I first met Lorenzo through his 1984 book, The Cripple Liberation Front Marching Band Blues. It was lyrical and angry as hell and not at all fit for polite society. I loved it.
Meeting him in the flesh was quite different. It was in 1991, in the small town in Oaxaca where he spends his winters, and what struck me most about him was his gentle, open humor. Sam Maddox, New Mobility’s founder, once described his demeanor as “rumpled Ivy League.” That’s pretty close.
Lorenzo visited the hotel my family and I were staying at several times during our week in Oaxaca. Each time I saw him, he had a different helper in tow. Or two. And each and every one of them was obviously devoted to him.
One day, he invited me to lunch at his huerta–an overgrown orchard in a lush green ravine, choked with palms and tropical greenery watered by a stream that wandered its length. A steep pathway threaded it–his workers pushed him wherever it led–and parked at the top was a tiny trailer, Lorenzo’s home away from home. The place was the stuff of dreams. “Now,” I thought, “I have seen Xanadu.”
Milam was born in 1933 in Jacksonville, Fla. Polio arrived in 1952, and he was sent to a charity hospital because it had the only hydrotherapy pool in the city.
“It was a desolate place,” says Milam. “Fifty kids in the ward, very primitive.” Six months later, he escaped to Warm Springs, the nation’s premier polio treatment center built by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“It was paradise,” he says. “It was the most glorious place on earth. I met people my age and we’d all just gone through this nightmare. We taught each other how to survive.”
Leaving Warm Springs was less glorious. “It was a disaster for me. I returned to the house I grew up in to try to recapture what I had before–not knowing that it’s impossible to do that. I was trying to be with my friends and to be with my family, who were as confused about all this as I was. I don’t think my friends understood the changes going on inside of me–the hurt, the fear, the anger. I didn’t either. People shouldn’t have to know the truth of their bodies until they’re old enough to handle it.”
After college, Milam developed a fasci