by George Adams
Abby, a comic book illustrator, uses her pencil to escape the challenges of daily life.
Abby stood behind the shiny espresso machine and pressed the coffee grounds. When she pulled the steam lever, the machine gurgled and hissed. She poured steaming hot milk into the cup, pumped in the syrup, and layered froth on top. Before she could hand the cappuccino to the customer, three more orders came in. Her barista job, once exciting, now became monotonous. More importantly, all she could think about was her newborn son. She loved her little guy more than she ever imagined she could. But now she worried how she would support him on her own.
How am I going to make this work at $15.63 an hour?
Abby had $83 in her bank account, and payday was still a week away. Rent was due and her growing baby needed clothes, food, and diapers.
And how do I pay these doctor bills?
In the back room, which was crammed with boxes of cups, napkins, and straws, Abby spent every break working on her comic art illustrations. At the coffee shop, the employees didn’t call them “coffee breaks,” they called them “catch-up time.” Time to catch up on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. But not Abby, she spent every free minute drawing.
A huge Avengers fan, she loved the characters’ ability to use their unique talents to do amazing things, and most of all, she envied their independence and confidence. They inspired her. She often dreamed about having superpowers and how she would use them.
Abby’s pencil was her Thor’s Hammer. It danced on the paper as she drew fantastic comic book illustrations.
“Tronic: A New Beginning” was her latest project. Tronic is a robot designed and built by a young boy named Eddie. On command, Tronic could transform into virtually any shape imagined. Connected by thousands of flexible mechanical joints, Tronic could, for example, bend and contort into a tight ball or extend into the shape of a flying missile.
But the real hero in Abby’s comic book was Tronic’s creator, Eddie.
Eddie was born with a rare genetic birth defect. His hands had thumbs, but no fingers; and his feet were missing his toes. But that was not what made life challenging for Eddie. He was born with joint-fusion syndrome, or as doctors refer to it, JFS. JFS meant Eddie’s wrists, elbows, knees and ankles joints were fused together, unable to bend or move. As a result, he had permanently straight arms and legs which he could not bend. When he walked with long, straight strides, his stiffened arms would swing freely back and forth. People would stare at him when his mother took him places, and worse still, kids at his school teased him. They gave him the cruel nickname -- “Eddie-stein,” after Frankenstein’s monster.
Eddie found the basic things kids do in life challenging; such as eating with utensils, coloring, and playing video or board games. His mother did everything she could to make life as normal as possible for young Eddie. When Eddi was 6 years old, she asked a neighbor to build him a desk with a special lever that allowed Eddie raise and lower the desk with his foot. The desk allowed Eddie to stretch his arms out flat onto the surface and while standing at the desk. Also, she bought used prosthetic gloves that she had modified so the prosthetic pointer finger could be manipulated by a string attached to his working thumb. Eddie quickly learned how to pickup objects and type on a computer with his new hands.
However, what the young Eddie lacked in fingers, toes and joint movement, was more than compensated by his mind’s unbelievable ability to design complex things.
When Eddie was very young, his mother bought him a building block set. At first, he struggled just to pick up the blocks. But Eddie had something that most “normal” kids lack – determination – Eddie never gave up.
To avoid being ridiculed, Eddie didn’t go outside; he worked on his desk, by himself, in the basement building things and after a few months he had mastered the building block sets. He built complete replicas of his local town, including office buildings, a baseball stadium, and bridges.
One day, his mother noticed Eddie was sad and stopped playing with his blocks. So, she went to the bank, withdrew her savings and bought Eddie a metal erector set. The kit included hardened steel clamps and screws, which at first brought Eddie to tears as he tried to figure out how to connect the pieces. What took a “normal” child a couple of hours, took Eddie days. Moving and picking up each piece with his prosthetic hands was slow and tedious. But after weeks of trial and error, he mastered the metal modeling set. He measured and connected miniature metallic components creating trucks, cars, buildings and houses. He twisted and hammered, piece after piece, assembling them into the whatever his mind could dream up.
Over the years, alone in his basement his mind perfected the ability to see dozens of steps ahead. The completed design was crystal clear to him before he picked up a single piece with his two-fingered plastic hands. His mind became as efficient as a computer design program. He just kept building things, and when he was thirteen his mother had saved enough money to upgrade his plastic prosthetic hands into synthetic mechanical hands. This opened a new world of possibilities to the young Eddie.
He immediately started building the first version of a full-sized robot he named Tronic.
“Abby, catchup time is over. Can you please bring out more plastic straws?” yelled her supervisor. Abby looked at the clock, put her pencil down, and thought about Eddie and his new robot friend. She knew Tronic would protect Eddie from the mean people in the world who did not understand people with disabilities.
Using her magical pencil, she would help her little boy understand that people born with disabilities can do amazing things.
Abby closed her sketchbook and went back to making cappuccinos.