Leprosy
Home Up Fate


DESTINY


CHAPTER SIX:
LEPROSY

Written by Rick Archer
 

 


SUBCHAPTER 021
- CRISIS

 

It was now mid-October 1964.   Junior Varsity Basketball tryouts were in four days.  I had never been more excited about anything in my life.  By practicing basketball daily over the summer, I had seen the same kind of improvement in my basketball skills that I had observed in my chess skills.  Like every other Freshman boy, I dreamed about dating.  I prayed my basketball skills would get me noticed.  Maybe some girl would see me play and take a shine to me.  Not only I could finally find a girlfriend, maybe with her help I could regain status within my peer group.  I was dying to shed my cloak of invisibility.

Over the summer I had developed a mild case of acne.  My mother hated pimples so much she could not stand to look at them.  Disgusted, she preferred to attack.  She would prick them with a needle, press out the pus, then smear the wound with cotton saturated in isopropyl alcohol.  During the summer we had gone through this procedure four times.  On a Sunday night in late October, Mom decided it was time for another treatment.  I objected strenuously.  I said whatever the problem was, it wasn't that bad. 

My mother disagreed.  She won the argument based on her previous success.  I relented after she reminded me the previous four treatments had turned out okay.  So Mom got out her sewing needle.  After sterilizing it with a match, she began to merrily pop away at the pimples.  Strangely enough, she took great pleasure in this process.  After she was done, Mom finished her handiwork by cleansing the open wounds with isopropyl alcohol. 

When she was finished, Mom exclaimed, "There!  All done.  In the morning, your face will be completely cleared up."

Wrong.

 
 
 
 

Early the next morning, I awoke 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 touched my face and felt large bumps.  I was suddenly scared, very scared. 

What was wrong with me?  I rushed to the mirror and instantly screamed in horror.  I had the face of a monster!  Overnight my face had turned into a vast sea of angry red and purple pimples. 

If I had ten pimples last night, now I had one hundred. The swelling was incredible.  Overnight my face had swollen to twice its size.  My face was now the shape of a puffed-up balloon. 

While I slept that night, a lymph gland infection had spread the acne like an epidemic.  New pimples erupted across my face like volcanic explosions reshaping the earth's surface.  I had undergone a transformation straight out of a horror movie.  Except in my case this was not a bad dream but rather a living, waking nightmare come true.

Never in my wildest thoughts could I have imagined what my mother had done would change the course of my life.  My life would never be the same.

 

Normally my face was long and slender.  Now I had a round face.  My nose, upper lip, and forehead remained clear, but otherwise there was not one patch of clear skin left.  Furthermore I was in a lot of pain.  My face throbbed as my body tried to fight off the massive infection. 

As I cried buckets upon buckets of tears in sheer terror, I asked my mother what we should do.  Mom shook her head in sympathy.  "Well, Dick, don't worry, you can stay home today and I'm sure this will clear up by tomorrow."  So I stayed home.

At the time, neither my mother nor I had any idea what had gone wrong.  I wondered why we didn't go straight to the doctor.  I assumed it was because we were so poor. If we had begun antibiotics immediately, I have to believe the problem would not have become as severe or long-lasting as it did.  In any case, my mother underestimated the seriousness of my condition. 

My face did not clear up after one day.  So I stayed home a second day.  Still no improvement. 

I could not stay home a third day for a special reason.  Wednesday 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.  Nothing would stop me, not hell nor high water.

I had made a mess of things in the 8th Grade by quitting the school play, the spelling bee, and basketball practice.  Now here in the 9th Grade I was desperate for a second chance.  For the past five 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. 

With the music of 'On Broadway' playing in my mind, I could not wait to see the shock on their faces when I began to dominate.  

'They say there's always magic in the air, I won't quit till I'm a star!

I had shot lights out over at Cherryhurst Park all summer long just for this moment.   I wouldn't miss basketball tryouts today for anything in the world.  I was sick over the fact that I would have to begin my re-entry onto the SJS stage looking like this, but I would not let this bizarre acne attack stop me.  My mother promised me 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 that morning, I was ashamed to note my balloon face was still the same shape as a basketball.  Paint the B-ball red, put a nose on it, give it one good eye, add a patch over the other eye and we could be twins. 

I frowned. If anything, the swelling appeared to have gotten worse.   Sad to say, I still had no idea just how serious my problem was.  My mother said this would go away soon.  However, she may have known something she wasn't telling me.  When my mother saw me getting dressed, she stopped me.  She wasn't so sure going to school was such a good idea.  Let's give it another day. 

I refused to listen.  I had try-outs.  So off to school I rode on my bicycle.  I was on a mission.

 


SUBCHAPTER 022
- LEPROSY

 

Mom was right.  Going to school proved to be a terrible mistake.   From the moment I arrived, students and teachers alike gasped as they saw me for the first time.  I will never forget their 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 grew wide 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?  Just one touch and ye too shall join the cursed!"

With my face bloated out of proportion and my skin covered with layers of pimples upon 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?  I trusted my mother knew what she was doing.

 

The experience 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.  Strangely enough, there were no rude giggles.  I think they were actually too grossed out to see any humor in this.  All they cared about was reassurance that this could never happen to them.

No one said a word to me.  They just stared in horror.  I would 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.  I wasn't going to sacrifice all that I had been working for just to salvage my pride over my damaged appearance. 

St. John's was the Land of the Beautiful People.  One needs 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 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 visiting 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 sheer revulsion.  In class I felt their eyes discretely staring at me.  Every whisper ratcheted up my suspicion they were talking about me.  I cowered and wanted desperately to hide under my desk.  Guess what?  I wasn't invisible anymore. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 023
- CURSE OF THE BLIND EYE

 

Here I was on the third day of the acne eruption trying out for the Junior Varsity basketball team.  I counted the minutes to the end of the day.  Despite my purple mask of shame, I was determined not to throw my ambition away for vanity's sake. 

After a long day of humiliation, the long-awaited moment was here.  Try-outs had begun.  Oddly enough, the fact that my face was shaped like a basketball was not my biggest concern.  I had played pick-up basketball for several years now.  One on one, two on two, three on three... none of these combinations were a problem for me despite my blind left eye.

However, I had never played regulation five on five basketball in my life.  With nine other men moving in random directions to keep track of, I was afraid my lack of peripheral vision would prove to be just as great a handicap in basketball as it had been in football. 

The JV basketball coach knew about my blind eye.  Two weeks earlier, I had told this coach I was trying out for the team.  I had expected encouragement, but had seen him frown instead. After lecturing me about the seriousness of my handicap, I could tell he was skeptical about my chances.  However, he said if I wanted to try out, he wouldn't stop me.  He went to office, then returned with an injury waiver and told me to get my mother to sign it. 

His negativity had shaken me very badly.  Well, there was only one way to find out.  Strangely enough, I got my answer thirty minutes into practice.

One of the first drills was a three-man fast break.  The idea is for three men to move the ball down the court without dribbling.  The moment one man gets the ball, he passes it like a hot potato to another man until someone is close enough to the basket to lay the ball in. 

During this passing drill, a boy named Tom zinged a basketball pass at me with plenty of steam on it.  Tom had seen my head slightly turned towards him when he threw the ball.  Unfortunately, Tom had no way to know he was throwing the ball to my blind side.  Bad luck.  I had JUST turned my head in the opposite direction to see where I was running.

 

I never saw the ball coming.  The basketball struck the blind side of my swollen face with great force.  

Ordinarily this would not have been much of a problem.  Although the blow stunned me, it didn't knock me down.  Furthermore there wasn't much pain at first.  I was just a bit dazed.   Then the real pain hit! 

I am unsure why there was a four second delay, but once the pain started, I felt like a bomb explosion had taken place inside my head.  That blow caused me more agony than I can describe.  The basketball had made direct contact with the burning infection covering my face.  Every pustule had been compressed by the blow and decided to retaliate.  My face felt like angry fire ants biting me everywhere.  I was overcome by powerful stabs of burning pain. 

The pain became so intense that I dropped to my knees and covered my face with both hands to hide my agony from prying eyes.  It was frightening that the severity of the pain refused to go away.  Why wouldn't this pain subside?  This had been an accident, of course, but I was shocked at how devastating the direct hit to my infection proved to be.

I could not 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 and the pain was still increasing.  I laid down on my stomach and place my hands over my scorched face in agony.  I became really scared when the throbbing would not go away.  The pus in my horribly swollen, infected face seemed to burn for an eternity.  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 writhing violently and grabbing my face like that?  They had no idea what was wrong.  What was I supposed to do, tell the world that I had been knocked senseless from an atomic pimple explosion?  I couldn't decide what hurt worse, my face or the degrading humiliation.   

I kept my hands over my face so people could not see me in such agony.  This pain was unbearable.  What I really wanted to do was grab my face with my fingers and rip my skin away.  Anything to get rid of this leprosy.  My face refused to stop burning.  As I lay there, I felt so helpless, so futile.  

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.  Now I couldn't even play basketball thanks to the dual curse of my blind eye and this hideous acne.  I wanted to die right there on the spot.  If someone had offered me a knife during the intense pain, I might have used it.  And I am not sure if I am kidding either.  That's how bad it was.

Thankfully after two, maybe three intense 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.  Tom, the boy who had hurt me, was really worried.  He asked what had happened. 

I quietly whispered about my blind eye to him.  Until now, only the students who ate lunch with me knew about my blind eye.  Now my blind eye would become public knowledge.  This turned out to be a real mistake. 

I was strong enough to wobble around now.  Full of shame, I stumbled towards the locker room.  A couple boys offered to follow me, but I said I was okay.  You know what?  These guys were nice to me.  I believed if I could just lick this brief acne problem, I could definitely make friends with these guys.  That gave me a brief, fleeting ray of hope. 

But right I preferred to be alone, so I went to the locker room by myself.  I sat down on the first bench I could find and buried my disfigured face in a towel.  Mercifully, the intense pain had subsided into a dull ache that I could tolerate.  The agony was over. 

My basketball coach 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 knew my blind eye was the problem and understood I was in no real danger.  Suddenly I felt abandoned.  Why did he refuse to give me any encouragement?  I seethed with anger at the realization he never wanted me here in the first place. 

With that thought, I despised this coach.  The coach was probably glad I had gotten hurt because it proved his point.  He didn't want a cripple on his team, especially one that looked like me.  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.  I did not want to face the questions and potential wisecracks.  I told myself that I would come back tomorrow or maybe wait till next week when this acne outbreak went away. 

Seething with resentment, I made a silent vow that I would be back soon and I would show this jerk what I could do.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next week...

Tomorrow?  Next week?  Guess again.  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 exacerbated 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 had added two more months to my recovery time. 

This had been a very cruel moment.  As I rode my bike home, I cried bitterly.  All those dreams, all that time spent practicing went down the drain.  No one had even seen me shoot the ball.  They would never know how good I was. 

My dreams of playing basketball this year were over.  I was embroiled in the worst crisis of my young life. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 024
- FATE AND COSMIC STUPIDITY

 

Does Fate really exist? 

The Norse certainly believed so. The Norns were three female giants who ruled the Destiny of the Vikings.  Verdandi, Uror, and Skuld were said to appear at a person's birth in order to determine his or her future.

Two thousand miles to the south, the Greeks possessed a similar mythology.  Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos were known as the Fates.  The Fates were three old women who controlled the thread of life for every mortal from birth to death. 

However, the Greek Fates were not the final arbiters of Destiny.  The immortal Greek Gods meddled with the affairs of man at every turn.  Consequently the ancient Greeks held a morbid preoccupation with the Olympic Gods for the simple reason that these capricious Olympians loved to interfere with everyday matters. 

The best example was the Trojan War.  According to Homer, author of the Iliad, the Trojan War was the direct by-product of the Gods constantly playing havoc with mankind.  The Trojan War was provoked by a beauty contest between three Goddesses who asked Paris to choose which Goddess was the most beautiful.  Aphrodite cheated. She won after promising to help Paris kidnap Helen of Troy as his reward. 

Athena and Hera were sore losers to Aphrodite.  They sent the Greeks off to Troy to start a war.  Legend says one thousand ships were launched to rescue Helen and teach Paris a lesson.  Not to be outdone, Aphrodite and Apollo interceded on the side of Troy.  They made sure to give Troy a fighting chance against the massive Greek force.  Once the war began, all the other Gods lined up to see how they too could manipulate the outcome.

In the end, it was the cunning Athena who won the war for Greece.  Athena whispered the idea for the Trojan Horse into the ear of the Greek hero Odysseus.  In other words, a person's Fate was only as good as the God or Goddess who championed them. 

 

Homer's Iliad was preoccupied with the concept of Fate.  Indeed, the Iliad began with the discussion of 'The Will of Zeus'. 

Homer made sure to reinforce the Greek belief that man is vulnerable at all times to supernatural forces he cannot control.  Mankind's only hope was to seek the favor of their Gods.  Consequently, elaborate temples were dedicated to the Greek Gods and visited frequently. 

Throughout the Iliad, the characters constantly refer to Destiny and Fate.  For example, valiant Achilles, the main character of the book, was given an overall invulnerability to injury by Zeus.  This allowed him to become the greatest warrior of all. 

However, Achilles had one fatal flaw.  Fatal flaws were a favorite theme in Greek mythology.  Thetis, mother of Achilles, had forgotten to cover her baby's heel with the magic waters of the River Styx at birth. 

Once she realized her mistake, Thetis knew that Achilles was left with one area vulnerable to the Archer's bow.  Therefore, at the start of the Iliad, Thetis begged Achilles not to go to war. 

"Doomed to a short life, Achilles, you have so little time left.

And not only short, but filled with heartbreak too... so much more pain than all other men alive

Do not go, my son.  If you go, you are doomed twice over." 

   

As I rode my bike home after the blind side basketball accident, the direct hit on my face made me think about Achilles.  I bet Tom could not 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 away or I would have simply caught the ball.  This had been a very strange coincidence.

The perfectly-aimed blow reminded me of the poisoned arrow that had struck the Greek hero Achilles in the only place he was vulnerable.  Achilles 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.   Just my luck, I finally had something in common with my hero.  

For sake of clarification, I had not yet begun to think of my life in terms of Fate.  However, with the benefit of Hindsight, the significance of this event came clear. 

Despite a lifetime of playing basketball, this unlucky incident would be the only time I would ever be hit in the face on my blind side.  Therefore, this bull's eye hit was a rare occurrence indeed.  The accuracy and unique timing of that basketball pass has made me wonder if the Hidden Hand of God had been responsible.  I certainly have my suspicions.  Due to the significance of the event combined with remote odds of a direct hit, I list this as Supernatural Event #5 with a rating of 4 Stars out of 5 on the Mysticism Scale.

   

As for the Acne Attack, I did not think of it in terms of Fate when this event unfolded.  It would not be until college that I became intensely preoccupied with the vagaries of Fate.  However, with the benefit of Hindsight, I list it as Supernatural Event #4.    

Let me ask a question. 

When is an accident just an accident and when is an accident an Act of Fate?

I do not have a good answer for this question.   To me, the answer boils down to Probability, Timing, Significance, plus a subjective assessment I refer to as the 'Weirdness Effect.' 

For example, I have had several car accidents as an adult and never once gave 'Fate' a second thought.  There was nothing 'Weird' about any of the accidents nor was there any particular 'Significance.'  In other words, my sense of what normal human call 'Reality' was not challenged. 

However, as the Path of my life unfolded, through Hindsight I would learn that the Acne Attack was the single most important 'Significant' event of my life.  It was a true game changer.

As for 'Probability', the Attack seems strange because my mother had previously done this icky pimple procedure four previous times without any negative consequences.  She had her pimple-popping routine down pat... sterilize the needle, open the pimple, remove the pus, and use isopropyl alcohol on clean cotton swabs to cleanse each wound individually.  Yes, I know it is disgusting, but get past that.  The importance is that what she did had worked four times in a row.  Why did it have such drastic adverse consequences the fifth time?

As for the 'Weirdness Effect', there were three circumstances that should be taken into account.

First, how often do we see a child change from a nice-looking kid into a freakish leper overnight? 

Second, the unusual nature of the basketball strike to my face served to increase my suspicions about supernatural nature of the acne attack.    

Third, 'Cosmic Stupidity' seems to play a role here.  In retrospect, I do not blame my mother for not anticipating the danger of popping a couple pimples.  It was an honest mistake.  Based on those four previous occasions, there did not seem to be any discernible danger.  However, I definitely blame my mother for not taking me to the doctor immediately. 

What mother sees her child with a bloated face and a sea of red pimples and tells him not to worry about it?   My face was riddled with a hundred purple pimples and she seemed to think it would all magically going to go away.  Four days later, the infection was throbbing to the point where I could barely stand the pain any more, so I begged her to relent.  By the time we got to the dermatologist, he said the problem was so badly out of control that it might take up to a year of tetracycline to cure. 

A year?  Oh my God!!  Every time I looked in the mirror and saw the red pustules on my face, I hated my mother beyond reason.  This was the most horrible thing that ever happened to me.  I just wanted to strangle the woman.  Our relationship would never recover.

Here is where things took a crazy bounce.  I did not insist we go to the doctor because I knew my mother was broke.  I was trying to be brave to help out my mother.  But for some reason, I completely forgot that my father was responsible for all medical bills.  Had I remembered, I would have begged to go see the doctor immediately.  Was this a case of my own Cosmic Stupidity?  It very well may have been. 

What about my mother?  What was her excuse for what borders on criminal child negligence?  My mother knew damn well my father would pick up the tab.  Since I was on his insurance plan, the divorce decree stated my mother would not have to spend a dime.  So why not take me to a doctor?  Mother ended up waiting four days.  What could have been going through her mind? 

So this is where my story takes a dark turn.  The Acne Attack becomes our first startling example of Cosmic Stupidity

I define 'Cosmic Stupidity' as senseless behavior that is so totally out of character that a Mystical Explanation is superior to any Realistic explanation.  In life, there is normal stupidity, and then there is the abnormal kind of stupidity that allows the captain of the Titanic to speed recklessly through a known ice field late at night despite multiple dire warnings. 

For all her faults, my mother was an intelligent woman.  I say give her some credit.  She had enough medical knowledge to know to sterilize the needle.  She had the sense to use isopropyl alcohol, a powerful antiseptic.  Therefore, I believe my mother should have recognized that I was in danger.  How many mothers see a son whose face is the shape of a balloon and assume the problem will just go away?  She knew I was in great pain; I told her so.  The swelling and the pain were obvious signs of infection.  So what made my mother turn a blind eye to the situation?

Furthermore, in the past my mother had never hesitated to have me treated for any other illness.  For example, when I came home sick from the Boy Scout camping trip - the Fred Incident - the doctor came to see me the same day. 

In Hindsight, I later came to realize that my mother's behavior during this incident was so utterly senseless that it could be said her behavior was completely out of character.  So, yes, my mother's decision to avoid the doctor until it was too late was so uncharacteristic that I have to wonder if the woman was Cosmically Deceived. 

If Athena can whisper to Odysseus the idea to build a Trojan Horse, then perhaps some Hidden Being whispered to my mother not to worry about it?  

So we are back to Greek Mythology.  Thetis, mother of Achilles, made the fatal error by leaving her son's ankle unprotected.  Was Thetis a victim of Cosmic Stupidity?   Perhaps my mother's common sense was blinded in a similar way.  She assumed that my swelling was surely temporary, so why not wait a day or two... or three... or four?  That delay was enough to doom me to be permanently scarred for the rest of my life.  Sad to say, my Destiny would pivot in a very dark direction due to this event.  Given the perspective of a lifetime of experience, I have no doubt the freakish Acne Attack was an act of Fate.  I give it a rating of 5 Stars out of 5 on the Mysticism Scale.

 


SUBCHAPTER 025
- THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

 

The Greek Myth of Sisyphus symbolizes the futility of striving.  It tells the story of a deceitful man whose punishment consisted of pushing a giant rock up the hill.  Whenever he neared the top, he would lose his strength and the giant boulder would roll back down to the valley.  It was his Curse to return to the valley and start the process over again knowing full well it was useless.

I too had a Curse.  I had a Curse of Blindness.  I would never play basketball.  I had a Curse of Disfigurement.  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. 

Worst of all, I was scarred for life... in more ways than one.  As the poorest kid in the school with an inferiority complex to match, I now added 'Ugliest Kid' to my resume.  That was a tough combination to lick.  My whole world had turned black.

That thud you hear is the sound of my personal Rock of Sisyphus falling to the valley below.  Welcome to High School Hell.

 


part TWO: HIGH SCHOOL HELL

Chapter SEVEN:  FATE
 

 

 

   TIMELINE

  1955   Cut my eye out (01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
  1959-1968   Nine year career at St. John's
  1959-1960   Divorce, start 4th Grade at St. John's, Mom falls apart, Dad abandons me,
 
Feelings of inferiority begin to develop vis a vis the Mother's Guild, fascination with Mrs. Ballantyne begins
  1960-1961   5th grade, Terry runs away for over 2 days
  1961-1962   6th Grade, Hurricane Carla, Dad refuses to send to SJS beyond 6th grade, Granted half-scholarship to SJS
  1962-1963   7th Grade, Fred Incident - Illness at boy scout camp leads to invisibility, Katina Ballantyne joins my class
  1963-1964   8th Grade, Knocked unconscious playing football due to blind eye, Caught stealing candy at Weingarten's ,
 
Discovery of chess book (03), Granted full scholarship to SJS, Summer basketball project
  1964-1965   9th Grade, Acne Attack (04), Basketball strike on swollen face (05)

 

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