The following year Armand suffered, sometimes spectacularly, from an undiagnosed seizure disorder. It would change, dramatically, how he viewed himself and how others viewed him.
He recalled, “At the age of eight I remember standing by the Christmas tree. The presents were still around on the floor. It was daytime and a very weird feeling came over me until I went unconscious. That was the beginning of a trouble that lasted for the next five years. I’d call it hell. It paralyzes you, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. It got up to where the worst I ever had was three in one day. It was a social curse, of course. You’re isolated. You can’t go to school. People were rather superstitious” (Zandstra Interview, 10-26-02).
Dismissed from school, uneasy in public, and unknowably lonely, Armand read books. Meanwhile his seizure disorder grew to be not only embarrassing, but potentially deadly. More than once he’d wander somnambulantly during a seizure, only to wake later to find himself fallen from a second story porch or, after another seizure, on the other side of the tracks, wondering how a passing train had not struck him down.
With the seizures coming more frequently, his parents took him from doctor to doctor, but his condition remained a mystery, subject to suspicion. His doctors had suspected epilepsy, but that was not how epilepsy was thought to behave. In retrospect, Armand’s physician, Dr. Keats K. Vining, termed the disorder a low-grade seizure syndrome that might be diagnosed as psychomotor epilepsy which is, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “a seizure often associated with temporal lobe disease and characterized by complex sensory, motor and psychic symptoms such as impaired consciousness with amnesia, emotional outbursts, automatic behavior, and abnormal acts.”
Parents talked. Teachers wrung their hands. Administrators fretted. Advised to stay home from Oakdale Public School because of the disruptions, he moved to Alexander Public School where he was again dismissed. At least he had more time to draw. His parents, now desperate, enrolled him in the tuition-based Christian school affiliated with their church. His seizures continued. A schoolmate recalls having to help the teacher pin him down to keep him from thrashing around hurting himself or others. He frightened people. Armand recalled, “I was isolated, not of my own choice, but I was forced out, so-to-speak” (Dornbush/Zandstra Interview, 7-10-02). It was during this unsettled time that Merizon found solace in sketching.
As a lonely ten-year-old he learned to hitchhike, hung around railroad stations, hopped boxcars and saw the countryside pass by in moving compositions, one frame after another. On paper he caught the brawniness of men who shoveled coal and shouldered mail bags. He sized up iron-clad engines. He drew rods with pistons pedaling, picking up speed. He drew boilers with steam rising. As he drew he could smell the energy and hear sounds, a locomotive driving steel wheels and then the click in the joints of the rails as cargo cars swung in line. Energy was something to respect, in the air and in the water. On the beach he watched gulls kiting high on air currents warmed by the sun. He hiked past waves with scallops and dunes with nomadic dispositions. His observations were keen. Already then he was beginning to stock up detailed memory, a valuable resource for any painter, and years later especially for a painter who was losing his eyesight.