“Your life could be easier if you didn’t have muscular dystrophy. What I would have given for this Genetic Reparative Therapy when you were little.”
Gretchen poured water in the coffee maker. “Yeah, I’m well aware that there’s a list out there of Lives That Suck and — of course! — my name is on it.”
Alice continued. “I can’t believe you would even consider not being part of this study.”
“Well, jeez, Mom, I have to consider not doing it.” Gretchen leaned against the counter. The machine hissed and steamed. “Remember when they wanted to fix my foot and didn’t mention they’d be removing half of it? Good thing we pressed for details on that one.”
“I have to live with the results of this experiment – I will be the result of this experiment. And I gotta tell you – just because something can be done is not necessarily a good enough reason to do it.”
“But how could this be a bad idea?” Alice got up to get two cups from the dish drainer. Gretchen moved aside and Alice poured the coffee.
Gretchen took cream from the fridge. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about it. And what it represents bothers me. Think about it – I’m supposed to risk renovating my DNA, for god’s sake, but renovating a building is too big a burden. Even when it’s the law.”
Alice took her cup to the table. “You could go hiking, get rid of that ventilator at night, button all your own buttons; I wouldn’t have to worry about you falling or getting pneumonia.”
Gretchen stirred sugar in. “Hiking. You know, sports-related injuries are huge. If you want to cure disability, you should probably outlaw sports. If we’re serious about health-care rationing, we all have to do our part. As a person with a congenital condition, I’ll agree not to be born if everyone else agrees never to roller-blade, bicycle, jog, or otherwise take any kind of physical risk.”
“Stop it. Your life would be easier, that’s the important thing.”
“I think, and I mean this kindly, it would be easier for other people to look at. How easy has your life been?”
“We’re going to that appointment and talk about this study.”
“Seriously, I don’t want to do this.”
Gretchen had known full well why Alice was coming. Gretchen had even scheduled the appointment, but as the time got closer, she became more uneasy. It was not so theoretical, this idea that she might be “cured.” Cured was more Alice’s term than hers. It was a word that opened up a world of difference between them. Maybe that was why she felt dread. “What am I, one of Otto’s hams?” she asked Alice before they left for dinner that night. “You always have been and you know it,” Alice said, laughing.
“I don’t think you know me at all,” Gretchen said with faux hauteur.
“Oh, I know you,” Alice said.
“I don’t think you do,” Gretchen said. The change in her tone surprised her as much as Alice.
“Maybe you think you know more than I do,” Alice said.
“Maybe I’ll shut up now,” Gretchen said.
Tired from her cross-country travel, Alice fell asleep early. Gretchen stood by the back-door, looking out into the yard at night. The San Francisco sky was covered by clouds made orange by city light, and everywhere below fog was drifting by. Not much was visible except the tangled shadow of blackberry brambles and the twisted apple tree that was so in need of pruning. In the daylight, she’d seen blossoms weighing down the branches in between leaves and nascent fruit. Not a good sign, blossom and fruit on the tree together. Promise and maturity mixed up, the seasons mingled; GRT was for a younger Gretchen, just one more storm expected during the spring. Something moved down there, there was rustling and a single clang. One of the many cats or a raccoon. She watched the fog until she heard a snore and turned. Alice was half-reclined on the couch in the adjoining room, her sweater thrown over like a blanket, her mouth half-open.
There’d been that thing Alice said on the sidewalk, about how Gretchen was taking this too personally. And that was one of those struck-still moments when you know someone knows you utterly and they know you not at all. And because they are who they are, you begin to wonder if you are who you thought yourself to be. A black chariot can fly up out of the earth and take you away, the flowers you’d been gathering left lying on the ground. They can do that. You can be taken away and shown the kingdom, the one you cannot want even though in it you would rule. It’s a dead world, it’s a dead world that isn’t really you, and you can be returned, to where you were, as you were. You can be delivered back, seemingly none the worse for wear except for what’s been taken from you, those ideas you’d had about yourself. She can do that. All on one day with four seasons. She can do that. Your mother.
[To Be Continued]
There’s No Cure for Gretchen Lowe is an unpublished coming-of-middle-age crip lit novel. Within the broader realm of literature featuring characters with disabilities — #DisLit and memoir — #CripLit presents an understanding of disability using the lens of the social model. It eschews disability as a narrative device and shortcut for conveying sentimentality, heroism, and disaster to readers.