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The Crumpled Note
Sample Chapters: Introduction and Chapter One

This excerpt from
The Crumpled Note ©
Dave Kristula. All rights Reserved.

INTRODUCTION

I’ve always been just your average kid. An average kid, writing with a pathetically incorrect interpretation of proper grammar and a very dull sense of humor. An average kid with numerous scars from biopsies, countless needle pokes all over his body, and a strangely obscure plastic device protruding from beneath his chest, closely resembling a stack of quarters.

As I sit here, tapping my port-a-cath with a cheap black-inked BIC™, which even considering inflation costs less per dozen this year than it did last year, I have some strange desire to write a book with a completely sarcastic opening paragraph. As my mind goes blank of thoughts it contained just seconds before, I scratch my continuously balding teenage head.

I’ve learned one thing from this experience, in addition to not judging a book by its cover, you shouldn’t even bother judging it by its first few pages. After a dozen or so pages, you may discover that some type of unity comes about, either that or you’ll just pity my penmanship and hide this book with those toward which you have similar feelings on one of those high, unreachable shelves of your bookcase.

I guess that’s one way I can think of how my experience will benefit others: it might be able to keep that top shelf of books from tilting in such a conspicuously noticeable fashion. You could always give a hard cover copy to your children with a clothespin attached on the top and call it a budget clipboard, or buy a few dozen for your local school district to hand out to the faculty. Then they’ll have something to balance their overhead projectors with. Then again, you could always burn it at a protest against books written by really odd people named Dave, but I sincerely hope you take a few moments to read at least the first chapter before you pull out your shiny Zippo friend.

I’ve never read a book about writing: nor written a decent essay for school. Most twelve-year-olds spell twice as well as I do, but I’ve never given up. That is pretty much the same aspect I’ve given to my state over the past few years, both physical and mental, from my cancer’s first noticeable symptoms up until I got the official remission statement from my doctor. I hope that I continue with that attitude for the rest of my life.

The only true failure I see is to give up: whether it be beating cancer or writing a book. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else out there thinks of what you’ve done, as long as you’ve given it your best shot.

CHAPTER 1

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One great advantage I’ve noticed about computers these days is that it’s really hard to get paper cuts. That is, unless you have your printer on a shelf above your computer’s monitor like I do. Then every few weeks you have a paper or two flying down and smacking you in the head, nearly slicing a cut in your eyes. That can turn out to be a pretty painful experience. The problem isn’t so much that I scream out profanities after getting whacked in the head, rather it’s that I am given no warning whatsoever about what is coming at me. That’s the same feeling I got back in March of 1997 when I was first diagnosed with Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a potentially life-threatening disease (Okay, okay… we will just call it cancer).

The main reason I sat down here to write today is that I have promised visitors to my web site, happily dubbed “Dave’s Happy Little Hodgkin’s Site” (URL: http://www.davesite.com/hodgkins/) that I would write a book for them to read. I guess after reading a dozen pages online you can get a pretty bad headache, hence, the need for a highly extensive printed version with a much more personal touch. That, and the fact that far from all of the households in the United States—and the rest of the world—even have a computer, let alone some type of online connection to read my web site with.

You’d be surprised at how many pro-regulation high school kids there are out there. You know, the ones that make a big deal about any little thing that goes against the traditional school rules. So I wear a black beret around in the halls, and they go fussing to teachers that I’m not supposed to be wearing a hat. That is probably one of the reasons I decided to leave high school for a few months—I got sick of all of the strange kids who have been raised to be almighty perfectionists. If they were so perfect, wouldn’t they understand why I was wearing a black beret in the first place?

I’m really not all that different than most teens, after all, I do have those weekly tele-marketers offering me a Platinum Visa during dinner. I spend quite a bit of money on clothes and compact discs. Sure, I would get stuck with needles a few times a month—early on mostly by nurses, and later even by myself. But unlike some teens with needles—mine were actually clean.

One thing that makes me most like other teens is that I have a great disgust for high school. Having a life threatening disease doesn’t help this feeling at all: I have yet to see a kid go through what I have gone through and say “Oh yeah, School’s the Best!”—if you know what I mean. I’ve started to see much more important things in life, like everlasting friendships with people of all ages, not just my peers. Of course, during my chemotherapy visits I haven’t seen many kids, so that’s probably why I get along with older people better than most teens do.

I was born in December of 1981, quite a few months after Reagan was shot. I made my way into the world exactly two weeks before Christmas Day, or on the 11th for those of you who are too lazy to do the math. My mother wasn’t all that happy about this, it turns out I was a late baby. I don’t know what time I was born, and it isn’t on my birth certificate. When I was delivered I was too busy crying my brand new baby butt off to ask the doctor if he had the time, so you’ll have to forgive me for not having this detail.

I lived in what claims to be the City of Reading for a year or so before my family moved into the ever-so-exciting suburbia. I say that Reading claims to be a city because the census has been showing that its population has been decreasing over the past two decades. If this continues, it may not be a city for much longer—if you catch my drift.

Reading, which happens to be in the state of Pennsylvania, is the Outlet Capital of the World. Low prices on clothing, really high prices on everything else, especially food.

Reading is pronounced like the color red, with a “ding” ending to it, rather than the action you are performing on this book right now. That is, unless you are reading this book out loud. Then you would be saying and not reading. Of course, you could be in a mental hospital while you are saying, or possibly even sane, but that really is another story all together. Anyway, it became apparent to me while discussing Monopoly strategy that few people living outside of Pennsylvania know the correction pronunciation of the city of Reading.

I spent my childhood outside the borough of Laureldale in Muhlenberg Township, which the suburb directly north of Reading. As a child I had quite a bit of trouble spelling that name, Muhlenberg. One time around pre-school age, I collected a bucket of red berries from the bushes in my front yard. I spent what seemed like an hour carefully plotting out the words “Welcome to Muhlenburg” on the end of my driveway, and another hour squishing them down against the pavement. I proudly showed the rest of my family, and my father laughed for a bit, and told me it was spelled “Muhlenberg” and not “Muhlenburg.” I just said, “Oh,” and spend another hour trying to fix my mistake. If only I hadn’t squished that U against my driveway. Guess you win some and lose some, eh?

When I was in the first grade I was tested into the government classification of mentally gifted status. That is probably why I am such an awful speller, I spend time in meetings with my gifted education teachers when I should have been taking spelling tests. I’m really lucky computers have spell check, otherwise I may never have made it out of high school.

Testing mentally gifted in the mid-80s was quite a stupid test in my opinion. Basically I just had to match up a triangular design with nine square blocks. Then again, I probably didn’t count very well as a first grader, so that would be nine square blocks, give or take a few dozen. All I had to do to prove my intelligence was match up the design within a certain time frame. My test was scheduled during the beginning of lunch and I was starving. So of course I finished it under time! It was frankfurter and mashed potatoes day!

Hodgkin’s Disease certainly wasn’t a very pleasant addition to my early teenage life. Actually it was quite a pain in the ass—a worse pain even than those almighty perfectionists! I must have spent more time trying to figure out why I was sweating in the middle of the winter at school than I had spent doing homework and studying for tests combined. Normally, I would just sweat because the school’s ventilation was messed up, and it would eighty-five degrees throughout the building during the middle of winter. But no, not this year, it was actually just right. But still, my underarms soaked, and I couldn’t find any reason. I was starting to believe that antiperspirants were just another clever marketing scheme, kind of like the “low-fat” foods that were so popular in the 80s.

Let’s see… it’s 10 degrees outside, and I’m wearing jeans and a tee shirt here at my desk. And my underarms are re-enacting last summer’s severe thunderstorms? I just didn’t get it.

Night sweats, or in my case, the extremely popular day sweats, were just one of the numerous problems I had encountered in the early stages of my disease—and it must have gone on for at least two years before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s.

But my least favorite problem related to my disease was the daily fight between my stomach and the growing tumor in my chest. Aside from gobbling up the little bits of nutrition I actually consumed as a teenager, the tumor loved to fight for every square centimeter inside my chest cavity. The majority of the time, it won the battle against my stomach. If you thought the horrible smell of the men’s restroom couldn’t possibly get any worse, you should have waited until after I had eaten a meal and had taken a trip there. You would not have had a very pleasant time at all all. And if high school food weren’t bad enough already, who would honestly want to taste it the second time around? Certainly not I, yet I was often forced to. And what could better than running to the cafeteria lavatory with a sweat-stained tee shirt anyway?

My “favorite” incident with my little tumor friend has got to be at the Hard Rock Café in New York City. I only ate about half of my $15 hamburger, and I had to take a trip down the stairs to the restroom. Luckily, “this way to the restroom” signs were posted all around the building. But after the restroom attendant listened to me hurl repeatedly for a few minutes, he didn’t bother to ask for a tip. And I didn’t bother giving him one, other than not to go smell stall three, the stall I had occupied for the last ten or so minutes.

I decided to take a breath of fresh air after that incident, and what better air to take a breath of than the air along a heavily traveled NYC street? I probably couldn’t have even found the nearest tree after renting a pair of binoculars from the street vendor outside the restaurant.

I must have weighed about 130 pounds back on that day in 1995, while standing some five foot seven inches tall. Within a year I had grown at least two more inches, but my weight was at a staggering low of 120 pounds. I believe that at times my weight even hit 115 pounds. Sure, for someone twice my age losing a few pounds might be considered a great accomplishment. It certainly was not an accomplishment for a growing teenage boy like me.

So I turned into a twig. And not only a twig, but a really pale one at that. I could barely consume enough food to keep my body weight constant without puking profusely, let alone get the nutrients my body needed to stay healthy.

Honestly though, the tumor was only half of the cause of my severe eating disorder. After worshipping the porcelain goddess so frequently, I often feared eating in public places, including the school cafeteria. I feared puking up my guts in front of a few dozen people, which is not something most people would consider as something to be proud of. That is, at least not until hurling becomes an official Olympic Sport. I probably could have won the gold medal if I had ever been given a shot.

If you are a teenager, you’ve probably noticed that some old-fashioned type people also often get really nasty with you when you don’t eat every last morsel of food on your plate when you have been invited over to their house for dinner. So I had two choices: be considered impolite and not finish all my dinner, or puke on their dinner table. I often wonder which they would have preferred. After a while I just got sick of these types and would just let myself outside if anyone threw an obnoxious comment my way.

I surely wasn’t an anorexic, because I hated being so thin, and tried all I could to gain weight. I couldn’t have been a bulimic, I truly feared vomiting and did all in my power to keep from having to. I marked off the two most common eating disorders from my checklist, “So what was wrong with me?” I wondered.

As I lost weight over that year, I became very fatigued. I had little enough energy to stay awake, let alone make it look like I was paying attention in class. I’m sure some of my teachers would love to find out that the reason I dozed off every day in class wasn’t because they were so boring. Well, now they know that was only half of the problem.

Seriously though, from the combination of the eating problems and fatigue, I had grown into a pretty terrible depression. For some unknown reason I had quite a lot of problems, and soon gave up on reasoning with myself. I just made myself believe that every teenager’s life was this terrible and I tried to forget about the whole thing.

Many of the highly depressed people around the world had a great advantage over me, they could eat their little hearts out when they were feeling sad. I had no such luck. If I ate my little heart out, my still undiscovered tumor would just have an unscheduled wrestling match with my stomach. That really wasn’t a pretty sight either, nor was it a pretty smell for those following me into the restroom.

I gained a great love for caffeinated beverages at about this time, because liquids, unlike solids, could easily pass through my system without giving me problems. The only way to trigger my body into staying awake was to make it think it had energy, so I used caffeine. I’m sure there were noticeable sales increases in both Jolt Cola and Mountain Dew that year, because—being the normal teenager I was—I would rarely drink any coffee. To this day, even though I have no need for the levels of caffeine I did before, I often find myself having to clean a pile of soda cans out of my room on a weekly basis. Hey, at least I am promoting recycling.

I also found myself eating at Taco Bell quite a lot. Tacos were a pretty good way to get all those fat calories I needed so desperately. Many teenagers my age had an addiction to cigarettes or the like, and I had an addiction to a tortilla shell filled with meat, lettuce, and cheese. I even went to Taco Bell so much that they were forced to introduce a third taco sauce in 1997. At least that’s how I see it. Tricon Global’s public relations department will probably tell you I had nothing to do with it.

One evening after the mall closed, I went to Taco Bell with two of my friends, Nick and Andrew. After checking all the doors and realizing that they were locked, we noticed the drive-through open sign was still brightly lit. So we walked over to the speaker and jumped up and down trying to trigger the buzzer for the person taking orders. No luck. We yelled into the speaker, and still we received no response. So we walked our way around the window and I knocked for a few minutes to get the staff’s attention. Well, a very confused employee took our orders at the window, and we got our tacos nice and fresh that night.

The next week, however, there was a new sticker on the drive-through window. It read something to the effect of, for safety, walk-through guests will no longer be served at the drive-through window. I guess it was a nice convenience while it lasted.

This excerpt from
The Crumpled Note ©
Dave Kristula. All rights Reserved.

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