In about 1983-1984, I was subscribing to a science fiction and fantasy writer's newsletter. The guy who put it out called it a postal workshop, but we didn't actually critique each other's stories.
Debbie's roommate Annette got my name from this newsletter and wrote me because she was living in Hawaii, on the North Shore. However she didn't realize that at that time I was in Berkeley, on sabbatical. We corresponded for a while and she told me she looked good in a bikini. It interested me that that was one of the things she chose to say about herself and it led me to make some conjectures about her, which turned out to be partly true.
Eventually Annette wrote me that she was going to Worldcon, which was held in Annaheim that year, and it would be nice if I could come too so that we could actually meet. I wrote back, rather facetiously, that it would be nice if she would like to share a room with me, to which she replied, "I don't think that my boy friend would like that, but my housemate Debbie might be willing to share with you."
I wrote back that this sounded very interesting to me and then Annette responded, "I hope it won't bother you that Debbie's a paraplegic. (She's in an electric wheelchair.)"
To which I responded that that would bother me a whole lot and that I'd have to think about that quite a bit. "I'm really not at all comfortable with people with disabilities," I wrote, "despite the fact that Berkeley is crawling with them. (Perhaps poor choice of words there!) One thing I'm pretty sure of is that she'd have to be able to talk reasonable coherently. I really can't deal with people with speech impediments."
In fact, sharing a room with a quadriplegic didn't really sound like something I wanted to be involved in at all. But the next thing that happened was that a letter from Debbie arrived. It was about two pages, handwritten, and the whole letter was written stuttering! At the end of the letter, she said, "Please excuse my language problem, but I only stutter when I write. Some people have told me that I actually speak rather nicely. Anyway, I have to stop writing now because I need to put on my kneepads and crawl down to the grocery store."
Well! Suddenly it seemed that Debbie was a person I might like a whole lot even if she did need an electric wheelchair.
Eventually Debbie and I talked on the phone a number of times and I discovered that she had an absolutely marvelous, somewhat seductive voice. I learned that she was in her wheelchair because she had been hit by a semi on the freeway, which somehow made me more comfortable than if she had said she had an organic disorder.
So we arranged that I would in fact go to Worldcon and share a room and bed (that was explicitly mentioned) with her. She mailed me a picture but it really didn't show her very well.
By then, our geographic relationship had reversed itself. I was now back in Hawaii and Annette and Debbie and Ron (Annette's boy friend and Debbie's attendant) were back in California, in Lancaster, which is not far from Bakersfield.
When I got to the LA airport, Annette and Debbie were waiting for me and not at all hard to recognize. But when I saw Debbie I was shocked and Debbie, as she later told me, was quite aware of that.
Yes, Debbie had been hit by a semi on the freeway. But what she hadn't told me is that she also had a severe form of congenital arthritis and one of the consequences of this had been that her lower jaw had stopped growing at the age of twelve. So she essentially had no chin and thus looked somewhat imbecilic.
We all went out to Debbie's van and I lay in the back with Debbie while Ron drove and Annette rode in the front passenger seat. And while we drove to the hotel in Annaheim, Debbie talked to me pretty much non-stop. And the longer she talked, the more I began to accept the fact that this was the same woman I had talked to on the phone and had liked so much. So by the time we got to the hotel, I was starting to feel that maybe I could deal with the situation.
Debbie and I were to share a room with a connecting door to Ron and Annette's room. And the first thing that I noticed about this room was that there were two beds. And I wasn't sure whether I was angry about this or relieved, because there had been a definite agreement that we'd be in bed together, but on the other hand now I wasn't really sure that I wanted to be in the same bed with her.
Debbie said, "I've been sleeping in that bed, but you can sleep wherever you want." And I wasn't quite sure what this meant. Whether she meant that she was quite willing to switch beds, or that I was welcome in her bed if I wanted. Since I didn't know what I wanted, I just let that pass.
We spend some time looking around the hotel and the exhibition hall and then later that afternoon came back to the room and Ron got Debbie out of her wheelchair and lay her on her bed, on top of the covers. She said that she wanted a nap and that was fine with me, because I was also sleepy.
The situation sort of looked like we were going to be sleeping in separate beds. But I said, "If you like, I could just lie beside you in your bed for a little while," and Debbie said that sounded fine. She was lying on her side, so I lay beside her and it was very natural to put my hands on her breasts, so I started massaging them, since it seemed like it might be a good thing to do and they were one part of her body that there was nothing really wrong with.
Debbie didn't object, in fact she seemed to be getting turned on and after a while, she said, "Do you realize what you're doing?" and then she looked at me and said, "Yes, I see you do realize what you're doing"
So I never did sleep in the other bed. But we didn't have sex, just talked for a long time and eventually went to sleep. After my nap, I was still tired and Debbie suggested that maybe I should take some speed, which I agreed to, although with some misgiving. Debbie gave me a pill she called a Black Beauty and after I swallowed it she said, "That should be good for between twenty-four and thirty-six hours," and I knew I was in trouble.
As it turned out, though, the speed wore off by about two that morning. But all evening I was very jittery and people kept coming up to me and asking, "Are you okay?"
Annette and Ron had a party in their room that evening for the newsletter subscribers (and anyone else who cared to come). Debbie said she didn't like parties and hung out on the balcony outside for quite a while, but I finally persuaded her to come inside and talk to some people. Then I went upstairs for a while, where there was a Clarion party which two of my old instructors showed up for -- Joe Haldeman and Elizabeth Lynn -- as well as a number of my former fellow students.
The next morning, we drove up to Lancaster. The drive was horrible because the air conditioning in the van wasn't working and there was almost no ventilation in the back and we were driving up into the Mojave desert. It was a good bonding experience for me and Debbie, though.
I think I spent two days in Lancaster, sleeping in Debbie's waterbed. Debbie told me a lot about herself. I knew that she was a law student at UCLA, but she was also getting an elementary education degree and was assisting in a class for very bright grade school students with emotional problems (which pretty well described the kind of kid she herself had been).
She was thirty years old and said she had had thirty operations in her life. The operations had left a lot of very ugly scars because she had the kind of skin that kelates, and the State of California would pay for her operations but not for removing the scars, since that was considered cosmetic surgery. She said that she only had one functioning lung, since the other had been scarred by smoke when she was caught in a fire.
She had been raped two or three years ago by three guys who dragged her out of her wheelchair and she said that since that time, up until me she had never been able to let herself be held in a man's arms without being afraid.
We weren't able to quite manage intercourse, and she didn't have a lot of dexterity in her hands, but we did manage to have a sort of sexual interaction.
She said that she hadn't known about it when Annette had first suggested our sharing a room at Worldcon. She said that Annette had decided that it was time for her to stop being celibate and so had written to me about sharing the hotel room without Debbie's knowledge. When she told Debbie about it, Debbie had said, "You WHAT?" But then when she had seen what I wrote back she had got the idea for the stuttering letter and one thing led to another. Mostly it just came down to the fact that we really liked each other over the phone.
Annette had two girls, about five and six years old. Debbie got along really well with them and was like a second mother to them. Debbie also got along fantastically well with Annette. They enjoyed outraging the local bourgeoisie, who generally assumed that they were lesbian lovers.
Worldcon had been, of course, over the Labor Day weekend. I must have not gone back to California during Christmas break to see Debbie, because I can't really remember it. But I definitely did go back to see her during spring break in March. I had to return to Honolulu early, though, because that was the time when I was going through the training to work at the Crisis Center and I didn't want to miss the Thursday night class, which was the one on assessment of suicide risk. If I'd missed that class, I would have had to wait another six months before I could start working as a volunteer.
This time Debbie and Annette came to the airport to pick me up in the van. They were both dressed in hot pants, and generally looked extremely trashy, guaranteed to shock the local peasantry. In particular, they both had little toy foxes pinned to their crotches, as if they were about to bite their vaginas. ``Only in California,'' I thought, but even as it was, a number of people really glared at us when we stopped for food.
Annette was driving, obviously, and Debbie was in the front passenger seat, and they had me sit on the floor backwards between the two seats, almost right on top of the gear shift. In any kind of accident, I would have been dead.
I don't remember too much what we did in Lancaster, except for going to some movie and walking around a lot. And Lancaster is not a city that's meant to be walked in -- suburban with lots of highways and no sidewalks. Debbie was having some problem with the battery in her wheelchair, and I remember that on one of our excursions it was questionable whether we'd be able to make it back home. In fact, maybe we actually had to call Ron to come get us with the van.
A lot of the time we stayed in bed and talked. I learned that Debbie had had a good relationship with her father, but he was in the military and was often gone. Her mother had hated her from birth, and very overtly so, at least according to her account. She'd been a victim of incest from her mother's brother.
At age sixteen she had run away from home to San Francisco, where she'd spent six months working for a fairly high class pimp. He had sent her her out on dates and charged $1,000 for four hours. (This would have been around 1968, so that was quite a bit of money.) I suppose guys were attracted to her partly because she looked rather freakish, even then before the electric wheelchair, but also I suppose that because of the jaw she looked extremely young.
There were a lot of things she couldn't remember. She couldn't remember the accident on the freeway and she couldn't remember having been raped. She said her therapist had told her that it was best that she didn't remember these things.
At this time, my NLP training was still fairly fresh and my thought was that her therapist didn't know the NLP techniques for neutralizing traumatic memories and it might be good for me to use that with her. But then I decided that, after all, I didn't know all her therapist's reasons and maybe I shouldn't go charging in and meddling with something I didn't really understand. Months later, I realized that this had probably been a wise decision.
I did take her through a Six-step Reframing, though, without really intending to. We were lying in bed together and I was telling her about the process. Then she said, "While you've been describing it to me, I've been taking myself through it, and this is what has been happening...." At that point, it seemed like the only reasonable thing to do was to finish the process with her.
She had planned for us to have a great romantic sexual experience on my last night there and had the room set up with lots of candles. Unfortunately, I had developed a raging toothache and so things didn't work out very well, which she was rather angry about. (When I got back, I had to get a very nasty root canal done.)
Some time or another, though, we actually did attempt intercourse, but without success because she couldn't open her hips wide enough to accomodate me without considerable pain It didn't matter that much to me, but it mattered a lot to her.
I saw her again in August. That was a crazy summer for me. I spent two months in San Francisco, staying in the house of a dominatrix in in Berkeley. I was sleeping in her dungeon, which was a trip, but I had to have the dungeon completely cleared during the day so that she could do sessions.
I was taking several courses at the Institute for Advanced Studies of Human Sexuality that summer and I became fairly good friends with one of the Institute students, who took me (for $100) to a party at Barry & Shell's in the East Bay.
Then I went down to southern California to see Debbie for two weeks, and then to Kansas to attend my daughter's wedding.
Anyway, by August Debbie had had a falling out with Annette and Ron and had moved down to Los Angeles, where she had found a roommate named Charlotte. I was glad she had left Lancaster, because I found it much too much of a small town, but I discovered that she had chosen to live in Lakewood, a part of LA which looked almost identical to Lancaster. (It's in the south, not too far from Long Beach.)
Charlotte was Swedish, about twenty-one years old, and had a very charming accent. Like Debbie, she was disabled from arthritis, but she got around on crutches. I didn't like her at all at first. I considered her young and shy almost to the point of being dopy.
Charlotte's brother, who I found to be a very obnoxious twenty-three year old, was sharing the house with them as was Debbie's friend Crazy, who was acting in lieu of an attendant for Debbie. Crazy, I quickly realized, was very jealous of me, although he'd never been sexually involved with Debbie himself, and he found lots of pretexts for intruding on us in the bedroom.
My friend from the Institute in San Francisco had given me the name of a couple of guys to contact in LA. One was a guy in (then) LA Janus and the other was a guy who ran a bi discussion group. I took Debbie and Charlotte to this discussion group. There were about fifteen or twenty people there, some bi, some transsexuals. One of them was a stunningly beautiful woman who turned out to be one of Debbie's male hospital nurses in drag. Debbie was totally comfortable with it all. In fact, she told me that she had tried becoming involved with SM after her accident, because a lot of her body was so insensitive that it took intense stimulation for her to be able to feel anything at all. Charlotte, on the other hand, was blown away by the evening.
For some reason, the whole time I was in LA Debbie kept saying to me, "Charlotte really likes you." If it hadn't been for this, I don't think I would have paid any attention at all to Charlotte, who I had initially not liked at all. But eventually I started giving her small caresses as I was pushing her in her non-electric wheelchair and generally giving her a lot of physical attention. Nothing blatant, just caressing her shoulder and arm from time to time. She didn't object, but she also didn't encourage me.
A lot of the time Crazy was not around and I was acting as Debbie's attendant. Later, in retrospect, I realized that that was actually a very submissive role for me -- getting her in the bathroom, sitting her on the toilet, manhandling her into the shower and washing her off with the hose.
By the time I left, Debbie had found a black guy named Richard to be her attendant -- a friend of one of the male nurses at the hospital she went to. Richard seemed to have a total naivete about the white world, almost to the point of being a Stepin Fetchit character.
On the day I left, I was standing in the kitchen with Charlotte while Richard was with Debbie back in her bedroom, getting her dressed. And Charlotte said to me, "I'm thinking of getting laid." So I asked, "By anyone in particular or just in general?" and she said, "By someone in particular."
"By anyone I know?" I asked, and she said, "You know what I'm talking about. You've been coming on to me the whole time I've been here."
I was somewhat at a loss as to how to respond to this and said, "I don't think there's time now. I have to be at the airport in an hour," and she answered "I know that."
Anyway, I certainly didn't say what she wanted to hear and by the next time I saw her it was obvious that she had lost any sexual interest in me. I did, though, there in the kitchen, tell her the whole story of how Debbie and I had met, not considering the fact that Debbie and her brand new attendant Richard were hearing the whole account in her bedroom. It took a lot of fast talking to make that indiscretion okay with Debbie.
I had a lot of SM fantasies afterwards about Charlotte and someone who was sort of like Debbie, although not in a wheelchair. I was fascinated by the idea of being dominated by someone as shy as Charlotte.
That Christmas, I went to LA to see Debbie and Charlotte again, this time for the last time. It was rather horrid. Charlotte's brother Ulf had fortunately gone, but her mother and father were there, staying in the house. And the mother and father had not been on speaking terms with Debbie ever since they had called her a whore one night when she had brought some guy back to the house to have sex with.
Debbie was now walking some. She had been teaching herself to walk again since August, against medical advice. (After her accident, her doctors had told her she had the choice of living in a wheelchair for the rest of her life or dying after another six months.)
And furthermore, Crazy was living there and also Crazy's cousins, a mother, father, and grown son, who had come to LA from Detroit where the bar they had owned had gone bankrupt. Debbie had a new attendent who was a semi-retarded illiterate girl in her twenties. It turned out that Richard had been beating up Debbie. (Physical abuse by their attendants is a rather common problem for those with disabilities.) Richard's Stepin Fetchit personality had all been a facade, and he was actually an ex-con who had been in prison for first-degree murder.
Then after a few days Ron also showed up to live with Debbie, since he had split up with Annette now. I can't even remember now where everybody managed to sleep, but we weren't getting along at all well. Charlotte's arthritis was reaching a crisis stage where she was no longer able to walk much even with crutches. Her parents intended to take her back to Sweden, which she was vehemently opposed to. (She had American citizenship, which she'd acquired by temporarily marrying some guy here.) Ron was totally depressed about Annette and was being resentful and very unpleasant.
Annette's two girls had been taken by her ex to Florida. Debbie was making plans to go to Florida to be with the kids. (Annette also had a son named Dylan who had been with his father in Florida all along.) At this point, Debbie had graduated from law school and decided to refuse to practice law, despite offers from some top corporations, including IBM. (Or at least that's what she said. I later stopped automatically believing everything she told me.)
Crazy's cousins understood that the situation was difficult and were doing their best to be nice, but they were in LA with essentially no money and they didn't have much choice about things.
After a few days at least Charlotte's parents left the house, taking Charlotte with them. Charlotte and Debbie at this point had become totally hostile to each other.
And then somehow a drunken depressed obnoxious Vietnam vet showed up. I guess he must have been a friend of Crazy's. I kept hoping that he'd take one of the cars and kill himself on the freeway, but everyone else kept trying to keep him from driving.
Finally, I went back to Honolulu. Debbie's plan was been to fly to Florida and have Crazy drive her van there. But after I left, Crazy and the illiterate attendant decided that they wanted to stay in LA together. (God, this is such a long story now that I start remembering all the pieces. Crazy kept coming on to the illiterate attendant rather obnoxiously from the very beginning, and while I was there she had really hated him. Obvious his persistence eventually won her over.)
Anyway, there was nobody to attend to Debbie on a plane trip, so she wound up driving to Florida with the Vietnam vet, who crashed their car somewhere on the trip.
In Florida, Debbie initially decided that Annette's ex was much nicer than Annette had claimed, but later decided that he was completely psycho. I talked to her a few times on the phone, but the six hour time difference between Hawaii and Florida made this difficult.
I never saw her again. She eventually came back to Lancaster, and in 1990, when I was going on my sabbatical, we talked about getting together in San Francisco.
Then I had a call from her roommate saying that Debbie had died during an operation. She had got my name out of Debbie's address book and said that I was the only friend of Debbie's she'd been able to find and promised to let me know when the funeral arrangements had been made. But the roommate never called me back, and in any case, going to Debbie's funeral seemed rather pointless.
January 26-27, 1995