Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
Run, Don’t Walk by Adele Levine, P.T.
2014, Avery, $26.00, 278 pages
It all starts with baby steps.
Baby steps, with arm-waving balance and shaky testing of foot on floor. You held onto the fingers of someone bigger and more experienced at that sort of thing, one foot in front of the other before you finally got the hang of it all.
You probably don’t remember your first steps – unless it’s your second chance to learn how to make them. In the new book Run, Don’t Walk by Adele Levine, P.T., you’ll see how that can happen.
The call came at 0600. Sure that someone was dead (isn’t it always the case with calls like that?) Adele Levine answered the phone and learned that she was being granted an interview for a job as a physical therapist in the amputee clinic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Levine had gone to PT school because of “several depressing rounds of unemployment.” PT had never been her “calling,” and she didn’t have big plans, other than to find a job close to her apartment. She figured that Walter Reed would be a temporary gig.
As it turned out, she loved the amputee clinic, and stayed for several years.
Surrounded by glass walls “The Fishbowl” was complete chaos, a “nonstop party” with visitors, cookies, and bent rules. Double- and triple-amputees worked with therapists to learn to be ambulatory with new prosthetic devices, and other patients hung around as support. Because of the glass, visitors could see what went on but Levine says that the soldiers barely noticed. They were too busy meeting new challenges.
Sometimes, the challenges were Levine’s.
Patients occasionally didn’t cooperate with their treatment, and needed warnings, encouragement, or just more understanding. Others really didn’t want to get better, finding the role of victim more appealing. Like most of her co-workers, Levine tried to create unusual ways to keep everyone – staff and patients alike - occupied, to keep them working on getting better, to keep them healthy in mind and body.
They did this, though personality clashes. They did it, while the injured never stopped coming. And they did it, though their clinic was closing in less than a year…
Paper cuts. They’re the worst, but I promise you that you’ll never whine about trifles like that again, once you’ve read Run, Don’t Walk.
With a sense of irony, a dose of humor, and beaming pride, author Adele Levine gives readers entertainment and lessons that are both sweet and sad. Her anecdotes are peopled by soldiers whose lives have been forever altered, therapists who show them that those lives aren’t over yet, and officers who offer support to both sides. This isn’t necessarily some sunny, feel-good book, though: Levine is plain about pain, roadside bombs, f-bombs, frustrations, injury and death.
This is one of those true stories that, when you’re done reading, you’ll wish you could read it again for the first time. And how could you resist a book like that?
Really – you can’t, so Run, Don’t Walk is a book you should take steps to find.
Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival by Sean Strub
2014, Scribner, $30.00, 420 pages
You didn’t want to look.
When you bought the ticket, you knew the movie was going to be scary, but you had to see it for yourself. Kind of. Peeking between your fingers.
You couldn’t look… but you couldn’t look away, either.
In the early 1980s, when AIDS was barely understood, Sean Strub decided something similar: he’s gay and had engaged in risky behavior, but he didn’t want to be tested. In his book Body Counts, he writes about HIV, the House and Senate, and how they set the course of his life.
At a time when most kids want to be cowboys or ballerinas, Sean Strub wanted to be a politician. He was obsessed with politics and, by the time he moved to Washington to work as an elevator operator in the Capitol, he also fixated on losing his virginity.
For years, Strub had hoped his attraction to men was “a phase that might pass.” It was 1976, and being gay was scary for a small-town Iowa City boy. He wasn’t even sure if sex between men was possible but after he moved to Washington and then to New York , it didn’t take long to find out.
“If Washington was a staging area for my life,” says Strub, “New York was the destination.”
Being a 20-something gay man in the Big Apple was exciting and liberating. Strub found a thriving, politically strong LGBT community, immersed himself in activism, and discovered gay bars, bath houses and an abundance of available men with whom he “was playing catch-up sexually…”
By the fall of 1980, Strub had been treated for STDs, hepatitis B and “a mysterious swelling” of his lymph nodes. Quiet, urgent reports of the death of “a handful of gay men” began surfacing months later, and that scared him but he was told that his immune system was strong, that he probably didn’t have AIDS.
Some time later, however, after contracting shingles, Strub was tested. The man he’d fallen in love with, Michael, was “matter-of-fact” when the results came back positive, but the diagnosis of “AIDS-related complex” was the catalyst for Strub to settle “into my first extended period of monogamy, or close to it.”
But at that point, for Michael, it was too late…
As memoirs go, this is definitely a different kind of animal.
Though it begins with Washington goings-on and inner-circle politics (and though it visits that circle often), Body Counts ultimately becomes more of a coming-of-age coming-out that will resonate with gay men who remember the post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS years. That’s wrapped in tales of the infancy of LGBT activism.
What will keep readers rapt, though, are the horrifying jewels of this book: author Sean Strub’s howl-of-grief memories of the earliest of the AIDS epidemic; of dying friends; of visiting a hospital—not to see anyone specifically, but because he knew there’d be someone there he’d know.
Strub leaves such images scattered here like potholes in springtime, and they’ll stick with you for a long time. For sure, those stories make Body Counts worth a look.