A Clark Kent of TAMS

A green Grand Cherokee drives down the Tollway, carrying what seems to be a normal mother and son.

A mother and son who are about to have their lives utterly transformed.

Forever.

Cutter looks at his mother, she has glasses on and beautiful blonde hair. He loves being around her. Today is a special day. His mom lets him skip school, a daring move in the first grade, and go to work with her. She works in Public Relations for Frito Lay and well, who doesn’t love chips?

He loves going to work with her.

“Cutter, this can never happen again,” she smiles, referring to his deviant absence from school for a trip to work with mom.

But the sad part is: it really will never happen again.

The green Grand Cherokee comes to a stop as it reaches the toll booth.

Cutter’s mother reaches over for some coins, but her arm won’t let her get to them. In a split second, Cutter’s mother can no longer move her arm, it’s frozen.  Concern hits Cutter and his mother.

And with a little shock, her arm comes back to life. Relief hits and concern leaves. Bodies just do weird things every once and awhile, right?

That was the first time it happened.

[divider]***[/divider]

Cutter’s mom falls to the floor. All she can do is shake and spasm. Shake and Spasm. Over and over again.

The only thing Cutter can do is: watch. Just watch her shake and spasm.

Cutter’s mother had been experiencing increasingly worse attacks ever since the day on the Tollway. What had seemed like a weird thing the body did just once, had grown into something much worse.

Cutter’s mom had been waking up in the middle of the night with new bruises over her body. Lately, a seven year old Cutter had been in charge of strapping her into bed every night to prevent her from falling off. Cutter and his mom were trying to manage with a situation they knew nothing about, hoping it’d go away without medical attention.

Being just a kid, Cutter accepts it for what it is. His mother is all he knows. And these spasms are just a new experience. A new part of life.

But the sight of his mother on the floor, spasming, shaking- it can’t be left alone any longer.

[divider]*** [/divider]

Cutter’s mother is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a buildup of scar tissue in the brain, preventing the brain from sending messages to the rest of the body. MS results in loss of control over muscles, vision and balance. The level of seriousness of the disease is dependent on the amount of scar tissue.

Cutter’s mother is part of the 3% of Americans with Multiple Sclerosis. She is a worse case scenario, one who caught the more serious side effects of the disease.

From elementary through middle school, Cutter learns to accept that his mother is deteriorating every day.  That- there’s a good chance she won’t see him graduate high school. The only thing left for him to do is become her ultimate caretaker.

His life becomes strapping his mother into bed every night. His life becomes watching his mother be electrocuted in order to send shocks through her body. His life becomes catching his mother every time she falls. His life becomes jumping from school to school in order to be closer to home because his mom can’t drive anymore. His life becomes trying to find a way to cope with the fact that his mother is only getting worse, can never get better, and that one day, he won’t be able to take care of her anymore.  His life becomes never actually finding a way to cope.

But the worse part? The worst part is watching his mother not able to accept one day she won’t get out of bed.

It finally set in for Cutter’s mother when she fell to the floor one day, and no one was around to help, leaving her lying on the ground for hours. For months after her hard fall, she couldn’t get out of bed. She was required to be lifted and wheeled around everywhere. Cutter could tell his mom thought that was it for her, that she was almost done living.

[divider]*** [/divider]

Freshman year, The Rough Spell, the Realization, and the Hardest Part.

Cutter and his mother aren’t coping the same way they used to. Cutter’s mom takes many different drugs and it’s been messing with the way she processes certain situations. As Cutter reaches out to his father, he begins to develop a relationship with a dad who had never been a large part of his life since his parent’s divorce. Cutter’s mother becomes paranoid of the relationship between them, and Cutter isn’t able to be there for his mom the same way he was before.

While Cutter and his mother are growing apart, an experimental pump for MS patients hits the market. The pump is placed inside the patient and pumps morphine to alleviate pain and prevent spasms. Cutter’s mom gets two pumps because of the seriousness of her condition.

Although the pumps help Cutter’s mother, there’s nothing he can do for her anymore. The pumps give her the chance to start taking care of herself on her own. He realizes his entire relationship with her is based on taking care of her, something he can’t do any longer. He and his mother struggle to figure out where they belong in each other’s lives and their relationship becomes increasingly strained.

Not being able to make amends to his relationship with his mother, Cutter moves in with his father.

Never previously being able to see eye to eye with his father, their relationship becomes strained as well. By tenth grade year, Cutter moves out of his father’s house and back with his mom, while beginning to work up to three jobs at a time, due to his need to be financially independent.

By the end of Cutter’s tenth grade year, he needs an escape. He’s looking for a place to run away to. Being an opportunist, TAMS is the perfect new opportunity for him. He applies, and is easily accepted. To everyone else, Cutter is Clark Kent. The person who can do anything under any pressure. TAMS is just going to be another feat.

[divider]*** [/divider]

Summer of 2012.

Cutter and the rest of the people from his church take a break at a near playground after volunteering to help with the Colorado Forest Fires on a missionary trip. Being a former gymnast, Cutter begins to spin and flip around the playground.

But the combination of dehydration, altitude, stress, and exposure to the sun is about to throw Cutter into a Stage Three Shock Attack.

Cutter stops in the midst of his spinning and flipping, getting stuck in a swivel chair. He loses control over his entire body, beginning to laugh and cry uncontrollably. The other volunteers on the missionary trip with Cutter think it’s all a joke. They laugh with Cutter. Until, he begins to weep for minutes without control.

He stops for a moment. And then falls to the ground. He spazzes. Black outs. Slurred Words. Blurred Vision. He forgets everything in a moment, even his mother’s name.

But he knew exactly what is happening to him. He can’t control what his body is doing, but he knows everything that is going on around him. It’s like he’s two people in one body. And he watches how everyone reacts around him. He feels like he’s having one of those “life flashing before your eyes” moments.

But nothing flashes before his eyes. And Cutter realizes he’s spent his life with no life goals. Without building relationships. Without spending his life with people. And for a second, he’s able to feel close to what his mom feels every time she experiences an attack.

Cutter stops breathing. He watches as the people around him stare in shock. He watches as Jeffery, a lifeguard on the missionary trip, performs CPR.  He watches the mothers in the crowd nurture the children around them. And it becomes clear to him, that people don’t belong everywhere, but they all have a place somewhere in this world.

Cutter is taken to the hospital where his attack lasts until 5 in the morning and he is able to evade what could have been his death.

[divider]*** [/divider]

By the time Cutter arrives at TAMS, his entire life has been flipped upside down. He’s a different person, financially independent, and has experienced a life or death situation. He’s trying to pick up the pieces in his life, as doctors tell him he might have emotional disorders that don’t allow him to connect well with others.

But Cutter arrives still ready to be Clark Kent, the one that can do anything he wants. Within a few months, Cutter throws himself into the community, something he’s best at. He gets a job at American Eagle to pay for the expense of TAMS, becomes the lead actor of NTTV and an executive of a nonprofit alliance group at the University of North Texas.

By November, Cutter doesn’t believe he is superman anymore. He receives grades that aren’t as high as he would expect, and realizes he can’t do everything.

[divider]*** [/divider]

Cutter decided to leave the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science as Thanksgiving break began. Being a huge “community guy,” Cutter didn’t have the full time he wanted to dedicate to helping others while fulfilling the demands of TAMS Academics.

TAMS lost an inspiration in November of 2012, but Cutter feels free now. He has no clear sight of what he wants to do in his life, but he’s more excited than ever to know he will be going somewhere. Cutter Palacios is still a Clark Kent, and he will go throughout life, inspiring the people around him with his story, making a bigger difference than he ever hoped he could.

Cutter feels for the first time, he is beginning his life now, and it will be an honor to watch where his takes him.

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