I was an American child of the 80s. Every Friday when we came in from afternoon recess there was a copy of the Scholastic Weekly Reader on our desk. More than anything, I cared about the book list which was inserted in the middle of the news leaflet at the end of every month. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading every description and circling items I wanted to buy. Usually I got to pick one or two.
While the book lists are still vivid 40 years later, most of the Weekly Reader is a blur. Only a few of the news items stand out: The Challenger explosion. The Royal Wedding. And the bubble boy.
I don’t know why the story stayed with me longer than some of the others. What I remember was a plastic dome and a child inside reaching out to someone who stood on the outside, separated by layers of protective plastic. I couldn’t fathom that kind of lonely existence. I still can’t, but the last couple years brought him back to mind. I can now understand what it means to go months without human touch. I can sense what it might of felt like to feel imprisoned and threatened by your own body and its inability to withstand disease. I can imagine being afraid of the air that he was breathing. I don’t even have to imagine that.
Last night I was on a FaceTime call with a friend in Scotland. I gave her a tour of my small flat. She said it was a very pretty prison.
I Just did a Google search for the bubble boy. He was David Vettner. He was born three months after me and he died when he was 12 years old. I wonder how he felt about his life, whether he was grateful for those layers of protective plastic and his years inside his bubble, or if given another chance he would’ve made a different choice. But what choice was there?