I wasn't aware that just a thread was keeping the rope intact.
Boom. The knife
through the remaining rope and kept going in an arc that barely
grazed the front of my my left eye. I barely sliced the pupil
of my left eye.
To my surprise, it didn't even hurt.
Emergency room here I come.
I soon developed a cataract. Surgery
to correct the cataract when I was six was unsuccessful.
Even more problematic,
I developed a detached retina.
At this point, the doctor detected the early signs of "sympathetic ophthalmia". This is an inflammation of both eyes
that can follow trauma from the bad eye to the good eye. Sometimes the good eye
goes kaput just like the bad eye. This condition can leave the
patient completely blind. So they decided to completely
remove my bad eye as a precaution.
Then I was given a false
to fill the empty eye socket.
The loss of my left eye
had no impact on my life until the 7th grade. My coaches
refused to let me play football in the 7th grade.
school, I was a tall, rugged boy. I was one of the biggest
boys in my class and I wanted to play football very badly. However my coaches were deeply worried I could get hurt
by being blind-sided.
However, I begged them to
let me play.
Finally in the 8th grade, Coach Skip Lee gave in. After my mother signed a waiver, I was allowed to play football
as an experiment. We didn't play other schools. Instead
Coach Lee divided us into two teams that played each other. I played defensive left end to
protect my blind left eye. This way, I could see almost all danger
coming at me from the right side.
I say "almost all" for a
One day a receiver
set up wide to my left, my left being my blind side. After he went downfield,
I stopped worrying about him. I assumed he was running a pass
route. Unbeknownst to me, once he was behind my back, the
receiver turned around and came in from the side. I had no idea he
was even there. Just as I was about to tackle the ball
carrier, the wide receiver pulverized me with a brutal block on my
blind side. I had never been hit so hard in my life. It was a clean hit, but since I
never saw him coming, he completely leveled me.
The blow knocked me unconscious. After
that, I didn't argue with my coaches any more. I played one
more game. It was the final game of our season and it would also be my
final game of football. I am proud to say I made a goal-line tackle on
the last play of the game to save the victory. And with that, my dreams of football glory ended.
I had played well enough to
know I had ability. My coaches agreed. I made the all-star team, a
source of immense pride. However, that knockout blow had made
a serious dent on my confidence. I had lost all my
swagger. I had given football a fair try, but
now that I could see what my coaches were trying to explain to me, I
had the sense to quit.
Still, I really liked my coaches,
especially Mr. Lee, the coach of the varsity team. Since I
couldn't play any more, I asked for permission to become the team's
football statistician next year. Mr. Lee was more than happy to grant
me this privilege. I did a good job keeping football statistics for all four years
of high school. Although I was glad to participate in this
small way, it bothered me no end to watch my classmates out there on the
without me. I ached the entire time over missing the chance to
What a shame my blind eye kept me out of football throughout high
school. The star of the team was
Dana Ballantyne, one year ahead of me. Playing fullback on
offense, he was our leading rusher. Playing linebacker, Dana was
a ferocious tackler, the heart of the defense.
I wanted so much to play next to him. But thanks to the blind
eye, that never happened.
I had the ability to
play football. I could have made friends on the team and
perhaps come out of my shell.
However, thanks to the blind eye, I had lost the perfect opportunity to
lose my invisibility.
Fortunately, I still had
basketball. Ever since my crossroads decision in the 8th grade
to do something about my loneliness, I had kept my promise and
practiced basketball on a daily basis.
Not only did I like basketball a lot, I
had grown over the summer. I was now
six feet tall, the tallest boy in my grade. With my height
as an advantage, I
pinned all my hopes on making the freshman basketball team.
If I couldn't play football, then I planned
to use basketball as a way to make myself feel part of my
classmates' lives again. I had really dropped the ball in the
8th grade. This sport seemed like an
obvious way to start over and participate in high school extracurricular activities.
My blind eye had proven
to be a huge handicap in football, but so far my blind eye had not been a handicap
in basketball. Since basketball wasn't nearly as rough
I never felt in any physical danger.
In the 8th grade, I had
made a fool of myself when I quit
the basketball team. I lost
my temper when my mother said I had to ride the bus home after any
nighttime basketball games. I regretted that
decision for the entire year.
Then the Nancy Paxton
incident shamed me into taking action. Frequently after school during
the 8th grade and every day in the summer prior to the 9th grade, I went to Cherryhurst Park with Terry to practice my lay-ups and my jump
shot. Whenever I was joined by
other boys for pick-up games, I dominated. I had
become an excellent shooter thanks to my daily practice and I could
score at will.
I hated feeling invisible. I wanted to rejoin my
classmates in the worst way.
Basketball was my big
I began the 9th Grade
in 1964. I had finally reached the Upper
School at St. John's, their term for "high school". Thanks
to the full scholarship granted me over the summer, I was excited
to know I would be at St. John's for four
Like every other freshman boy, I dreamed about
dating. I prayed my basketball skills would get me noticed.
Maybe some girl would take a shine to me and I could finally have a
girlfriend. Maybe with her help I could regain status within
my peer group.
I could barely
wait for basketball practice to begin. I knew I
was going to surprise people with my ability. Finally I would be noticed again.
Maybe that would
help my social life as well.
Maybe maybe maybe.
I was full of hope.
into my Freshman year, I developed a mild case of acne.
mother hated pimples. She didn't have enough money to pay a dermatologist for my
minor skin problems, but she told me she had a less expensive solution.
One night in October she got out a sewing needle. After sterilizing it with a
started merrily popping away at the pimples.
strenuously. I said whatever my problem
was, it wasn't that bad.
However my mother insisted
After she was
done, Mom finished
her handiwork by cleansing the open wounds with isopropyl alcohol. Mom smiled at her
"There! All done. In the morning,
will be completely cleared up."
my wildest dreams could I have
imagined what my mother had just done would change the course of my
life. Nothing would ever be the same.
Early the next morning, I woke up with my face burning in
pain. My face felt mysteriously swollen. The swelling stretched the
skin on my face so tight that I was having trouble moving my
jaw properly. I was scared. What was wrong with me? I rushed to the mirror and screamed
I had the
face of a monster! This
disgusting picture from
The Fly is of course an exaggeration of what I looked like,
but it gives the correct impression. I was
This bizarre experience was reminiscent of a
awakens one morning in his family's apartment to find himself
inexplicably transformed into a gigantic insect."
I had undergone some process straight out of a horror movie, except in my
case this was not a nightmare but rather a living waking
Overnight, my face had ballooned to twice its size. My
face was covered ear to ear with dozens
of angry red pustules.
No, I am not making this up nor am
exaggerating. I still have the facial scars today to prove it.
This was insane.
Normally I had a long slender face. Now
I had a round face. My face had puffed up into
a big round balloon.
Other than my forehead which remained clear, there was not one patch of
clear skin left.
Furthermore I was in a lot of pain. My face
constantly throbbed as my body tried to fight off the massive infection.
As I cried buckets upon
buckets of tears in terror, I asked my mother what to do. She shook her
head in sympathy. "Well, Dick, you can stay home today and I'm
sure this will
So I stayed home.
At the time, neither my
mother nor I had any idea what had gone wrong. We would later
learn that my lymph gland nodes
had become infected.
While I slept that night, the lymph gland
infection had spread like wildfire. Overnight new pimples erupted
across my face like volcanic explosions reshaping the earth's
I sometimes wonder why we didn't go straight to the doctor. If
we had begun antibiotics immediately, I have to believe the problem
would not have become as severe or long-lasting as it did.
But we were poor and my
mother completely underestimated the seriousness of my condition.
My face did not clear
up after one day. So I stayed home a second day. Still
I could not stay
home a third day for a special reason... today would be the start of
basketball tryouts, the most important thing in the world to me.
I would have gone to
school even if there was a hurricane outside.
stop me, not hell nor high water..
my face went from mild acne to this.
THE SHIELD OF INVISIBILITY IS
For the past year and a
half I had been invisible
due to the mistake of
giving Fred's driver my correct address in the 7th grade.
I had made a mess of things in
the 8th grade by quitting the play, the spelling bee, and basketball
practice. Now here in the 9th grade I was desperate for my second
For the past six months, I had
been counting on basketball as my ticket out of invisibility.
I had been practicing every afternoon on my own for one to two hours
just for this moment. I was ready
to take my stage and hope the world would see me again.
I had been dreaming of this day for
ages now. I had shot lights out over at Cherryhurst Park all summer
long just for this moment. I could not wait to see the
shock on the other boy's faces when I showed them what I could do on
the basketball court. I was going to be a star. I wouldn't miss basketball
tryouts today for anything
in the world, not even this bizarre acne attack.
I was sick over the fact
that I had to begin my re-entry onto the SJS stage looking like
this, but I wouldn't let this problem stop me. My mother had
said the problem would pass, so I didn't dare skip today's tryouts. I had too much
riding on this.
It wouldn't be easy though.
Looking in the mirror, I was horrified to note my balloon face was approximately the same shape as a
basketball. Paint the ball red, put a nose on it and we
could be twins. The irony was not lost on me. Call me
Mr. Basketball Head.
One thing to keep in
mind is that I had no idea just how serious my problem was. My
mother said this would go away soon.
However, she may have
known more she was telling. My mother saw me getting dressed
and stopped me. She wasn't so sure
going to school was a good idea. Let's give it another day.
refused to listen. So off to school I rode
on my bicycle. Mr. Basketball Head was on a mission.
Mom was right. This turned out to be a
terrible mistake. I shocked them all right, but not the way I
wanted to. From the moment I arrived, students and teachers
gasped as they saw me for the first time. I will never forget the
looks of horror as long as I live.
The shame I felt was
overwhelming. Students actually stepped out of my way in
the hall to let me pass. Whatever it was that I had, they
wanted no part of it.
As their eyes
with fear and loathing, I could not help but recall the
heart-rending leprosy scenes
in the movie Ben Hur.
"Make way, fool, dost
thou block the leper's way?"
With my face bloated out of
proportion and my skin covered with layers of pimples on top of pimples, how I had the guts to show my
face at school that day I will never know. That may have been the
most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. Maybe the
stupidest too. Damn it, I should have been at the doctor's
office, not at school.
But that wasn't my call, was it?
of walking around
school with kids staring at me ripped me to
shreds with shame.
Those kids looked
at me like I had turned into a monster. In class I felt them
staring at me. Every bit of laughter behind my back seemed
directed at me. I cowered and wanted desperately to hide under my desk.
Guess what? I wasn't invisible anymore. The irony did not escape me.
to understand that the students at St. John's were not just smart,
they were also very attractive. People with wealth and
education have a wide choice of marriage partners. "Good
looks" were typically a required part of the package. Therefore
it came as no surprise that wealthy parents were blessed with attractive
children. With every student making regular visits to get
braces or see a dermatologist as needed, St. John's students were
flawless. Beauty was taken for
granted at my school.
Now suddenly a diseased Quasimodo
had appeared in their
midst. The effect was revulsion. Today was the birth of
the legend of the Creepy Loser Kid.
have fled if not for my grim determination to stay for
basketball tryouts. I steeled my resolve. I was sure these pimples were
bound to leave eventually, probably next week. I was a quitter
last year, I wasn't going to quit again.
going to sacrifice all that I had been working for just to salvage
my pride over my damaged appearance.
the minutes to
the end of the day. It was finally time for basketball.
Despite my purple mask of shame, I was determined not to throw my
ambition away for vanity's sake.
So here I was three days after the
acne eruption trying out for the Freshman basketball team.
Basketball was the only
hope I had to find my way to popularity. I wanted so much to
belong at my school.
THE COACH THROWS A CURVE
Strangely enough, as
practice started, I was
more worried about my blind eye that day than my basketball-shaped face.
The previous week, my
new basketball coach had thrown me a serious curve. Now I was
worried how much of a handicap my blind eye would prove to be.
The rumor is they send
young men to war because young men think they are invincible.
That was exactly my downfall in the 8th grade when I insisted they
let me play football. I thought I was invincible.
However, after getting knocked
out on the football field the year before, I wasn't so cocky any more.
Mr. Brockman, the Freshman basketball coach,
had heard about the incident. The previous week he had hit me with an unpleasant
surprise. One day after P.E., Brockman saw
me in the gym shooting layups. He asked if I intended to play basketball.
I said of course. At that point he made a huge fuss
over my blind eye. He said my blind eye would be just a big a
handicap in basketball as it was in football.
I was stunned. I
had been playing basketball for several years now and my blind eye
had never posed a problem. I countered by telling him that I
had played basketball at Cherryhurst Park all summer long and my blind eye had not been a problem.
Mr. Brockman was skeptical.
Brockman said it was that it was one thing for
me to play one-on-one
or two-on-two pickup basketball with a blind eye. But
without peripheral vision, how would I keep track of nine other players? How much of a handicap
would my blind eye be in a fast
game marked by random motion complete with cutters, picks and
no-look passes? The coach said it was one thing to hide me at
left defensive end in football, but I would have nowhere to hide on
a basketball floor.
He concluded by saying I could easily
get knocked out again.
I retorted that I didn't agree
with him, but his warning had a real effect on me. The more I
thought about it, the more I began to
worry about my blind eye.
increased when Mr. Brockman stopped me after P.E. again the next day.
He handed me a letter and
insisted I get it signed if I intended to go out for the freshman
I said of course I would get it signed.
When I got home, I took
a look at the letter. I paled visibly. Coach Brockman's letter was so much different than
football letter from the previous year. The football letter
was some vague one-sentence thing along the lines of "I understand
that playing football with only one eye carries considerable risk of
Brockman had quite the morbid imagination. His basketball
permission letter listed three different gruesome
scenarios. One situation involved permanent blindness
from getting poked in the good eye by a finger. A second scenario involved paralysis caused
my neck after running into a player with my head turned and tripping. A
third possibility was serious injury caused by running into a pick
set on my blind side.
grief. At first I had thought the coach was worried about my
safety, but my mother agreed with me this letter seemed more concerned with lawsuits.
Oh well. I had never been hurt playing basketball. I
bravely told myself this was nonsense and I wasn't going to let this stop me. I wanted to
play and that was all that mattered.
I signed it and so did my mother.
However, the coach had gotten his message across. Not only was
I defying his wishes by playing, his warnings had me deeply worried for my
I was so worried about getting hurt that I actually
forgot about my face for a while.
Ironically, Coach Brockman turned out to be absolutely right.
To me it was
unbelievable, but just like he
predicted, my blind eye ended my high school basketball career.
However, even Brockman
with his vivid imagination could never
have foreseen an accident as weird as mine.
On the second day of
tryouts, during a passing drill
at practice, a boy zinged a basketball pass at me
with plenty of steam on it. The kid
saw my head slightly turned towards him when he threw the ball. Unfortunately,
this boy had no way to know he was throwing the ball at my blind side. I
never saw the ball coming. The basketball hit me with great force flush on the
blind side of my
Ordinarily this would
not have been a problem. Although the blow stunned me, it didn't
knock me down. Furthermore there wasn't too much pain at
first. I was just dazed. After several seconds had passed,
I was about to shake it off.
Then the real
pain hit. I am unsure why there was a four second delay, but
once the pain
began, it was searing! I felt like an bomb explosion
had taken place inside my head. That blow caused me more agony than I
can possibly describe. The basketball had made direct contact
with the burning infection covering my face. Every pustule had
been compressed by the blow and now decided to retaliate. My
face felt like angry fire ants were biting me everywhere. I
was overcome by powerful stabs of burning pain.
It was frightening that the severity
of the pain refused to go away. Why wouldn't this pain
Now the pain became so intense that I
was afraid I might fall. For safety, I dropped to
my knees and covered my face with both hands to hide my agony from prying eyes. This
had all been an accident, of course, but I was shocked at how devastating
the direct hit to my infection proved to be.
I couldn't understand
why the pain kept
increasing! Normally when I get hit by a ball, it hurts and
then the pain
subsides in ten seconds or so. Not this time.
We were well past the one minute mark. As the pain worsened, now I had to lie down on my stomach. I
covered my head with my hands so people
couldn't see my face. I writhed in agony as the pus in my
horribly swollen, infected face burned for an eternity. I
became really scared when the hot throbbing would
not go away. Now I was becoming worried the pain wasn't temporary. What is wrong with me?
Tears welled up in my eyes. It hurt so bad I
thought I might pass out.
Meanwhile everyone crowded around trying to understand why I was in so much pain.
To them, I had
received a glancing blow from a basketball. No big deal.
So why was I laying on the floor rolling around and grabbing my face like that?
How could they possibly
know what was wrong? What was I supposed
to do, tell the world that I had been knocked senseless
from an atomic pimple explosion? This moment was even worse
than the time I cut my eye out. At least cutting my eye didn't
hurt, but this pain was unbearable. I wanted to scream it hurt
I kept my hands
over my head so people could not see me in such agony. What I
really wanted to do was grab my face with my fingers and rip my skin
away. My face refused to stop burning. As I lay there, I
felt so helpless, so futile. I couldn't decide what hurt
worse, my face or the utter humiliation.
This was truly the final straw. Now what?
Was there any hope left for me?
First my face was so full of pimples I couldn't stand to
look at myself in a mirror. Then everyone at school was horrified
by my appearance. And now I couldn't even play basketball
thanks to this hideous curse of acne.
I wanted to die right there on
the spot. If someone had handed me a knife, I would have used it.
Thankfully after three
minutes, the pain finally eased a
bit. I was woozy, but at least now I could stand up. A
couple boys asked if I was okay and I nodded. The boy who had
hurt me was worried about me. He asked what had happened.
I quietly whispered about my blind
eye to him. This turned out to be a real mistake.
till now, not many people in school knew about my blind eye.
Now my blind eye became public knowledge as the story was told and
re-told. Once Harold, my
nemesis, learned I was blind in one eye, he immediately coined "Dead Eye Dick",
his favorite nickname for me.
How did I ever get to be
I had bigger problems
than worrying about new nicknames. I was strong enough to
wobble now. Full of shame, I got up and
stumbled towards the locker room. A couple boys offered to
follow me, but I said I was okay now. I preferred to be alone,
so I went there by myself.
I sat down on the first bench I could find and buried my hideous
face in a
pain had subsided into a dull burning that I could tolerate. The agony was over.
Strangely enough, Coach
Brockman was nowhere to be seen. Not only had the man failed to
speak to me when I was on the floor, he didn't visit me here in the
locker room either. Obviously he had determined what my
problem was and understood I was in no real danger.
Furthermore, why give me any encouragement? He didn't want me
there in the first place. He had made that perfectly clear
with the note he made me sign.
With that thought, I suddenly
realized I despised this
coach. Brockman was probably glad I had gotten hurt because it
proved his point. His lack of concern removed the last possible reason for me to
As I sat there alone on the
locker room bench, I was beaten. I did not have the
courage to go back to basketball practice today and face the questions or any
potential wisecracks. I told myself that I
would come back next week when this acne outbreak went away.
Guess again. Sad
to say, I was just now beginning to grasp how serious my condition was.
I had a serious infection that was going untreated and
the infection was growing stronger by the moment. If anything,
the basketball accident may have exascerbated the problem.
Although my mother kept
reassuring me it would clear up in a day or two, she didn't know
what she was talking about. Every day we
delayed going to the doctor would add another month to my recovery
My dreams of playing
basketball this year were over. In fact, despite my talent, I
would never play for my school.
I was embroiled in the worst crisis of my life.
As I rode my bike home
after the blind side accident, I had the oddest feeling about my injury. The direct hit
on my face was a strange coincidence. I bet that boy
couldn't hit my face again from that distance if I gave him
twenty tries. Furthermore he had to throw that pass at
the exact moment I had turned my head or I would have simply
caught the ball.
I had never
been hit in the face by a basketball before. Furthermore, with the
benefit of hindsight, I can add that it would never happen again. In other words, despite a
lifetime of playing basketball, I was only hit on my blind side one
What an odd coincidence that of all the
days to be struck in my blind spot, this particular accident had
taken place at such
a key moment.
My mind drifted
to Achilles, the fierce Greek warrior who struck fear into
the heart of every Trojan warrior. Achilles had one weak spot
- his heel. A well-aimed poisoned arrow had struck the
Greek hero in the only place he was vulnerable. Now he
would die a slow death.
I had always
scoffed that an arrow shot from a hundred
yards away could have such accuracy. Today I wasn't
laughing any more. The accuracy of that basketball
made me wonder if the Gods had directed it the same way they
had directed the arrow to the heel of Achilles.
I now understood I had much bigger problems than
not making the team. What was I going to do about my face? Previously, I had despised my invisibility. As they say, be
careful what you wish for. Today's dilemma felt like the punch
line to a bad joke.
Now convinced my
appearance was little better than that of a leper, I wished with all
my heart I could
And disappear I did. This was the day I would
start my retreat deep into hiding at my school. Two short months into
my high school career, today's events had doomed me to remain in the shadows for all
four years of high school. That was my fate.
Already the poorest kid
in the school with an inferiority complex to match, now I was the
ugliest kid in school to boot. That's a tough combination to
lick. My whole world had turned black.
I would never play
football or basketball. I would never act in a play. I would
never dance at a high school party. I would never date a single girl
at my school.
That thud you hear is
the sound of the Rock of Sisyphus falling to the valley below.
Welcome to High School Hell.