it felt when the breeze from it hit me. Obviously, it could not penetrate the tent. Again, I was about to mention that potential problem, but Maureen spoke up first.
         Wow!” she exclaimed, “That thing is really loud! I mean, really, really loud!”
         “Yea,” I added for emphasis, “Really, really, REALLY loud!”
         “Yes, I could tell that,” mom muttered, and just stared at the contraption. “We got to do something about the vibrations,” she thought out loud, “or God help the McGuires downstairs…” she concluded.
         We lived on the 6th floor, and the McGuires were our downstairs neighbors. All of their kids went to St. Michael’s school, the same as Maureen and I, and we both had kids from their family in our classes. I hadn’t thought about it until mom brought it up, but the fact was if our floor was vibrating, that meant the McGuire’s ceiling was doing the same thing. And I had to believe that tremendous sound could easily punch through a good amount of wood, brick and plaster. Our problem was about to become their problem, too. But there was nothing we could do about that today; it was too late for that. Mom and dad would have to figure something out, that much was for sure.
         I finally grabbed my opportunity to make my point. “Hey Ma, you know, it’s really hot in there… you can’t feel the fan ‘cause of the plastic. How are we gonna’ fix that?” I innocently asked.
         Looking back, I think I actually believed that my mom, or if not her, most certainly my dad, would have a solution for that problem. That’s how I know I was very young, because I was still at the age when you believe your parents can fix anything. I was about to discover that sadly was not the truth.
         “Well, ah, I’m not sure, huh, let me think…” my mom responded. I patiently waited for the solution.
         Maureen added, “Yea, it was really hot in mine too, so I guess we’ll have to leave the flaps open at night, right mom?”
         I liked that answer, and nodded my agreement. We both waited for my mom to join in our conclusion. But she was not joining in, she was just sitting quietly, and I could see she was thinking very hard, but about what I couldn’t guess. What she said next would change my life in a very bad way for years to come.
         Mom began quietly, “The doctors told me that both of you had to stay in the tents every night.” Maureen and I listened intently, so we didn’t miss mom’s solution.
         She continued, “And it is very important that you breathe the mist from the machines in to keep your lungs moist, because that will make the stuff you have in there easier for you to get out. The mist has to be very concentrated to be effective, so that means we will have to keep the flaps closed on your tents all night long.”
         Maureen and I waited for more; but that was it, there was no more. The other shoe never dropped, because there was no other solution. But we couldn’t let it end there.
         “But ma,” Maureen said quietly, “It’ll be really hot at night in there…”
         “Too hot to sleep, WAY too hot! I don’t like to sleep when I’m hot…” I added more urgently.
         “I CAN’T sleep if it’s hot, I’ll be up all night!” Maureen now loudly stressed.
         I was about to take my turn at exasperation ping-pong, when mom stopped us both in our tracks. “Look, I’m sorry,” mom declared. “But this is not up for discussion, the doctors said you have to do this to stay healthy, and we’re going to have to do this. The mist should come out cool, and after a while, I’m sure it will get better in there. I want you both to try to make this work, okay?”
         I may have been quite young, but even at that age I think I was very good at reading my mother. I could tell by her expression that it was really bothering mom to say all this. I also think she knew that the cool mist thing was a bunch of garbage, and I further think she knew neither Maureen nor I were buying any of it. But mostly I could also tell she wished more than anything that she did not have to put us in these things. The stress on her face said more than any words could. Her expression made me hold my tongue.
         I think Maureen was on the same page as me, because we looked at each other, and then we both shut up. Maureen just nodded and said, “Okay, Ma, we’ll try.”
         “Yea,” I unenthusiastically added, “maybe it won’t be so bad. The mist will make it cool, like you said.” Mom just looked at the two of us, sighed, and then gave us both a simultaneous big hug.
         “You’re good kids, both of you,” she said quietly. We all held the hug for a while; I think we all needed it.
         When dad got home from work the first thing he did was go right to our room, where Maureen and I were watching Bugs Bunny cartoons after our treatments, to look at the tents. Mom had filled him in on the day’s events when he called her from the office around 3:00 pm, as he did everyday. Still, I could see he was mildly shocked when we saw our room. I guess it’s not everyday you suddenly see your children’s bedroom transformed into a pseudo hospital ward. I could understand his stoic expression as he stood in our door, but I just smiled at him and went back to watching TV. I had been looking at the tent set-up all afternoon, and by then I had kind of gotten used to it, actually.
         Mom shortly joined him, and then she went over to the big compressor. Maureen and I watched as mom turned it on. Dad visibly winced when it sprang to life, while Maureen and I just sat, since there was now no way to hear anything that Bugs, Elmer or Daffy said. After a moment or two, mom shut the beast down.
         “Good Lord,” was all dad could say. Mom looked at him, and he shook his head.
         “You see what I was talking about?” mom asked.
         “Yea, I see, I see,” dad replied. “We’ve got to figure out something to do about it, or they’ll want to kill us, and I wouldn’t blame them,” dad added.
         “Who, the McGuires?” Maureen asked both of them.
         Dad replied, “Yea, the McGuires. I’ve got to buy something to cushion the sound, block it off somehow…”
         “Gooood Luck!” I chimed in, sarcastically. Dad shot me a annoyed but tired look, and I shut up. My timing was often less than perfect.
         “I’ll go downstairs after dinner, and explain what’s going on,” Dad said. Mom nodded in agreement.
         “They might have a suggestion, too, mom added. “Couldn’t hurt to ask.”
         “Yea,” dad concluded with an exhausted sigh, “After dinner I’ll talk to Dee or Jimmy… they should know what the deal is.”
         Mom and dad left the room, dad to change out of his good clothes, and mom to put dinner on the table. Maureen and I went back to Bugs, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see the compressor sitting between our beds, crouching like a dangerous beast. For the first time, I was starting to hate that thing. It had been around for less than a day and it was already causing trouble; and I had a feeling that it was far from finished.
         True to his word, after dinner dad went down to talk to Jimmy and Dee McGuire. If for no other reason, to explain why the ceiling over their children’s beds would, at least for this night, possibly more, sound like it was below a construction site. He was gone awhile, and I could tell mom was nervously watching the clock as she did the after dinner dishes. I hung around the kitchen too, I was curious as to what the McGuires were going to say.
         Finally dad came back. “They’re being real good about it,” dad explained to mom, who by now was putting the dinner dishes away. “Jimmy suggested that he might have some foam insulation at work, like they put under carpet, and maybe we could try putting that under the machine. It sounds like a good idea to me, if it’s what I’m thinking about.”
         Mom agreed. “Okay, that sounds good. I was thinking maybe for now, what we could do was to take a towel, a big one, and fold it over a bunch of times, and put that under the thing.”
         “It’s worth a try. Anything’s gotta be better than it being on the bare linoleum floor,” dad concluded.
         Mom got one of our old big towels, and folded it up several times. Dad lifted the compressor and mom put it underneath. They then turned on the monster (as I had now begun calling it), and it roared to life once again. The sound was still tremendous, but better; that much was clear. At least the shaking of the furniture and the floor vibrations were less than before. Mom and dad let the machine run while dad went down to the McGuires again, to see how if the towel was helping at all. When he returned he wasn’t smiling, but at least he wasn’t frowning. “It’s better, but you can still hear it,” dad stated, “It’s still pretty loud, I mean, compared with normal, I guess.” He let out a deep sigh. “Best we’re gonna do tonight. We’ll see what Jimmy can get for us tomorrow. In the mean time, we’ll see if we can come up with anything else.”
         Mom nodded in agreement, and went over to the monster and turned it off. The jarring presence left the room, and we all began to once again relax.
         Well, for the most part. All I could think about was tonight, our first one in the tents. I noticed it was a mildly hot night, and that was while I was sitting in front of our window box fan. I was not looking forward to bedtime, but it was approaching fast, and I had a feeling it was going to be a long night.