I was born in 1966 just south of Miami, Florida. My parents met while students at the University of Florida. My mom took off a semester and attended classes at Dade Community College, but quickly returned to UF the following semester after giving birth to me. I stayed behind with my mom’s parents in Coconut Grove. During my time away from them, I drank gasoline and had to have my stomach pumped. Amazingly, I have very foggy and faint memories of this (if this were a work of fiction, this event in itself would be construed as foreshadowing).

When I look back on the pictures of my life before the age of four, life was good for everyone. We lived in Gainesville until about 1968 and then moved on to Boston for my parents to attended Boston University. We lived on Beacon Street several blocks south of Boston Common. I remember having to leave the building because of a huge underground fire beneath the street; police on horseback pushing through the crowd to quell a riot at the Commons; attending concerts at the band shell; going to the farmers market (the Door’s Strange Days album cover always brings back the smell of the market); catching my heel in the spokes of my dad’s ten-speed bike while crossing the Charles River on our way to Cambridge; the nanny upstairs who watched the soap opera with the hourglass while I sat miserably in a playpen in the next room; my best friend at the time, Eddie Sullivan; Roy’s Chinese Restaurant (I still believe they were the best ever; the only drawback was that my legs would fall asleep from riding on my dad’s shoulders); and many other memories.

My parent’s divorced when I was four. My father moved to Cambridge. We went camping in Vermont where I caught a big water bug and he cooked it up for me. His girlfriend made me a wonderful backpack made from denim jeans. My father got his masters in philosophy and then moved back to Gainesville to attend UF’s medical school. My mom got a new boyfriend who happened to have a son my age. After she finished her masters in religion, the four of us moved to Syracuse for her to work on her Ph.D at Syracuse University.

Syracuse was great. We lived in two different houses, both of which were near a large park. We didn’t have a television, so we’d watch TV on campus. I remember seeing the movies about ants that became gigantic raging menaces after being exposed to radiation, and “The Blob.” We eventually got a small black and white set which got a lot of use on Saturday mornings. Once we had to go to bed before sunset in order to get up in the middle of the night to watch “The Fly.”

I attended first and second grades in Syracuse at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, an inner-city school near SU. One time I managed to get lost on the school bus ride home. I spent a lot of time with my mom on campus. I’d go to class with her, spend time at the library or coffee house under the table while she studied, and I’d always ask her lots of questions, which she always dutifully took time and patience to answer in detail. I once even posed nude for an art class I stumbled upon. (Like that would ever happen today!) At the on-campus movie theater, I flirted with a concessions attendant while the others watched “Young Frankenstein.” What a great film, but that college girl was beautiful and hot. I also learned how to swim at the campus pool, although I had been swimming since an early age at my dad’s parent’s beach in Vero (Rio Mar was a beautiful place to live).

There were some ugly aspects of Syracuse as well. Once in my backyard, which was not fenced and had a path that ran through many backyards, three older girls pinned me to the ground, pulled down my pants and underwear, and took some liberties with me. Also, in that same backyard, five or six large men beat up my mom’s boyfriend and another friend while Jordan and I took cover in the playhouse. It was scary. Another event at that same house took place one Christmastime as we were getting ready to go out to get a tree. The FBI busted in through our front and back doors. They quizzed us for what seemed like forever, and then apologized as the person they were looking for lived in the apartment directly above us. Turns out the guy upstairs were dealing drugs and the interior of his van was lined with marijuana. He wasn’t home when the FBI came but his girlfriend was. She was arrested but later released. She was a nice person. When "streaking" became popular, Jordan and I promptly took to the sport to show her that we were cool and naked.

About this time my mom began outwardly suffering from a brain tumor. One night she attempted to kill herself with a handful of utensils she had taken from the silverware drawer. It was an absurd, ridicules attempt to even a seven year old, but I knew the anger and horrible sadness she was experiencing. She had been having headaches for sometime before aphasia became apparent. But when she sought medical attention in Miami, the doctors diagnosed her headaches as simply psychosomatic. Sadly, I have all her diaries and the diagnosis from those doctors. What really hurts is that they may have been able to save her life had they actually taken the time and effort to listen to her. By the time she found a competent doctor in Syracuse, her tumor had become cancerous and there was no stopping the inevitable. During this time, she made a video with the medical department at Syracuse University about her impending death and the way people now treated her differently. The SU medical department used this video as part of their curriculum to teach medical students how to honor dying patients. Even my own father, now a medical student at UF, treated her differently. She just wanted others to treat her as they had before they knew she was dying.

My mom was now in and out of the hospital. I went to stay with the Sullivans for a short time over in Newton after my mom had a seizure while riding in the back of a Greyhound bus. I had to get the driver to stop so I could help my mom off the bus, which helped for some reason. Eddie’s father was a lawyer in a beautiful Boston office, and this was probably my first memorable exposure to the legal field.

Knowing what lied in store for her, she moved back to Miami where she could have the support of her parents. During the drive down with friends, I lost my entire collection of Matchbox cars. I was heartbroken when they couldn’t be found. Of course, now I regret that I didn’t spend more time with my mom instead of wasting time worrying about those damned stupid cars.

We arrived in Miami just as the new school year had begun. I was enrolled at a private school in Coconut Grove. They placed me in fourth grade. It was horrible. I just wanted to be with my mom. All I can remember is what I watched on television during those months before my mom died -- The Flintstones, The Three Stooges, Captain Kangaroo, Hogan’s Heroes, and sometimes Johnny Carson. I remember watching “War of the Worlds” one night in my grandparent’s bed. I also watched one particular digital flip clock every night.

I remember the last time I visited my mom at the hospital. I never imagined that it would be the last time I’d ever see her…I definitely would have been different, but then it may have been a good last visit for my mom…seeing me leave and not crying. If I had known that she was going to die that day, I would have never left her side. The next day I was told my mom died; I cried all day and into the next. It must have been horrible to be around me. Actually that is too painful to even think about—how awful for my family.
She died three days after her 28th birthday at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. Had she been able to keep her strength, she would have been granted her doctorate from Syracuse University that year.

She died October 27, 1976; two days later my dad called. All I could say to him, repeatedly, was “I hate you. Why couldn’t you save her? I hate you.” My dad and his wife, Sharon, arrived late Halloween night to pick me up and take me to Gainesville. I still remember looking down 72nd Court towards Sunset Drive thinking what it would be like if I had time to ‘trick-or-treat’ all the houses (though there weren’t that many because the lots were so large). Definitely a new reality had just stomped its placeholder in my life.


Copyright 2006-2009 Christopher Fitts. All rights reserved.