It is true that Junior has hydrocephalus, which translates as "water on the brain" but actually refers to a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid. As a result, Junior needed brain surgery at six months old. He survived the risky surgery but is left with brain damage that causes several impairments. First, instead of the normal thirty-two adult teeth, Junior has forty-two. He has ten teeth extracted in one day.
His brain damage also causes problems with his eye-sight. He is nearsighted in one eye, and farsighted in the other. Even with corrective lenses, this causes him to have headaches. His hands and feet are also disproportionately large in comparison to his very skinny body, and like others with "water on the brain" his skull is disproportionately large.
He also has a lisp, a stutter, and is "susceptible to seizure activity" (3). As a young child he had seizures up to twice a week.
Despite all of his health issues and the social problems that accompany them on his reservation, Junior's attitude is one of resigned complacence, combined with a feeling of hope that he can do something better for himself in the future. He approaches life with a sense of self that makes him seem wise beyond his years. He describes his current life with a sad but straightforward sense of humor, as if he has come to accept his social position and this is his coping mechanism.
Do you know what happens to retards on the rez?
We get beat up.
At least once a month.
Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club. (4)
Junior is also hopeful that he will not be poor forever. We know he has big dreams and does not wish to be stuck in the same fate his poor father and mother are stuck in.
I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist. (6)
Junior was born with "Water" in his brain aka he was hydrocephalic, causing his head to be bigger than normal, he also has a lisp and stutters.
"I was actually born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull. But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors' fancy way of saying brain grease. And brain grease works inside the lobes like car grease works inside an engine. It keeps things running smooth and fast. But weird me, I was born with too much grease inside my skull, and it got all thick and muddy and disgusting, and it only mucked up the works. My thinking and breathing and living engine slowed down and flooded." 1.1-1.2
Throughout the book, we see junior as a very self aware kid who also makes fun of his own disabilities. He always speaks about his problems in a sarcastic tone, pocking fun of himself and the way he acts. He never speaks seriously of them.