The Last Hurrah of a Crippled Frontiersman

Until I was fourteen, my parents hired a babysitter for say if and my younger siblings. Her times were close friends of go, yet had any known of her work ethic, being fired would be the least of her worries. She brought friends and music, tall tales and weak mushrooms, and exacerbated my already twisted expectations. Every weekend after the big night, she told stories of her fantastical misadventures: how she took too much PCP; how she puked in the bag of marshmallows; how the police arrested her 27-year-old boyfriend. Thus, she built a fantasy to aspire to, one full of easy lays, abundant drugs, and close encounters with the police. From there, everything would be simple, straightforward.
During high school, I tried with naïve determination to live the fantasy. Diagnosed young with a debilitating neurological condition, by fourteen I couldn't take an unassisted step under the best circumstances. Despite Friedreich's Ataxia, my friends pushed my wheelchair up and down the steep, sometimes slippery hills of downtown Juneau, over snow and sleet and concrete, in rain and wind and cascading ice, on freezing starry nights. They carried my chair up and down stairs, helped me load and light up, packed and unpacked my equipment from cars. We drove to beach parties down cliffs I couldn't descend and house parties up stairs I couldn't race down to escape the cops.
My home is a cold strip of black asphalt squeezed between the trim foothills of the Juneau Icefield and murky waters of Gastineau Channel, with Douglas on the other side. Every year, on the night before The Fourth, people drag their splintery pallets, rotting shingles, and soggy firewood, full of oxidized nails and carbon dioxide, to Sandy Beach on Douglas Island, where they spray them with gasoline and wait for the sun to fade. They destroy the silence with illegal fireworks and horn-honking while a rusty barge inches its way down the channel.
At midnight, it stands still, shuddering. Over the next ten minutes, it spouts a barrage of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, sending thunderous waves of noise and causing domesticated animals along the forty mile length of road to cower.
After that is over, the girls take off their pants, the boys burn themselves, laws are broken, arrests are made, and nobody remembers anything. According to this mythology, cripple or no, anyone can be a frontiersman.

For years, I sat with my parents and their friends, eating hot dogs, drinking root beer, and listening to patriotic music across the channel from the many bonfires lining Douglas Island, but when I graduated high school, I decided it was time for something different. I was sick of hearing stories about killer parties in Douglas, and so was my younger sister. So when she was sixteen , she told our parents she would watch the fireworks with friends, and we planned to cross to Douglas on the third.
My mom dropped me off at the Breeze-In convenience store, on the Douglas side of the bridge. The sun was halfway below the horizon, and while the mountains shone golden, civilization was engulfed in darkness. My buddy Seamus met me there.
The first time I got high, Seamus's older sister gave us knife hits in the kitchen while their parents were out of town. She heated the knives on the stove until they glowed, then dropped a bud of weed on and stuck one for each of us beneath a plastic bottle top. Under the bottle she squeezed another knife on top. The entire bowl -- about 6 normal hits -- turned to ash in under ten seconds. We tried to inhale everything, but volumes of smoke wisped around our faces. Then we relaxed in the living room, laughing at jokes made by a blank television.
Seamus was the only one who always stood by me: even when everyone was really too drunk to stand; even when the party moved up a mountain; even on rainy nights when the accessible bus had no more room. Once, we were at a house party, and I fell asleep. At four in the morning, the host announced everyone had to leave. Seamus, always a skinny kid, did not have any strength I trusted, but his confidence infected me. I held my breath as he lowered my chair down the front steps and pushed up the treacherous slope to his house in the dark and wind and rain.
Of course, nothing he could do would make my parents comfortable
I suppose I must forgive them for worrying so much. Seamus, often in jail for things like underage drinking and possession of marijuana, brought a stereotypical bad influence wherever he went. Whenever he came to my house, he brought drugs, booze, and girls. In those days, we usually didn't have access to a pipe, so we made do with an apple. We would use a screwdriver to dig a stem and cup, load, light, and sail away on fruity delight.
Of course my parents grew suspicious at the disappearing apples. Of course they were irritated by intoxicated juveniles falling about their house. Of course, if they had known better, they would have called the cops. For my fifteenth birthday, I collected a full ounce of weed and half a gallon of vodka. There were twenty people crowded in my smoked-up room, all drunk. When my dad walked in, he said, very calmly, Whatever you guys are smoking, take it outside. I can't say why my parents didn't put a stop to us, for I'm sure they knew what that smell was.
One thing that may have stayed their wrath was: they didn't know what to expect from a child with FA. Until I was diagnosed, they thought me clumsy. They hoped I could be trained to walk, talk, think, and be normal. My dad signed me up for Boy Scouts and karate, took me hiking and camping and kayaking; my mom took me swimming every Wednesday and pumped me full of health food. But my predicament worsened until I was diagnosed, age seven.
Even then, they thought it possible to make me normal. My dad just took me on longer hikes, over steeper hills and through thicker forests; my mom had me do more laps in the chilly azure deep end. But my body continued to decay, and it became harder to keep up.
Somewhere between my diagnosis and 10th birthday, their spirit to resist died, and they came to terms with my feebleness.
First my grandfather cut me a walking stick of twisted Oak. Then my parents invested in a walker, like those little shopping carts people give their toddlers. I stood with these for two or three years, but for most of the time I rode, sitting on the resting spot, while friends pushed me. Because of the original denial and later ignorance of my parents, I didn't ride a wheelchair full time until I was fourteen.
Furthermore, because they didn't know what to do with me, my parents were, by my reckoning, Awesome.
When I rolled down the ramp in the Breeze in parking lo , I looked up at my mom, waiting for the word of caution I knew she wanted to give.
"You're sure you don't want me to pick you up after the fireworks?" Her voice shook. "I'll be watching from the usual place."
"I'm sure," I said. "I'll just sleep at Seamus's house."
"Don't worry, Mrs. Jones." But Seamus's appeal lacked zeal. "It'll be just like old times."
My days of reckless adventuring on the inaccessible streets of Juneau, however, had been a long time before. My affliction had progressed a lot since then, and I had not slept anywhere other than my own room in years.
"Yeah," I said. "Just like old times."
Her eyes quivered, but she sighed and nodded.
"I guess I've got to let you grow up," she said. "We'll see you at the parade tomorrow."
We started on the road to downtown Douglas, about a mile south of Juneau.

The darkness settled and I shivered as streetlights snapped on overhead. After fifteen minutes, my sister came into view.
"Hey, love," she called. "Found you!" As close as we were, I had never seen her drunk. I had not even considered it before, but now I was a little worried.
She ran up and gave me an awkward hug.
Her boyfriend poured me a Rum a Coke.
Seamus lead the posse of teenagers (we weren't in high school anymore, so didn't count, but my sister is boyfriend had a backpack full of booze, and ten or so kids were following) to a clump of trees overlooking the beach. There, as was standard procedure, he pulled out a piece and started loading. The sun had set, so the partyers were launching fireworks and the cruise ships were honking horns; I couldn't hear anything, and conversation bounced around me purposelessly. Finally, Seamus had the pipe ready.
Someone came up from the beach.
"Dude," he called. "The fuck you doing? Party's down here! You're missing out!"
"He's right," mumbled one of us. "We're wasting our time."
"Well, fuck him," snapped Seamus. "And fuck you, too. Get out of here."
The kid was right. We were wasting our time up here on the beachhead while our peers had their fun in the sand. I knew it, and Seamus knew it; this was the worst episode of our favorite show, and it had seen too many reruns over the years. We knew the ending before the night even started, but would go ahead, commit ourselves to one last adventure.
"Anyone else?" Seamus asked.
Two other people went down to the beach.
"We'll be back," they said. "We're just going to find out where the house parties are."
One came back for a few puffs of weed.
"Dammit," he said. "They're already fresh out down there."
Another came with a bottle of stolen rum.
"What," he said. "That pussy. I'll just leave this here and go get him back."
My sister's boyfriend cracked the seal, drank, and handed me me the bottle of Bacardi Original. I shrugged, Seamus shrugged, and we drank beneath the artificial flickering of red, white, and blue.

Afterwards, we made our way back to the outskirts of town. Someone had told Seamus a piece few days earlier about a party in the highlands, so we went straight through the minimaze of urbanity, lit by steely white streetlights and spread over rolling downs.
Chrissy and Joey were the only people left following us, staggering along and leaning on each other, too far loaded to stand alone. They hobbled along until Joey announced they were going to split.
"Hey," he said. "Hey, Seamus! And Ryan. We're going back."
"What?" Granted, I should have expected this, but no. "Going back? Going back where? Are you okay with this, Chris?"
she did not respond.
They turned back, tripping their way... somewhere.
With them gone, Seamus and I were the only ones left. We went to a house where there were people Seamus said were friends, a house with lights off and doors locked. We found one house with music vibrating the windows, but the entryway was too narrow for my chair.
"Jesus-F'ing-Christ," said Seamus. "This town blows goats!"
But one thing I had learned after eighteen years was: there aren't a lot of things that don't. If I didn't have Friedreich's, I'd have Parkinson's. If Seamus wasn't skinny and weak, he'd be fat and lazy. If we weren't born in Juneau, we'd be totally different people. There aren't a whole lot of alternatives, so you've just got to take it as it comes.

It was chilly and dark and quiet in the gray Alaska predawn, and all but the retired rednecks had fallen asleep. Seamus, though, was optimistic. He was certain he could find a party downtown.
"Alright," I said. "Just let me take a piss first."
It had been over ten hours since I last used my urinal, however, and I'd imbibed eight shots of alcohol, four cans of Root Beer, and a full Rockstar.
My bladder would not cooperate. I sweated, grunted, clenched and unclenched my muscles, breathed deeply and changed positions frequently, but my body could not release the hazardous quantities of urine.
I took a moment to meditate on my situation. Urinary retention would become a common problem later in life, and I would know exactly what to do about it, but when I was eighteen I never had problems with my bladder. Should I call my parents? Emergency dispatch? What would Seamus say?
I rolled out from behind a house, sweaty, aggravated, and told Seamus I needed to get my mom to give me a ride home.
"What the fuck," he said. "Alright, whatever. Can you ask her to drop me off downtown?"
So I called my mom. She was sleeping, of course.
"Yes, hello." Sleeptalking. Waking nightmare. Zombified.
"Yeah," I said.
"You need a ride, yeah?" Irritated. What-am-I-going-to-do-with-you? I-knew-this-would-happen.
"Yeah," I said.
"Alright, I'll meet you at the Breeze-In parking lot in half an hour." Click.
Seamus stood quiet, looking at me under folded brows.
"I'm sorry about this, dude," he said. "I should have realized Douglas wasn't the greatest place."
"Yeah," I said. "Well, next time we'll know."
"But right now, we have half an hour to get back to Breeze-In."
My mom met us halfway to the convenience store. She pulled up along the sidewalk and loaded me in, saying nothing.
Seamus slouched in the passenger seat,
"Sorry about this, Mrs. Jones," he said. "Some idea this turned out to be."
The sun slid above the skyline as we drove back across the bridge, and somber yellow light sketched fluid patterns across the street. Drunks and taxis crowded Juneau while bars and taverns closed shop. Driving up the hill to Seamus's, the remains of the night -- cigarettes, Styrofoam cups, and plastic bags -- blew in the wind.
I might've laughed through the chaos of it all. The laughter reserved for an extraordinary bill or the untimely death of a despised politician. The laughter you make in self defense.
"Thank you, Mrs. Jones." Seamus looked at me, expecting something, when he stepped out at his house.
"Sure," said my mom.
He looked at me, asking a question without speaking.
I nodded.
"Um. I'll call you?"
"Yeah," I said. "Sure."
"What happened?" asked my mom when he was gone.
"I have to go to the bathroom," I said.
It was the death of a dream and end of the years where I could risk my life and not think twice. The direct result was, of course, disappointment. But years later I look back and am inspired, not disappointed, that though I failed to join a culture taken for granted by my peers, I still had the courage to give one last hurrah. It was the last hurrah of a crippled frontiersman.


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