What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
There is a wonderful line in the movie Monster House where the exasperated babysitter confronts the odd behavior of her charges by saying something like “I don’t know what you have, but I’m sure that it has initials and there are pills for it.” I sympathize with her frustration. In our family, we have identified and assigned initials to one such disorder; C.U.D or ‘Consequence Understanding Disorder.’ Our observation has been that, while it strikes all races and both genders, it is far more serious, long-lasting and difficult to treat in males. In medical parlance this is known as a ‘gender bias.’ This is unfortunate because, of course, gender usually lasts a lifetime. It is more and more clear to me that, unfortunately, so does CUD.
All children have to suffer through the ‘learning by experience’ misery that is part of the human condition. However, people with CUD have the additional challenge of not actually internalizing these lessons, finding themselves in a state of chronic surprise when things go–predictably to the rest of us–horribly wrong. The symptoms showed up early in my son. He had trouble grasping the notion that it is not a good idea to walk one way while looking another. As a consequence, his unusually large head was a phrenological paradise with lumps, bumps and bruises everywhere. Finally sick of hearing the walls in the house shake due to another CUD collision (‘sounds like Rory’s walking again’) and of being suspected of forehead abuse, we resorted to covering his head at all times with a football helmet (seriously).
I admit I sometimes contributed to the problem, albeit innocently, my own mild CUD apparently rearing its ugly head. I mean what could possibly go wrong with giving a young boy with a limited grasp of consequences a chemistry set? On white carpet? During the most boring months of winter?
One incident led me to believe we were making some progress. Rory, who was about 6 years old, became interested in a baby rattle belonging to a visiting infant. The rattle was attached to a suction cup and Rory was fascinated to discover that with a little spit and some force, you could get that suction cup to stick to just about anything. He stuck it to walls, appliances, and furniture, noting the various stickiness factor of each. Over the years, I had learned to recognize the look on his face that meant we were in trouble. It was a “hmmm, I wonder what would happen if…?” look and the blankness behind his eyes made it clear that he was in a full CUD mode. As he sat next to the innocent infant and held the rattle aloft in one hand, I saw that look and was immediately gripped with a terrifying vision of the future–a screaming infant, suction rattle bouncing from forehead, being examined by a triumphant six-year-old. Adrenaline surging, I crossed the room in two large leaps– just in time to hear a resounding WHAP and see the rattle bouncing noisily from Rory’s own forehead. My relief that he had chosen to experiment on himself and not the baby was short-lived, however, because he was in serious distress when he figured out that, once pried from his fragile flesh, the rattle had left a large, red suction hickey on his forehead. There was no disguising it with a football helmet this time. He was forced to wear the evidence of his severe CUD for all to see.
As difficult as this experience was for him (his big sister nicknamed him “Bullseye,” a name that sticks–no pun intended–to this day) at least I hoped that his distress would reinforce the consequences of that particular action and break through the devastating barrier of CUD. For a time, it seemed that that is exactly what happened. He suffered from other CUD-related injuries (who could predict that doing pretend death rolls out of your friend’s slow moving vehicle could result in someone getting hurt?), but I thought we had at least crossed the ‘suction-related injuries’ hurdle. Which is why I was so surprised when Rory, now 21 and a college student, came into my office area the other day with a horrible rash on his face. Fearing he may have a serious illness, I asked him about the multiple reddish-purple bruises covering his right cheek, forehead and chin.
“Oh, are they still there?” he said.
I felt my heart sink. “Rory, are what still there?”
“Well, I was holding an empty pill bottle last night–you know, the ones that seem hard–and I noticed that if I squeezed it just right, I could get enough suction to make it stick to my hand.”
No, no, no! It couldn’t be. This was total relapse to age six CUD behavior. But I had to be brave for both of us, so I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and asked what happened next.
“So, I thought I should see if I could get it to stick to my face,” Rory explained, as if this was perfectly rational.
Yes, of course. When you notice that something you’ve done serves absolutely no useful purpose, you are naturally obligated to repeat it over and over. This is the perverse logic of CUD. I immediately recognized the need to break through Rory’s CUD-related denial. I needed to re-establish his identity.
“Rory,” I said, searching his eyes for some sign of connection, some little indication that he was still in touch with the world around him and not completely in the throes of CUD, “I know you are aware of this at some level, but just as a reminder, you are 21 years old and just got an ‘A’ in nuclearbioastrophysics (or something like that). Are you seriously telling me that it never occurred to you that you would end up with a face full of suction hickies?”
“I guess I just never really thought about it,” he said. And that is precisely the tragedy of CUD.
We will continue to work with Rory’s disorder until a cure can be found, but in the meantime, it is important to raise awareness of this little understood condition. After all, we are all victims of the consequences of untreated CUD. What else could explain the illogical decisions reached by policy makers, corporate titans and elected officials (who, it is worth noting, are overwhelming male and therefore subject to the more severe form of CUD)?
Unfortunately, CUD is usually a silent disorder–especially if you are fortunate enough to have handlers protecting you from the consequences of your ridiculous behavior. If suction hickies were a universal manifestation of CUD, we would no doubt be astounded at how serious this epidemic is among our ‘leaders.’ Just imagine…