Thursday, March 11, 2010

The subject of Steve

Steve is passionate about Hemingway, but his wife Vivian is too tired after work to show much interest in literature. When they joined my class a few months ago, I noticed something was wrong with Steve, the way he stared down at his workbook, his head stuck in one position, not moving. Vivian was always helping him, like you'd do a young boy at his homework, which was pretty annoying, especially when she told him the answers. The last time I called him up to the board, he wrote the word "enchanted" in giant, erratic letters, as if he himself were under some kind of spell.

He reminded me of my friend Estelle Carlson's husband in his last years, struggling with Parkinson's. At the same time, Estelle had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). She'd been my son's second grade teacher, an artist, weaver, designer, world traveler. I always blamed what happened to her (and to him, too) on the DWP electrical towers situated directly across from their house. Numerous articles have examined how radiation from EMFs can be harmful to those in close proximity, but it's one of those things impossible to prove. Walking by Estelle's old house on top of Mt. Washington, I'm struck by how much those towers dominate the skyline.

DWP electrical towers on top of Mt. Washington

During oral exams at school, Vivian was her usual convivial self, answering all the questions correctly, in proper grammatical English. We somehow got on the subject of Steve and she covered her mouth, like some women do when they laugh, but she wasn't laughing. She told me Steve was sick with Parkinson's. She blamed it on the chemicals he'd used in his silk screening business. She had to do everything for him now. Medicare only covered the cheap meds, which weren't effective, and she dreaded the day he'd lose his memory altogether. I sat there in my teacher's chair not knowing what to do, thinking, I could never do what she's doing. The next evening it all made sense. I was more attentive this time, helping Steve with the answers to give his wife a rest.

Steve and Vivian


  1. I love the word Steve chooses to write on the blackboard, it made me wonder which word I would write if i was asked to do it on the stop and in which language...i wish it would be something like enchanted...may he continue inspite of his physical condition to let his imagination fly and you continue to empower him to express his emotions through the English language while giving his wife a break.

  2. Thank you my friend. I was so unsure of this post, would it be too depressing, too convoluted?? I appreciate your feedback, and I think for you the word would be "incantato" or perhaps, "potato!"

  3. no, it is not convoluted at all, nor is it depressing. To tell stories of the hard things people must do in this life, their small pleasures and triumphs... is a task well worth doing, and doing so beautifully, as you describe the scene, the people, your reactions.

  4. Thank you Lu...funny that this post, so brief, should be so hard to do. How does one (you!) write a whole book?