Life on Another Planet
Friday, June 30, 1961 9:30pm
Jesse Peterson sat silently by himself on the top row of the bleachers in the high school gym, his head in his hands, elbows on his knees as he watched his classmates on the floor below him. It was the final dance of the final year of his high school education. He had graduated and would be off to university in the fall. However, unlike his pals, he wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
It was bad enough that Don Pollard had stolen his girl, Juliet Crouse. That she had made a display of dumping him had been a dose of humiliation he could have done without. He asked himself for the tenth time what the hell he was doing here. Was he looking for a replacement for Juliet? It wasn’t good for a guy’s ego to be without a girlfriend for any length of time. Naw, it wasn’t that. It must be a latent masochistic streak in him.
Pollard was the quarterback of the modestly successful Ridgeview High School football team, while Jesse was starting second baseman for the baseball team. In terms of competency, it had been Jesse’s glove and bat that had been the keystone to their championship year. In terms of status, Don had it all over Jesse. What was that old song? “You’ve got to be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls.” That was a perverse truth.
Around ten o’clock, Jesse felt the headache which had been resident for most of the day, begin to reassert itself. His closest friends were occupied with their girlfriends on the dance floor and wouldn’t miss him. He rose, looked around one last time at the end of this part of his life, and left for home.
His mother looked up in surprise as he walked in the front door.
“What are you doing home this early?”
“Headache,” he said simply without further explanation. “Good night.” He walked down the stairs to his bedroom on the lower level of their split-level home while his mother and father looked at each other. His mother was the first to react. She stood and followed her son down the stairs.
She found him in the bathroom, stripped to the waist, searching his medicine cabinet.
“I knew something was wrong when you didn’t eat all your dinner. How long have you had a headache?”
“I don’t know. Most of the day, I guess. It wasn’t too bad. I took some aspirin, but it came back on me a little while ago. I decided to come home and get some sleep. Maybe it’ll be gone by morning.”
“That’s a shame, Jesse. It was your last high school dance ... the graduation dance,” she said with some sadness. “Was Juliet there?”
He paused and sighed. “Yeah ... she was there, showing off her new boyfriend.”
“Well ... don’t get too upset about it. It says something about her character that she’d do what she did. Besides, she’s not going on to university, so you won’t see her very often, if at all. You’re a good looking young guy. You’ll find someone who won’t treat you like that. Someone you can trust. There are a lot of young ladies to choose from on campus. Thousands, I would guess.”
That was his mother, always looking on the bright side, the eternal optimist. Right at that moment Jesse didn’t feel very optimistic at all. Right at that moment he just wanted this headache to go away and allow him to get some sleep.
Wednesday, July 5, 1961 10:00 am
“He’s burning up, Doctor Phelps,” Margaret Peterson said with concern. “I can’t seem to wake him for any length of time. What’s wrong with him? He’s been like this for four days now. He should be in the hospital.”
“Now, now, Mrs. Peterson, there’s no need to panic. He’s contracted some kind of bug and we’re running the blood tests to see if we can spot what’s happening. We’ve checked for Meningitis, but there’s no sign of that ... happily. We’ll just have to keep trying to find the cause. In the meantime, I’ve given him another shot of penicillin.”
Michael Peterson stood by silently, deeply concerned about his son’s health. Everything seemed to be trial and error methodology when it came to medicine. He was an engineer. He thought in straight lines. You gather the information about what isn’t performing normally, and you track the various components one by one to determine the cause. This was day five of his son’s mysterious illness and as yet they had not determined the cause. In his gut, he knew this was more serious than Doctor Clive Phelps was letting on.
He could see the fear in Margaret’s eyes. She knew something was very wrong, but both of them felt the same helplessness to act. Phelps was an experienced man with a wealth of knowledge. They had no alternative but to leave it in his hands, but both of them would have felt better if the good doctor had intervened sooner, sending Jesse to the hospital where specialists could examine him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mrs. Peterson. If he’s no better, I’ll ask to have him transferred to St. Andrew’s hospital. We won’t quit until we have this solved, I promise you,” the doctor said solemnly to both of the young man’s parents.