Revolution #212, September 26, 2010

From Ike to Mao and Beyond
My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist
A Memoir by Bob Avakian

from Chapter Five: Life Interrupted


During those years, while it would be an exaggeration to say that I literally didn't recognize myself when I looked in the mirror, in all but the most literal sense that was true. I just looked completely different to myself, really disfigured. I was altered very significantly in my physical appearance, and not in a good way, and I was also very sickly. I grew up in this society and came of age in the '50s, with all the conventional and superficial ways in which people are conditioned to think about relations between boys and girls, men and women; and I, obviously, was conditioned myself by all that. For example, I mentioned that among my good friends in high school were girls who were intellectuals and whom I respected for their minds and their thinking. On the other hand, while I didn't go for the classical separation — where there are some girls who are smart, and they're friends, and there are other ones who are pretty or sexy or whatever, and they're the ones you are interested in romantically — a girl did have to be good-looking, in the conventional sense, for me to get romantically interested.

But when everything's knocked out from underneath you and your whole life changes and even your looks change in this way, your outlook begins to change too. It wasn't as if this were an epiphany, and my whole viewpoint changed completely, all at once, but it did start me thinking in a different way and more deeply about what's really important in people, and in particular women, both as friends and even as people in whom you might be romantically interested. But this was only the beginning and part of a longer term process through which I underwent some real changes — it wasn't an overnight dramatic thing, where I woke up one morning, looked at myself in the mirror and said, "Well, look what happened to you, so why bother to think any more about how people look?" That would be an exaggeration and a silly distortion. But it did cause me to start thinking more deeply about what really matters in people, what are the important qualities in people.

Also, my friends were coming to visit me when I was able to go home from the hospital but couldn't get out of the house for a while. My friends would spend their weekends with me, and this meant a tremendous amount to me. They could have been — and probably, on one level, would have liked to be — out doing a whole bunch of other things. But they cared about me and it was important to them to be with me and give me support, and this kind of thing also makes you think differently and more deeply about things, or at least begin to.

I wouldn't necessarily have described myself as "popular" in high school. I was controversial. I was popular with some people and very unpopular with other people, including people who were "popular" in the classical and conventional sense. But I did think of myself as a guy who's "got something going for him," and I more or less expected people to like me. As for those who didn't like me, fuck 'em — it was for good reasons they didn't like me, it was because I was doing things that I believed in and things that I wanted to do that are important and right. So if they don't like me for that reason, to hell with them — there are other people who will like me. That was all part of the whole "brimming with confidence" thing, which also partly comes from the background that I came out of, where the world seems like it's open to you. Then all of a sudden you are knocked down, with this serious illness and all its side effects, and you don't have everything going for you.

Of course, I still had a lot of people and resources to support me. My parents still had money for my health, and my mother spent a couple of years basically revolving her life around helping me recuperate, down to the level of paying very minute attention to my diet, which was very restricted. For example, I could only have very, very limited amounts of sodium every day. I used to write up menus, going through books calibrating the milligrams of sodium in different things, then my mom would find the right foods and prepare the meals that fit that diet. She had to weigh everything, she had to shop at special stores, at a time when they didn't have the whole broad array of health food stores and different kinds of health foods that they have now. So this took up a big part of her life, for a couple of years, besides giving me other kinds of practical and emotional support.

At a time when I was beginning to go out on my own, all of a sudden I was forced not only to live at home for a couple of years, but to be very dependent on my family. My older sister, Marjorie, was out of the house at that point. My younger sister, Mary-Lou, was in high school. She was very supportive, but she also had her own life, and while my parents also cared about her and her life and paid attention to that, they frankly devoted a lot of time to my needs, and my mother in particular did this on almost an hour-by-hour basis, especially in the early stages, to help me survive and recover. Of course, I had tremendous appreciation and gratitude for my mom and for everything that she was doing for me. I always was very fond of my mom, but this made it much deeper. ...

Most Courageous Athlete—Until...

... For the first year after I got sick, I was still taking very high dosages of the cortisone. I had all these side effects from that — and I had to take other medicines to counteract the side effects — so I felt as if I were a walking pharmacy. I had to take my pills with me everywhere I went. I did my best to make that part of my routine, and I'd try to get out and do things that I thought were worthwhile, like tutoring. But realistically, I wasn't really able to get back into doing very much for the better part of a year. Even if I could tutor or officiate at track meets, it was very, very limited what I could do. I would get very weak, I'd get very tired very quickly, and I had to be very careful not to get injured or get an infection. ...

There were times when the whole thing with the illness would be very discouraging. Taking the cortisone went through cycles: they were trying to get to where they could stabilize me on a low dosage of the medicine and then eventually get me off of it. So they'd knock it down five milligrams, and then after a couple of weeks they'd knock it down five more milligrams, and so on. All this time I had to go in the doctor's office twice a week and have tests to see how my kidneys were reacting to the lowering of the dose. Near the end of the first year, they'd gotten it down pretty low, and I actually felt a little better, because the medicine took a lot out of me. But then the tests started to show that my kidneys were losing function again. So they had to raise the dosage way back up again and then start again slowly trying to reduce it. I would reach those points where I'd start thinking, "Okay, the dosage is getting down and next week I'll be almost down to nothing, and then after that I won't need any medicine, I'll be back to the way I was." And, boom, I'd have a setback, and I had to start over again. The cycle would take the better part of a year, and this happened to me twice — two cycles over the better part of two years, where we'd get down low in the dosage, and then, boom, the symptoms would start showing up again, so they'd have to raise it back up.

To be continued

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond