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A Life Less Lost: Chapter 24

James returns home after having had a leg removed in a Birmingham hospital to find himself in the midst of the fun and laughter of a mini-party to celebrate his 16th birthday.

Kimm Walker continues her profoundly moving account of a battle with the most dreaded of all diseases, cancer.

To purchase a copy A Life Less Lost click on http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_ss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=A+Life+Less+Lost

And do visit Kimm's Web site http://kbwalker-lifelesslost.blogspot.com/

James begins to experience strange pains and on the journey home they become worse. 'Phantom' pains are sensations in the brain from the part of the body that is no longer there so you can't give it a rub or scratch and they are very difficult to relieve. I don't know what to say or do for him and promise to phone the doctor when we get home.

But there isn't time. All of his friends come round in the evening for a mini-birthday party and the fun and laughter is just what we need. One lad gives James a plastic, hairy chest, complete with muscles, for him to prove to the physiotherapist that all the exercises are working. Another brings a card with a press-out garden toupee, which you tie on your head, and magnetic earrings. His friend, Rory, has written him this poem:

To you our hearts go in sorrow,
But please try to think of tomorrow
When Cancer is done
We can all have some fun
In your new car that we can borrow.

I now change from humour and jest
'Cos I'm tired and my mind needs a rest
All I want to say
On this special day
Is that Slappy, my friend, you're the best.

My rhymes must now bite the cud
So Happy 16th little Bud
You've been more of a man
Than most men can
But your head looks like a peeled spud

*

Like James, friends also became important to me after my mother died. The sympathy people felt for my family encouraged my peers to include me more and, as they got to know me, they liked me. Gradually I overcame the earlier stigma. My best friend, Janie, shared her family with me and I spent as much time as possible at their house. They even took me on vacation with them once, to a big horse show in Tennessee, in their huge Winnebago. Janie had a Tennessee Walking-horse and rode it in the competitions. We also shared a deep self-consciousness about our bodies, their normal imperfections exaggerated in our teenaged imaginations. When we would get home after the hot, dirty work in the barn with our horses, we would jump in the lake and swim to the island in our long blue jeans and tee shirts.

We both enjoyed skiing and were on the school racing team. We had a laugh during training and even relished the pre-season workouts when we had to run up and down stairs, 'sit' against a wall without a chair and other exercises designed to develop our stamina and leg muscles. Belonging in the team put stabilizers back on my wobbly life.

In slalom racing, you ski down the course twice and your times are added together. In one important race, Jane and I actually tied to a hundredth of a second. My dad and Nicki came to watch me ski once or twice but, when I discovered they were there, I was so nervous I fell.

Janie's mom, whom I always respectfully referred to as Mrs Steinhilber, was wonderful to me. She'd married young but was still very much in love with her quiet, somewhat reclusive, husband. Her five children were everything to her and they generously opened their hearts to me and helped me to survive the years before I left home.

When I was upset about my Dad's impending marriage, Mrs Stenhilber made it easier by telling me that he wouldn't have rushed to remarry if he hadn't been so happy the first time round. I spent hours, with Jane, her mom and two sisters, talking round their huge kitchen table, sewing or making cookies.
Thankfully, I found schoolwork easy and the other mothers made it possible for me to be on the ski team by driving me to the events. I had my horse but I also had all the extra work to keep her. I was expected to buy my own clothes so Mrs Steinhilber helped me to make them.

My dad seemed a strict, hard father compared to other parents. He expected us to pay our own way, believing that we would value more the things we'd worked for than those that had been given. He also taught us that he meant what he said, to be responsible for our decisions and accept any consequences of our actions. As a parent myself, I now appreciate that it's harder to do that than to protect your child at all costs, which is a more instinctive response.

Between my heavenly and earthly 'Fathers', I was given the freedom andresponsibility to understand that the choices in my life were mine to make and the courage and self-confidence to make them. This didn't stop me from making mistakes but enabled me to try to learn from them.

I was forbidden to attend unchaperoned parties, something unheard of amongst my peers, and the only kind of party they would attend. One evening I was waiting eagerly for Ryan to arrive. He was the popular rebel at school, wearing scruffy clothes and dabbling in drugs. All my friends were envious when they heard he'd asked me out.

'I want to meet this young man before you go,' ordered my dad.
Nervously, I took Ryan into the living room and we sat on the edge of the settee. I couldn't bring myself to look at either of them, hoping perhaps if I couldn't see what was happening then maybe it wouldn't be real.

'What are you studying at school, Ryan?'

'What grades do you get?'

'What are your plans for the future?'

'Do you have a part time job?'

The questions seemed endless. Burning shame battled with blazing fury, my sweaty hands unable to stop trembling. I almost expected Ryan to be asked what toothpaste he used.

Suddenly, my dad stood up. 'I must ask you to leave now. I will not permit you to take my daughter out,' he said, waiting to see Ryan to the door.

Without a word, Ryan went.

'Dad! How could you? Why?' I screamed.

'He's not the sort of person I want you to go out with,' was all he would say, walking away.

'But it's not fair,' I wailed, following. 'Why don't you trust me?'

'I do trust you, it's everyone else I don't trust,' he said.

'You're forcing me to go behind your back,' I challenged.

'You'll have to do what you think is right but you know what my feelings are,' he replied evenly.

Maddeningly, it didn't take me long to decide Ryan wasn't right for me after a few clandestine meetings. I wondered if my dad had a tip off about Ryan because nothing like that happened before or after that incident.

Eventually, fuelled by my sense of injustice, I snuck out to a party. Goaded by my stepmother, phone calls were made and I was discovered. Inexperienced as I was in subterfuge and drinking, my befuddled mind didn't pick up on the clues that I was in big trouble. When asked by my father where I'd been, I lied. For the first and only time in my life, my dad hit me, several times in fact, watched and encouraged by Nicki. I was left in no doubt as to the seriousness with which my father regarded lying and I have never overtly lied to him since.

I did, however, attend another unchaperoned party and learned something else the hard way. My friends and I persuaded our parents to let us camp out in a local park. I set to and erected the tents whilst my friends mixed drinks to get us in the party mood. It was a very warm evening and I worked up quite a thirst, downing the alcoholic drinks like the pop that was in them. Before we were ready to leave for the party I was nearly too drunk to stand and have only fleeting, fuzzy memories of the night.

Getting up for my Saturday job in the chemist's shop the next day, I felt worse than I'd ever felt before in my life. Rushing to the basement toilet several times throughout the morning was not an experience I ever hope to repeat. I'm appalled when I think what might have happened to me that night
and have never drunk to that level of excess again.

***

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