Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Monkey

Colombia Animals

A monkey is born in captivity.

It’s a teenie, tiny little monkey with big monkey eyes that make you go, “Ohhhhh,” and, “Aaaaaahhhh,” in all of the most wonderful ways.

The monkey’s parents were also born in captivity. They’ve lived their entire lives inside of a cage. It’s a large cage and they can walk around and do a little swinging and there’s a place to sleep but it’s still a cage. A great big cage with bars. And it’s very unlikely that the monkey – any of them – will ever get out.

There are zoo keepers at this place and they tend the monkeys. Every day they give them food and they give them water and they change their bedding and they encourage them to breed and the monkeys think it’s a pretty darn good fit, getting pampered like this.

But the monkeys don’t know that they’re living in a cage.

They are ignorant.

They think they are free because the zoo keepers have made them believe that their caged world is the real world. They’ve put in trees and grass and everything. And because the monkeys (and their parents and grand-parents) were born into this cage as well, they believe and trust the zoo keepers because they believe their parents and all the other monkeys that say the same thing. This is the way it is. The zoo keepers have our interest at heart. They are good.

And this is how the zoo keepers like it.

Because ignorant monkeys are easy to control. No surprise our academic system is so poor. If we can keep the kids stupid early, there’s a good chance we’ll have a room full of pliable adults that can be guided by religion and hocus-pocus instead of critical thinking.

Who knows what would happen if the monkeys understood that they were living inside of a cage that were a sad fraction of the size of true reality? How displeased would the monkeys become, knowing that they’ve been shafted from Life’s True Experience?

How would the monkeys feel, knowing they’d been bamboozled by the powers that be?

How would the monkeys feel, finding out they’d spent decades and decades, wasting their lives in tiny cages and everything they thought they knew was misunderstood at best and an outright lie at the worst. If they understood they were in a cage, would they try to get out? Or would they remain complacent because maybe being in a cage isn’t so bad. At least you don’t have to think and all of your base needs are taken care of for you. Sure, they have to blindly pay taxes and social security for which they’ll never receive the funds back but at least they get the food from The Keepers.

Poor monkeys don’t realize that they’re slaves being controlled by creatures that are smarter than they are, running laps around their simple simeon brains. The zoo keepers make lots and lots and lots of money keeping the monkeys in a cage. The zoo makes lots and lots of money. Everyone is happy. Even the monkeys, who continue to think they’re free because the zoo keepers tell them so.

The moment the little baby monkey arrived in captivity, the zoo keepers forced an identity on it, giving it a name, a label. They also give it a number. They tell it where it was born and give it a national identity. They explain that other monkeys from other places aren’t as great. And monkeys who believe in other gods aren’t as great. And monkeys who are controlled by other zoo keepers aren’t as wonderful. And these zoo keepers are the best, so says these zoo keepers. And the monkeys don’t read international news and so they don’t know the difference between a truth and a lie. The zoo keepers feed the monkey ideas of religion and politics but they only tell the story that they want the monkey to hear. They don’t tell the whole story. Only the good bits that cast the zoo keepers in a positive light.

And the monkeys stay in the cage.

The cage is a psychological one that we have each been placed within. It is only by recognition of this psychological cage that we are able to step outside of it. Religion makes good people do evil things in the name of Imagination. Politics uses religion to bend the will of the masses. Banks control the world. You work three months a year in order to pay the government in taxes, which in turn go to pay off a national debt that can never be fully paid back.

They have us running on an infinite hamster wheel, voting in the next fool who is paid to do as the banks request.

Government workers are not bought by the banks. The banks are the government and they pay their employees, the political figures of our nation, to follow their orders.

Gotta find the key to get out of the cage or they’ll keep us in here until we die. And once we get out we can begin to ask ourselves who is paying the zoo keepers? Who owns the zoo?

 

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(A)ND (I)F I (D)ON’T (S)IGN? CHAPTER 37

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I can’t believe that the emergency room has a waiting room. I mean, I get it but . . . you just would not believe the lines in the Los Angeles E.R. It rivals the DMV. It truly does.

After two predictable hours of mentally dissecting Georgia O’Keeffe paintings (How did she get a corner on the medical market??) we’re finally called into a private room where they deduce that I need another blood transfusion, “But,” the nurse tells me far too casually, “Before we can get to that, we’re going to need you to sign these contracts here, here, here, and here, Mr. Brookbank.” I grab the pen and say, “Oh . . . kay . . . . What is this for? What am I signing?” and the nurse says, “Just in case you get AIDS from this blood you can’t sue us,” and I say, “EXCUSE ME?” The nurse laughs and says, “The chances are very small—I mean, less than one percent,” and I say, “Nothing to do with you but, honestly, my luck has been pretty shady lately so, just to abate my own curiosity, would you mind walking me through your screening process before potentially pumping me chock full of AIDS blood?”

The nurse says, “Someone comes in and gives blood—small vial. We test that blood. If it’s clear, we ask them to come back—typically a day or two later—and this is when we’ll take several bags of it.”

I say, “OK, go on.”

And the nurse says, “Well, it’s possible that they contracted AIDS in those two days.”

And I say, “That’s not the end of your screening process? You test the blood again, yes?”

And she says, “Yes, we do but . . . there is always room for human error and that’s where this—” and her finger pokes the contract, “comes in.”

I say, “I see,” and look at my wife who says, “If he gets AIDS—I mean, if you give him AIDS—what does that mean?”

And the nurse says, “Well, he will have AIDS.”

And my wife says, “Yes, I’m clear on that but . . . we have no follow through? He just has AIDS? You’re not held responsible?”

And the nurse says, “Not if you sign that contract.”

And so I say, “And what if I don’t sign the contract?”

And the nurse says, “Then you can’t have any of our blood.”

And I say, “Any of your AIDS blood?”

And she says, “Any of our blood at all, AIDS or otherwise.”

And I say, “Cold move.”

And the nurse says, “I know. I just work here.”

So I sign the paperwork and the nurse says, “Good choice. I’ll be back to get you in a bit,” and then she leaves us.

In the waiting area where we’re all staged sits a robust African American woman with a cast on her foot. I see her all by herself looking nervous and so I direct my chauffer to the given target and Theresa begins to slowly wheel me over to her. I say, “You waiting to get your blood drawn?” and she nods and I say, “What happened to your foot?” and she says she slipped and fell and broke it. I grimace and say, “Could be worse,” and she says, “Oh, not being able to walk is pretty bad enough,” and I laugh and say, “But it could be worse so you’re pretty lucky,” and then I say, “Hey, I’m afraid of needles. How about you go in there before me and when you come out, you tell me if the nurse is any good. If she’s shoddy I’ll request someone new.” The woman nods and agrees and laughs.

She says, “Are you getting your blood drawn, too?” and I say, “Yeah,” and she says, “I hate them needles,” and I say, “I know. That’s why you need to be the guinea pig. I don’t want to get jabbed a bunch. You gotta take one for the team,” and she laughs and says, “Why you here?” which is a pretty invasive question and so I cough a couple times, really hard, into my fist and say, “I’ve got this really contagious disease that they’re still trying to figure out. It’s like the bird flu but with no remedy. It’s airborne.” I sniff really loudly and then cough into my sleeve and say, “Sorry.” The woman slowly pushes her wheelchair back and says, “Maybe you . . . should have one of those masks or . . . ” and I say, “Yeah, I basically live in a bubble at my house – like a little plastic tent. But once in a while I get to come out. I’m just not supposed to be very close to people. You should be fine,” and then I cough into my hand again and simply look at the floor, in silence.

Behind me, I can feel my sister touch my shoulder. She’s not very good at this sort of game so I’m sure she’s very uncomfortable right now. I look up at the woman and smile and she smiles back with a mouth full of fear and weirdly friendly eyes that seem to say, “Act natural. Act naturaaaaal . . . . ” And then I start to laugh and I say, “I’m just kidding!” and she laughs as well and my sister releases a burst of awkward laughter and then I say, “I was actually at church—that’s my family over there. We were over at church this morning and I was standing in the lobby and suddenly everything just went dark. I passed out. When I woke up, my tongue was white.” I stick it out and she pulls her lips back in open disgust and says, “Ick.” I say, “Thank you, yes, I know,” and she starts to laugh again and says, “You passed out in church?” and I say, “Yeah, right there,” and she says, “Boy, I bet they all thought you were having a gen-u-wine religious experience!” and then she has a mock seizure. She says, “Why do you think that happened?” and I say, “Well . . . I have cancer,” and she says, “Oh, OK. Yes. CANCER. I get it. You’re like Mr. Funny Guy, huh? Do they keep you in a cancer bubble at home?” and my sister and I both stare at her dead pan and I say, “There is no such thing as a cancer bubble.”

A long moment passes before the woman says, “Oh, dear,” and then I laugh and say, “It’s OK. I actually don’t have cancer anymore but I’m still in chemotherapy,” and then a nurse enters and calls the woman’s name. The two of them disappear into a back room and reappear moments later, tape now stitched around the woman’s arm joint. I say, “How is she?” and she says, “It was fast,” and I say, “Good.”

The black woman looks at me and says, “God bless you,” and I say, “Didn’t you hear me? I said I don’t have cancer anymore.”

 

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Two floors up I’m getting another blood transfusion; the platelets are draining back into my body like a soggy hourglass. My wife clicks through the TV. Nothing is on and we watch all of it.

This is the first time that cancer has proven to me that, just because it’s gone, it’s not vanquished. Just because it’s out of sight, doesn’t mean it’s out of mind. Cancer is the king who, once dead, you realize has booby-trapped the whole palace.

I stick out my tongue and say, “What color is it?” My sister looks up from her phone and says, “Pink,” and I know I’ve won another battle and I’m also certain that the war is coming to an end. I just have to wonder how much PTSD is going to come along with it.

A few days later everything is back to “normal.” My dad is clicking away on his laptop, my sister is nowhere to be found, my wife is at work for the day, and my mother is making random notes on napkins, a habit she’s exhibited my entire life. On every vacation she takes she’ll find herself a pen along with a napkin or some form of old scrap paper and begin jotting down short-hand journal entries. I can only assume it’s some form of coping mechanism.

As I walk past her I look down at the paper and read: dad & t arrive / movie / popcorn w caramel / enchilada / Harry Potter / church / faint / blood-plates / butterfly needle and then there’s a picture of a smiley face and a series of numbers. I say, “Mother?” and she looks up. I say, “Have you ever seen A Beautiful Mind?” and she says, “I don’t know. Who’s in it?”

I look over at my dad, who’s staring at me, the clicking stopped. “That’s her, yes. YES. Hahaha,” and then click-click-click. My mom writes down A Beautiful Mine onto the paper and asks if it’s about coal or something. I say, “Yes,” and walk out the back door to sit in the sun for a bit.

Growing up, my grandparents lived right down the street from me and it seemed that, without fail, any time I drove by, the two of them would be resting on their front porch. When I was a child and full of enough energy to power a small village, I thought this was strange, the idea of people sitting and doing nothing, but today . . . something is going on inside of me. I’ve been given a gift. Cancer has been a crystal ball into my future and it has said, “Look! Behold! Observe! Here is a glimpse into your life! THIS is what it feels like to grow old! Your energies will be sapped and your motivations will run dry! Thank me! Thank me for showing you this!” and in my head I say, “Thank you, Cancer. Thank you for showing this to me. I’ll never be the same after this . . . . Thank you.”

But today I am the same. Today I have no energy and today I am an old person. I find my sister sitting outside and smoking cigarettes while texting her boyfriend. I sit down next to her but don’t say anything. I just push my face into the sky and shut my eyes. The sunlight is as tangible as a warm washcloth.

My sister says, “I love you,” and I open my eyes and find her crying. Tears are rolling down her checks like broken faucets and her hands are shaking. I say, “I love you too, Trees—what’s—what’s wrong? Did you and Jes break up?” and she laughs and makes a noise that sounds like it means, “No.” She shakes her head and stares at her feet.

She says, “I saw pictures of you that mom had sent over on her phone and you . . . . I’m sorry . . . . You didn’t look very good. You looked sick, you know,” and I say, “Yeah, OK. I mean, I am sick,” and she says, “You’re not sick! You have CANCER,” and I say, “Had . . . not have.”

She looks at me and says, “I showed up and I wasn’t expecting my big brother to look like this. In real life you look— I’m sorry . . . so much worse,” and I say, “It’s my lack of eyebrows that freak you out, huh?” and she laughs a snorty-pig laugh and shakes her head.

“You look really, really terrible and you’re my big brother and it’s scaring me,” and then she just breaks down. Meanwhile, my stomach rolls over unexpectedly and I bend over and vomit at my feet, spattering spittle onto my socks.

I say, “Sorry,” but my sister just stands up and walks away. Away from the picnic table. Away from me. Away from the backyard, around the house . . . .

. . . And then she’s back and I say, “What was that?” and she says, “That was my last cigarette. I’m not—I can’t—I’m not smoking anymore, ever again,” and I smile, thankful that Cancer is changing the lives of those around me in powerful and positive ways.

 

 

 

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TONGUE: CHAPTER 36

 

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When I open my eyes, moonlight is still shining through my windows and my wife’s breathing is still soft and rhythmic. I know I won’t get back to sleep so I just Imagine. When there is nothing to do, it’s all there is. When everything is gone outside, when your body has been reduced to rubble, when your emotions are running rampant and every thought clouds your brain with fog, all you can do is Imagine.

I focus in on one single thing, one detail, one moment, one idea and I circle around it, staring at it, examining it and dissecting it. The thought this morning is My Fourth Round. I try to Imagine what one level deeper will look like; I Imagine it as a deep sub-basement. A cellar. There aren’t many people here and those who shuffle around in the darkness are pale and sinewy. I Imagine a nurse in the not-too-distant future pulling an IV out of my arm and saying, “All right, you’re done,” and then I Imagine walking out of the hospital and entering into the sunlight and feeling alive and free and while I lie there in the darkness, in my True Reality, everything still seems far away and unattainable.

People say to me, “One more round! Just one more round! The light is at the end of the tunnel!” and I see the light but it doesn’t look like it’s getting any closer. I understand that time is passing but why does it have to happen in Matrix bullet time?

I push my blankets back and drape my legs over the edge of the bed. I need to pee. I stand up and take a deep breath and my wife turns over and says, “Are you OK?” She’s like a mother with a new baby, sensing every movement in the silence. I say, “Yeah. Just gotta pee, ” and I smile and she says, “Shout if you need something,” and I smile again, open the bedroom door and exit.

Walking through the darkened house, I hear a faint click-click-click of computer keys and round a corner where I find my dad sitting at our dining-room table doing work remotely on his laptop, a twice filled bowl of Cocoa Puffs next to him. He looks up and smiles but doesn’t say anything. I say, “Hi,” and, “What time is it?” and he says, “Seven a.m. my time. I’ve been up for two hours,” and I nod, and doing the simple math, figure it must be around 5 a.m. here. I pee and walk into the kitchen and he keeps typing without looking up.

I want to sit down at the table and speak to him and ask him what he’s doing or ask him how he’s doing or ask something, anything that will fill the silence in the kitchen. Click-click-click.

I open up the cabinets and the fridge, searching for food that I won’t eat; some repressed muscle memory pushing me on, not wanting to face the fact that I don’t fully know the man sitting in my dining room even though I’ve lived in the same house with him my entire life. I open up a cupboard filled with frying pans and just stare at them, trying to look busy. I say, “What are you working on?” and he says, “Building my website,” and I say, “Ah.” I pull out a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a bowl before putting them both away. I consider going back to the bedroom but the darkness in there is just too heavy and I know I’ll drown in it. I end up sitting down at the table and staring at the back of his laptop, at the glowing logo. I say, “What’s your website about?” and he says, “Cars I’m working on . . . building stuff.” Click-click-click.

I am dealing with complete anarchy in my personal life and pushing forward every single day, one step further, one step further, one step further and here I am, sitting at a table in an empty house with my biological father and I have no idea how to confront this situation. I have no idea what to say, what to do. I try to make a joke but neither of us laughs. I start to feel funny (strange, not haha) and just lie my head in my hands. He asks if I’m OK and I say, “Sometimes.”

My sister enters the room. My mother enters the room. My wife enters the room. Cereal is made. Oatmeal is made. Toast is made. Orange juice is poured. My sister sits down next to me and says, “What are you doing?” and I say, “What am I doing-what? What do you mean?” and she says, “Your tongue is kind of a weird color,” and when I examine myself in the mirror I see that it is indeed the same shade as raw beef that’s been left in the sun for too long. My wife says, “Do we need to go to the hospital?” and I turn on her like a corner and say, “No, no, no. No hospitals. No emergency rooms. No nothing,” and my dad says, “If we need to take you to the hospital, you will go. I will overpower you. I can overpower you,” and I understand now, today, what he meant, but at the time it inflamed my emotions. Even though it sounds like a joke, he wasn’t messing around. He wasn’t being coy. He genuinely meant what he said. He would bear hug me and drag me kicking and screaming to the E.R. if it’s what my wife said I needed.

I turn on him next and say, with as much acidity as I can muster, “You touch me and I will fight you.” At first glance this looks like the eternal power struggle between father and son, a story as old as time, but on second glance it’s just my struggle. To control something. Anything. He raises an eyebrow and looks at Jade, who looks at me and so I say, “The E.R. is a waste of time. We’re going to show up, sit in a waiting room for two hours. They’re going to draw some blood and tell me to hydrate. I don’t need a replay of The Adventures of Blood Vomit. I don’t need Christmas Eve take two. I don’t need to stay another night there. What I need is to relax and take it easy. I did it your way last time and it was a total bust and now we’re doing it my way. This time it’s my turn.”

Grasping at control.

Jade never answers. Instead she just exhales deeply and turns away. My dad turns back to his laptop. My sister’s phone buzzes and she reads a text. I say, “Who’s that?” and she says, “None of yer bizzznus,” and I say, “Is it your boyfriend? Is it that guy I met? Is it Jes?” and she glances at my dad—click-click-click—and makes wide eyes at me that seem to say, Shut up! So I do. She texts something back and I say, “What did you just text him back? Was that Jes you were texting? That guy you were dating? The guy I met?” and she says, “I told you to shut up,” and then she walks outside.

I met Jes about a year previous and we’d only spoken on two separate occasions. He was a nice enough fellow but had recently, I guess, gotten involved in and charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and was going to be doing some prison time. No one was really sure which members of our family knew or did not know so my sister was very sensitive about the subject being broached at all. My extended family is full of strange secrets and double-crosses and so most things, regardless of how lacking in logic, are just taken with a grain of salt.

I stand up and move to My Yellow Chair before closing my eyes. I’ve been up for about two hours and it’s starting to make me feel strange, light headed. I say, “Church this morning?” and my mother says, “Yes,” and my wife says, “If you’re OK,” and my sister is outside, and my dad goes click-click-click.

I shut my eyes and nap.

When I wake up there is an electric movement in the air that says something is happening. Grab your things, c’mon, let’s go! It’s time! I slide my feet into a pair of old yellow sneakers and stand up. “I’m ready.”

My mother spruces her hair up. My wife spritzes herself with perfume. My sister changes shirts and jeans and shoes and then shirts again and then ties her hair back and then lets it down. I feel strange again but, since feeling strange has become a complete recurring theme in my life, I simply ignore it and soldier on.

We all gather by the front door and my mother says, “Mike, are you ready to go?” and my dad looks up from his computer and says, “Huh?” and my mother says, “To church? We’re leaving,” and he goes click-click-click . . . CLICK, and then shuts his laptop and we all walk out the door.

In the car I lay my head against the glass and feel the bumps in the road gyrate my skull and shake my brain. Next to me I can hear my sister click-click-clicking on her BlackBerry, every button a stapler to the temple. The problem with those phones is that even if you silence the “clicking sound” feature, those buttons are just built to click. Click-click-click! CLICK-CLICK-CLICK! CLLIIICCCKK!! Click-click-click.

I turn to my sister and say, “How is work?” and she starts to tell me about her job and about how she thinks her boss doesn’t like her and how she’s thinking about quitting and all the scandalous things that happen there and I nod politely and ask questions and in the front seat my dad says, “These billboards are all in Spanish. I can’t read Spanish. Wait, I think that one says something about the number three… and maybe something about a burrito.” I say, “That’s El Pollo Loco.”

My sister says, “So what are you going to do when you go back? Back to work? Are you going to have the same job or what?” and truly, truly, it’s a fear that has weighed on my heart since this first happened, since this all began. What next?

Will I be able to just jump back into my career, back into my job? Will I be able to sit in an edit bay for ten hours a day after knowing that death is imminent? Will I be able to commute an hour each way and wile away in a cube while my life escapes through me one moment at a time? I don’t know.

I don’t think so.

When I am released back into the world I want to break the social norms and destroy the constraints and I want to live by a set of guidelines that work for me because, quite frankly, the ones I’ve been using aren’t really blowing my hair back. I don’t think humans were meant to live like caged chickens and . . . .

. . . I begin to speak; to relay these thoughts to Theresa. I begin to pour my heart out, wearing my fear on my sleeve like a patch. I turn my head and glance back out the window but continue to talk. The words are coming easier and easier, the fears becoming easier to speak about. It feels good to get it off my chest and then, suddenly, my sister just blurts out, in the loudest voice I’ve ever heard, the word, “HOLA!”

That’s what she says. She says, “HOLA!” and she nearly shouts it, like she’s welcoming the Chilean soccer team back to their home country after winning a major victory. “HOLA!”

I turn my head to put this interruption into context and I see her . . . on her phone. It was on silent so I didn’t hear it ring. Apparently I had just been talking to myself. I look into the front seat and see my mom and dad both staring straight ahead in silence.

I am pouring out my heart to the world passing by. I say, “Are you kidding me?!” and my sister says, “What?” and I say, “I’m sitting here talking to you and—“ she just holds a finger up over her lips and says, “Shhh.”

How dare you shush me! My brain explodes in rage and indignation and I raise my fist in the air, but my sister merely mocks me. I whisper-shout, “You think the cancer kid can’t beat you up?! You think I can’t take you down?! Well, you’re probably right but I’m going to remember this! All of this! HOLA, indeed!” and then she puts her finger to her mouth and shushes me again, violently, truly wanting me to hush.

I say, “Who are you talking to?” and she mouths, “Shut up! Jes,” and I say, “Jes? Jes, your boyfriend? Jes, the guy you’re dating? Jes, the guy I met?” I pause and then say, “Give me the phone . . . . ”

Theresa glares at me, unsure how to accept this challenge. She knows we’d met before (twice) and she knows that we got along all right (twice) but she has no idea why it is I would want to talk to this man after having not seen him for close to a year.

She says, into the phone, “My brother . . . wants to talk to you . . . . I don’t know . . . . I don’t know . . . . Is that OK? OK.” And then she holds out the phone and I reach out for it but she pulls it away at the last minute, leaving me grasping at air. I say, “What?” and she just raises her fist in the air, mocking me again and says, “I’m serious.”

I push the mobile device to my ear and say, “Hello. Jes?” And he mumbles something, sounding unsure, unsure of our conversation, unsure of himself, unsure of everything. I say, “What’s going on?” and he says, “You know, not much, uh . . . . ”

We sit in silence for a moment and then I say, “So, you’re going away for a bit?” and he agrees and my sister slaps the palm of her hand against her face. I turn my head and look out the window and I say, “I just wanted to say that I think we’re both going through something very unusual and I hope that when we come out the other end we can be very different people. I hope these things change us for the better and uh . . . keep it together, man,” and he says, “Oh . . . uh . . . thanks. Thank you,” and I say, “See ya,” and hand the phone back to my sister who just stares at me for a moment before speaking into it and saying, “Hello . . . hi. Yeah . . . I don’t . . . know . . . . ”

Years later, the two of them will be married and I’ll stand up for them at their wedding, not simply because they asked me to but because I believe in their marriage. Prison will affect and change Jes in fantastic ways and when he comes out of the darkness, he will be a new man, ready to embrace life for himself. Today he’s one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know and I would put my personal reputation on the line for him at any turn.

Life has a very funny way of changing us.

We take the Highland exit and I mentally take note of the spot where I slipped into my grand mal seizure. I don’t know it then, but I’ll red flag it for the rest of my life. A mile up and I take another mental note of the spot where I woke up. I mark the trees, the light poles, the bus stop. I sigh and everything swims in front of me for a moment but then is gone. A few miles later we hang a right on Wilshire and pull into the parking lot of the church.

My family shuffles down the sidewalk, I leading the way for a change. I turn around, perhaps too quickly, and say, “Remember to silence your cell phones,” and everyone reaches into their pockets to do so. When I turn back around I feel something in the very furthest recess of my brain, a white mist. Then I feel something in my toes.

We enter the lobby and find ourselves standing in a throng of individuals. I’ve just walked a block and am feeling extremely exhausted . . . far more tired than I have any right to be, even in my present state. I think, “Something is not right. I need . . . to sit . . . down.”

I take two steps toward a support column in the center of the room and that white mist suddenly makes a lunging maneuver from the back of my brain and circles around to the front. The feeling in my toes shoots up my legs and into my thighs and everything is becoming a strange water-color painting.

My wife says, “Are you all—”

And then I feel my knees buckle and the weight of the world is on my shoulders—every screaming child, every warring nation, every lusting adult. Every prayer is being shoveled on top of me and I’m slowly drowning. God reaches down, grabs the room and spins it like a top (or perhaps a dreidel, depending on your religious orientation) and my right foot shoots out to establish my balance and my left foot shoots forward to counter.

Someone says something else and I’m trying to stand up but it’s all so heavy and spinning and then the words are just electrical motor engines and the darkness on my brain consumes my eyeballs and the world around me fades . . . to . . . black.

 

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When I open my eyes it takes a few moments for my reality to click on but when it does, it’s just like a light; everything is illuminated. I’m here, the church, the people, the embarrassment. Don’t be embarrassed! But I am, I’m lying on a floor in a room filled with strangers who are all staring at me. Drink this! A cup of water. Great. I would love to throw this up in front of you all when I’m nice and ready. Don’t stand up! Great, I’ll just hang out down here. Just lay down! No. Absolutely not. I will not look as though I’m taking a nap in the center of the floor. I understand what happened here was a little weird and everyone is a little freaked out but I don’t need to lie down. I am a grown-ass man.

I sit up cross-legged and say, “Jade, please help me up,” and my dad says, “Just hang on, John,” and I say, “Help me . . . up,” and they do because, unless they’re going to pin me down, I’m not lying here like Lieutenant Dan.

My sister says, “Whoa. Your tongue is . . . really white,” and I say, “What do you mean, white?” and the rest of the my family suddenly makes a noise like a vampire seeing a cross and even a couple of people standing next to me take a small step back. My wife snaps a photo on her phone and shows it to me.

Oh, I think, they meant white. Like paper. Or snow. Or a ghost. My tongue had been drained of all color and now it just looked like someone had shoved one of those weird albino dog turds between my lips.

I clap my hands together and say, “Well . . . so . . . to the hospital then?” and without any verbal agreement, we all just turn and start walking back to the car.

 

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MY BLOODY VALENTINE: CHAPTER 35

 

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Days pass like kidney stones. Dr. Oz is playing and so I think it must be around noon. I want to push the TV off the shelf. I hate how standardized it is. I hate how scheduled it is. I hate how predictable the entire process is. I hate that everyone on the TV is so happy and falsely charming and plastic. I hate them gazing out at me, into my house, not seeing me but trying to talk to me, give me advice, counsel me, imagining that they, the daytime teevees, know everything what the world is going through; the details, the minutia, the process.

My hormones are going off the wall and through the roof. My testicle (both my testicles) are missing and I’m angry and then I’m sad. I tell my mom that I love her and then I want to break a vase but only one that’s owned by a person that pronounces it vozz. I cover my head with a blanket and just want to be left alone in the silence. I want to paint my nails black, embrace death, and write gothic poetry about moonbeams, dark angels, and religious sacrifices. I shut my eyes and try to logically explain to myself that I’m not upset or happy or sad, it’s all hormones. It’s all just a chemical reaction in my brain and your brain is misfiring left and right. I would see a piece of vanilla cake and want to cut it with a knife . . . but not to eat it. I just want to hurt it because it’s pretty.

I begin to feel as though my emotions (like everything else) are outside of my control. Imagine you’re at your workplace and you’re doing a phenomenal job and you have been doing a phenomenal job for a year or two. You’re at the absolute top of your game, proud of your achievements and when raise time comes around, you go into your boss’s office and he fires you on the spot for not performing at company standards.

So, of course, you’re really mad. You’re furious at him and at the company. And that’s fine because those feelings are totally normal for that circumstance.

Now imagine you’re sitting on a beach and you’ve got the place totally to yourself, with nice weather, good food, a special someone. You sit back, pull out a beer, and then you feel that horrible flood of emotions mentioned above. They’re not tied to anything; there is no event, past or present. They just show up randomly and you want to hiss and fight.

When you lose control of your hormones, you lose control of yourself. You become a slave to their chemical whims and it’s very scary because it all happens at a moment’s notice.

So I stand up and coast slowly into the bathroom where I remove my shirt, pull out my AndroGel-steroid-hormone-medication pump (or, My New Testicles) and apply two full squirts of the gel onto my shoulder blades. It quickly dissipates into a sticky residue that I have to let dry on my skin, covering me in a thin sheen that “no one is allowed to touch under any circumstances. Doctor’s orders.”

I hobble back into the dining room just as Dr. Oz is ending and I stare at him with his chiseled features and his piercing eyes and his charming smile and voice like buttered bread and I say, “If I ever meet you, I’m going to bite your ear off,” and then it’s 12:30 and he’s gone and something else comes on and the television is just as predictable as—something unexpectedly moves past the living room window in a dark blur. It’s outside and it was quick but I saw it, whatever it was. I say, “Uh . . . Jade,” and she says, “Yeah?” and I look over at my mom and she says, very sheepishly, “What? What? Whaaaaaat?” and I say, “Who is here?” and Jade says, “Someone is here? I need to pick up the house!” and then I hear footsteps whose tone, weight, and cadence immediately harkens me back to my childhood. There’s a sudden knock on the door. It’s brief but with a level of force that I recognize.

When I see that both Jade and my mother are waiting for me to get up and answer the door, I simply do so vocally. “Come in!” The doorknob twists and in walk my sister and dad.

I stand up in a state of shock, my nipples hard from the cold air, my frame an old flannel on a wire hanger. My sister and dad approach me, both smiling, knowing they’ve surprised me. My sister reaches me first and throws out her arms but I jerk backward and throw up my hands as though I were fending off a mugger, screaming something that sounds like, “I-wahh-kooo!” which is not so much a word as it is a guttural noise that translates roughly to, “Don’t touch me, I’m wearing AndroGel Man Poison.”

I tell my sister that if she were to touch me she’d grow a mustache and so I instead stick out my arm, shaking hands with her. She stares at me and grips my hand and tears suddenly fill her eyes and I say, “Thanks for coming,” and she, never good with words but always full of emotions, croaks out, “Yes, yes, of course. Always. Anything. Wouldn’t miss it.” I release her hand and step around her to my father, who I’ve never seen eye to eye with. I stick out my hand and he embraces me and I say, “Thank you for coming,” and he says, “How do you feel?” and I say, “Good . . . . That’s a lie. I’m sick.” He releases me and I wander back to My Yellow Chair, slip down into it, cover myself up with a blanket and shut my eyes while my dad speaks, always in his precise and succinct military fashion.

“We drove all day yesterday and then all night. Stopped in a Kmart parking lot and slept for two and a half hours and then kept going. Made it from South Dakota to California in record time; twenty-one and a half hours!”

This is my dad. These are his passions. Personal time trials.

He asks what we want to do today and I shut my eyes and say, “This is it,” and he says, “You guys wanna go to the beach?” and I say, “No,” and he says, “Car museum?” and I say, “I can’t walk.” He purses his lips and I say, “Welcome to the suck.”

My dad sits down next to me, unfolds a newspaper, and begins to read. My sister sits at the table and texts her boyfriend. And so goes the rest of the day.

 

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

 

Cancer made me into an agoraphobic. I was afraid to go anywhere, everywhere, because, and I know I’ve probably mentioned this to death, my sudden trigger vomiting was so powerful and out of control that I was afraid I would be caught in public without access to a restroom. My home was my comfort zone and I didn’t want to leave it for fear of being caught in the open.

My home was my sanctuary.

The following day we go out for Mexican food and then to an early show of My Bloody Valentine in 3-D. For ninety minutes, I sit between my dad and sister and watch naked chicks get hacked to pieces. The movie was my choice and I regretted every minute of it. As the credits begin to roll I feel my stomach turn over and I stand up and say, “I think . . . I’m going to be sick,” and my mom says, “OK, we’re leaving,” and I say, “No . . . I’m going to be sick right now,” and people are sort of just shuffling in the aisles like lost sheep stupidly grazing and I’m about to heave and puke and when it happens I know, I can just feel it, that it’s not going to stop, it’s going to roll and wave and heave and push and pour and nothing within a 15-foot radius will be safe from my spray and so I shout the word, “MOVE!” and everyone does. Everyone in the entire row sits down or steps aside and I run with the undiscovered fusion energy of an atom bomb. I leap over laps, hurdle seats, lunge down stairs, race up the inclined aisle, marathon down the halls, find the restrooms, kick open the doors, push pass a group of people in line, shove past a man just entering the stall and just as I say, “Excuse m—“ it all comes up, red and yellow and brown and lumpy like potatoes, again and again and again, spittle and saliva and bile hanging from my lips and pouring from my nose. My hands clutch the handicap rails and I hate everything about this. I’m angry at myself for puking, for vomiting, for not being able to keep it together.

There’s a very internal struggle happening wherein I start to get very angry at myself and pick and peck and poke and say, “You pussy. You pussy. Get your shit together. Pull it together,” and I puke again and it’s cherry red and I don’t know what I’ve eaten but it just looks like more blood. I wish more than anything that I were just at home, back in the comforts of my four walls, my territory, my familiar space; back in My Yellow Chair, under my jacket; back on the couch, under a blanket; in my bed. Somewhere where “making a scene” is not considered “making a scene.”

You know you’re amongst close family when you can puke in front of them and they all just keep eating dinner like nothing happened.

I heave again and a tear runs down my face, dropping into the toilet. My stomach feels like it’s tearing open and I push my knuckles against the cold tile wall. My legs shake and I bend down, proposing to Queen Porcelain, my knees instantly soaking with the piss of strangers.

I hate what I’ve become.

I hear a door open and I dry heave and cough and dry heave and cover my hand over my mouth and wipe my lips on my sleeve and push my face into my shoulder and I just want to weep. I hate being such a convalescent. I am twenty-six years old. I should be in peak health!

There’s a tap on the bathroom stall and my dad says, “Are you OK?” and I say, “No . . . but . . . yeah. I’ll be out in just a minute,” and he says, “OK,” and then I hear him take a few steps away from the door and wait.

My father and I have never been emotionally close and so I anticipate him waiting for me in the hallway, taking the extra ten steps and giving me that “casual privacy” you would offer to someone who is sick. But instead he sits on the sink and waits and suddenly the bathroom isn’t so bad.

 

 

 

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Star Wars: The Last Jihad

 

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What is a story? What value do stories play in our culture? Do they contain any value? Are they simply the things we use to pass the time? A good book, a fine film, a tall tale before bed.

Or can stories be something greater than that? Are stories the DNA of our culture, the history of our people – both where we’re from and where we’re heading. “Our people” being whatever culture class you happen to belong to; race, religion, sexual preference, generation, geographic location, political affiliation, economic status, etc.

What happens when stories – fictitious fantasy tales – become something a little more real? What happens when the story begins writing the people and not the other way around?

A story writing people!? That’s insane!

I agree. But the world is filled with insane people with even more insane ideas. So even though it’s weird and wild, maybe it isn’t unbelievable.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps the story that was told to you sounds something like this…

“America is the best country on Earth and you should be honored to live here, Johnny. Brave and courageous people have sacrificed their lives so that you could be free. God, The God, The One-And-Only Jesus Christ made manifest, name above all names, is for the USA. We are cowboys and good guys and we’re rebels but we have the faith of Christ and He shall guide us to thwart Evil, in all of its heinous forms. Things that are evil include, but are not limited to: pedophiles, homosexuals and Mormons.”

That’s one version of the Midwest-Conservative-Christian story. Maybe you didn’t get that one. You might have gotten something else that sounded more like this…

“I pledge allegiance to the flag.”

That’s a powerful story told in one sentence. Only six words long. But the story it tells…

PLEDGE: a solemn promise or agreement.

ALLEGIANCE: loyalty or devotion to some person, group or cause.

FLAG: Symbol of person, group or cause.

My children are seven but, since they were five, the public school system has had them reciting this story to themselves. I go to their school functions and I listen to my children make a solemn promise to ally their loyalty to a government and country which they don’t understand.

A solemn promise to remain loyal. On repeat. Everyday. For a seven year old.

One more definition before we continue.

Mind control (also known as brainwashing, coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform) refers to a process in which a group or individual “systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s), often to the detriment of the person.

I guess we could further define “unethically manipulative” if we wanted to, but I’d define it as “having a child repeat something every day of his or her life in the hopes that they grow up willing to voluntarily murder another human being for you.”

Just my opinion.

 

So I have to wonder if that story begins to write the person. If that small sentence begins to write the story for my children instead of the other way around. Instead of my children witnessing the greatness of a fantastic culture and being swayed by it’s awesome power and empathy towards the hurting and hungry, which would then in turn cause authentic loyalty, we instead tell them a story over. And over. And over. And over. Until the story is true and there is no choice but to believe the lie.

And the story starts to write the person, making “truths” into “reality”.

If we tell ourselves everyday that we are stupid and ugly and unworthy of success and human kindness, we will see the world watching us and judging us as stupid and ugly and unworthy of success and human kindness.

Because we don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.

And the things we tell ourselves make us who we are.

I pledge allegiance to the flag.

Do you? Really?

 

This isn’t a post about the Pledge of Allegiance and how I think it’s brainwashing all of us. I do think that and I don’t recite it but that is neither here nor there. I do love America. But I also love Cuba and France and Iraq. Because I love Earth and people, not people defined by a piece of land they live on or a god they worship or who is putting their D* where.

*dick

This is a post about stories and the power they have over us.

Here’s another story. Maybe you’ve seen this one.

“The Empire is wreaking galactic havoc. The Dark Lord is taking control. Only one small group of Rebels can save us.” That’s a very old story. One that’s been told over and over and over as well. From the twelve disciples to Harry Potter to the founding of our very own country, The Rebel Rising Story has been told. And we love it.

But most recently it’s been portrayed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi a film in which, after two viewings I still have mixed feelings about it. But I say that in a good way. It was a film that made me step out of the theater and think for a bit. Ponder perplexing proposals.

Not only does the film ask us to redefine The Force, it also asks us to redefine how we perceive Good and Evil – the forces that pull us in our own lives. It’s been so easy for so long to point at something and say Black or White. Good or Evil. Harry Potter or Lord Voldemort. Christian or Other. American or Other. Rebel or Empire. Jedi or Sith. Yin or Yang. This or That.

But what happens when, through the usage of technology, the internet and social media, our world begins to shrink and people we thought we knew and understood as evil, suddenly begin to seem a little less strange? What happens when we uncover the gray area that surrounds all of us and see that we have more in common than we have apart? What happens when we stop looking at life as a Black-or-White-This-or-That switch and instead begin looking at it as a 4-Dimensional spectrum of rotating color. More a piece of art and less a technical analysis.

Suddenly, things look a little different.

What happens when the way we see the world doesn’t line up with the story we’ve been told?

What happens when I’ve pledged my allegiance to a country, flag, organization because they are the best the world has, both in power and morality, but then you learn that your heroes are flawed. What happens if you find out they’re not just flawed by amoral? What happens when you discover that the group you’ve pledged to – made that solemn vow since you were five – were not only amoral, but what happens when you decide that they don’t have your best interests at heart at all and that they are only manipulating you with lies to keep you as ignorant and passive as possible so that you continue to recite your story and pay your taxes and keep your head down and pull the trigger to kill The Enemy.

Here’s another story, this one is from The Last Jedi.

The film opens up and there’s this fantastic space battle happening. The Empire has cornered the Rebels and they’re getting ready to finally 86 them. But by God, there’s one last hope. There’s this Rebel-ship that is strapped with explosives. Some kind of cruiser hits the Rebel Ship and the soldier in charge of hitting The Big Red Button that drops these bombs onto the enemy ship, has been thrown to the ground and can’t get up. Maybe her back is broken. I don’t totally know. They don’t really get into that.

But what I do know is that she can still kick. Really hard. So she kicks this ladder. Over and over and over again. Because at the top of the ladder is The Big Red Button. And if she can get The Big Red Button, she can drop the bombs on the Empire ship and blow shit up. Another win for the good guys.

So she’s kicking this ladder and the music is building up, as it does. And she reaches up and she grabs this medallion around her neck. It looks like some kind of crescent with runic notations on it.

The Force. The symbol of The Force, their great religion. For which to fight. For which to die. For which to kill.

It’s her sign of hope. Her prayer. Her flag. Her cross. She holds her symbol and kicks one more time. The Big Red Button drops, she catches it and the bombs fall. Mission successful. The Empire takes a big hit.

Here’s another scene from the same movie. Towards the end the Rebels have gotten cornered in a kind of mine on a salt planet. The last of our heroes are tucked into this little bunker and right outside is Death.

But Rebels never say die.

Here come our rebels. They fly out of the mine in their shitty little cruisers flip-flopping all over the place. The floors are falling out. They’re wobbling about. These guys are really boot-strapping the war effort but this is it.

Main Character Finn, a storm trooper who deserted his post to join the Rebels finds himself hurtling towards some kind of Important Empire Vehicle that is resting on the ground. It’s a big machine that is blowing out heat and is going to kill everyone. Finn’s plan, albeit a last minute plan, is to save his team by flying his ship directly up the heat stream, into the engine turbine, effectively destroying The Important Empire Vehicle, killing himself and allowing The Rebels, the good guys, to live another day.

I have never experienced a theater of Americans emotionally cheering so hard for a suicide bomber.

But that’s the power of story.

That’s the power of narrative.

Story is a powerful tool that allows us to see the same thing from two different sides.

Here’s one more story…

“You are from a poor land but it’s because God favors the meek. Our people have been chosen by The Great One. All others only desire evil. Evil must be eradicated because it is against God, pure GOOD. Rebels, join me. Rebels, rise up. Rebels, come together. Rebels, come to fight. Rebels, here is a plan. Rebels, let us take these planes and Rebels, let us fly them into the World Trade Center in the United States, that land of The Empire. Guide us o’ Great Religion! Let us come out of our caves and cobble together whatever plan we can in order to make peace. In order to save the world. In order to bring peace… through destroying our enemies.”

I have to wonder how many times those men in those planes reached up to touch their symbol hanging from their neck to draw encouragement and bravery. I have to wonder how many times those men, as young men, were asked to recite a Pledge to their Higher Power.

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a lollipop?

How many repetitions does it take to get to the center of your brain? A prayer. A pledge. Once a day your entire childhood and developmental years should do the trick.

Do you know why Star Wars: The Last Jedi and 911 are not the same thing? Beyond, one is real and one is not? They’re not the same thing because of where we happen to be sitting when the event occurred. And our personal position in the process is what makes all the difference.

It is not good or evil.

It is good. To us.

And evil. To us.

And because we are thoughtless, tiny, self-centered, idiotic beasts, filled with self-importance, we often times can’t see that we cheer and recoil from the exact same things. Because, while we tell ourselves a story that we are smart and educated and self-aware and “woke”, we are truly nothing more than advanced mushrooms reacting to the simple emotional stimuli of our environment as pre-programmed into us by our culture.

Simple life forms who’s self-awareness only gives them the illusion of complexity.

“If they are not like us, we must devour them. Destroy them. Conform or you will be conquered.” This is the mantra of the Radical Islamist Terrorists that attacked America on 911.

And because of that, it was evil.

However, this was also the mantra of the Europeans when they arrived on the scene and found To-Be America crowded with Indians // Native Americans // Indigenous People.

This will never do. No shirts, no shoes, no civilization.

“Conform or you will be conquered.”

After all, if we’re to compare apples to apples, around 3000 people were killed on 911 but I have to wonder how many Indigenous People found themselves shot before having their infants get their brains bashed in by the boot-heels of hungry American settlers.

Die, savage.

Also, why don’t they just get over it? Why don’t the Indians just get over that genocide thing? Chin up, buckaroo! Why don’t the blacks just get over slavery? C’mon, chief! It was only human trafficking, rape and torture! Get over it already! Why ya gotta be such a cry-baby!

Shrugs. Why don’t we just get over 911?

Why don’t we just get over an absolutely horrendous human atrocity that was committed directly against our “group”, in which we / I / you felt the personal emotional attack of?

We don’t get over it because the story we tell ourselves regarding 911 is that there are good guys and there are bad guys and we for sure know the difference. We for sure know where everyone is standing and who is who because we have the script. We have the story.

But our sons and daughters!

But everyone’s sons and daughters.

As an outsider not from this Earth, I see it and say this is a true tragedy.

I’m just talking about the power of story. Just as an observation.

We’re interesting creatures, aren’t we? We love to define everything in our world. We love to say if something is good or evil and, by God, if something is evil, it cannot exist in our world. Our reality. Our version of reality.

Indigenous People on our land. Gay couples and wedding cakes. Black folk in our schools and a goddamn atheist living right down the street from me in my Christian nation! How is a person supposed to live in a world filled with so much diversity?

How is a person to function in a culture filled with so many people that are nothing like me?

How do we listen instead of judge? How do we remove judgement entirely and replace it with a calm sense of understanding? Jesus tried this and it got him hooked to a tree. Martin Luther King tried it and it got him the long goodnight.

We don’t want peace! We want blood! Because we are cavemen in suits and we are only feigning being civilized.

I believe we must ask ourselves if the stories we’ve been telling ourselves… are even true. Even the ones that seem the truest. Even the ones closest and most dearest to us.

My God, could it be that the very story I’m telling myself is as insane as the ones that everyone else is telling themselves? Could it be? Could it be that I am… wrong? That is a very uncomfortable feeling to face.

Being raised in a Christian home, I was raised to believe that my beliefs were authentic and real and everyone else had imposter relations with an improper God that was basically Satan masquerading himself.

But not my beliefs. Not my stories. Not our stories. Our stories were real. Everything else was a lie.

Our God was real. He was the only one that was real. All other religious experiences that any single person throughout history on the face of the Earth outside of my very specific belief system were merely… false. Lies. They were being misled by The Evil One.

Our country was the greatest. The biggest, baddest mother-fucker on the block and we’ll kick your ass if you fuck with us. We were also the kindest.

Wait just a minute! That doesn’t make sense. Are we kind and we take in the poor and feed the hungry or are we a bully who shows up to a knife fight?

I guess it just depends who’s telling you the story and where you happen to be sitting.

What stories have been told to you?

What stories are you telling yourself?

Maybe your story is that you aren’t good enough. That you aren’t talented enough. Smart enough. Savvy enough. Maybe the story you tell yourself is that you don’t deserve That Job. That Spouse. That Money. That Opportunity.

Maybe you tell yourself a personal story that puts you automatically in second place because you don’t think you have what it takes to be in first. Or maybe you’re like me and told yourself a story your entire life where you put yourself in last place over and over again, thinking that you didn’t deserve something, anything, because you weren’t good enough for it. Those things were for other people.

And if that’s the story you tell yourself, you’re probably right. In fact, you definitely are.

Because our stories craft our realities.

If we don’t write our own stories, if we don’t craft our own truths and our own realities, if we don’t tell ourselves who we are and decide for ourselves, then our stories – a random collection of gathered information passed down arbitrarily from one ape mouth to the next, completely unquestioned – write us.

Maybe you’ve allowed someone else in your life to write your story. Maybe it wasn’t Mother Culture for you. Maybe it was a close person or close people. Your family. Your parents. Your spouse. Your roommate. Perhaps you’ve given them the pen and allowed them to tell you that you don’t deserve something or are unworthy of something. Perhaps you keep reading the story they write for you. Those people are terrible authors. Throw away their book. Don’t ask for your pen back. Just take it back.

I wonder what happens if we all begin telling ourselves a new story. A story that doesn’t need a God or a Government to direct us. A story that says, “I am compassionate to all living things, including myself. When I make a mistake, I forgive myself and I try again. When another makes a mistake and harms me, I will forgive them and allow them to try again. But I also won’t put up with bullshit. Because life is too short to be crowded by ignorant assholes trying to ruin the show. I am going to do my best because that is all I have. I am going to believe in myself. I am going to give others, regardless of who or what they align with, nothing but understanding and sympathy because I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone except me. I acknowledge that my field of vision is very narrow. But I’m working on scoping it out.

I don’t know what it’s like to be gay or black or Mormon or female or a senior citizen or deaf or, gasp, Harvey Weinstein. I only know what it’s like to be me. That’s all I can really be certain of. And even that seems to be changing day to day.

I understand that conflict occurs. It’s inevitable because we tell ourselves a story that it is inevitable and so we live in a world wherein war is acceptable.

Rape: unacceptable.

Murder: unacceptable

Murder if the President asks you to: HONOR!

Sure, you have to be brainwashed first and give up your right to think but at the end you might just get the little purple heart on your shirt that makes you feel important. My kids get something similar when they do something kind in school. I’m not minimizing. I’m drawing parallels. Because it’s the same logic and neurologically it affects the human brain in the same way. Rewards. It’s the same reason we like getting comments and likes on our social media feeds.

They’re playing us. They’re using our emotions against us. Playing our biology against us. They know this.

God, it’s tragic. The value we place on such horrific acts. Quickly, reward the unquestioning soldier for he is a great tool to us! If we throw him some meat and praise him, he will most certainly do the violent act again!

I believe the quote is, “Forgive them, Father. For they know not what they do.”

Social media. A place to exchange ideas! I have never ever seen so many people talking to themselves before. It’s like a room full of schizophrenics. Everyone talking. Nobody listening.

We can be the Rebels. Being a rebel is cool. I get the appeal. But let’s be the Rebels in real life that stand apart from Herd Mentality.

Why do I believe… what I believe?

What story… is being told to me?

Serious question for the Star Wars junkies out there. Has anyone even bothered to ask what Snoke’s policies look like? Does anyone know what General Hux is trying to accomplish? Or do we judge them because they dress in black and look evil and speak in accents.

We can listen but do we hear?

The African American community screams, “We are being treated unfairly and shot dead in the streets!” and a crowd of decidedly un-black people shout back, “Shut the fuck up and sit down! Stop talking! Stop complaining! Don’t you know this is America! The greatest nation on Earth! Where opportunity is galore for anyone that tries to succeed!”

Never-mind the fantastic poverty rate.

Are we listening or are we hearing?

Can we hear someone of a different faith when we walk into the conversation believing them to be fundamentally wrong? Can we listen to a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist if we already believe that we are right and they are wrong and we know and they do not? Can we hear someone of a different race or sexual preference if we think that all races and people experience the world exactly like we do, therefore, we are right.

If they only had my information! If they only saw things like I saw things! Then they’d know! If they could only be just like me, this would all be better.

How do we hear a different opinion if we are right.

And how smug do you think a person has to be in order to believe that they have figured out everything? To think that they were able to get an A+ on the Life Test wherein they pegged the correct God amongst thousands, the proper political party amongst several in their country, and also happened to be born in the greatest nation this planet has to offer.

I’ve heard a lot of stories.

And that last one is pretty unbelievable.

A person with nothing left to learn is a person who doesn’t realize how uneducated they are. And an uneducated person is the most dangerous thing of all.

Rebel against that. Rebel against ignorance. Rebel against your own ignorance by first understanding that it is camouflaged into your “truths”. Rebel by learning. Rebel by rising above The Empire and, instead of crushing our enemies beneath our boot-heels like Kylo Ren spraying Luke with the AT-AT blasters, we simply close our eyes and listen and understand that nothing is good nor bad.

Only we are, as viewers of the greatest play on Earth.

 

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ICE CREAM: CHAPTER 34

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PART 4

“The sun is gone, but I have a light.”

–Kurt Cobain

 

I’m lying in my living room, completely healed, cancer free, and asking myself, “Is this remission?” because I still feel naked and exposed and vulnerable. I still feel sick and there’s still a bucket resting on the floor next to me.

I’ve been home for one day, and even with the good news, great news, fantastic news, it’s the worst day yet. I’m still bearing the weight of five months of chemotherapy and my mind and body are just as atrophied as ever and the world around me is still too much and too intense to comprehend. Everything is still flooding. I am still drowning in poison. The battle is no longer me versus cancer. It’s now me versus chemo. I’m a contestant on the world’s worst episode of Fear Factor. Joe Rogan says, “Can he take one more round of chemotherapy!?” and my competitors are all trying to slam me and say things like, “He looks like that skeleton in biology classrooms!” and, “He ain’t got game!” and, “Bitch needs to go hoooome,” and I wish so badly that I could just walk off this really terrible game show and simply give up.

Outside of my house, crawling down the street at a slug’s pace, I can hear the ice-cream man and his filthy truck slithering toward all the kiddies. His speaker and stereo have been broken the entire time we’ve lived in this house so his music always sounds like a predatory warning more than a cheerful welcome. He’s the ice-cream man in a Wes Craven film. I hear his music and always picture him smoking rolled cigarettes, yellow teeth, yellow eyes, totally emaciated, some junkie pushing dairy.

The “music” gets louder and louder, the speaker scratching and popping, hissing and whining, the tune slowing down and speeding up, the music bending like a warped record. It’s elevator music leading to Dante’s inferno.

I shut my eyes and tell myself that he’ll be gone in a moment. I tell myself to just hang on, to just breathe, to just pray, to just focus on something, anything. I put a pillow over my head but I can still hear the noise, the sound, boring into my brain, into the center of me, into my veins, my soul. It’s pushing me against the wall and cracking me open and breaking me and I can’t get away from it and it’s not going to make me puke but it is going to destroy me if he stops and then he does stop. He stops right outside my house, right outside my window, and the tune plays over and over and over and over and over again, looping on loops on loops, breaking and bending, warping and warbling, slowing and speeding. No children are approaching the van. The siren wails and screams, and then it does break me and I wish I could explain this to you better than I am but I also hope you never understand. I wish I could reach into your brain and into your stomach and squeeze your nuts until you cough up blood and twist the knife so you know what it feels like, how the music makes me feel, how the chemo makes me feel, how the poison makes me feel, how the medicine makes me feel, because it’s not an ice-cream truck, it’s an Ice-Cream Truck and it’s like one of those horrible ones from Maximum Overdrive or one of the Decepticons and I know it has ultimate intelligence and it knows that I’m in here and its sole purpose and intention is to do only one thing and that one thing is to seek and destroy.

Me.

And then the missile, the A-Bomb, the C-chord, the broken and beaten tune sniffs me out and finds me and I am done. I break down and I weep uncontrollably, and it’s not because I’m sad and it’s not because I’m sick and it’s not because I’m depressed but it’s because of the Ice-Cream Truck and that music and it hurts so bad in such a foreign way and I am drowning.

Someone touches my shoulder and I pull the blanket down and pull the pillow off my head and pull my hood back and take off my hat and open my eyes and Jade is standing there and she says, “Are you—oh . . . . Are you crying?” and I say, “The . . . ice-cream truck! It’s trying to kill me!” and she says, “Are you high?” and I say, “No,” and she says, “Do you want to be?” and I roll off the couch and caterpillar myself into the kitchen. Jade carries my cocoon behind me and wraps me back up in My Yellow Chair.

My wife sets the machine down in front of me and I begin to examine the plastic tube while my mother grinds the plant like an apothecary. Where it was once translucent and clean, it’s now become discolored with muck the shade of infected urine. Whether that’s from the plant or the burn, I’m not certain, but I have to stop and wonder if my throat looks like an organic replica.

I mindlessly rub my Adam’s apple and intentionally cough up something deep down. Unwilling to swallow it I spit it into my puke bucket.

Brown.

Something grotesque wafts under my nose and I turn my face away. Some repugnant scent; something bitter and acrid; something . . . I lift my arm . . . it’s me. I turn my head and look in the mirror and I am truly one mottled beard away from looking like a wilderness person.

My wife says, “John?” and I say, “Huh? Yes?” and she says, “What’s wrong?” and I say, “I . . . need a bath,” and she says, “A bath?” and I say, “Yeah . . . I smell like shit,” and she stands up and walks out of the room and I hear the bathtub turn on and I hear the octaves of aqua slowly rise and she comes back and holds out her hand and I stand up and she supports me into the bathroom where steam rises out of the small pool.

She shuts the door behind me and she unzips my coat and pulls it off my shoulders and lets it fall to the ground, revealing my true size. She pulls my hat off, revealing my smooth skull. She pulls my shirt off, revealing my ribs and emaciated arms. She unbuckles my belt and pulls off my pants, revealing my hairless legs and finally, she pulls off my underwear, revealing my scar. I take one step onto the scale and she says, “Don’t . . . ” and I say, “Wait . . . ” and I see that I am 130 pounds completely stark naked. I am the same weight as a large dog, a Great Dane. I am the same weight as a high-school girl.

I look at myself in the mirror and I suddenly see me. Not the way I have seen myself, which is in such minute changes that I haven’t seen change but I suddenly see myself as I was and now as I am, two people at once. I see a stranger. I see a disease. I see struggle and I see . . . Survival.

I see Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard covered in blood and bruises, broken glass stuck in his feet. I see Bruce Campbell at the end of Army of Darkness, covered in filth and pelted by evil. I see Bruce Springsteen.

I am The Boss.

I turn and step off the scale and Jade holds my geriatric elbow as I step into the steaming water and lower my smelly body into the scented fragrance and perfumes and soaps and steams and I say, “Thank you,” and she says, “You’re welcome,” and then she picks up a washcloth and dips it in the water and begins to scrub my back and my chest and my legs and here I am, I realize, at my weakest and my most vulnerable. So far, anyway.

She points to my bicep, or, at the very least, the place on my arm where my bicep should be and says, “What is this?” I look down and see dark brown striations running underneath my skin that look like tiger scratches or stretch marks. I exhale and say, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention those. The chemo is burning my skin from the inside.”

So small is this on the full scale of weirdness that it doesn’t even warrant further conversation from either of us.

She runs the washcloth over the marks (which don’t wash off), over my head and over my face and the water runs down my chin and I think that five months ago I was a pothead driving to Las Vegas, screaming on the freeway and singing at the top of my lungs, watching the sun rise, the biggest concern in my life a job that I didn’t enjoy.

Five months.

Like a car accident, it all happened so fast and spun out of control so quickly; it all came out of nowhere and suddenly I was thrust over the steering wheel and I was crashing through the windshield and falling and falling and falling until my wife is giving me a sponge bath because I can’t do it myself. An ice-cream truck reduces me to tears. I don’t recognize myself.

Five months.

Water trickles off my chin and I try to look into the future. I try to gaze five months down the road. Chemotherapy will be done, remission will have begun, my mom will have gone home, I will have gone back to work and . . . it all seems like an intangible impossibility. None of it seems likely or possible or even probable.

I say, “Do you think this will end?” and Jade says, “Soon,” and I say, “It seems weird, doesn’t it? Going back to normal,” and Jade says, “Things will never be normal again,” and I nod and grunt and she scrubs my knees and my feet and I say, “We’ll never be the same, will we?” and she says, “No,” and then, “I hope not,” and I grunt again, glad that she is having her own revelations.

She says, “I want to travel more,” and I say, “I want to camp more,” and she says, “I want a family,” and I say, “Me too,” and then everything is silent except for the dripping water until I say, “One drip at a time,” and she says, “Yeah . . . we did it . . . one drip at a time. Only a few bags left,” and I shudder to think that it’s over but we’re not done. My tears mix with the water running down my face and the thought of another round is so unbearable that I have to push it from my mind and focus on the victory at hand.

She pushes her forehead against my ear and whispers, “I love you,” and I say, “Thank you,” and she says, “For what?” and I say, “Everything. For staying. For helping. For just . . . the doctors, the files, the organizing, the appointments, the medicines, the charts, the insurance, the fights with the hospital, with the nurses, with the doctors, with me. Thank you for just . . . everything. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here. I really don’t. I’m so thankful for you and I hope I never have to be on your end. I hope you never have to be on my end. I hope this is it and you’ve just been . . . incredible. I love you,” and when I look over she has tears running down her face and so I say, “Hey! We’re both crying!” and she says, “You’re—” sob, “not crying . . . ” and I say, “No!” Sob! “I am! I was just hiding my tears in the water! It was total espionage because I didn’t—” sob, “want you to know it!” and then she says, “You’re an idiot,” and I say, “I—” sob, “know,” and then she hands me a towel and I walk out of the bathroom smelling less like sulfur and more like a Starbucks winter-themed drink—pumpkin latte or cinnamon mochaccino.

 

 

 

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MINOR DETAILS: CHAPTER 33

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In the hospital, over the course of the following week, I get sick, I sleep and I listen to people talk. Everything happens as I imagine/predicted/knew. The Cure consumes me and turns me into a writhing mop of hopelessness.

The back of my throat is sore and bleeding, completely unrelated to Cancer and chemo, just a side effect of having no immune system. My wisdom tooth on my right side begins to force its way through my gums, making my jaw line feel swollen. Every time I move my mouth, a needle gets shoved into the root of my tooth. I drink Anbesol by the liter, hoping to drown out the pain.

I sit in the bathroom, get high, blow it into our homemade prison filter, apply Anbesol and try to eat, but everything is just too out of control. The Cycle is in full force and nothing can slow it down. There are no breaks on this ride.

Marijuana and over-the-counter pain medication aside, I still have a tremendously sore throat that feels like it’s made up of aluminum foil. Eating has become this thing that I used to be able to do; I am a bird with clipped wings dreaming of flying.

Dietary calls me and asks if I’d like the chicken or fish and I know they both look like they’ve just been pulled out of a drain pipe so I say, “Could I just have six iced teas, please?” and the man says, “Excuse me?” and I say, “Iced tea. You have iced tea?” and he says, “Oh . . . yes,” and I say, “I don’t want any food. You may keep the food. But I would like six glasses of your iced tea. It’s very delicious,” and he says, “Uh, yes. Yes, OK . . . six . . . uh . . . iced teas. Anything else?” and I say, “Popsicles,” and he hangs up.

While we wait for lunch, my mother and I slowly walk downstairs, IV in tow, outside to the “garden area,” a small block of concrete with a fake tree in a wicker basket. We sit on a bench and let the sunshine touch our skin and I notice, even in the middle of the day, even in the daylight, everything is cast in blue. Everything is cold and sterile. Everything is prosthetic. Half a block away, standing by the street, I see a healthy-looking man smoking a cigarette. My heart breaks for him and my guts wrench in my stomach and I want to run to him and say, “Listen to me! Look at me! I have lung cancer! Put that thing down! You’re young! You’re beautiful! Go get married! Go buy a fast car! Go to a rock and roll show!” and I want to rip the cigarette out of his mouth and stomp on it and just wheeze at him.

Instead I just gag and my mom asks me if I want to head upstairs. From the garden to our room on the fifth floor, it’s an easy four-minute walk, moving at a nice casual pace; the kind of pace where you put your hands behind your back and whistle.

It takes us twenty-five minutes. If I moved any slower I’d start drifting backward through time. I take small shuttling steps like a slow-motion Geisha, one floor, one hall, one tile at a time. We reach the elevator and my mom presses the CALL button while I sit down on a nearby chair, trying to catch my breath for the second half of our epic quest, this adventure from the garden to the room that is nothing short of Frodo’s quest to Mordor; my will and fortitude, my stamina and strength being tested.

The elevator door slides opens and a mother walks out with a young boy, maybe eight or nine. He’s got straight blonde hair the color of notebook paper and dull brown eyes, his shirt sporting some superhero television icon of the week. He’s healthy. His mom is healthy. I see their visitor badges and know that they’re either on their way out or on their way to the gift shop to buy candy bars and dying flowers.

Suddenly, I have this moment of clarity and I am standing outside of time and space. I’m shot through a wormhole and I can see this kid who’s standing in front of me, barely old enough to be called a prepubescent. I see him growing up. I see him meeting a girl and falling in love. I see that the girl smokes and I see that he takes one of her cigarettes. I see them driving down the freeway. He smokes two back to back and his buzz turns to nausea. I see him turn 18 and I see him buy his first pack. I see his summer fling with Chesterfields, his love affair with Parliaments and his eventual marriage to Camel Lights. I see him standing outside of a hospital on a blue day, smoking a cigarette while some kid with cancer watches him from a hundred yards away, wishing there was something he could do to stop it, to show him, to intervene.

The kid walks past my mother, my pole, and myself and looks up at my skeletal face, my yellow skin and my dead eyes. I say, “Hey,” and he and his mother both stop and she turns and looks at me but I never break my gaze with the kid. I say, “I’ve got lung cancer because I smoked cigarettes. Don’t ever try them, no matter what, because you might end up here like me.”

And then I reach out and press the 5 button and the kid and the mom just stare at me as the door closes, both of them looking caught off guard, their mouths cracked ajar. To this day I don’t know if it was a good idea or not. I don’t know if it did anything or had any effect, but I hope it planted a seed.

Back in my room the six iced teas have already been delivered and are positioned perfectly 3×2 on a large plastic tray. I sit down on the bed, insert a straw, and pull a few drops into my mouth, tilt my head back and the plan is to let them trickle down my throat painlessly but my reflexes kick in at the last second and my Adam’s apple rises and falls and I’m forced to swallow and the pain sears the back of my throat like a cattle prod and I grimace and shut my eyes.

When I open them a man is standing in my room with a plastic briefcase and I know what he wants even before he asks but I don’t want to give it to him and I kick and scream and they restrain me with physical force and leather belts. They strap me to the bed and I try to bite them and I spit at them and curse. A large black man shoves his ass onto my face while a smaller white man grabs my wrist and commands my wife and mother to hold me down while he takes my blood. I scream and cry through the black man’s butt but it all comes out in noises that sound like a tuba. Grrr! Raaah! Blluuu! He jams the steel into my flesh and pulls out my blood and I bite the black man and he forces my head sideways and I try to bite his fingers and my wife is crying and screaming and my mother has mascara running down her face and she is wrenching her hands and they’ve both dropped to their knees, embarrassed at my less than civilized behavior and then the men are gone and I’m left panting, drooling, foaming at the mouth spitting out, “You don’t know me! You don’t know me! Don’t judge me! You ain’t been where I been! Walk in my shoes! Walk in myyyyyy shoes!”

Granted, this exchange is all allegory but will hopefully give you a greater glimpse into my psyche, a peek into my internal emotional breakdown, a preview to how I feel when those needles come out. The emotions tend to run high. Things become exaggerated . . . .

Days pass and nights pass and reality TV shows come and go and begin and end and nurses come and go and I get high and sober and I vomit and try to brush my teeth and vomit again. My wife and mother come and go, arriving in the morning and leaving in the evening. I stare at the ceiling and at the tiles and at the blank, black, dead television, and the television looks back into my blank, black, dead eyes. I turn it on and watch an episode of I Love Lucy with the sound completely muted. Even with no one talking I can tell where the jokes go, where the audience is supposed to laugh. I shut the television off, drink some water, gag twice, and fall asleep. I wake up and it’s morning. Another day passes. They take more blood, they bring more iced tea, I sit in the garden and try to fall asleep in the sun but can’t. My wife lies in bed with me and curls in close and whispers in my ear, “We’re halfway done. We’re over halfway done,” and the word we’re echoes back in my head on and on and on and I wonder what her personal journey has been like—stress, anxiety, depression. I know and understand, logically and emotionally, that the three of us (myself, my wife, and my mother), are all on this train together and the train is spinning out of control for each of us in very different ways. While I feel hopeless, they feel helpless, unable to change anything or make a difference; they’re forced to just sit down and watch.

Another night falls and another moon rises and there is a machine in the hall breathing for someone who I imagine is a man with stringy white hair and translucent skin, his hands covered in liver spots, his eyes milky clouds. Hufff . . . . Grrrr . . . . Huffff . . . . Grrrrr . . . .

I stare out the window into infinite space and pray, “God, I am so scared. I could really use some courage here. Please let me know that you’ve got my back.”

I exhale and shut my eyes, and like a popular flood, sleep overtakes me.

Hospitals are like sitcoms; if you spend enough time with one you just start to see the same characters over and over again; nurses, doctors, janitors, lab techs, nutritionists. They are the cast and I . . . I think I’m the audience but maybe I’m just another character. Probably I’d be the super sexy dying kid in room 502 that all the really hot nurses are into and all the older nurses wish were their son. My character would be really modest, as well. Modest and sexy. And funny.

And strong.

Channing Tatum would probably have to play me in the televised movie version. Channing Tatum or maybe The Rock.

On today’s episode there is a special-guest appearance by a new character. This is his only cameo, and I’ll never see him again. The man knocks and enters, pushing a small cart. He’s olive skinned, mid seventies, with tufts of white hair and deep lines set into his face like a cracked desert. I say, “Hello,” and he smiles at me and I can tell by the lines in his face that he smiles often.

He sets the tray on my table and says, “How are you today, young man?” and I say, “I’m as good as I can be today,” and he smiles and says, “That’s absolutely wonderful,” and then he turns around and leaves and I look at the clock and try to will it to move faster, hoping my mother and wife get here soon.

Hospitals are lonely places to be at with company. They’re like a sarcophagus when you’re alone.

I turn on the TV and immediately change my mind. I turn it off, turn my head, stare out the window. There’s a racetrack somewhere over there, the Santa Anita Park. Jade and her mother had once walked over there at my request to “put $25 on the horse with the funniest name.”

QuitYerBellyAchin cost me a pretty penny that day but I couldn’t complain without thinking about the irony the name and situation bore me.

Through the open window I watch all manners of cars drive to work during morning rush hour: silver Chevy Cavaliers and white Dodge Dynasties and red convertibles and blue Bonnevilles, and I desperately wish that I were sitting in any of those automobiles and I desperately wish I were driving to a job on the other side of the city and I wish I were zoning out to NPR, my body on autopilot, trying to get through the week instead of trying to get through the moment. I wish I were excited about lunch instead of fearing it.

It is at this moment that a great and fantastic revelation washes over me and life is suddenly so very clear. I’m standing at such great heights and I’m looking down at the world and I can see everything from a different perspective and I can see that we are all very tiny and desperate.

In that moment I realize that I can do anything. And in that moment I swear that when I get better, I will make wiser decisions and I will have a job that I love and I will only be driven by passion. I think to myself, “I never want to forget this. Burn it into your brain, into your soul. It’s easy to fall into routine. Keep it fresh. Stay sharp.”

I feel alive and free.

And then I grab one of the six iced teas, lift it to my lips, and as the icy-cold liquid freezes my teeth, I feel something drop onto my lap that had been stuck to the bottom of the Styrofoam cup. Looking down I see a small rectangle that is the same size and shape as a business card. It’s cream in color with a simple font on one side. There is no address guiding one to a further website or giving credit to any specific person or organization. It just says, “The Lord is Near to You.”

I don’t know what to make of that. I’m not saying it was a thing but I’m not not saying it was a thing. I’d spent collective weeks in the hospital previous to this moment and after this moment and I’d only ever seen this man this one time, directly on the coat tails of a prayer requesting a little pick-me-up juice from something bigger than me. What the “Bigger Than Me” thing is, I do not know. This is not meant to sway or convince anyone in relation to God or what that God may or may not. This is just me saying.

Several hours later my mother and wife arrive, both of them smelling like McDonald’s pancakes. I show them the card and they each take turns holding it and staring at it and turning it over in their hands. My mother even smells it before pulling out Yahtzee and rolling dice and shout-whispering, “Full house! Two of a kind! Straight!” while I try to stare through the ceiling, through reality, through this world and this dimension; while I relax my eyes and try to see God. I let my mind slowly wander and everything is beautiful.

Dr. Yen, my oncologist, enters my room and I smile and greet her and she says, “Hi, Johnny. How you doing?” and she pushes her glasses up on her nose with that finger and she scrunches her face up and says, “How’s mom and wife? Hospital food any good?” and I say, “They’re good. This, not so much,” and she says, “Yeah, I don’t blame you. Everyone’s on a budget and we gotta spend the good money on the medicine. It’s not a Hilton, you know? You know? It’s just not—but the medicine—trust me—that’s top of the line. It makes you feel sick, OK, you don’t feel good, am I right? But it’s getting the job done. If it’s making you sick, imagine what it’s doing to that cancer, OK?” and then she approaches me and pulls back the sheet and pulls up my gown and looks at my stitches where they removed my testicle and she says, “It’s healing nicely, OK,” and then she opens a manila envelope. I’ve learned that doctors and nurses only reference manila envelopes when they need to get the facts straight, when they’re about to deliver a bomb and they need to make sure the proper grenade is going to the proper person.

She scans her finger down something—a chart, numbers, information—and I shut my eyes and focus on the texture of the card in my hand and then she says words that I will never forget.

She says, “OK, it looks here like your cancer is gone,” and my mother drops the dice onto the floor and her hands go to her lips and someone squeezes my hand and I look down and see my wife and everything is moving in slow motion and the clock is making thundering TICK-TOCKS and my lips curl back and it’s the first time I’ve cried because I’ve been happy in a very long time because it’s the first time I’ve actually been happy in a very long time.

I choke out, “Thank you, thank you,” and she says, “Yes, uh, that’s it. It’s all gone but we’re going to, uh, we’re going to do one more round of chemo just to be safe, just to make sure. It’s 100% gone but we, uh, in this case we do want to beat a dead horse. The cancer is the dead horse, not you, even though you, uh, probably feel like one. Am I right? Am I right? You’re very much alive and will hopefully stay that way for a very long time,” and I lift my hand to my face and I wipe away tears and I nod and I say, “Yes. Thank you . . . ” and I squeeze the card in my hand until my knuckles turn white.

Dr. Yen leaves and the three of us just stare at one another, knowing that words can only spoil it.

 

 

 

 

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