The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
"Judith, we hardly saw you when you got home last night," Irene said over dinner. "Did you have a good time with the church group?"
"We had fun," Judith said noncommittally. There was no point in getting her mother more upset than she was going to be anyway.
"You were gone with the Sorensen boy all day again today, too," Judith's mother said. "What did you do?"
"Oh, we drove over to Wrightsville," Judith told her parents, "And I registered for the fall term at Hinckley Junior College."
What followed was not pretty, but Judith had expected it, and was prepared for it. She knew she would have her father on her side, and expected that would help overcome her mother's expected tantrum.
In the end, her father came through. After Irene's monologue died down somewhat, and Judith had been able to explain what she planned a little more, he told his daughter, "Your mother may be right that you aren't up to college work, but I think that you have the right to try. Have you planned on how you're going to pay for this?"
Judith nodded. "I've got enough money saved for a semester, and Ken and I talked to the people in the financial aids office. They may be able to help some."
"Don't spend your savings yet," he said. "We don't have a lot of money, but I think we can stake you to one semester. If you can pull a 'C' average, I think you'll prove you can handle college level work, and then we'll see what we can do after that. Is that fair enough?"
"Sure, Daddy. I won't let you down."
"Norman..." Irene said ominously.
Judith's father let his wife's implication slide. "If she thinks she can do it, I don't think we should stand in her way, dear," he said. "I think it was nice of Kenny Sorensen to offer to drive her to college, since he's going to drive back and forth every day, anyway. It'll be kind of like going to high school for her, just a longer drive."
Irene stormed from the room in a huff. "Norman Niven, you're going to be the death of your daughter," she said as she left.
Norman winked at his daughter. Expansively, she winked back at him and said quietly, "I won't let you down, daddy!"
He nodded and said, "I know you won't, Judy."
It was a moment before the hidden meaning of what her father had said hit her: no one but Ken and his family called her "Judy".
Though it was a hot summer evening, Irene made herself a cup of tea to calm herself down. How could Norman do such a thing?
They'd talked about Judith's going to college several times, and up until now she thought that she had been able to stop that nonsense. Now, all of a sudden, without a word from anyone, Norman and that Sorensen boy had obviously pushed Judith into a rash move.
The Sorensen boy! Every time Judith had overreached herself in the past few months, he was involved! She was getting to the point where she hated to hear his name, for fear of what wild thing Judith was going to do next. If there were only some way that Judith could be weaned away from him...
Maybe Judith could be persuaded to get interested in someone else, perhaps someone that wouldn't cause Judith to do more than she should. It wouldn't be easy, with Judith seeing the Sorensen boy every day as they drove back and forth to school, but there ought to be a way...
Judy kept up a brave front to her parents the first morning Ken drove up to take her to college, but once in Ken's old Chevy, she let her true feelings show. "I don't know about this, Ken," she said. "I just hope this will all work out OK."
"No reason why it shouldn't," Ken told her. "I mean, I'm nervous too, but I don't think this is going to be anything we can't handle."
It was a good forty miles from Willow Lake to Wrightsville, where Hinckley Junior College was located. Ken and Judy had made the drive to the large, modern campus several times over the past month so they could learn their way around, buy books, and deal with the inevitable paperwork.
Ken and Judy were in the same class that first Monday morning, but after that they split up. Ken had to go to his "Principals of Business" course, but Judy had the next hour free, and decided to have a cup of coffee in the student union.
The union was set up cafeteria style, and one thing Judy had never quite been able to manage was to handle a cafeteria tray on crutches. As she stood in line, all of a sudden, she realized that Lori wouldn't be there to help her. The thought scared her; she froze in her tracks while her doubts crashed into reality. Maybe her mother was right after all, she feared. Maybe she could handle the classes, but maybe she couldn't handle the mechanics of living at college. Maybe this was a mistake, after all.
Somewhere within her, a voice of courage spoke up. Maybe she could just get along without her coffee.
"Can I help you with that?" a funny-sounding voice said from behind her. Judy turned around, to see a short-haired brunette sitting in a wheelchair. "I used to have the same problem when I could still use crutches," the girl said.
It took much less than the hour she had to kill for Judy to become fast friends with Sylvia Ricks. It turned out that Sylvia had been more or less confined to her wheelchair for the last four years with muscular dystrophy, but now was in her second year at Hinckley. Sylvia had a brusqueness about her that Judy had never encountered in a handicapped person before; it was refreshing, in a way.
"Sure, there's going to be a few things you're going to have trouble with," Sylvia advised her. "But there's almost always some way you can work your way around them."
"I'm beginning to learn that," Judy said.
"You have any problems that start to get you down," Sylvia told her, "They've got a handicapped counselor here."
"I hadn't heard that," Judy said.
"She's another wheelchair critter, like me. Paralyzed, but she can still kick your tail if you need it. You go and see her sometime."
Judy shook her head. "There's just so much to get used to. I've always felt kind of strange. I mean, in school, I was the only handicapper, and I always felt left out of things."
"Easy to feel that way," Sylvia admitted.
"I've started to get over that a little," Judy said. "My boyfriend says that the only handicap I have is that I think I'm handicapped."
Judy shook her head. "You got a good man there," Sylvia said admiringly. "Better not let me get near him."
It was so good to talk with Sylvia! Just knowing that she was there lifted Judy;s spirits immensely. Ken had gone out of his way to make her feel almost normal, and Sylvia taught her that she wasn't alone, and that there was no need to feel ashamed of being different -- not that Sylvia could be ashamed of much of anything.
Sylvia, it turned out, was about as different from Judy as different could be. Where Judy had been shy and reserved, Sylvia smoked, and drank, and swore, and lusted after anything in pants -- and occasionally managed to score. She was short, and fat, and sassy, and not very pretty, and despite being on what was admittedly a downhill slide, was determined to wring all of the fun out of life that she could. Judy was happy to know her.
Most of all, by just being there Sylvia taught Judy in almost no time at all that she could cope with problems that Irene had said couldn't be managed -- and it didn't take having Ken or Lori at hand to deal with them.
That first hour slid by quickly. All too soon, Ken slid into the student union to see the two girls laughing over some of the dumb things they'd seen others do out of pity. He got a cup of coffee and sat down with the two girls. When he finally could get a word in edgeways, he said, "Look, Judy, you'd better get a move on or you're going to miss your class."
"I think you'd better come with me," she said. "I don't think you'd be safe with her."
Judy only managed to cross tracks with Sylvia two or three times a week, but the occasional contact kept her spirits up when things got low. As the weeks went by, both Ken and Judy settled into the college life. Ken had a couple of courses he was especially struggling with, but Judy had decided to take a rather general class load that hadn't been a part of the program at Willow Lake High School, or that she had passed up.
Going to college was such a new idea for her that she had no idea of where she wanted to concentrate her studies. For that matter, she had only recently barely perceived that she could even consider having a career -- but now she was beginning to realize that she could. How wonderful a possibility that was!
Her computer course was one of those areas where a door had opened for her. At Willow Lake, the only computer instruction had been in an advanced math class that Judy hadn't taken, so she had been a little intimidated at first. She thought that, to be fair to her parents, she should take at least a course or two that wouldn't be too simple.
As it turned out, the computer curse was a fairly easy introductory one, and Judy soon found herself outdistancing the class. "They're really fascinating, Hick," he told Ken one time as he came looking for her so they could drive home.
"I suppose I ought to have taken that course," Ken said. "I guess I'll have to next semester. I'm really dumb with that kind of thing. You can coach me."
Even the long drives daily each day were fun, as were the continuing workouts, now in the gym at Hinckley instead of the Y at Geneva. On their way home each day, they both were eager to talk about things they'd studied in class. In the mornings, they'd gossip about people they knew, and Ken would talk about what had been happening on the farm.
Ken had been struggling to keep up with his studies, because the farm work was eating up much of his free time. He could see that his father's leg was improving, but that his general health was going downhill. Day by day, Chet seemed to get thinner and weaken, and never seemed to have much energy. This meant more work thrown onto Ken, and Judy often had to coach him in preparation for quizzes as they drove back and forth.
On the weekends, Judy did what she could to help out around the Sorensen farm, even if it wasn't much at that particular time. "We get into the corn picking, and you'll be busy," Ken warned her.
As they drove to Wrightsville one morning, Judy had a question to ask. "Hick, would it bother you too much if I went out with someone else, just once?"
Ken shrugged. "Anyone I know, Crip?"
"No, I don't know him either," Judy responded. "My mother wants me to go out with him. She all but promised that I would. He's a double amputee, and she thinks I ought to know him. His name's Tommy Fetzer."
"Don't know him."
"He's from Geneva. I don't know where mother came up with him."
Ken thought about it. He didn't like the fact that Judy's mother was involved, but couldn't put his finger on the reason why -- at least, not enough to make an issue out of it. "I don't suppose it will hurt," he said. "After all, you wouldn't want to say that I'm the only guy you've ever been out with."
"Well, if it's all right with you, it's all right," Judy said. "I could get out of it, but it'll make my mother happy."
Ken frowned, then smiled. "Just remember one thing," he said.
"You can go out with him, Crip, but you're my special girl."
"I won't forget that, Hick. After all, you're my special guy."
Sylvia would have called Tommy Fetzer a "wheelchair critter," but wouldn't have been impressed enough with him to make a pass at him. In fact, Sylvia would have probably given him a verbal working over that would have removed cheap paint from his hide.