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Well, we’re only one week into the series and I’ve already got a big fat correction to make. After talking with my mom for a while, it turns out that I had my timeline confused. I was six years old when I started having tics, which is pretty common for tics in children, but was not officially diagnosed until I was in 9th grade. So from then until now in the story, I’ll do a bit of fact checking on the dates before forging ahead too wildly.
When we ended part one, I was still six years old, whether or not I had been diagnosed. My mother’s first memory of the tics was during one of my school programs.
From ignominious thespian beginnings…
Neither one of us know what my part in the school program was. If my later school performances were any indication, it was not an important role. In fourth grade I was in the chorus in the most unholy, atonal school production of The Nutcracker ever cobbled together. All I remember other than how hot it was was that our school librarian did a bellydance routine during the Arabian desert song. I was a lusty lad even then, although I imagine our librarian was not quite the sex bomb I’m picturing.
In fifth grade I was Little John in Robin Hood, despite having the largest head in the school, including faculty members. My head is the same size now as it was in elementary school.
In sixth grade I was Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol. I sang my first solo, “Being Tight Is Not All Right.” It was a monstrosity.
So if we follow the trail backwards, on my night in the spotlight when my tics were discovered, I was most likely on stage trying my best to act like a singing bale of hay or a jolly stone.
Why is he doing that?
During the program, my mother says my face was going through all sorts of shenanigans and contortions. Blinking, grimacing, mouth opening and closing like a large-headed grouper. “Why is he doing that?” my parents asked each other. Apparently it lasted through the entire performance, but I acted as if I didn’t notice. Maybe I didn’t.
Those were the years when for my birthday and Christmas, I insisted that every gift I ever received be either Star Wars– or E.T.-related. Pictures of my room from our photo albums are the wet dreams of marketers everywhere. Action figures, blankets, pillowcases, clothes, posters, slippers, stuffed animals…on and on and on and on. But for all that I had, I obviously needed more. My mom knew how to appeal to my basest instincts and manias. This would cause her some guilt later.
A couple of days after the program, my mother told me that if I would “Stop doing that” with my face, she would buy me another Star Wars toy. It worked like a charm…for about two days. I stopped doing whatever I was doing with my mouth. But two days later, my eyes had picked up the slack and were working double time catching on the screwiness.
She tried this more than once with the same results. She believed that it was a matter of me concentrating hard enough–that it was a habit that I could break. A behavior. And of course, at the prospect of more swag, I would get excited, enter into these sinister pacts willingly, and then the symptoms would morph into something else. And I wonder if I felt like I was breaking our deal. I wonder if it upset me that I couldn’t concentrate as hard as she wanted me too.
If it worked that way today, I would be bribing myself, buying a few days of relief with extraterrestrial toilet paper, Jabba The Hutt prophylactics, and Han Solo kettlebells.
Watching and wondering
While Tourette’s research is far from cutting edge today, it was less so 25 years ago. My dad came home one night and told my mother about a conversation he’d had with a co-worker. The man’s son had Tourette’s and he had suggested to my father that maybe that’s what his own boy was dealing with. He pitched this idea to my mom and she was able to scratch up a book about Tourette’s. I don’t know what the book was and she can’t remember.
It didn’t do much to comfort her when she read about the symptoms. Today, even though people who have heard of Tourette’s most often associate it with the uncontrollable obscenity and shouting, back then, apparently that’s about all they talked about, even in this book she had.
Well, that and all the weird sexual stuff. She read study after study about these poor little boys who, according to the book, spent 90% of their school days with their hands down their pants or their weenies hanging out of their pants…this concerned her. I picture her and my dad lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling. Suddenly she turns over and says, “Frank, get in there and make him sleep with his hands above the blankets.”
She may have envisioned me being forced to walk around in a sandwich board that said “Beware! Future pervert!”
I never had a teacher call her to say “The boy’s having another go at himself and we’re all a bit put off by it at Farmington Elementary school.” It didn’t happen at any other school either. What she read was so far removed from what she was seeing that she convinced herself that me having Tourette’s wasn’t even a possibility.
To my parents profound relief, none of the hardcore drama hinted at in that book came to pass. And even the worst of it all was years and years away. So for the time…it was just the way it was and that was okay.
This is the end of Part 2. If you missed Part 1 of How To Have Tourette’s, you can read it here.
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