The story goes that Angela Riggins got knocked up in the parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly. They never caught the S.O.B. who attacked her, but he must have been an attractive S.O.B. Josh is a good-looking kid.
Two weeks after he stopped breathing amniotic fluid instead of oxygen, the Sunshine and Jupiter brought Josh home on a 747. I was at the airport when the three of them exited the terminal gate. Father had been crying. Mother held the baby in her left arm. She was supporting father with her right.
The next year and a half were probably the most jointly happy and painful days of my early existence…
The Eighth Grade was miserable all around. Father quit his Executive VP position and sold his stock in the company. He relocated the family to Nashville from Atlanta. His old banking buddy wanted to start a marketing firm for banks and financial institutions.
Father was always up for a good challenge… Especially if it was a potential money-maker. He thought his friend was on to something, so we loaded two Bekins trucks to the tippy-top and headed North, to the Music City. As we pulled out of our driveway and onto Kinnett Drive for the very last time, Father whistled On the Road Again. Mother smiled. Debra cried. Scott and Joshua slept. And I daydreamed about meeting Willie Nelson.
My sister and I were placed in a very hoity-toity private, Christian school. It was Mother’s idea.
The first day of class was also my first day of Junior-High football practice. I missed the previous week of two-a-day-run-‘till-you-throw-up-or-pass-out-summer-practices because of the move, and that just pissed some of the guys right off. Especially the big ones—they had it in for me from my very first “hut-hut”.
I was five-feet, four inches tall, weighing in at nearly 160 pounds. I ran a 6.9 40-yard dash. And I didn’t know a Tight End from a dump truck. I was placed at the Center position, and it didn’t take long before the team commenced to bruising me—from the top of my head, where the helmet didn’t fit quite right, to the end of the toenail on my right foot that turned black from the stomp-stomp-stomping of “Bubba.”
This guy’s name was Bubba. Not Michael or Sam or Nathan or Rick. Not James or Alan or Robert. His name was Bubba, and he was the largest person I had seen in my life. I wanted to die. Bubba wanted the same.
“Everyone! Come into the living room, please…” Mother called to us from our downstairs foyer of suburbia. I was in my bedroom licking my wounds when I heard Father echo, “Kids, let’s come on now. Your mother and I have something we want to run by you guys.”
“… something we want to run by you guys.” That’s what he said. I was expecting to hear news of a new family station wagon, or that we had finally decided to give a name to the stray cat that had been hanging around our back porch.
We gathered in the family room. I was sitting on an ottoman, facing the fireplace. “Daddy’s got something called ALS,” he said. “It’s a progressive neurological disorder that might cause some of my muscles to get weak… The doctor says I should be OK, though… for a while.”
A progresso-what the hell did he just say? I was 15. I understood words like “banana,” and “cat,” and “boobies.” What’s a neurological disorder?
I have a concrete memory of Mother sitting on the love seat in the far left corner of the den, legs crossed, ladylike. She had an embroidered sunshine on her sweatshirt, and she was wiping her tired eyes with a tissue. I remember focusing on a fern that hung from the ceiling above her head. It desperately needed to be watered. I was wearing blue-and-green-checked boxer shorts and an Atlanta Braves T-shirt. I remember all of that very clearly…
But I had no idea what Father was “running by me.”