Page 28: We Can’t Find Joe!

Ted arrived at the Aden farm just a little before supper time. He knocked on the door several times, but no one answered. He checked to see if the door was locked, which it wasn’t, so he walked right on in.
Ted had become just like one of the family since he and Joe had started hanging out.  It wasn’t unusual for him to come over any time he felt like getting away from the wife and kids. He had popped over plenty of times late in the evening only to have Evelyn put a full meal out on the table for him. 

Joe’s mom was about the nicest person on the planet.  Hard worker, too–seven kids in eight years–working right alongside John in the barn and in the field.  She was a pillar of strength after Tessie died, always saying how thankful she was that she didn’t lose two kids that day and how thankful she was that the good Lord took Tessie instead of her being a vegetable and Joe having to look at her every day as a reminder of what happened.  It was no wonder Joe loved her as much as he did.

“Hello? Anybody home?” Ted yelled as he cautiously walked through the kitchen. Water boiling on the stove and a roast in the oven, someone must be home, Ted thought. He walked around the corner and yelled down the hallway, “Hellloooo?”

Still no answer. Ted walked back into the kitchen and turned the burner off on the stove. The water must have boiling for while, Ted observed, because there was barely any water left in the pot. He opened up the oven door and peeked inside.  He saw that the roast was to the point of being burnt.

Ted went back outside. Both the family car and truck were in the yard. Sharon’s car was there, too.  As loud as he could, Ted yelled again, “Anybody here?” Just as he was getting ready to walk down to the barn, he saw Sharon running from the field, out of breath, panicking, “Ted, Joe took off, we don’t know where he is. We thought he was lying down.  Mom went in to get him up for supper, and he wasn’t in his room.”

“Maybe he just went for a walk. He’s a big boy. He’ll be fine,” Ted said reassuringly.

“No, he won’t be fine. Joe doesn’t remember anything so he’ll probably get lost. Plus, he was really upset earlier today.  I’ve checked all the buildings, and Mom is headed out toward the apple orchard.  Can you please help?”

“Yeah, sure,” Ted said begrudgingly.  “I’ll just take my car and drive around the section and then head towards town. I’m sure he’s OK, Sharon.  He probably just needed to clear his head.”

“Right!” Sharon said sarcastically. “Obviously you haven’t seen Joe since his shock treatments.  There isn’t anything in his head to clear!”  Sharon wasn’t trying to be funny, but Ted burst out laughing anyway. “It isn’t funny!” Sharon said  angrily.

“OK, Ok, I’m sorry,” Ted said as he tried to hold back a smile.  With that, he walked to his car, started it and drove off to help find Joe.

FACTS:  Joe would leave the house and get lost because he didn’t know where he was and couldn’t find his way.  

Page 27: Those High School Days

Even though Ted had known Joe ever since grade school at St. Mark’s, they were never, what Ted would call, close friends.  Joe just tried too hard to get everyone to like him, and because of that, Joe was teased something fierce. Always there, always around, always showing off, like a lost puppy dog that follows you everywhere no matter how hard you try to shoo it away. 

There was a lot of tension among Joe and the rest of the guys on the football and basketball teams. It just wasn’t fair that Joe could come in as a starter his junior year and play every game, the whole game. But even being a star football and basketball player didn’t win Joe any friends in high school.  He still was picked on by all the guys on the team.  One night they even beat Joe up after one of their football games. “Let’s see how tough you really are, Moose!” they taunted, as they started throwing their jabs.  Joe never fought back, and Lord knows, he probably could have killed them if he wanted.  He just stood there, tears in his eyes, taking blows to his body as if he was a human punching bag.  

That was over 20 years ago. Not a lot of Ted’s high school friends stayed in the Elsmore area, so he and Joe had become closer throughout the years, mostly by default—really no one else to hang out with.  The two of them had continued to play basketball for a city league, winning several championships. Ted had heard that Joe was not doing so well since he had been released from Mayo.  Rumor had it that Joe had lost all of his memory, didn’t even remember his mom or any of his family.  Ted was skeptical, thinking that maybe Joe was up to his old tricks of trying to get some attention. Ted decided it was time to pay Joe a visit and see for himself first-hand just how bad of a state Joe was in.

FACTS:  Joe was beat up after a football game in high school.  There was speculation among Joe’s friends that his memory loss wasn’t as bad as it was.  Joe did play on a Rochester city basketball league.

Page 26: Joe the Mechanic

It was no secret that Joe loved fast cars, from his Pontiac Duster that he used to drag race, to the Corvettes that he paraded around town.  It was probably his love for cars and their engines that made Joe decide to be an auto mechanic.  He took classes in the Twin Cities at Cummins headquarters and became a certified Cummins engine man.  Frank Stellar, owner of Stellar Motors in Elsmore, hired Joe on the spot. Joe had a reputation of working hard at whatever he did, so Frank knew that Joe would be a great asset to his shop.

As it turned out, Frank was right—Joe was the best diesel mechanic Stellar Motors had ever had.  It didn’t take long before Joe’s reputation spread throughout the region.  People came from hundreds of miles around because they only wanted Joe to work on their engines.  Not only was he a great mechanic, he had a memory like no one else—memorizing all the numbers in the auto parts manuals.  He never had to look up a single number—knew it right off the top of his head. 

People also came from miles around just to see how big and strong Joe really was. Legend had it that Stellar Motors didn’t need their truck jacks anymore because they had Joe. Many townspeople witnessed Joe picking up the rear end of a car by its bumper on more than one occasion.  In fact, one time, in high school, his friends saw him move a parked Cadillac Seville forward by at least a foot.

This was the Joe that Ted remembered, always showing off how strong he was, trying to be accepted as “one of the guys.”  During their high school days, in addition to picking up or moving cars, Joe would try to impress everyone by flexing his arm muscle and then slapping it so hard that another muscle would form on top of it. 

FACTS:  All true, according to stories told.

Page 25: Sorry…don’t come here for help!

Joe and Sharon were back at the house.  Joe went back to his room again and laid down, trying to get Tessie and the accident out of his mind. 
Sharon told Christa everything that happened on their walk.  It had been a tough week.  Joe was not getting better.  Christa decided to call Dr. Spitzack.  When the receptionist told her that he wasn’t available, she said it was an emergency.  The receptionist paged Dr. Spitzack, and he took Christa’s call.

“Dr. Spitzack…I don’t know what to do.  Joe’s memory loss is worse than I had imagined.  I think he needs to come back in.  He’s so frustrated and angry that I’m afraid he’s getting depressed again, but this time it’s because of not being able to remember.”

“Mrs. Aden, I wish that I could help you, but Joe is no longer my patient.  He was referred by the county clinic, we’ve provided the recommended treatment, and now he is out of our care.”

“Are you kidding me?” Christa felt the anger rising inside of her.  “Doctor, you said if we had any questions, that we should call you.”

“Mrs Aden, as I explained to you before, there’s no explanation for Joe’s memory loss.  In fact, I can only ascertain that Joe is faking this, possibly for attention.  There’s nothing more that I can help you with.”  And with that Dr. Spitzack ended the conversation by hanging up the phone.
FACT:  Joe’s doctor Thought that Joe was “acting” like he lost his memory.  When Joe’s mother called back for help, even though they said to call if they needed help, the doctor referred to the county clinic.

Page 24: Go Away Little Girl

Joe and Sharon were both silent as they slowly walked back to the house.  As they passed the apple orchard, the memory of Tessie came to Joe as clear as day.  Joe began to speak, retelling the whole accident to Sharon, just as if it was happening right then and there.  

Joe confided in Sharon, “It’s my fault she died, you know. I pushed her, and then I just watched her fall.  She cried, but I didn’t help her.”

Sharon searched for the words to comfort Joe.  “It wasn’t your fault.  Ma said that even if the accident happened on the front lawn of the Mayo Clinic, they wouldn’t have been able to save her, and if they would have, she would have been a vegetable her whole life.”

Sharon hesitated for a moment.  “What I don’t understand, Joe, is how come you remember Tessie and the accident and you can’t remember anything else?”

“I don’t know,” Joe said solemnly, “but I see her, me and the accident in my sleep almost every night, just like it’s right here happening in front of my eyes.”  Joe started to cry again.  “She just won’t go away.”

Page 23: Joe and Michael Jordan

Joe tried to rest, but he was finding it difficult to relax.  He kept seeing himself and Tessie playing in the apple orchard.  The visions and the nightmares wouldn’t stop.  He told Dr. Spitzack about them, but he said eventually they would go away.  Why did he have to remember this, when he couldn’t remember anything else?

Joe’s sister, Sharon, poked her head into Joe’s room.  “Joe, you alright? Mom said you had a rough time at the grocery store.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Joe said.  “Sharon, do you see Tessie or is it just me?”

“Joe, you know Tessie is gone, and she ain’t comin’ back.  It’s OK, it was an accident,” Sharon decided to try and get Joe’s mind off of everything that was bothering him.  “Hey, let’s go for a walk, come on….”

Joe reluctantly got up and put his shoes on.  “Sharon, can you help me tie my shoes?  They showed me in the hospital, but I can’t quite get it.”

Sharon got down on her knees and tied Joe’s shoes for him.  Being seven years younger than her big brother, it was ironic that Sharon was helping Joe tie his shoes.  Just as a mother would teach her little child how to tie a shoe, so Sharon explained the process to Joe. 
“Now, let’s go!”  Out the door the two of them went and they started walking down the driveway and then up the hill on the gravel road that traveled past their house.  “Let’s talk about something that’s fun,” Sharon said enthusiastically.  “How about Michael Jordan?”  Sharon remembered how much Joe loved Michael Jordan.  Joe thought they were “soul brothers” because they had the same birthday, February 17th.  Sharon sometimes secretly wondered if the fact that Michael Jordan retired from basketball to play minor league baseball contributed to some of Joe’s depression. 

Joe didn’t say anything, so Sharon just kept on talking.  As Sharon rambled on and on, Joe stopped dead in his tracks, falling to his knees, shaking his head and clenching his fists.  “Stop, stop!”

“Joe, what’s wrong?” Sharon urgently asked.

“I don’t know who…who did you say?  Michael Jordan?  I don’t know who Michael Jordan is!” Joe was frustrated.  “Don’t you understand? I don’t know…I don’t know…I don’t know anything!”

Sharon dropped to the ground and knelt next to Joe.  “Joe, I’m so sorry.  I thought maybe you would start to remember if I told you all about him.  I’m so so sorry that I upset you.”

Facts:  Joe kept seeing visions and dreaming about Tessie and the accident.  Joe and Michael Jordan share the same birthday.  Michael Jordan was Joe’s hero.

Page 22: Watermelon

Joe saw lots of things on the drive back to Elsmore, none of which were familiar to him, all of which he was afraid of.  He saw big monsters in the field.  Sometimes they were red, sometimes they were green.  He later learned that these “monsters” were tractors and combines, things that he drove on a frequent basis when helping out his parents on the farm.

Christa decided to make a stop at the grocery store before going home.  She would have Joe pick out his favorite foods so that she could fix him the big meals like she used to.  When they arrived at the grocery store, Joe followed Christa in.  Once inside the store, Joe looked at all the different colors and sizes of items sitting on the shelves.

“Joe, would you grab me one of those watermelons?  You’ve always loved watermelon,” Christa said.

Joe looked confused.  He looked around, hoping that he would see something that he knew would be a watermelon.  But he didn’t.  “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon….” he kept hearing the word over and over in his head until he felt like his head was spinning.  He knew he should know what a watermelon was.  His mom said he loved watermelon…but he didn’t know.  He just didn’t know!  He started to cry.

Christa had gone ahead with the cart, and when she realized that Joe wasn’t behind her, she turned around to see him standing there, frozen, his hands clenched at his side, tears streaming down his face.  “Oh goodness, Joe, what’s wrong?” 

Considerably upset, Joe quietly cried, “I don’t know…don’t know…what’s a watermelon?”  

Tears came to Christa’s eyes as well.  Joe didn’t even know what food was or what food he liked.  She showed him the watermelons.

Joe took his hands and felt the watermelon, and then he picked it up.  “How do you eat this?!”  he asked.
Christa explained that you cut it up, that it is pink inside and that you don’t eat the green shell.  “When we get home, I’ll show you, and you can have some.  You’ll remember when you taste it, I’m sure.”

Making the shopping trip shorter than she had intended so as not to frustrate Joe anymore, Christa quickly grabbed a few more items, checked out and left the grocery store, explaining her every move to Joe so that he would understand.

When they got home, she took the watermelon, cut it up into bite size pieces, put it into a bowl, and gave Joe a fork to eat it with.  He took a bite and chewed it slowly.  It’s what Joe did with every new food he ate, because even though he had eaten it many times before, he couldn’t remember, and he was afraid–afraid of the taste, afraid of what it might do to him.  He had to trust his mom, trust her that this was something he should eat and trust her that he would like it.

He decided he liked the watermelon and took another bite as he refilled his memory with the name and taste of more foods that he liked.

FACT:  Joe didn’t know what a watermelon was and experienced great frustrations over not knowing what certain foods were.

Page 21: Black & White

Dr. Spitzack came into the room to say goodbye to Joe and to give Christa some last instructions on Joe’s care.  “Now Joe will need to still come in for therapy three times a week,” Dr. Spitzack instructed.  “He needs to continue his speech therapy, and we do have a tutor who will continue working with him to help him with his general knowledge–kind of a high school refresher course. If you have any questions once you get Joe home, please don’t hesitate to call me.”

“OK,” Christa said. “And you are sure that Joe will regain his memory?”

“Absolutely!” Dr. Spitzack said with confidence.  “Remember, we have found no reason for his memory loss.  Joe will remember as soon as he wants to.”

Meanwhile Joe had been looking outside his door into the hallway and concentrating on something he had never seen before.  Just like everything Joe had never seen before, it scared him.

“Hey, doctor,” Joe called.

Dr. Spitzack turned his attention away from Christa.  “Yes?”

“What’s wrong with him–by the door?”

Dr. Spitzack and Christa both looked into the hallway.  They saw one of the other psychiatrists on staff talking with a nurse.

“Wrong? That’s Dr. Hunt.  There’s nothing wrong with him.” Dr. Spitzack said quizzingly.

“His skin…not like you and me.”  

Dr. Spitzack seemed irritated.  “Joe, Dr. Hunt is African American.  He’s black.  You and I are white.  He just has a different skin color.”

“I’ve never seen that.” Joe said.

“Joe, you’ve never seen a black person before?”  Mr. Spitzack asked.
“Don’t know.  Don’t think so,” Joe said innocently.  “Scares me, though.”  

Joe made a mental note, refilling another page, “Black and white.  I’m white.  He’s black.  Nothing to be scared of.”

FACT:  The first time Joe saw a black person, he was afraid of that person.

Page 20: Joe is Going Home

It had been four weeks since Joe was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Mayo Clinic.  During the last week, Joe started working with therapists to begin helping him relearn basic cognitive and motor skills.

A speech therapist met with him everyday and showed him words, the letters that made up the words, how to pronounce the words, and then showed him the word in the dictionary and read what the word meant.  To Joe, the word was much like his memory.  It existed, but the meaning was void.

Christa still came everyday, too, bringing with her photo albums and visitors of friends and family.  Joe showed interest in the pictures and the visits, but again, just like his memory, they had no context or meaning.  None of it generated any type of feeling or emotion in Joe.  

There was one thing that did generate a feeling inside of Joe, though.  Tessie.  He saw her every day.  Sometimes when he was sleeping and sometimes when he was awake.  Even though he didn’t remember his family or friends, he knew Tessie.  He knew she was his sister.  He knew what a sister was.  And, every time he saw her, he saw himself as a little boy, too.  He saw her fall.  He saw her hurt.  And he saw himself just stand there doing nothing. He saw her say it was his fault.  Every day, this is what he saw.  It wouldn’t go away.

Today, Joe was finally going to go home.  Christa showed up right at noon to pick Joe up.  He was ready and waiting.  As she walked into the room, Joe said, “Hi Mom.”

Christa never thought she would ever hear him call her “Mom” again.  While it meant so much to Christa, it had no meaning to Joe.  “Mom” was just a word that he was told to call this person–the person that had been by his bedside every day for the last four weeks.  He had no knowledge of what a “mom” was or no recollection of what important role his “mom” had played in his life the last 40 years.

FACTS:  Joe did work with therapists to regain speech and learning.  Joe had visions and nightmares of Tessie and the accident frequently.  It was the only thing he remembered.

Page 19: From Football to Basketball

Christa began paging through her photo albums.  She must piece together as much of Joe’s life as she could and talk to him every day about the pictures and what was going on in his life at the time.
She came upon the newspaper clipping she had saved from Joe’s high school basketball days.  

“Aden Selected for All-Star Team,” the header read, his high school graduation picture displayed directly under the header.  Joe was the only player from Elsmore to make the all-star team his senior year and all of the other players were from the bigger city high schools.  

Just like football, Joe waited until his junior year to go out for basketball.  His football coach encouraged him.  “Someone your size can only be an asset to our basketball program,” Coach Larson had said.

While Joe may have been tall, his size made him a bit uncoordinated and he spent most of the games sitting on the bench.  Frustrated over never being able to play, Joe finally asked his coach one night after practice what he needed to do in order to start.  “Aden,” he said, “just try a little harder and maybe you can start.”

From that day on, Joe worked harder than he ever had before.  The other boys on the team continued to pick on him, just like they had ever since Joe came to Elsmore High.  They knew they could get away with their teasing, because Joe never did anything back to them.  He just took it all in and walked away.

But now Joe was determined to show them.  Just like he showed them in football.  He was going to get a starting spot on the basketball team.  

Sure enough, three weeks later, Joe came home after school, all excited, “Guess what, Mom?”

“What?” Christa replied.

“Guess what? Just guess what?” he said beamingly.

“What?” Christa knew it must be something big.

“Just guess!”

Christa was getting impatient, “WHAT?”

“I’m starting tonight,” Joe said proudly.

It meant so much to him.  And from that game on, Joe started and played every game.  While he wasn’t much of a shot, he became the team’s best defensive player and led the team in rebounding.  And, that’s why he made the all-star team.

Facts:  Joe didn’t start playing basketball until his junior year, and he did ask the coach what he needed to do to start.  Joe was selected to be on WCCO’s All-Star team.
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