Friday, January 21, 2005

It’s Still Ticking (Part XI)

Psyched Out
I’d have to admit I am a jumble of contradictions. I always have been. For example, I love the early morning. To me there is nothing more magical than a sunrise. But of course I rarely, if ever, see the sun come up. You see, I’m a night owl. I always have been. For me, hitting my pillow before 2AM is turning in early. My wife has to roust me a minimum of three times to get me out of my rock-hard slumber each morning.

And organization? Hey that’s my thing too. I love having all my papers filed in meticulously labeled file folders. I think about it all the time. Problem is, thinking about it doesn’t make it happen. The reality is that I have a drawing table here in my office at home covered in piles of papers, receipts, magazines, old bills and computer parts, some of which have been there for almost ten years. I almost can’t believe it myself. I was going to write five years, but when I looked again and thought about it, I realized that some of that stuff has not been touched since 1995. Incredible.

Why do I bring this up? I guess I’m trying to convince myself that there is a justification for my being the way that I am. I’m trying to remind myself that I’ve always been this way; that my mind has always wandered; that I’ve always had a hard time staying on task and always struggled with being able to pay attention in school. If anything, I’m even less that way now than I was as a young person. I think I’ve learned to cope with it a little better over the years.

I guess I’m trying to psyche myself up to not be psyched out over what happened in Indianapolis. I’m trying to do my best not to think that it’s foreboding or an ominous sign of things to come. And really, I don’t think I’m necessarily blowing sunshine up my own ass to justify things. After all, I’ve got history on my side going all the way back to early childhood.

I’ve mentioned before that my daydreaming has gotten me into trouble. Back in the Paleolithic Era, when I was in grade school, corporal punishment was still alive and well, and in practice in most in public schools across America. One fateful day I received my first paddling in the principal’s office by my 3rd Grade Teacher, Mrs. Bea (and she stung like one too, itellyouwhat). My offense: daydreaming in class and not paying attention when teacher called upon me. I was warned twice. Three strikes and I was out; out the door and downstairs to the office.

Now whether or not you want to debate the appropriateness of corporal punishment in schools, the fact is that it was the way of the world in 1964. It was accepted and for the most part, effective. With regard to my situation, one thing is as clear to me now as it was at the time it happened: I brought this one on myself. I mean, it’s not like I there was no deterrent. Mrs. Bea was no Mary Poppins. She had the reputation as a no-nonsense kind of teacher. She was more than a little bit scary. I didn’t think for a second that she was bluffing when on the second warning she said, “…and the next time we’ll be visiting Mr. Halsey’s office.” Still, even after two warnings I went right back into my own little world of spaceships and superheroes, with Mrs. Bea’s blather before the class just so much muffled white noise in the background. When she called my name again I knew I was busted, but I felt helpless. I’ll never forget that feeling. I offered no defense. I simply got out of my seat and joined Mrs. Bea at the door.

I have just recently begun to become aware that there may be a reason for my lifelong struggle with attention span. I used to just accept the fact that I had a wandering mind; that I was terrible in math; that I had to fight tooth and nail with myself to complete tasks and projects in a timely manner. Oh don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned to cope. My tendencies are much more in the realm of idiosyncratic behavior than dysfunction. I am how I am, and I don’t beat myself up over it because for the most part, it’s accepted by everyone else who knows me; it has never gotten me into much more trouble than that sore bottom I suffered back in 3rd grade. I don’t consider myself “learning disabled” by any stretch, but I do know that a lot of the things which other people do routinely — like sitting down and reading a good book — are like pulling teeth for me.

I’ve never been diagnosed, but I believe that I am mildly ADD, Right-Brain Dominant, whatever you want to call it. The more I talk to people about it (thank you, Nanner), the more I am convinced that I am in some way affected in this area.

All that being said, I believe you’ll understand my apprehension at the prospect of going through it all over again, twelve and a half years later. It is single the part of Alex and my trip to Indianapolis that had any qualms about. In fact I dreaded it.

Blood samples? No problem. I’ve never had a problem with needles.

MRI and PET scans? Pffft. I can lie motionless with the best of ‘em. Piece ‘a cake.

Hell, I would have gladly subjected myself to another spinal tap, like we all had to do back in 1992, but they said that they still had our cerebrospinal fluid samples on ice, so no new ones were necessary.

But when I agreed to submit myself as a “control” for Alex’s testing for Alzheimer’s Disease, the one thing I knew I wouldn’t be able to get out of was that godforsaken psychological testing. I didn’t like it back in 1992, and I was confident that I wouldn’t have a better time now. And on that count I wasn’t disappointed.

AAAA: Episode Two
The flight from Dallas to Indianapolis Sunday Night, November 7th was uneventful, that is, apart from another minor episode in the continuing saga of Alex & AJ’s Airport Adventures. This latest situation was innocent enough, but again, caught me a little off-guard. I didn’t get it at first, but I quickly became aware that as we made our way through any public setting, Alex’s sense of uneasiness about knowing what to do and where to go created a tendency for him to want to follow rather than lead. He always insisted that I go first, that way he would be able to follow my lead to know where to go and what to do. When placed in the lead position his actions were nearly always awkward and indecisive. I got my first taste of this as we were preparing to board the plane to Indy.

In what would be a repeating circumstance, as we handed our boarding passes to the airline attendant before heading down the entry tunnel toward the plane, I noticed that Alex was walking with both hands at his sides, unoccupied. I quickly stopped and turned to ask him, “Where’s your suitcase?”

He looked lost. “Um…I don’t know…” he stammered.

We quickly doubled back into the terminal where, to my relief, I saw Alex’s suitcase-on-wheels, propped up against the wall 25 feet away, near where we had first stood in line to board the plane. I motioned to the attendant that I needed to retrieve it and he nodded me on. I jogged over and grabbed the handle and carted it back to my brother, still looking dumfounded about the entire situation.
“Thanks AJ,” he said with a nervous laugh as we headed again down the tunnel.
“Yeah, we’re gonna have to watch that, okay bro?” I cautioned. At that point it dawned on me that I was going to have to be on my guard the entire time we were together, sending my stress level up another notch or two. I knew I would have to stay on my toes much more than I had expected. I wasn’t exactly brimming with excitement over the challenge, either.

As we boarded the plane, Alex again wanted me to lead the way, but I insisted he go before me so that I could keep an eye on him. I assured him that I would tell him where our seats were. The main thing was that I didn’t want to hold up the line. Slow pokes in the boarding line are one of my pet peeves in airline travel, so the last thing I wanted was so piss off a bunch of people who wouldn’t possibly be able to understand what the holdup should Alex experience troubles along the way to his seat. I wanted him in front of me so that I could deal with anything quickly.

When we arrived at our row, in the space of less than 10 seconds, I directed Alex to drop his bag and take the window seat. I then tossed my duffel onto the seat next to him, clean-and-jerked the small-but fairly heavy suitcase-on-wheels up into the overhead bin, and sidestepped back into my seat, placing my bag under the seat in front of me.

As I caught Alex’s glance, his eyes were as big as saucers. “That was amazing how you did that all so fast! You just knew what to do…” he said. At first I was flattered and slightly amused, but the more I thought about it, the sadder I became. Something so simple as placing a suitcase in an overhead bin was now an amazing feat to my brother, a man who has easily flown twice the number of times I have in his lifetime. This man, who has over the years packed countless numbers of bags into overhead bins; this same man now marvels at my doing something that he himself had done over and over again all his adult life.

The gravity of the circumstances involving my beloved Alex was now beginning to settle in my gut. I felt nervous and a little queasy. My shoulders were heavy and stiff. I put my head back and closed my eyes for a minute as Alex feverishly scanned a story in the abandoned newspaper that he had earlier absconded in the airport terminal. His index finger nervously traced the lines of text as he slowly progressed down the columns, often pausing and sometimes doubling back to re-read a part after inexplicably losing his train of thought and needing to read it over again.

We didn’t talk much during the flight. Both of us were exhausted emotionally and physically. The flight seemed mercifully short and before I knew it we were touching down in Indy.

Outside Indianapolis International Airport (IND), we had no trouble hailing a cab and in about 15 minutes time we were standing at the check-In desk of the University Place Hotel, which is situated about 100 yards west of IU Medical Center. We checked in and proceeded up to our room on the fifth floor. By the time we were unpacked and had had gotten our ESPN SportsCenter fix, it was past midnight and well past time for lights out. Tomorrow would be long and challenging on so many fronts.

I slept like a rock.

Next: Givin’ em a "slice" of my mind
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