FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Current Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contributors FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//About FRESH YARN FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Past Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Submit FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Links FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Email List FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contact


Jerry's Kid
By Mark Rizzo

At the Muscular Dystrophy Carnival, Miss Judy shone like a beacon atop that flatbed. The late summer sun bathed her in a light more flattering than wheelchair Tommy's. "Miss Judy!" I cried out. "Hey Lady!" my dad echoed in his best Jerry Lewis. He took me on his shoulders and left my mom behind, she still laughing at his Jerry imitation until she realized that he left her holding three half-eaten Pizza Frites. It was a mob scene. As I bounced closer to Miss Judy I could see that she was collecting small bills for Jerry's Kids in a big yellow bucket embossed with the letters MDA and a caricature of Jerry. My dad chugged ahead, weaving through the crowd with grace and power, employing stutter steps and stiff arms on the road to Judy. At about the three-yard line the dogpile became too thick to penetrate. My father put a dollar bill in my hands, hoisted me off of his shoulders and began to angle me, head first, toward the bucket. I was completely terrified. I felt my limbs go stiff as he flew me over the heads of children and parents and closer and closer to Miss Judy's bucket. Then our eyes met. Miss Judy smiled as I held the dollar over the bucket and went slack in the jaw. I may have been drooling. Though I could see her pores through the thick coat of pancake makeup she wore, I was in complete awe and unable to move. My father's arms must have been getting tired from holding me at such an awkward angle above his head because he gave me a little shake and urged me to "drop the dollar in the bucket already." I let go of the dollar and as it floated into her bucket, Miss Judy's face turned sad. She grabbed my hand and my body stiffened even further. "We are gonna find a cure for you and soon, sweetie" she whispered. My dad, exhausted, pulled me away from Miss Judy's soft grasp and as I disappeared back into the crowd in my father's arms I could still see Miss Judy looking out in my direction with the most pitiful expression I have ever seen. She was bathing me in her pity. Yet I could feel nothing but terror. Miss Judy had looked into my eyes, indeed into my very soul and saw the truth. I was one of Jerry's Kids. Just as she had known that there was a ping pong ball rifle hiding under the couch, Miss Judy knew that under my skin was hidden Muscular Dystrophy.


In Vegas, the teleton stumbled tipsily toward Monday evening and the final "Tympani!" Charo had just done the coochie-coochie and Nadia Comaneci was now demonstrating the uneven bars to some crippled kids. They were buying Jerry time. He had spaghetti legs and blurred vision by now, a heavyweight in the final round of a fight with the champ. They used to go fifteen rounds then, the heavyweights. And Jerry was nothing if not a heavy hitter. I lay on my stomach, holding my head in my hands, a few feet away from the television. Pretending everything was normal. But it wasn't. My mind was racing. I had been experiencing pain in my joints all summer but never said a word to anyone. Our family motto has always been "Suck It Up" and every time my knees ached I heard the lyrics to the Melissa Manchester song that my parents would sing along with on long drives:

Don't cry out loud
Just keep it inside
Learn how to hide your feelings

I was a cripple. Nobody but me and Miss Judy knew it yet, but I was a cripple. And no one else would ever know. I would continue to bear the pain in my joints with stoicism. When I began to lose mobility I would crawl up to the trestle on the hill, sprawl myself across the train tracks, and wait for the Erie-Lackawanna. I would be heroic in my silence and at my wake everyone would remark upon how much pain I had spared my family and what a good boy I was.

That's when it came. The final "Tympani!" The drum roll lasted longer on this one and the suspense was maddening. Now we would find out if Jerry had outdone last year's total. The numbers flipped and flipped until they landed on 42209727. Confetti rained down on the tally, the band played a brassy yet sentimental flourish and the number 42209727 burned itself into my brain. "Yeah!" Jerry sounded his highest note of the entire 22-hour entertainment marathon because 42209727 crushed last year's total. He had hung on to win by a knockout. The confetti stopped coming, the lights dimmed and the band played the intro to Jerry's closing number. Singing did not come easily to Jerry, but when he connected to the material emotionally he was absolutely riveting:

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never, never walk alone
No you'll never walk

Tears were streaming down Jerry's cheeks through the final refrain. It was too much for me. I ran from the living room to my bedroom (maybe the last good run left in my addled legs), buried my face in my brown bedspread and wailed.

My mother tore in after me. "What's wrong, honey?" she demanded, shaking my stiff little body. In a voice that rode the primal wave of my sobs, I shouted, "I DON'T WANT TO BE ONE OF JERRY'S KIDS."

As she coaxed out my tale of hypochondria and patiently explained the phenomenon of growing pains, my mother rocked me in her arms. From the kitchen I could hear the comforting sound of beer cans popping open. My dad stuck his head in the doorway and smiled his antic smile. I looked into my mother's eyes and saw the same intense look of pity that Miss Judy had lavished upon me at the Muscular Dystrophy Carnival. And as my mother's lips continued to move, sounding out my reprieve, my muscles relaxed and I sank into her pity like a warm bath.

PAGE 1 2

-friendly version for easy reading
©All material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission

home///current essays///contributors///about fresh yarn///archives///
submit///links///email list///site map///contact
© 2004-2005