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Just Another Year in Chronic 1A (1988)

Just Another Year in Chronic 1A (1988)

©1988,1990, 2012 by Dallas Denny







Source: Dallas Denny. (1998, Summer/Fall). Just another year in Chronic 1A. Kaleidoscope: International Magazine of Literature, Fine Arts and Disability, 17, pp. 47-49.

Source: Dallas Denny. (1990,Winter/Spring). Just another year in Chronic 1A. Kaleidoscope: International Magazine of Literature, Fine Arts and Disability 10th Anniversary Issue, 20, pp. 39-41.

Source: Dallas Denny. (1995). Just another year in Chronic 1A. In Carol Donley & Sheryl Buckley (Eds.), The tyranny of the normal: An anthology. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press.



Kaleidoscope, 1998 (PDF)

Kaleidosope 10th Anniversary Issue (PDF)

Tyranny of the Normal (PDF)

About This Story

Throughout my lifetime I have worked in a professional capacity with adults with developmental disabilities—first as a developmental technician, while I was in college, and later as a psychometrist and applied behavior analyst. Periodical psychological testing of my clients was required (not so much now, at least in Georgia), but routine. My work as a behaviorist, on the other hand, was endlessly fascinating. Finding out why clients were behaving in a certain way was rather like detective work, especially since many were nonverbal. I soon discovered the misbehaviors (I’m tempted to put the word in quotes) about which I was consulted were logical responses to their environments, both inner and outer. What made them tick also made me tick. We were the same.

My respect and sympathy for my clients was reflected in my short stories, many of which touched upon disabilities of one sort or another. This vignette is related to three others. Three were published to acclaim of one sort or another. One won first prize for fiction in Mockingbird, the literary and art journal of East Tennessee State University. Two others were selected by the journal Kaleidoscope: International Magazine of Literature, Fine Arts, and Disability for reprint in celebratory anniversary celebrations. One of those—this one, in fact—appeared in Carol Donley and Sheryl Buckley’s edited text The Tyranny of the Normal. I was flattered beyond belief to find my work appearing in an anthology alongside such literary giants as Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ray Bradbury, Donald Barthelme, Edgar Allan Poe, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Alice Walker, Flannery O’Connor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Eudora Welty, Anne Beattie, and Victor Hugo!

The fourth vignette of this series of four has never been published. If you select Short Fiction from the drop-down menus at the top of the screen on the home page, you’ll find it.


Just Another Year in Chronic 1 A

By Dallas Denny


We’re on the big goddamned yellow and black school bus, on our way to a “picnic,” which means we’ll stop at a roadside park with three trees and two concrete picnic tables and eat extra krispy recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken, bones and all, and maybe even the plastic sporks, the hungrier of us. Then we will be put back on the bus and driven back to the hospital, where we will disembark and be rolled back to the musty, dusty, and always gloomy buildings, back to the chronic wards. The hydraulic wheelchair lift of the bus is broken, which means the technicians have to load and unload us through the fire door at the bark of the bus, sweating and cursing, and occasionally letting one of us bang on the asphalt, warping our rubber-rimmed wheels. Once, on such an outing, I was unloaded first, and rolled away downhill as the technicians struggled with Mordred Holmes, who was fighting to stay on the bus. They didn’t notice as I gathered momentum, passing surprised picnickers and campers, whizzing past tents and oak trees until my wheels hit a root and the wheelchair stopped. I didn’t stop. I just pitched forward, helpless, and plowed into a yellow-and-green umbrella tent, collapsing it and scaring hell out of the young couple inside. I got a nasty cut out of that one, just over my eye, from a tent peg.

I remember staring at the sun through the treetops, feeling bodies under me, under the canvas, wriggling into clothes, and then a circle of people around me, staring, questioning, until two of the white-suited technicians came running down the hill, and then everybody understood, and looked away, or looked at me in that pitying way, and the young couple whose tent I had wrecked looked at each other and then down at the ground.

I have a bruise on that same eye today, because the techs sat me beside Jack Oliver, whom I dislike. When they wheeled me up beside Oliver, he said, “Why did you go and put him there for? You know he’s going to spit on me and then I’ll pop him ones.” The technicians just shrugged and left, and I spit at Oliver, and he plugged me one, and then there was a fight as the technicians wrestled him to the floor in the aisle of the bus and gave him an injection of Valium in his buttocks. Now Oliver is just sitting there, enjoying the high from the drug.

O’Rourke is driving the bus today, his whites yellowed to the exact shade of his teeth. O’Rourke has figured out exactly how much gasoline his car uses, and measures it by the drop. He tells Stoner, who usually works with him, that it takes him exactly three-eighths of a gallon to get to work from his house, and seven-sixteenths of a gallon to get home, because there are more uphills on the way home than there are on the way to work. At break time every evening, O’Rourke goes down to his car, a 1968 Oldsmobile, and pours in gasoline from milk jugs which he keeps in his trunk. I try to look out the window every afternoon about 3 p.m., when 0’Rourke comes in. He never varies by more than one minute, and usually his car is choking and gasping, running out of gas, as he pulls into the parking lot. It’s fun to watch him run out, which he does on occasion, a couple of hundred yards short of the parking lot. It ruins his whole day.

O’Rourke drives the bus like he drives his car, as if there were an egg between his foot and the gas petal. He accelerates slowly, and if a car happens to be in front of him moving too slowly to suit him, he becomes absolutely apoplectic. Stoner tells me in confidence O’Rourke is crazy. But Stoner is crazy, too. For one thing, he is insanely jealous of his wife. He spends his suppertime parked in his car, across campus at the building where she works, peering at her through cheap binoculars. Stoner is the kind of guy who has everything, but none of it is very good. You know what I mean. Formica dining set, imitation crushed velvet sofa and chair, velvet painting of Christ on the wall of the living room, K-Mart stereo, a color console color television set that spends about six months a year in the shop, a four-year-old Buick with a broken air conditioner. That kind of stuff. Every month he get a classic book in the mail, and carries it about on the ward for two or three days, showing off the imitation leather binding, but of course not reading it. Stoner hasn’t read some of the best: Tolstoy, Joyce, Melville, Conrad, Hemingway, Dickens. What he does read are magazines from the top racks of mini-marts. I never liked pornography myself. But Stoner is always waving a picture of some snatch in front of my face, knowing I can do little about it. He shows to stuff to Margaret, who he has figured as a dyke, and to Stelson, who has Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome, and who curses uncontrollably when he sees the pictures.

People with Tourette Syndrome often have aberrant vocal behaviors such as compulsive cursing or barking, and there are often facial tics as well. Haldol is the drug of choice. Of course, the disease has always existed, and people have had it, but now it is being diagnosed. Except for Stelson. He is incorrectly diagnosed. The physicians think he has a psychiatric, rather than a neurological problem. Stelson sees the shrink every week for an hour of taxpayer’s time so the good doctor can find out what repressed childhood event causes his continual cursing. Stelson has been seeing the shrink for about four years now.

I have spastic quadriplegia (severe). That’s what I read in my chart. Doritos (like in the tortilla chips) showed it to me. I can’t care for myself, except for feeding myself with a special spoon on my better days. I can’t even turn the pages of books or magazines without tearing them, due to the tremors, Doritos used to call me Spaz, and the name has stuck (unofficially, of course). Spaz. Spaz-I-Am. Do you like green eggs and ham? Do you like them, Spaz-I-Am?

The head nurse was all excited about a movie recently released by some coalition of churches. It was about someone with a handicap much like mine. She had Doritos and Johnny Walker take me to see it one evening. That’s where we were supposed to go, anyway. Where we actually went is another story.

Doritos and Johnny Walker were a welcome change from the dour-faced, middle-aged, middle-class pinheads like O’Rourke and Stoner, who usually work the ward. Doritos and Walker used to let me sit in the nursing station while they would dig drugs out of the medicine cabinet and look them up in the PDR and maybe take a couple. They would eat Quaaludes like candy, long before anyone else figured out they had potential for being abused. They would get twisted and bent, looking progressively more like the patients on Chronic III A as the night wore on. Doritos would bring me books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, tearing the pages out and handing them to me one at a time, or reading aloud his favorite parts. “As your attorney, “ he could screech to Johnny Walker, “I advise you to take six Phenergan.” I wanted to yell, Get out! Get out while you still can! Just look at what the bastards have done to me!” And now Doritos is doing five-to-ten in the slammer, and Johnny Walker is in a pharmacy program at Duke. On the day he was busted, I saw Doritos on the six o’clock news. It seems he went into the bathroom of an Exxon station, he and a buddy, and the attendant, who noticed them lurching about, went into the john when they came out and dug their works out of the trash ran and called the cops, who picked them up with a pocket full of ampules stolen from the hospital.

When Stoner and Kelly work, they sit around with their keys on little chains on their belts and tell bad jokes and drop words like nigger and faggot and hippie and retard. They never work. One day, while Doritos and Johnny Walker were still around, old Jim Peach hobbled up to the nursing station and in his backroom voice asked for a cigarette. Kelly gave him a ready-roll, but Peach just looked at it with his lip curled in a kind of half-sneer and said, as he put the cigarette in his pocket, “No, I want one like those long-haired boys gave me.” Kelly didn’t catch it, just like he didn’t understand why Frank Lee, the screamer, kept talking about “the lights” the day Johnny Walker fed him mescaline.

Doritos and Walker were replaced by two young guys. One, J. Michaels (that’s what his name tag says), is ok, but the other is being broken in “right” by the old men and is already learning to turn a cold and callused eye on everything that happens on the ward.

I can see Stoner flirting with the clerk at the KFC as she stacks red-and-white boxes three feet deep on the counter. If I were her, I would just keep on piling up boxes until I had built a red-and-white wall between me and Stoner and this busload of freaks. I can picture her frantically slapping box on top of box, using the Colonel’s mashed potatoes for mortar, spreading it with deft strokes with the plastic tip of a coleslaw cup. What would the archaeologists make of that wall when they unearthed it in 5000 years? Would they see us as a culture of chicken worshippers, entombing the bones of our revered sacred fowl after a sacramental dip in holy hot oils, in caskets emblazoned with the smiling face of our benevolent white-haired leader? Perhaps…

I am shaken from my musing by a lurch of the bus as O’Rourke leaves the parking lot. He has slammed on the brakes to miss a Corvette. My wheelchair, which is not fastened securely, tips me into Jack Oliver’s lap. Jack, despite the Valium, is only too happy to pound the side of my face with his meaty fists, Stoner can’t see me for the pile of chicken boxes, and O’Rourke is too busy cursing the driver of the Corvette and worrying about wasted gas to bother looking in the rear-view mirror. Nobody else is going to stop Jack; that’s for sure. The other patients are all in worlds of their own. It looks like it’s going to be a long trip.