“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”

Monday, February 29, 2016

Buzz Bissinger: The Incredible Lessons I Learned From My Son With Brain Damage (Part 1)

My son Zach was born with brain damage that occurred during his birth. His brother Gerry—older by three minutes—is fine. Zach is now 24, but his comprehension skills are roughly that of an eight- or nine-year-old. He can read, but he doesn’t understand many of the sentences.

He can’t add a hundred plus a hundred, although he does know the result is “a lot.” I took him to see the movie Spartacus when he was nine, and after a blood-flowing scene at a Roman villa where Kirk Douglas single-handedly killed two million buffed-up soldiers with a plastic knife, he turned to me and said, “Look, Dad! A pool!” He has always loved pools.

As Zach grew out of childhood, I never knew how much he would understand. While his vocabulary expanded rapidly, his knowledge of what words meant did not keep pace. When I tried to explain something abstract, I could sense him sifting through his hard drive with its millions of data points. But the hard drive did not help him with concepts like preventive health measures or racism.

Instead, our relationship had been largely predicated on games. He loved goofy hypotheticals: What would happen if he did something I told him he could not do. When I kissed him good night, he invariably asked me if there was a certain word or name he could not say after I turned out the lights.

“What can’t I say?”

“You can’t say Rick Lyman.”

“What happens if I say Rick Lyman?”

“I will have to come back upstairs.”

Dressed in his usual T-shirt and gym shorts, anticipating the tickling war we referred to as cuddies, he began to giggle. I walked down the stairs and waited at the second-floor landing. He was plotting strategy.

“RICK!” he screamed. (I did nothing.)

“RICK LY!!!!” (I did nothing.)

“RICK LYMAN!!!!!!!!!!!”

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