Old Wounds and Family Scars

Five years ago, Arron Apperson didn't talk to his father much.

The two argued more than they ever agreed. Whenever Arron's dad, Curt, would tell him something, he'd shut himself off or pick a fight with the old man. It never seemed to matter what it was -- hanging a screen door, cutting the lawn, fixing the car or discussing politics -- they always ended up on opposite sides.

Arron's stepmom, Diane, laughs a little when the subject comes up. "Those two are so alike, but for the longest time, Arron didn't want to admit that he's just like his father," she says. "Both are so interested in the sciences that once they apply themselves to learning about something, they develop an encyclopedic knowledge about it. They love to debate and are both athletic and very competitive."

Arron played soccer while he was growing up, and his father coached his team. Diane says Arron "would demand that Curt treat him no differently than any other kid. He called him 'Curt' whenever they were on the field."

At home, Curt would ride his son about improving his grades and not wasting his intelligence and time. Arron would tell his old man to blow it out his ass, then go off to smoke a joint, hang out with friends, read a book, or do anything else to prove his independence. "I'm like my dad in one respect," Arron says. "We both have to be right."

When Arron was in second grade, he rode the bus from a stop at East Colfax Avenue and Monaco Street to his parents' framing shop on Colfax and Peoria in Aurora every day after school. One time he forgot his two quarters, and the bus driver wouldn't let him on. So Arron walked the three miles to the shop by himself, making his way through the area's pimps and prostitutes without any sense of urgency.

"It felt kind of good," he recalls. "It was something different. I was alone, and I saw everything from a different perspective. Things were slowed down because I was walking instead of passing in a car."

This sense of independence led Arron down a path much different from that of his father. By the time Curt was 49, he had owned two businesses, one in Aurora the other in Chicago; he had worked as an engineer for Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles and Denver; and he had designed security systems for nuclear-power plants in Florida. He was a workaholic and an athlete.

As for Arron, after graduating from high school, he bounced around the country working various jobs and trying to escape reality and his family. "There were times that I just didn't want to deal with my dad," he says. He spent his time skiing, avoiding college and learning about communism. All he really needed was a decent set of skis and some good green bud.

So when Arron picked up his phone one afternoon around Christmastime in 1995 -- he was 24 and living in San Francisco at the time -- he wasn't expecting to hear his father's voice. Social calls, holiday wishes and even birthday greetings weren't standard at that time, nor were they expected. When one of them did call the other, the conversation usually ended up in an argument. But Arron's father wasn't calling to pester him, tell him to quit his cab-driving job and go back to school or ask him what he wanted to do with his life.

This time Curt was calling to ask for one of his son's kidneys.

A lifelong diabetic, Curt had already had one kidney transplant, but it had failed miserably and almost killed him. Now he made it clear that he needed help from someone in his family, someone whose organs would match his own. If this operation wasn't successful, Curt would have to rely on a kidney dialysis machine to keep him alive.

"When he called, there was no hesitation on my part," Arron says. "I found myself saying yes without a question in my mind. I felt that if giving my dad a kidney was going to help him, then that's what I was going to do, and I threw all of my life force into preparing my kidney to be given to my father," Arron says.

"Now I feel that I don't owe him anything and he doesn't owe me anything. We're even."

Curt Apperson has a smile like an upturned crescent moon. He's only 54, but he carries himself with a cautious gait, and his shoulders look as though they have been bowed by a thousand pounds of weight. Although he walks slowly, he looks like he could take off at a moment's notice. He has a scar that stretches from the center of his chest to his pubic hair, and his arms are ready to reach out and balance himself or protect his tender body, as if he expects someone to bump or push him.