You Mean Helen Keller Just WOKE UP LIKE THAT? Holy Crap! I Need To Prepare!

My family will tell you that I have a tendency toward the dramatic. Oh, and they may tell you that I have somewhat of a vivid imagination. And sometimes I'm a bit of a hypochondriac. Plus I tend to worry that anything I have read, seen or heard about will happen to me, which leads to my obsessive need to be prepared for any disaster that may come my way. Like that time I was 11 and my mom let me stay up late to watch a 1978 movie called "The Swarm", starring Michael Caine and Henry Fonda. It was about killer bees coming to America from South America. 

Killer bees end up coming up to Texas, and their stingers were poisonous, they would sting you until you were dead then they would keep stinging you and they might climb in your mouth and sting your throat too. You could roll up your car windows, they'd get in through the vents. What about a beekeeper suit, you ask? HA! Mere child's play for the killer bees, they would tear through the netting, sting you until you were unrecognizable and then they'd go after the children. I was riveted.

Then a man's voice came on and told me that killer bees were real and that they were expected to arrive in America by the year 2000, by way of Africa. I did the math and promptly realized I was going to die when I was 33.
I immediately told my mother I would not be attending Sky Ranch Day Camp that year just in case some of the killer bees decided to come over early, and I let her know I would be dropping out of grade school so that I could go backpacking in Europe. I had a lifetime of experiences to fit into my short time on this earth and I needed to get my passport PRONTO. My mom thought I was being funny and sent me to bed. I sobbed into my pillow for a good 45 minutes, thinking about my last minutes on Earth and wondering if I would die bravely. Would there be underground shelters by then, to protect us from this murderous swarm? If not, the President needed to be alerted and something needed to be done! I ended up wandering out to the kitchen, where my mom was reading a lusty novel and eating popcorn.

Mom: "What in the sam hell are you doing up? You should have been asleep hours ago! Now get your ass in bed!"

Me (trembling lower lip): "I...I...I'M GONNA DIE!!!! WAAHHHH!!!!"

Mom (now thoroughly alarmed): "WHAT??? What on Earth are you talking about??"

Me: "The killer bees are coming!!! They're gonna sting us all to death!! YOU'RE GONNA DIE TOO!!! WAAAHHHHHHH!!!!"

Mom (finally sets down smutty novel and gives child a hug): "Oh honey...."

Now, at this moment, I fully expected my mother to say something along the lines of, "Oh honey, that was just made up, killer bees aren't real! And of course I'm not going to die and neither are you! We're gonna live FOREVER!"

Well, what I got was this:

Mom: "Oh don't be silly, those bees aren't going to get to us for a long time, I don't even know how long it's gonna be..."

Me: "26 years."

Mom (slightly taken aback): "Okaay...Well, honey, we're all gonna die you know. I mean, you didn't expect me to live forever, did you? And of course your gonna die someday, but probably not when you're 33. Probably. I mean, either one of us could get hit by a car and die tomorrow. Now get your butt back to bed. Oh. And you don't need to tell your father I let you stay up late."

So now you know. I was stricken with an obsessive need to prepare for the worst eventuality because as a child I became painfully aware that my mother wasn't going to stand between me and disaster.

 To my way of thinking, my mother displayed an Appalling Willingness To Accept Reality. I decided that somebody needed to steer this ship and that somebody would have to be me.

Around the same time, I read a book about Helen Keller, and I was aghast. Apparently Helen had been born a healthy child who could see, hear and run fast without bumping into things. Then one terrible year she got sick with something called Scarlet Fever. One day she was just fine and the next day she was deaf, blind and couldn't talk. SHE JUST WOKE UP THAT WAY!!!

The prospect of losing every important sense I owned was beyond horrifying. Because how can you talk if you don't know what words sound like? And you can't know what words sounded like if you can't hear. And you can't learn sign language if you can't see. 

And forget learning Braille because you can't read. To somebody with an obsessive personality and a desire to know WHY? and HOW? and WHEN? this was like a Gordian Knot, only this Gordian Knot was constructed out of disabilities instead of rope. Disabilities that would forever keep me from listening to Shaun Cassidy, reading The Bobbsey Twins Mysteries and watching Scooby-Doo. I. Was. Terrified.

Plus, I was certain my mom would just be like, "Oh for pity's sake! Will you please stop whining about your lack of eyesight and hearing? It's not like you're not going to live forever, you know."

Now, I know Helen Keller is an inspiration, a woman who overcame every hurdle to become the stuff legends are made of. But when you're a 8-year-old, obsessive, hypochondriacal and highly imaginative drama queen THIS SHIT IS F*CKING SCARY!

I realized that if I was going to beat this thing, I would have to do it alone.

I made a plan. It looked something like this:

1. Learn sign language. PRONTO
2. Learn Braille. PRONTO
3. Learn to use one of those tap-tappy canes that all the blind people had in the '70's. PRONTO
4. Start watching Scooby-Doo with my eyes closed, so I would have all of the episodes memorized when I went blind. PRONTO

The following Monday, I checked out our school's only copy of Handsigns: A Sign Language Alphabet. Granted, it was just the alphabet, so it would take forever for me to ask Kristine if she wanted to SOP (our code for Spy On People), but it was a start. I checked it out for an entire month, and I made Kristine use our valuable lunchtime recess (45 minutes!) to learn sign language with me. Because if I was going to have to use it when I went deaf, somebody needed to know what I was saying.

Then, during my weekly visit to the public library with my mom, I checked out Modern Methods of Teaching Braille. Because that's all our library had and I had to learn Braille PRONTO!!!

Finally, one Saturday I decided it was time to achieve my final two goals. Learning to use the tappy-cane and watching Scooby-Doo with my eyes shut. I found my mother's umbrella and decided it would do for a tappy-cane because back in the 1970's everyone's umbrella was long. They didn't have the short little umbrellas you see nowadays. Which is a good thing because I would've been screwed otherwise. I didn't trust myself not to peek during Scooby-Doo, so I found a red bandanna and blindfolded myself.

And that's why my mother found me in the living room of our trailer early one Saturday morning in 1975, blindfolded and tapping around with her umbrella.