The house was small and decrepit, about 900 square feet, I suppose. The main room was a combined living room and dining area, large enough for a matching plush couch and love seat and a small wrought iron and red velvet dining set. A large fish tank filled with pampered exotic fish sat upon the large console TV that separated these two living spaces. A cinderblock and wooden board bookshelf lined the wall and protected a small record collection on the bottom shelves and supported a turntable and speakers on the top. The black velvet painting of a matador that hung above the couch brought the entire look together. Mel was a whiz at macramé so double and triple planters hung in the windows throughout the house. Dad and Mel shared the master bedroom, Jason and Jere the small bedroom and Jerry and I slept in the living room, he on the couch and me on the love seat.
During the winter months the house was drafty and cold. We were used to the constant Oregon rain but our indifference to the weather was always lost on my lungs. They were wimpy. At age seven I spent a week in the hospital having nearly died from pneumonia. My mother tells the story of screaming and cursing at the apathetic nurse at her station for failing to notice that I was turning blue and in dire need of oxygen. I was susceptible to pneumonia and would fend it off, usually successfully, every year.
The problem with being poor is that we just didn’t go to the doctor, pretty much for anything. We moved thorough illnesses and broken skin with grit. I remember once jumping off of the roof of a shed and landing on a nail that went completely through my foot and how surprised I was when my mom actually took me to the doctor’s office. I didn’t even realize until much later in life, the neglect we all suffered. The lack of care was normal to us.
On this particular winter I had a rough bout of bronchitis. My lungs were full of goop and every breath caused me to gurgle and cough. The incessant coughing kept the entire family awake in this small house and about every five minutes Mel would yell, “stop coughing!” Her pleas were getting more and more hostile and I knew that if I cried I would end up gasping for breath, unable to breathe. I tried to slow my breathing and calm my lungs but my constricted lungs were unmoved by my mindfulness. I continued to cough and gasp and could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and my throat begin to restrict. I knew that if I cried I would lose all my breath and might die. Mel began to yell, “if you don’t stop coughing, I’m gonna come out there!” I buried my face in the couch pillow and tried to get all of my coughing out in silence, but the need to cough wasn’t going away. I recall my father remaining silent to both my coughing and Mel’s ranting.