A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt
IT DIDN’T KILL HIM, BUT…
Topics of Interest: survival, memoirs, familial relationships, health, abuse, neglect
Curriculum Connections: English, Health and Physical Education
Blurb: My earliest memory is of a giant red moon. It hovered above me, keeping watch over my crib, while its twin guarded my sister. I was drawn to its hue, deep and rich, and have loved the colour ever since.
Memory is a funny thing. I remember those red circles my dad painted on our nursery wall, but can’t, for the life of me, remember my first day of school or learning to read or not knowing how to ride a bike. I’m fortunate though, because the majority of the memories I do have are happy ones. Sure, there are some painful ones in there, but they’re positive overall.
Jason Schmidt, in his memoir A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me, is just lucky he made it out of childhood alive. His earliest memory is of riding his tricycle down the middle of a street for an entire mile. Then there’s that time his dad got arrested and incarcerated, and the time he fell off the high dive onto the cement, and the time he got hit by a car.
Jason didn’t have a typical childhood. His memories are filled with adjusting to new (to them) houses and new (to him) schools (when he attended) and various drug-addicted adults drifting about practising free love and speech and whatever else felt good at the moment. But such is life when you are raised by a druggie father whose income (when there was one) barely exceeded the welfare support they received from the government.
It’s not that Jason hated his father, but their relationship was certainly complicated. Jason had to learn quickly to fend for himself, and to take care of his dad when required (like that time he came home and found his HIV-infected father crawling around in a puddle of blood).
And here’s the thing about fending for yourself: you learn lessons the hard way…like the fact that gun powder will blow up when lit, and that calling people names will get you jumped, and that coming home after dark will get you beaten to a pulp.
Miraculously, Jason survived his childhood. This is the story of all the stuff that didn’t kill him (and a few things he learned along the way).
Flavour: “When I was sixteen years old I came home from school one day and found my dad crawling around on the kitchen floor in a big pool of blood. He was down on all fours with a dishrag, trying to mop it up, but there was a lot of blood and it was a small dishrag so things weren’t going very well….He tried to stand up, but I could see right away that it wasn’t going to happen. The linoleum floor was slippery from all the blood, and Dad was profoundly stoned on painkillers. He went up, he came down. Went up, came down. I watched him flop around for a minute longer than I probably should have, then I stepped in and hoisted him onto his feet….’What happened?’ one of the nurses asked. ‘He fell and hit his head,” I said. ‘But be careful with him. He’s got AIDS.’” (3-4, 6)
“Dad was sitting on the edge of the pool a few yards away, and he watched helplessly while I fell fifteen feet [off the diving board] and landed flat on my back, on the concrete floor that surrounded the pool. He said afterward that the worst part was that I bounced. He’d never seen a person bounce like that before. Didn’t even know it was possible.” (121)
“The pile of gunpowder was a loose heap, about six inches high and as many inches across. A thin trail of primer powder extended about three feet from the large pile, like a fuse. Later on, after everything went horribly wrong, we could never remember exactly who suggested this arrangement. But we all agreed we’d gotten the idea from Wile E. Coyote.” (281)