Old Wounds and Family Scars

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The consulting firm was doing very well. In the late '80s, Curt's staff peaked at around 35 employees, and his client list included Abbott Labs, Motorola and Kraft Foods. But with the economic downturn during the Bush administration and the subsequent consolidation of major corporations, Curt soon found himself in a precarious position. Within a few years, his assets went from some three-quarters of a million dollars to nothing.

Curt and Arron's relationship was falling apart as well.

One incident revolved around a truck that Curt bought for his son. "Arron was not a real fastidious kid," Curt says, and he didn't take very good care of the truck. He spun a bearing in the engine while racing it, necessitating a complete rebuild job. Curt was willing to work on it, but he wanted Arron to help. "It was a job that should have taken a couple of weekends," Curt says. "But it took us months because Arron would not focus on the job at hand."

What bothered Curt the most was that Arron didn't take his studies seriously. "He was intelligent enough to be in the top-notch classes, but he had a for-shit work ethic," he says.

"My dad was always a pain in the ass," Arron says. "He means well, but we always argued over how we were going to do something. He has his way of doing things, and I have mine. He always wanted certain things from me, but I just didn't know what I wanted, and the pushing didn't help."

In 1987, Curt found out that he had a more serious problem, however -- his kidneys were functioning at 50 percent of their normal capacity, and it was likely he would eventually need a transplant. Always a fitness freak, he began to exercise even more and to rigorously watch his diet and cut out red meat. The idea was to lower his protein levels and take some strain off of his kidneys.

The doctors failed to control his high blood pressure, though, which helped speed the deterioration of his kidneys, as did the stress from his health, business and family troubles.

Arron bailed out in 1990, made a brief stop in Iowa and settled in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to ski and camp. "I was an eighteen- or nineteen-year old boy, and right before I left, Mom had lied about something that I had supposedly done," Arron recalls. "Well, [Curt] took her side, and I was like, 'Fuck you.'" In Arron's eyes, to see his father take the side of someone who was not even related to his kids was galling.

The consulting business finally failed in 1991. Curt and Diane waited until Autumn took off for Greeley to attend the University of Northern Colorado and then sold their home in Libertyville to pay off their business debts and moved into a small duplex in Waukegan, some 45 miles from downtown Chicago.

Curt was physically down and mentally depressed. He and Diane were being supported by her accounting job at a machine shop.

In 1992 they decided to move back to Colorado, where they could live more affordably and where Curt could get the medical help he needed. A friend of the family had a duplex open, so the couple moved in, and Curt made an appointment at the University of Colorado Medical Center to have his kidneys looked at.

"[The doctors] looked at me and said, 'Jesus Christ, your kidneys are not in good shape, but we need to take care of the blood pressure and your diet first,'" Curt remembers.

They also told him he would need a transplant in the next few years or face kidney dialysis treatment -- a procedure that filters the blood, a job that the kidneys are supposed to do -- and an early death.

The doctors were concerned about the amount of creatine Curt's body was producing. In diabetics, creatine signals how the kidneys are functioning: A creatine count of one is considered normal, two means that the kidneys are functioning at 50 percent, and ten means that the kidneys have completely failed. Diabetics usually begin dialysis treatment when the count reaches eight. Curt's creatine count was 6.5.

Curt had to drastically change his diet, and for the first time in his life, his doctors began to tell him exactly what was happening to his body. Now, after following medical journals and studying textbooks, Curt seems to know as much about diabetes and kidney failure as some medical students. "For me, it was a way to cope with what was happening; to be able to look at this from a scientific standpoint allowed me to separate from it somewhat."

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Sean Neumann