But I couldn't recall any such melee. I did recall, however, a moment at the end of the night, when my bodyguard, Dennis, had had to prop me up against the door frame while he fumbled the key into the door of my suite. By the time he'd turned the knob, my weight had shifted onto the door itself; as he flung it open I'd careened into the room, barreling headfirst into the foyer table. But I didn't feel any bumps, so that couldn't have had been it. Any pain in my head was from boozing, not bruising.
Throughout the course of the morning, the twitching would intensify, as would my search for a cause - not just for the rest of that day, but for months to follow. The true answer was elusive, and in fact wouldn't reveal itself for another full year. The trembling was indeed the message, and this is what it was telling me:
The morning - November 13, 1990 - my brain was serving notice: it had initiated a divorce from my mind. Efforts to contest or reconcile would be futile; eighty percent of the process, I would later learn, was already complete. No grounds were given, and the petition was irrevocable. Further, my brain was demanding, and incrementally seizing custody of my body, beginning with the baby: the outermost finger of my left hand.
Ten years later, knowing what I do now, this mind-body divorce strikes me as a serviceable metaphor - though at the time it was a concept well beyond my grasp. I had no idea there were even problems in the relationship - just assumed things were pretty good between the old gray matter and me. This was a false assumption. Unbeknownst to me, things had been deteriorating long before the morning of the pinkie rebellion. But by declaring its dysfunction in such an arresting fashion, my brain now had my mind's full attention.
It would be a year of questions and false answers that would satisfy me for a long time, fueling my denial and forestalling the sort of determined investigation that would ultimately provide the answer. That answer came from a doctor who would inform me that I had a progressive, degenerative, and incurable neurological disorder; one that I may have been living with for as long as a decade before suspecting there might be anything wrong. This doctor would also tell me that I could probably continue acting for "another ten good years," and he would be right about that, almost to the day. What he did not tell me -- what no one could -- is that these last ten years of coming to terms with my disease would turn out to be the best ten years of my life -- not in spite of my illness, but because of it.
I have referred to it in interviews as a gift -- something for which others with this affliction have taken me to task. I was only speaking from my own experience, of course, but I stand partially corrected: if it is a gift, it's the gift that just keeps on taking.
Coping with the relentless assault and the accumulating damage is not easy. Nobody would ever choose to have this visited upon them. Still, this unexpected crisis forced a fundamental life decision: adopt a siege mentality -- or embark upon a journey. Whatever it was - courage? acceptance? wisdom? -- that finally allowed me to go down the second road (after spending a few disastrous years on the first) was unquestionably a gift - and absent this neurophysiological catastrophe, I would never have opened it, or been so profoundly enriched. That's why I consider myself a lucky man.
Copyright 2002 Michael J. Fox. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the Publisher, Hyperion Books.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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