Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rebecca Alexander: Not Fade Away

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This is not the kind of book I normally read- it's a fast paced, medium-well written autobiography of a really inspirational woman- Rebecca Alexander- who has Usher 3 syndrome which causes complete loss of vision and hearing. The reason I read this book (which is really quite good if it IS the kind of book you normally read) is that Becky (as I remember her) grew up in my neighborhood and who wouldn't read a book about a former neighbor/schoolmate turned celebrity (especially if your mother hands it to you), even if the reason for the celebrity is sort of a terrible one.

It's kind of awful and wonderful to read about people you knew peripherally growing up- like a voyeuristic look into your neighbors house three doors down, with sound. They don't even know who you are, and now you know everything about them. I guess, though, that when people write memoirs, they put it all out there and expect that everyone is going to read it. They have the choice of what to include, and how to describe it.

The Alexander family was one of the cool families, the ones we all kind of talked about in the neighborhood. And now I feel so shitty about that. Alexander herself says that they had the perfect family, and still insists on it. Rebecca and her twin (his name is changed to Daniel in the book) are one year older than me, and I remember them and the Baker boys as the cool, handsome, popular kids that I would never be like- at school or at Temple. When their parents got divorced, I remember we all thought it was so sweet that their parents switched houses instead of the kids having to shuffle back and forth. That's not quite how Rebecca remembers it- the sweet part (the parent dance happened). And when Rebecca fell out of a window, I remember the gossip. How terrible I feel now, knowing that this was related to her disease. Communities can be really shitty that way. I didn't know that Rebecca was also asked to leave our small, fancy, expensive private school because they couldn't handle her disabilities- I left before they could kick me out. This is now the third story I've heard of them being less than accommodating- although they later gave her an alumnae award which she has accepted with grace, one can only hope they've come around. I don't have high expectations. All of this I feel like I know now, but shouldn't. On the other hand, I couldn't put the book down.

Would the book have been so compelling if I didn't feel a connection- however unearned- to the protagonist? Probably not for me, but maybe for readers of this genre. Rebecca is really amazing. Although deaf and almost blind, she has a therapy practice and is probably more physically fit than anyone I know. She has amazing friendships while living in New York- notoriously isolating. She seems to handle some of the most awful challenges out there with grace and humor. It's inspiring, even for those of us with hard hearts. And she's put it out there, for others to learn from.