Poet, author, and creative-writing professor, Kenny Fries explores the frustrations and futility of trying to pass as nondisabled. Fries was born with legs and feet twisted and deformed. He has three toes on each foot.
"Throughout my early records," he writes, "two medical terms are prominent: valgus, which means knock-kneed; and equinus, alluding to horse's hooves, meaning my feet were like closed fists."
His childhood and adolescence were filled with leg surgeries that left him with a "constellation" of scars. During his many hospital stays, he felt like a guinea-pig and endured all kinds of humiliation. "Not bothering to draw the curtain around my bed, one doctor pulls up my bed sheets and, even though [their work is] not related to my current medical problem, the interns gawk at my legs. As the doctors talk behind their clipboards . . . I just lie there, smiling. Without asking permission to do so, they use my body as an example of what miracles the masters of medical science can perform."
This is a common childhood trauma for kids with disabilities. Their families spend enormous amounts of time and energy on the great medical quest for what are often at best purely cosmetic benefits. The depth of the preoccupation can breed a debilitating sense of shame and denial. It delivers the message to the child that it's worth going to any lengths to avoid being disabled.
Thus, Fries carries a determination to keep his disability hidden well past adolescence. A gay man, he tells of disguising himself in bars. "I would plant myself at a table or on a stool at the bar and stay in one place as long as possible.... And even when I had to go to the bathroom I would put it off for as long as I could to avoid making my disability noticeable by standing up and walking. By deciding to remain stationary, I rarely met the men I wanted to meet."
Fries is a victim of physical and sexual abuse. One of his scars comes from the time his father, in a characteristic burst of anger, burned him with a hot fork. Fries's brother, who was also the target of his father's rage, took out his anger by sexually violating his physically vulnerable younger brother.
The cover blurb calls Body, Remember a "redemptive" tale. There are frequent moments when insight and enlightenment emerge, but Fries's search for reconciliation seems to be very much a work in progress. The tone is one of mourning.
In some ways, it's refreshing to read a book about redemption without a clear-cut, happy ending. But my take on childhood disability traumas is different. The parade of prodding interns, the oppressive do-gooders and bureaucrats, all seem to me, from the distance of adulthood, to make up an absurd comedy.
This is not to say Fries is without humor when it comes to his disability. Sometimes, when kids ask why his legs are withered, he tells them he spent too much time in a hot tub.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1997|
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