In the March 2007, Wordgathering staff interviewed Tracy Koretsky about her recent novel Ropeless. Below are two short excerpts from the book.
Excerpt 1 - Ida Meets the Social Worker
In the first excerpt, Ida Kochansky, the mother of a man with Down syndrome, receives a visit from Deborah Steiner, a young social worker from the Daughters of Israel. The narrator is Ida.
"Mrs. Kochansky, as you are probably already aware, the Daughters of Israel connects needy individuals with a network of services..."
I tell her, "Very good. If I find any needy individuals I'll send them over by you." She looks at me like I don't get it. So I say, "Have you tried over by the Greyhound station?"
She clears her little throat. "We do have facilities for developmentally delayed adults..."
"Retarded," she says. I'm not lying here, Jacob. She talks like this. She brings this up out of the clear blue sky. Then she looks at me over her glasses to see if I understand English. "Now I've only talked to Paul a few minutes," she says. "You've probably had much fuller assessments from other health professionals."
"You mean doctors?" I say.
"Well, yes, and whomever else you might use."
"Oh Miss, what-did-you-say?"
"Yes, Miss Steiner, I see now what you want and I think it's very nice of you to ask, but," and then I lean in close, Jacob, I do not announce this in front of the boy, who, by the way, is paying no attention anyhow, "there is no cure for Down's Syndrome. That's the name for what Paully got. There is no cure."
So Paully, bless his heart, stands up all of a sudden and says "Vacoom now," and I think to tell him, "No, sit still, we have a guest", but then I figure, what the heck, maybe then she won't stay long. I nod. "He's such a good boy," I tell her.
"Housework too, huh? Just as I thought. Definitely TMH."
"No. I just told you." I look to see that Paully's busy. I lower my voice. "It's Down's Syndrome."
"Yes, Mrs. Kochansky," she says, real know-it-all. "That's evident." Then she looks past me down the hall. "Excuse me," she says, "would it be all right ... I'd like to go watch Paul."
"He's just gonna run the sweeper," I say.
"Yes, I know," she says.
"You want to watch Paully with the sweeper?"
"Yes. If you don't mind." She's got her neck all stretched trying to see. This can't be comfortable. Also, I can't come up with a reason why not. I shrug. She heads down the hall to go be by Paully. He's in my bedroom, sweeping the way I taught him, back of the house to front. They can't be having much of a conversation with the noise. So, what kind of a conversation do you have with Paully anyway? I quick run a dishtowel over the TV stand. All that dust, it's not nice. I'm not so used to company in the house any more.
So then she comes back. Or at least someone who looks like her comes back. Something has changed about this girl, Jacob. She's all frown now. Before there was no smile, but there was no frown neither. Now there is definitely an expression, but it ain't a happy one. I don't know. Maybe she's got a tummy ache.
"Mrs. Kochansky," she says, very serious, all business, "if you wouldn't mind, I would like to speak to Paul's doctor."
So now maybe is the time I should start to suspect, but who suspects? "Paully got no doctor," I say. "I take him to my clinic for the flu shot, for this or that or whatever. Oh, and I took him to the dentist when he had more teeth."
She puts her hand on my arm, shakes her head and talks to me like I'm Paully.
"He'll need further professional assessment, of course, but Ida," she says -- and I have no idea how we got so familiar, all this touching and such -- "but Ida," she says, "your son seems to have completely normal neurotic functions," or some such blah-dee-blah.
I got no idea what she's talking. I ask her to slow down. So she does. She talks real slow.
"Do you remember before, when I used the expression TMH?" she says. "That's trainable -- teachable. You understand? Even at Paul's age, there's hope for improvement."
I can tell -- I can just tell -- she's thinking that even at my age there's hope for improvement. And maybe she's right but that don't mean she should barge into my living room to let me know it.
Oh, and "MH", would you believe, means "mentally handicapped", which no wonder the mavens shorten. But then, you know, I got no idea; it's all just a bunch of words. What I do understand is when she says, "Of course, we'll start with a day program."
"My Paully?" I stand right up over her. Even sitting down she's almost as tall as me. I look her right in the eye.
"It will be no trouble or expense, " she says. "We have a bus."
"What 'bus'?" I say. "What 'trouble'?
I can tell she is losing her patience with me which is fine by me 'cause I don't got too much left for her neither.
"I got no 'trouble'," I tell her, "no 'expense'. I live here with my son and we don't bother no one and we do for ourselves and we're happy. My son is happy right here with his mother, right where he's always been. You gonna come in here and say different?
The whole time she's looking up, trying to interrupt, "Ida, Ida, Mrs. Kochansky." She can't make up her mind what to call me.
"Well who asked you, little Miss Maven of Israel? I don't call no one with no problem."
"Please, Mrs. Kochansky," she says. "There's no need for hostility."
I look up at her, good and long. "Convince me," I say.
Excerpt 2 - Danny
In this excerpt, Danny Cohen, a man with a physical disability reflects upon his education. This excerpt won a prize for prose poetry from the League of Pen Women.
I am not bitter.
If only we hadn't dreamed.
If only they hadn't, my doomed dreamy parents, doing what parents must die or do. Striving to rise, through the son. Their sun. Dreamers revolving around the one who would deliver them forth into that Promised Land: Professional.
A son in college: sweet fruit.
But I am not bitter.
No, only fallen.
It was the wrong time for illness. It was 1958.
It was a time when boys without legs did not need educations. It was a time when this was believed. Who could blame them? Who were they? Teachers, not saints.
To come to the house of a bedridden boy? A surly, depressed and sometimes sarcastic boy. To take a subway after work or on a Saturday? I would not do so if I were they. I am not bitter.
It was the wrong time.
But my parents, my dreamers, like sleepwalkers, shielded, they fought 'till they found the flat parochial school. There were the boys, forelocked and formal, in black coats and white shirts and thrice-pinned skullcaps. Good boys, sheltered boys, bent over Torah, who could not include me, but never made me the fool.
Twice daily Dad pulled me up by the armpits onto the bus like the bone bag I was, my eyes closed, and dreaming that soon he'd be done. Pa gently talking, things learned in the office: Zionism, labor, the Yankees last score. Did he know I was dreading that last stop? The Waist Hoist. His face in my stomach as he swooped me back down. And then ten, and then thirteen, sixteen and bearded, my father's grunt as he lifted, each time my small death.
So when I finished I finished. No one dared dream more.
Then, they passed laws.
Suddenly I'm trendy -- a symbol, a cause -- suddenly scholarships circled like moths. Suited recruiters called out to me: NYU, full scholarship, Genetics degree. Great grades, great fun, great friendships, great fucks, great years we felt grateful for, great rhymes, great drunks. Tra-la-la the luck that floats in the breeze. We all dreamed of better. We let ourselves dream.
But I am not bitter, no, only eye-opened. Jobs then were for men who could stand on two feet. Who peed standing up and took stairs like Astair. Who, without ramps and handrails, without increased insurance, strode to their places exactly at nine.
I'd do no different than these men from Manpower who eyed once my wheels and began the slow drumming. Fingers tapping atop my resume. My letter overturned, sketched on. No tax breaks for trouble. Back then, no tax breaks at all. But I am not bitter, for this I have learned: all life, to be life, must grow, alter, evolve. And that society is a creature and therefore, transient too.
For now, I am told, oft though unasked, that if I tried now, I'd discover how much things had changed. If I tried now, they'd photograph me at coffee with a woman of color for the cover of their annual report.
If I tried now -- if they could pay me enough, and they certainly couldn't -- I'd just need just a few courses to bring me to date. If I wanted to. If I had even one ounce of heart left.
But I am not bitter. The opposite.
I am sweet fruit, fallen.
Ropeless is only available from through Tracy Koretsky's website at http://www.readropeless.com/.