The Jeff Apple Story
Before that storm passed, blood dotted Jane's scalp. The other kids had wisely hung back, frozen to whatever temporary shelter each had dived to. . . Grandpa Apple had said to stay in the trailer! "STOP! You're HURTING YOUR SISTER!" someone managed to scream. Suddenly, Jeff seemed to realize what he was doing. He dropped his hands, staring expressionlessly. Jane was almost in too much pain to notice. Within a few seconds, Jeff "went out" again. But this time Jane was able, woozy as she was, to work free. . .Before another explosion could erupt, she raced to the house to phone Mama. . . [Then she] raced back to the RV as I flew for the driveway, carkeys clutched in my sweating palm.
Jeff had calmed down and was now in the house with his grandmother. . .But the scenes I had conjured to the tune of blaring horns and screeching tires were nothing to what I found in that RV. Poor Jane, bloody and half-bald, sobbed in my arms as I surveyed a soggy mishmash of cracked fixtures, mutilated appliances and unrecognizable flotsam. . Water had spewed from the humidifier. . .
. . .I am suddenly reminded of a handsome old oak that shaded our porch when I was growing up in Greensboro. Its branches often required pruning to prevent their playing havoc. Its roots would not be contained. During a storm, it spun as if possessed, sending debris flying across the block. But afterwards there it would stand, its leaves like washed emeralds. Ice silvered it to a giant candelabra. Tormented as he was, life was so strong within Jeff that it shone through his disability, making others strong. If only I could have been even stronger. Helped him more.
Please tell me that isn't smoke I smell." Fearing the answer, George rushed on. "Was that Jeff I heard as I was picking up the driveway? Bobby, if I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, put your bike away." His glare was directed at me. Jane slunk to her room. George plopped into his recliner as my older son and I stuttered explanations. "'Why did I bother asking?" he growled. "Of course it was Jeff. Pat, can't you try to keep control?" The hall carpet squished as I ran for the bedroom. SLAM.
George, when finally able to drag himself from his chair, had come into the bedroom to offer his apologies. "Honey," he'd said, sighing heavily, "How do you stand it? This place is a madhouse. A MADHOUSE."
Rushing back to the truck, George flung open the passenger door. . .The entire side of Jeff's head was covered with blood! Barely stopping to take a breath, George tried to assess the situation. Jeff had bashed his head against the front passenger seat. . .also the floor and the dash, judging by the spatters of blood. . .
Humor kept trying to help us out. . .Everyone got a bang when I described the show Jeff put on when our little dog, J. J., wandered out-of-bounds. "GO, J.J--!" Jeff drill-sergeanted. "GO--!" J.J. slunk to his laundry room basket, his big brown eyes woeful. Jeff slammed the door tight, a smug expression on his face. Two minutes later, Sarge peeked and crooned, "Bye bye, J. J. Byebyyyyye."
To return to Jeff's treatment, everyone was cautioned against inadvertently reinforcing self-destructiveness. But this meant exerting almost superhuman control. No frowns, scowls or inappropriate grins, no inadvertent gestures, nothing. Worse, the more emotion Jeff's actions elicited . . . the more self-control was required. While remaining hyper-alert, one had at the same time to pretend to be unaware of everything. . .All this while calculating the precise moment to make your next move. And the next. And the next. But see how blank my expression is. How laid-back I am. Yeah right.
Excerpted from Spinning Straw by Phyllis Green. (c) Phyllis Green 1998. Excerpted with permission of the author.
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