Tag Archives: Brookbank

A Fistful of Caskets

I’m sitting at a picnic table in a park. A father and son are throwing a baseball back and forth. A young girl throws herself down the slide with a squeal. Her older brother chases her down while their parents stand nearby and chat, smiles on their faces. The sun is mid-way between high noon and sunset.

The moment is snap-shot worthy. Something from a postcard.

My cell phone, lying on the table, lights up next to me. My dad is calling. I see that I’ve missed a previous text from him that reads simply, CALL ME ASAP.

My stomach drops and all the terrible things come to my mind. How much of an emergency is this? What am I about to discover? I’m picking up the phone and dread is filling me up. It rings and I’m thinking it’s either going to be awful or an overreaction. It rings again. I tap my finger as my stomach tightens.

Mid-ring he picks up. A moment of silence. A choke. A pause. It’s just long enough to know it’s not good. Just enough to think it’s bad. Just enough time to brace myself for news, some news. Please do not tell me someone is dead.

I hear a sharp inhale and then, “My mom died.”

Silence. My thoughts a void. Then it all snaps back to me, thrown in my face like a bright light after darkness. My grandma was dead. My dad’s mother was dead.

My mind goes blank, the back of my brain falls out and all I can think is of a big empty space where no thought lives at all. I stare at that dad throwing the ball to his son. The image is macabre.

My mind instantly throws a handful of sloppy thoughts in front of me. What was the last thing you said? When was the last time you spoke? Did you return her last call? I struggle to think, to answer, to understand.

My dad and I sit in silence for the better part of a minute. I hear the occasional sniff on his side followed by shallow exhales. He lost his mother, I think. A picture of my own mother rises into my mind and I immediately understand that someday I will be standing in his shoes, calling Rory, telling him that my mother has passed on.

I ask what happened.

“She’s old. She’s old.”

I fly back to South Dakota a few days later and meet up with my family. There are a lot of us. I grew up amongst these people. And I grew up amongst my grandmother, she having lived next door to me my entire life.

At the wake I stand at her casket and stare down at her. They have made her look nice though she did already look nice while she was alive. Her hair is perfect. Her skin is colored to look healthy. A slight smile. I can’t help but think she looks happy to be dead.

Her hands are cold. And small. And her skin is thin and wrought with fat veins and deep wrinkles. I see a watch on her hand, Wizard of Oz themed. It ticks, very much alive.

I watch the second hand take it’s jolting steps forward, forever marching ahead. And another second. And another second. And another second. And now I’m a few moments closer to the end of my own plank, my yellow brick road getting shorter and shorter, brick by brick by brick.

The last thing I see before they close the casket is her watch, still ticking.

At the graveside they’ve dug a hole before the family arrives. I carry the casket from the hearse to the grave and slide it onto the harness. Around the casket they’ve placed fake grass, hiding the earth from our eyes, cloaking death, hiding the truth from us, trying to put make-up on it, hiding what we’re doing.

Some words are said and people begin to walk away, the casket still sitting on the harness.

The crowd gathers in their cars and drive away, the casket still sitting on the harness.

As I drive away, I see the casket, still sitting on the harness, reflected in my mirrors.

I want to watch it lower. I want to bury her with my hands. I don’t want to drive away and eat turkey sandwiches and potato salad while she sits alone, being lowered and buried by some Chuck and Larry Whoever.

Afterwards, in the church basement, I have a chance to look out at the attendees. We are young and old. I witness the web she has weaved, the relationships she has forged, the people she knew, either by choice or by blood. These were her people. Some of them so young they are brand new, a baby nursing. Some of them so old, their minds have begun to fade, their memories being slowly deleted, their relationships being erased.

I look at the ones that are closest to me, mother, father. Siblings. Uncles and aunts. Cousins and friends. And I realize I will be standing here again in the years to come. If I am lucky enough to continue to live, I will see each of them in a casket, their eyes closed, their make-up on, their happy-to-be-dead smiles. And their ticking watches. Like the marching of a drum.

Tick.

Tick.

Tock.

I fly back home the day after the day after the funeral and am walking up my driveway in LA late. It’s dark. The moon is up. My family is sleeping.

Inside I drop my bag and kill my coat. Kiss my wife. Walk into the children’s room and see them sleeping, their eyes closed, their faces young and healthy. Their smiles nowhere to be found in their sleep.

I enter our room and pull off my shirt. Glancing down into the crib, I see Beau sleeping on her back, one hand laying on her tummy. One hand sprawled above her head.

I stare at her. And I stare at her. And I stare at her. And I can’t shake the thought. It eats at me and turns my stomach and makes me sick. I feel my throat restrict and my eyes begin to well up.

Someday I will die. Someday I will leave you alone, Beau. Someday I will leave you all. Alone. Someday you will have only one another. Someday you will be standing over me, staring down at me. I can’t protect you from this. You will suffer the death of a parent.

And if we are lucky, you will suffer the death of a parent and not I suffering the terrible and awful naked horror of losing a child.

The clock ticks. It ticks on and on. My children grow. They have families and children of their own, friends and lives. They’ve built their own webs of relationships, their own complex frameworks that I will not know. I will not be familiar with them. Their late-life tapestry will not be for me to observe or take part in.

Staring down at Beau, the third and final thought strikes me and I want to walk out of the room, redirect my thoughts and blind myself with distractions. I want the horrible earth to be covered in fake grass – I don’t want the truth. I want the make-up on the truth. I don’t want the truth. I want to run from it but instead I stand at her crib side and I keep staring, digging into it. Letting the emotions encase me.

Someday Beau will die. And someday she will lie in a coffin. And I will not be there. And strangers will celebrate the life of my baby.

In the earth, my grandmothers watch continues to tick.

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SOLAR ECLIPSE: CHAPTER 31

 

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Once in a great while the sun and the moon align in a total solar eclipse and the stars uncross and the fates smile and, like a miracle from the hand of a savior, I am able to stand and to walk on my very own. I am able to laugh and tell jokes and drink juice and taste food without getting sick.

These are not the days when sickness is almost out of my body. These are the days when the cure almost is.

On the days when the chemo is nearly out-processed and I am beginning to get my thoughts back in order and the soft mush that is my brain is beginning to firm up, it is these two or three days before going back to the hospital that I must take advantage of my circumstances.

As my wife helps me bundle up in my full arctic wear, complete with scarf, I notice that the clock reads 6:15 p.m. I know we need, need, need to be home by 9 o’clock at the very absolute latest because, no matter how good I currently feel (relatively speaking), I won’t make it to 9:15 p.m. Quarter after rolls around and I will, home or not, be dead to the world. My carriage will turn back into a pumpkin and my clarity will turn back to pay-per-view static. Goodbye, world. Au revoir. Adios. Time to sleep.

Jade unlocks the car and I fall into the passenger seat and turn the radio on, letting music quietly fill the air.

I miss it so much. Of all the superficial things, I miss music the most. I can hear the raspy voices of Kurt Cobain, Frank Black, and Isaac Brock coughing out lyrics in my furthest memories, but it’s like listening to them through a joint wall shared by a neighbor in a duplex.

Bad news comes, don’t you worry

Even when it lands

Good news will work its way to all them plans

Jade cranks the key, slams the gear shift, and punches the gas and then we’re off like a herd of turtles, gently coasting down the streets of The Valley, navigating through streets with powerful names like Victory, beautiful names like Magnolia, and disgusting names like Cumpston. We pull onto the freeway and the night envelops us, pulling our automobile into her black cloak and then, at 80 miles per hour, a song by Rage Against the Machine begins to wah-wah out of the radio and Zack de la Rocha’s voice suddenly reminds me of how this all started; me blasting through the desert to Vegas, alone, hungry for drugs and alcohol. Me with a couple hundred bucks on fire in my pocket. Me with my invincible bullshit attitude and . . . I hate that guy. It’s only been three months but I don’t recognize him and I can no longer relate.

The things that guy wants are moot. His desires are dead. I don’t feel remorseful or sorry. I don’t mourn his loss but secretly celebrate it, wondering who this new skin will shape up to be once it gets to crawl out and spread its wings. How will his brain think? How will his heart feel? What will his soul search for?

Only time will tell but tonight his soul searches for Mexican food in the flavor of a little restaurante in Westwood. Some friends of ours had called us a few weeks back, requesting a dinner date and my wife tells them, “Yes! Perfect! We’d love to see you!” and they had said, “How’s 7:30?” and Jade had answered with, “Perfect. How is nineteen days from now? Johnny should be in some kind of working order by then.”

The silence on the other end of the phone lasts for a few moments before my friend’s wife says, “I’ll have to check the calendar . . . yes? Maybe?” I have nothing to do and no time to do it in. My life is a blank page that I can’t read. My days are newspaper articles written in Cantonese. My nights are like iPods with no headphones. I am existing without being operational. Here I am, flesh and blood, present in time and space, but unable to be useful.

Jade pulls into the parking lot, gives the keys to the valet, and we both walk inside, she dressed up for a well-deserved night out, me looking like a homeless man trying to pass for “merely unemployed.” None of my clothes fit as I’m in the exact opposite stage that most pregnant women find themselves—too big to fit into their old clothes and just too depressed to go buy more because they know this season will be over soon and they can squeeze back into those old jeans and T-shirts.

In the meantime I look like that Fievel Mousekewitz character from An American Tale, oversized rags hanging from my body.

This is our first outing since The Beginning. This is the first time we’ve been out of the house to somewhere that was not directly related to Cancer: hospital, clinic, marijuana dispensary, church. It’s also the first night that my wife and I have been away from my mother since she got here and it somehow feels like our little circle has been broken and one of our members is absent from a meeting.

We enter the warm building and find our friends, Killian and Emily, sitting on a small bench in the “Just Have a Seat” area. They approach and hug us, both of them dwarfing me, wrapping their average sized arms around my depleting frame and crushing the life from my bones. They say, “How are you?” and they say, “You look good,” and they say, “This place is our favorite,” and they say, “You really do look good . . . ” and I know that I look like an emaciated version of The Yellow Bastard from the popular graphic novel, Sin City.

The waiter points us to our table and we walk through the cramped spaces, navigating to our booth in a back corner. We sit down and I try to take it all in. I want to remember this. I know my time is almost up. The eclipse is almost over. My chariot will be a pumpkin before too long.

Strange hand-painted tribal masks hang along the walls the entire length of the restaurant—blue faces with white lips, orange faces with blue dots on the cheeks, black faces with red streaks running from the eyes, one hundred vacant expressions watching us from the walls.

I’m staring into one of these masks, getting lost in thought when I realize that a senorita is standing by my side taking drink orders. Like clockwork, all three guests—Killian, Emily, and Jade—order extra large margaritas. I smile. Even Jade is taking advantage of her own solar eclipse.

The waitress looks at me and says, “Margarita for you, sir?” and the thought of consuming salty alcohol makes me shiver. I say, “No, thank you. I’ll just have the, uh . . . ” and then I glance back at the menu, run my finger down their alcohol menu, stop on a random drink, look back up and say, “Milk, please,” and the waitress stares at me and says, “Milk. Like . . . a White Russian?” and I say, “No . . . like, two percent,” and Jade laughs because she knows it’s the only thing besides Gatorade that’s actually able to help soothe my stomach and sore throat. Killian says, “You can get a margarita. Dinner’s on us!” and I laugh and say, “Milk is fine. Thanks.”

Back around the table again, the waitress takes our meal orders. Killian gets a number 17 combination plate of four shrimp tacos, beans, rice, two enchiladas, and a side salad. Emily orders a number 4: smothered chicken burrito with a bowl of tortilla soup on the side and an appetizer of jalapeño poppers. Jade orders a number 11: two chicken enchiladas, two beef enchiladas, rice, beans, and two sides of her choice for which she requests double portions of corn cake. The waitress turns to me and I put down the menu, my mouth slavering from all the options and I say, “I would like . . . a taco, please,” and she says, “A taco meal?” and I say, “A . . . sorry. I would like one taco,” and then, just to add a little cultural flair I say, “Uno. Taco. Por favor.” And I know she doesn’t understand why I’m ordering so scarcely and I don’t feel like explaining the whole long story or even some shortened and bastardized version of the tale that goes something like, “I’m sick and tonight is my night to eat a delicious meal and I’m very excited but still, I’m sick and I can’t eat like a totally normal person. I still have to be aware and conscious because I am completely aware and totally conscious that I puke every single day, multiple times a day, and I am also aware and conscious that I am in a public establishment with my friends and family right now, a public establishment that is filled mostly with strangers, and I don’t want to vomit here. I don’t want to vomit on your table. I don’t want to vomit on your floor. I don’t want to vomit in front of my friends, next to their food, ruining their meals. I haven’t eaten much in the last few months and so my stomach has shrunk down to a fraction of its previous size. No longer a softball, it’s now a walnut.” Killian says, “You can order more. Dinner’s on us!” and I say, “One taco is all I need.”

I imagine taking them up on their offer and ordering a “regular portion” for the sake of being polite. I imagine it arriving, the plate overflowing with food, steaming with flavor, the waitress saying, “Careful, it’s hot,” as she sets it down on our table with pot holders. I imagine everyone grabbing their forks and digging in, ravaging their food, tearing apart those gummy enchilada rolls, shoveling refried beans into their mouths and slicing chicken and beef like butchers while I stare at my plate and eat half a taco before sliding the plate up and saying, “So good . . . so full . . . . ”

The waitress leaves and our pre-dinner conversation starts and I quickly realize just how out of the game I’ve been. They ask us if we’ve seen this show or that show and they ask us if we’ve seen this movie or that movie and they ask us if we’ve heard this news story or that news story and Jade reaches over, under the table, and squeezes my hand twice, gently, in a friendly manner and I know she’s thinking the same thing I am, which is, “I have no idea what is going on in the world.”

We’ve been so ingrained in our adventure, so zipped up in the body bag that is Cancer Life that the rest of the world has slowly passed us by. While we’ve been huddled around the fire, trying to stay warm, Wall Street has continued on, Hollywood has continued on, Earth has continued spinning and changing and growing.

The words that everyone speaks float from their mouths to my ears but die before they ever hit my brain. Everything feels superficial. Everything feels plastic and fake. Not my friends, not my wife, but our words. Hollywood and Wall Street. It all suddenly feels so . . . dirty. Everything feels so fleeting. When life and death are hanging in the balance, money quickly loses its value because you realize it can’t help you. It can’t buy you health. It can buy you healthy food and it can buy you good doctors but it can’t buy you health. Health, like respect, is earned.

A moment later a young man appears at our table holding a tray of drinks, a young man who is decidedly not the young woman who had originally taken our orders and so he is unsure exactly which margarita goes to which patron. He says, “Straw . . . berry?” and Emily raises her hand and he sets it down and says, “There you go . . . . Mango?” and Killian says, “Right here,” and reaches out and takes it from him and the waiter says, “Passion fruit?” and he looks at Jade and me and Jade smiles and says, “I’ll be taking that,” and then all of our eyes are resting on his tray where the only cup left is a tiny half-sized little sippy cup with a Styrofoam lid and a wacky bendy straw and the guy says, “Sorry, I . . . I thought this was for a kid,” and I say, “Yeah, that’s right. You better go put my drink in a big-boy glass.”

That night, on our drive home, I can feel the effects of our night out. My eyes are heavy, my arms are anchors, the weight of one taco pulling me down and drawing me into darkness. I fall asleep on the ride home and when I wake up I’m in my bed. The eclipse is over. The carriage is gone. Tomorrow it all starts over again.

Tomorrow is Round 3.

 

 

 

 

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MECHANICAL DONUT: CHAPTER 7

 

Hey, baby! Whether you’re here because you like the comedy or the train wreck, it’s Cancer Monday! And this week is a double whammy because you’re getting chapters 7 and 8 together! Oh, my goodness. What a deal.

So. If you’re all caught up and want to continue reading, please do! If you’re new here. WELCOME. This is a story about when I had cancer. Sometimes it’s happy. Sometimes it’s sad. Sometimes there is just fierce ambivalence to the force of life. Click here to jump to the beginning and start reading this tale of wonderful woe from the very top.

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For the past few days, I’ve been drinking a radioactive concoction called barium and trust me, there is neither anything berry or yum about it. Seventy-two hours ago, a small yellow package showed up at my front door postmarked from the hospital, asking that I mix this powder with water and drink deeply. How to describe it? So many competing tastes and textures. If I were being polite, I would say it has the consistency of semen swimming in powdered eggs (powdered lumps included) and tastes of Elmer’s glue with just a hint of mint.

So no, it’s not terrible but it is bad enough to make me plug my nose and gag while I try to chug it as quickly as possible lest flies mistake it for what it smells like and begin to lay eggs in it.

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The chemical drink, I’m told, causes my insides to “light up” and reveal any inconsistencies with a “normal, healthy human,” which, as far as I can tell, I am not. I’m not exactly sure what this procedure will be, but I assume they have some kind of machine that will take pictures of my insides; some kind of giant X-ray. I’m imagining lying on a bed and smiling; it’s school photos all over again. THEN I’m imagining going across the street to Denny’s because I saw that they’re featuring their seasonal pumpkin pancakes right now, and I feel like I deserve a little comfort food.

A male nurse with black hair and a soul patch approaches me with a gown and says, “OK, Mr. Brookbank, we’re going to get you in and out with your CAT scan. First, we’ll have you put this gown on and then we’ll get you all hooked up with your IV and blah blah blah.” Everything else he says turns into static. My eyes shift to my wife, who grimaces. I say, “Uh . . . OK . . . OK. Do you . . . do you have a restroom I can change in and, uh . . . have a panic attack?” and the male nurse with the soul patch says, “Yes, absolutely. Right this way.”

Inside the bathroom I change into the knee length, butt-revealing gown and stare at myself in the mirror; blue eyes filled with fear, wispy beard standing on end, skin the color of bad eggs. I don’t give myself a pep talk. I don’t say anything. I just stare at my reflection and try to imagine what it feels like to not be afraid of needles.

“Everyone is afraid of needles,” my wife says and I respond with, “No. Nobody likes needles. Not everyone is afraid of them. I don’t like the cold. I’m not afraid of it. You don’t like onions. You’re not afraid of them. My fear is deeply psychological and . . . it’s very . . . you wouldn’t understand. They’re pointy and silver and . . . They’re just so fucking pointy and silver!”

The Internet tells me the complex is called trypanophobia, an illness so foul that they actually had to give it a name no one could pronounce.

Soul Patch calls my name and escorts me into The Room. The door shuts and clicks behind me. In the middle of the floor is a giant Mechanical Donut, 6-and-a-half-feet high with a bed that rolls in and out of its delicious center. Next to the circular, steel pastry is a robotic arm that has a bag filled with clear liquid dangling from its “hand.” It is this clear liquid, I understand without being told, that will be shot into my veins to assist and activate the barium.

I ask Soul Patch how long he’s been doing this and he says, “Coupla’ years,” and I say, “I mean IVs. How long? Are you good at it?” and he says, “Oh. Yeah. Couple years. I’m good.”

Yeah, right. Your voice has the confidence of an eighth grader buying beer. Intern! Intern! Intern! And for the first time I find myself intentionally trying to focus on the pulsating lump of my lump, trying to distract myself from the needle.

I ask him what the CAT scan is for, and he noncommittally answers, “Oh, you’re a new patient, and we just like to do preliminary work on everyone prior to surgery,” and I say, “But specifically my pelvis, abdomen, and lungs?” and he says, “Uh . . . yeah . . . sort of everywhere, but yeah. There, mostly,” and I think, “Shame on you, kid. You’re not old enough to buy beer and that is a fake ID.” I think, “I know what you’re looking for. You’re looking to see if it’s spread anywhere. You’re looking to see if it’s growing. You want to know what to do if the surgery doesn’t work or if you’re too late.”

Soul Patch tells me to lie back and I do, reluctantly. He tells me to hold out my arm and I do, reluctantly. He holds my wrist and starts to slap around my forearm with two fingers. “How,” he asks, “are your veins?” and I tell him I don’t know. He asks if I’ve drunk any water recently and I say, “A little,” and he says, “Uh, OK. This is usually a bit easier if you’ve been drinking water but we’ll see what we can—” slap, slap—“do . . . . ”

My eyes are the size of dinner saucers, and my hands curl into fists of fear. I want to scream for Jade to bring me water, water, WATER!!! A cup, a glass, a gallon, a hose, anything. We’ll see what we can do??!! What does that mean?? I imagine him sliding the needle under my skin and into my vein, missing and probing, fishing, hooking, sticking, stabbing, wiggling, my wrinkled and hibernating vein exploding over and over, blood leaking out and running all over the floor. In my mind, Soul Patch keeps saying, “Oops, oops, sorry, again, once more, my bad,” until I finally just pass out.

“There ya go.” I look down, and it’s done. He tells me to lie back and keep my arm with the silvery, pointy needle sticking in it above my head. “Keep it pointed at the ceiling,” and I say, “The needle—is the needle still in my arm?” and he says, “Uh . . . no. It’s just a small rubber hose,” and I say, “Can I bend my arm without getting poked?” and he says, “Uh . . . yeah. I’ll be in this room over here and I’ll give you directions over the intercom.” I try to bend my arm and feel a little poke. Intern! Or maybe it was just the tape pulling at a hair. I don’t know. But I bet that needle is still in there. In my arm. In my vein.

Soul Patch’s voice comes over the intercom, and I turn my head to the left. He’s in a booth that looks like it’s being protected from radiation caused by nuclear fallout. I have to pause and wonder what sort of danger my body is currently in, what sort of rays I am about to endure. I try to remember what it was that The Fantastic Four were hit with when my train of thought is interrupted.

“Remember to keep your arm up—at the ceiling—like you have a question.” The only question I have is, When will this be over?

I have no idea how unanswerable that actually is.

The tech, from his bomb shelter, says, “And here comes the dye.” I watch the fluid come down the bag, through the tube, and into my arm, and then I’m pretty certain that I have legitimately shit my pants. Everything from my abdomen to my thighs is steaming hot.

The intercom comes back on. Soul Patch says, “The dye may cause you to feel like you’ve . . . wet . . . your pants,” and I shut my eyes and take a deep breath, trying not to focus on the warmth in my pelvis.

The bed jerks and slides into the donut. I open my eyes and read a sign taped to the top of the donut hole: DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE LASER. A female robot voice comes through the donut, The Bakery God, and says, “Hold. Your. Breath.” And I do. And I shut my eyes. And I pray. Not to the bakery god, but to That Faceless And Eternal Being. I do not blame you. I do not understand. Help me.

“You. May. Breathe.” The robot says and the bed pulls me out of the donut sanctuary. “Doing OK?” Soul Patch asks, and I say, “Yeah,” but in my head I think, Not so great . . . . Did I shit my pants?

The bed jerks forward again and the robot tells me, “Hold. Your. Breath.”

What hangs in the balance of this test? What will these results reveal? The thought of this being the beginning of something bigger crosses my mind, and I try to push it away. For me, surgery is the end. There is a definitive period afterward, and I go home and go back to work and that’s it but . . . .

What if . . . .

What if the cancer has spread? Lungs? Stomach? Liver? Is this possible? Yes. Yes, it’s all definitely possible. But is it probable? I pause, trying to be logical and not emotional and yes, I realize, it is probable.

“You. May. Breathe.”

Will I die in six months? Could I die in six months? I could die in six months. If it has spread, what are my chances for survival? The Internet tells me that, depending on what kind of cancer I have, it could be anywhere between 30 percent to 90 percent survival rate, which is basically like saying, “Maybe you’ll die. Maybe you won’t,” and then shrugging unapologetically.

“Hold. Your. Breath.”

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Like all good hospitals, ours made us wait the entire weekend before giving us the (maybe) life-changing results of our test. Over those three days, every stomachache turned into stomach cancer, every pain in my finger exploded into bone cancer, every headache transformed into brain cancer. By the time they called back late Monday afternoon, I had diagnosed myself as a tumor wearing clothes.

“What are my results? My, uh, my test results?” and the lady on the phone says, “I’m not allowed to give out that information, sir,” and I say, “I know. I know you’re not. But it’s OK. It’s me, er, my body. It’s my body. It’s not a secret to me,” and she says, “I just really can’t, and actually, I just don’t have access to the information. The doctor would, however, like to speak with you.”

Outside, thunder claps and lightening strikes and the camera zooms dramatically into my face and I hear the soundtrack of my life play dun-DUN-DUUUUUUN!!!

I take a half-day off work the next day and drive back to Arcadia to visit with Dr. Honda, the friendly neighborhood urologist. When I arrive, all the receptionists know me by name and smile and welcome me in and everything is just too friendly. Jade and I sit down and she picks up the same copy of Better Homes she’d been reading previously and opens up to the page she had habitually dog-eared.

A woman calls my name and both my wife and I stand up. I start walking forward while Jade casually slides the magazine into her purse. The receptionist leads us back through a narrow corridor crowded by old people with various urinating issues. We take a seat in the room where I was told I had cancer and Jade says, “Is this where he told you?”

And I say, “Yes.”

And she says, “Where were you sitting?”

And I say, “Here.”

And she says, “And was he right here?”

And I say, “Yes.”

And she says, “Did you cry?”

And I say, “No. I said, ‘Rats.’”

She glances suspiciously around before sliding out her hot copy of Better Homes just before Dr. Honda knock-knock-enters. Jade shoves the magazine back in her purse like she’s just been caught trying to purchase extra-tiny condoms. The doctor shakes my hand, and I introduce him to my wife. He smiles and says, “Nice to meet you,” and takes a seat.

To his right he sets down a regular manila envelope with my name scratched onto the tab. Inside that envelope, I think, is everything. My future is just out of my reach.

He makes small talk with me and asks how my job is going, and I answer in short but courteous statements. He finally says, “Welp!” and grabs the folder and opens it on his lap and here comes The News.

“You have,” and he slides his finger down the page, turns it, examines the second page, “stage one cancer.”

I drop to my knees and tear my shirt and wail and scream and curse the Earth and the doctor says, “That’s . . . uh . . .that’s the kind we already knew you had,” and I immediately sit back on the paper-covered table and compose myself and say, “That’s great!”

Dr. Honda says, “It hasn’t spread. We’ll do the surgery and that should be it.”

YES!” We are going to (literally) cut this villain off at the pass and bury it alive. Goodnight, dickwad!

“Just out of curiosity,” I ask, “How high do the stages go?” and the doctor says, “Four. They go to four.”

 

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If you’re reading this with us weekly, thank you. The above chapters were such a bizarre place for us. Fear, uncertainty, anxiety. What is going to happen is a good question but what IS happening is maybe the better one.

Next week we’re going to get into sexy finances. That’s right, sweetheart. Chapter nine is about sperm banking. World’s most awkward excerpt below . . .

 

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The woman behind the desk hands me a cup and says, “Back through that door on the right. No lubrication. No spit,” and she looks directly at my wife and I say, “Oh . . . Ooooooh . . . .

We walk through the appropriate door and find ourselves in a room roughly the size of a hotel conference hall. Everything is white. Everything is sterile. The fluorescents buzz in the ceiling. On the walls: Georgia O’Keeffe.

Of course.

Sitting next to the door is a small table cluttered with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions. Motivation. In the center of the room is a chair that can only be described as something you would get a root canal in. It’s black, leather, and constantly at a slight recline. I sit in it and assume that this specific posture has been scientifically proven to help nervous men climax in public places.

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FIRST CONTACT: CHAPTER 4

Welcome back for week four of the serial novel Cancer? But I’m a Virgo, where we explore my experience with cancer, chemotherapy, sex, drugs, comedy and death. If you’re just tuning in, click here to start from the beginning.

We’ve spent the last three weeks introducing our main character – our hero, if you will. And, uh, that’s me, in case you were wondering. I’m very charming.

But what is a good hero without a really strong nemesis? A hero is nothing without a proper enemy. And so here we stand, awaiting our villains arrival. Quiet now.

He’s close.

Hands inside the cart everyone. This is where it gets ugly.

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I pull into my driveway around 11:30 p.m. I’ve spent the last two days in Vegas smoking enough pot to transform my brain into one of those slimy slug-souls from The Little Mermaid. The house is mostly dark save for a small desk lamp radiating a warm glow in the front window. Like the jingle of that popular hotel, my wife has left a light on for me. The trip back from Las Vegas was mostly uneventful (outside of me having to shit off my front bumper but that story is neither here nor there); the trip driving west always lacks any of the magic of the possibility that crackles in the air when heading toward the Electric City. I haven’t slept more than a few scattered hours in two days and I can feel it.

When I finally open my front door, I immediately feel the warm welcome that is Home. My wife has an aura about her that allows her to take the mundane and turn it into the extraordinary. Our house is no longer wood and dry wall. It is flesh and bone and personality. It is living and breathing and welcoming. She chooses color palettes and purchases knick knacks; the bar-style dining-room table, the weird collection of antique cameras on top of the shelves in the kitchen, the vintage teacher’s desk in the living room, the furniture, the mirrors, the finds, the little treasures. I try to imagine what I would have done to this house if I’d lived here alone, if we’d never gotten married.

I’m seeing white walls. I’m seeing a stained couch. I’m seeing pizza boxes. Maybe I’m a little heavier? Maybe I sleep on a pile of wood chips in the corner? An old blanket tangled around my ankle?

I sit down on my couch and I close my eyes, letting images of the weekend roll through my imagination: Caesar’s Palace, The Venetian, the games, the walking, the laughing, the people, the servers dressed like Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson and Madonna. I chuckle to myself, having proudly taken that right of passage into Manhood that is Las Vegas. I’m 26 and at the top of the world.

Finally settled in, I pull out my pipe and stash of weed. The smoke fills my lungs and I quickly begin to disconnect from the world. So I lost $400? So what?! What’s money? It’s just paper. It’s just representative of something. Take my money, take my job. I’d rather move into the woods, anyway. Lose myself in the trees, get out of the city. I hate the city—the smog, the traffic, the cement. I want clear blue skies and trees and rivers and rocks and animals and stars.

I have to pee.

I stand up and walk to the bathroom, down the dark hallway, bumping into the doorframe. I flip on a light and there, sitting in the corner, is the toilet. It’s all come to this. My whole life has come to this toilet. Every step I’ve ever taken has led me right here. The first part of The Journey that is my life is about to end. Every choice, every waking moment has brought me here, to this bathroom, in this house, in this room, at this time, in this mental condition.

I reach down and fumble with my zipper, pulling it south. I reach inside my jeans and think briefly about my one testicle—its existence a constant reminder of the missing twin—and I start to pee. I stare at the red wall in front of me, thinking, Bright red paint. That’s a bold choice for my wife to go with. But she did it. I wonder what people think when they’re standing here fondling their nut sacks and peeing?

I look down and realize that I am, indeed, fondling my nut sack. This is a simple truth of the world; men just sometimes absent-mindedly grab handfuls of themselves and we bumble around blindly. It’s like a security blanket. It’s platonic. It’s like petting a dog.

Mid-pee, mid-stream, mid-relief, my left hand feels something that does not belong. A foreign object on my body, a second tongue, a third nipple, a fourth knuckle—it’s not right, not normal, not standard. It’s the size of a pea and rests casually on my single remaining testicle.

And this is the moment where my life breaks in two. I don’t know it yet but this is the moment of impact. Nothing will ever be as it was. Nothing will ever be the same.

Imagine with me . . . try to set aside all of your individual predispositions and personality traits. Listen to the stories I’ve told you about myself, pick up my luggage, my emotional baggage, my history of illness (both real and imagined) and touch my genitals with me. Imitate me. Channel me. Possess me. Feel the lump on your singular ball.

Also, you are pretty high right now.

I turn the pea over and over in my hand like a pebble, examining it, touching it, feeling it, becoming familiar with it. No. I can’t become familiar with it. I know that immediately. We will never be friends. The hypochondriac begins whispering in my ear. He knows what it is. He, the great soothsayer of sickness knows what is happening right now. Whatever it is (you know what it is) I know that I hate it. Whatever it is (you know, just say it), I’m sure it will all go away soon. Just avert your eyes and breathe and (CANCER!) it will all be over soon.

Cancer . . . .

A woman tells me that she’s pregnant. She tells me that it’s crazy and exciting and wonderful. She tells me that she knew she was pregnant before the test results. She tells me that she just knew . . . and right now . . . I need no more explanation than that. I understand completely.

Cancer . . . .

I zip it back into my pants and stare at the red wall and think, “ . . . . . . . . . . . . ” and then I walk out of the bathroom, down the long hallway, and into my bedroom, where my wife is asleep. I wonder how she’ll take the news. Will she cry? Weep? Fall into a great depression? Will we cling to one another for mutual comfort, swearing fealty to each other? Swearing that we’ll get through this, don’t worry, no matter what, etc., etc., etc.? I try to summon images of Hollywood movies into my mind; how have I seen this done? How did Mandy Moore break the news in A Walk to Remember?

Jade opens her eyes and says, “You’re back. How was Vegas?” and I say, “Good,” and I say, “There’s something on my . . . . ” and it’s weird but I am six years old again, and I’m talking to my mom about my bawl, and I don’t want to say it.

“What time is it?” she asks in a gravelly voice. “Late,” I answer tenderly, quietly, wanting to keep things as calm as possible for the storm that is about to erupt. “It’s around midnight.” She asks me if I’m coming to bed.

I sit down and run my hands through her hair, the words in my throat, on my tongue, my lips. I say, “I felt something on my testicle. It’s a lump. I think . . . I think I have . . . cancer.”

There is a pause. She looks at me and blinks, once, twice, and I know some great emotion is on the precipice of bursting inside of her. She shuts her eyes, takes a breath and says, “You are such a hypochondriac. You have cancer now? Please.” And she clicks off the bed lamp, leaving me in the literal, figurative, and metaphysical dark.

I am furious (scared). I am angry (confused). I am full of questions, and I want (need) answers. An idea hits me, and I do that thing that no one should ever, ever, ever do when they think they have cancer growing on their nuts and are super super high at the same time.

I get on the Internet and do a Google search for “Hard balls on balls” and the first option is a gay pornographic website starring body builders. I try again. “Infected nuts,” and this time it’s something about oak trees being poisoned. I try again, “How to check for testicular cancer” and the first hit says, “How to check for testicular cancer.” Bingo.

Article after article after article pops up, an encyclopedia of penial knowledge at my shaft tip all for me to soak in and fear by myself in this paranoid state. “This most certainly will be a night I will never forget,” I think to myself as one hand scrolls the text around the monitor and the other pinches that little peapod on my privates.

The first article says, “Take a warm bath, loosen up, pinch your nuts like this. Does the tumor feel like a little rock? Is it the size of a pea? Does it lack feeling? Then it’s probably cancer.”

Red flag, red flag, red flag. Cancer, cancer, cancer. Tumor, tumor, tumor. That’s the first time I’d seen that word as it related to me. I was looking at the word tumor, and I was touching something in my body that may or may not have been (I know it is) a tumor a tumor a cancerous tumor inside of my body I have cancer tumors cancer tumors cancer tumors.

Maybe it’s just a fluke, this article. Maybe I’m seeing what I want to see, believing what I want to believe, y’know? I want to know that what Jade is saying is correct. I’m a hypochondriac, and none of it is real. I click on another article but it says the same thing. Article three and four are likewise. By article eleven, my hope is not simply beginning to break, it is broken.

I. Just. Know.

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So that’s it. That’s it for this week. And I know what you’re thinking. “Wow, that’s some really bad news – getting a little tumor like that.” Yeah, it is. But, trust me when I say that this is only the beginning and if the story stopped here, it would barely be a story at all. Over the course of the next few weeks we are going to systematically break Johnny down until the only thing that’s left of him is a hollow little shell, filled with anxiety and hopelessness.

We are going to destroy him.

But we’ll do it together and it will hopefully be a lot of fun to watch.

So, next week be sure to come back for Birthday Present: Chapter 5 with excerpt below . . .

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She looks at me and, with her complete confidence in my health asks, “Well, what did he say?” and, without missing a beat, I respond, “I have a tumor.”

She takes one more step before collapsing onto a parking block and begins weeping. This is when the reality all hits me, and I weep as well.

 

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PLAGUED BY PLAGUES: CHAPTER 3

 

Welcome back for Chapter 3, which is the final chapter before everything starts to slide out of control. Take a deep breath with me and enjoy this last bite. Chew slowly. It’s going to be a full year before we come out the other side together. Next Monday we’re going to receive some very bad news.

But we’re not supposed to know about that yet, are we?

If you’re new, click HERE to go to the beginning. As you can see, we’re only 3 chapters in (and they’re very, very short!) so jump in with us and read a chapter a week all year long as we explore what it looks like to have dick cancer at 26.

 

See you all at the bottom of the slide!

 

 

 

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Eczema. Ring worms. Food poisoning. Poison poisoning. West Nile. Airborne toxins. Flu, cold, constipation, diarrhea. I have suffered from it all, both real and imaginary. My wife points an accusing finger at me and says, “You’re a hypochondriac!” and I casually walk into the other room, get online, and look up the disease to see if I am actually exhibiting symptoms.

 

Illnesses are my passion and I collect them like stickers in a book. In elementary school, I had ulcers. In junior high, insomnia. In high school, I became convinced that I had acquired early onset Alzheimer’s because I couldn’t remember any of the mathematical equations that help you solve endless rows of meaningless problems. It seemed to come so easily to everyone else. . . .

Years later, a friend will tell me that his son can’t seem to get a grasp on numeric sequences. More than just a few in a row and “Poof,” he says, “they’re gone.” He tells me the disease is called dyscalculia and it simply sounds too similar to Dracula for me to pass up. I’m positive I have it. I wear it on my sleeve, displaying the fact proudly. I won’t let my handicap hold me back. I won’t box it up in some closet. Plus, I’ve always been a bit more of a words guy and less of a digits person anyway so I feel like there is something strangely poetic in my illness, my disease, my burden.

My wife says, “You don’t have dyscalculia. You’re just an idiot.” I look up the term idiot on Web MD betting that she’s right but no results return. Further research is required.

 

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My stomach rolls over, and I vomit into a toilet, beads of sweat dripping down my forehead. My knees are raw from kneeling on the bathroom tiles. My wife circles the door frame, blocking the light shining dramatically on my face and says, uncaringly, “You’re going to be late for work.”

“I can’t go to work! Look at me! I’m sick!” I plead, desperately trying to make her understand. It’s not cancer, not yet (this is still years and years earlier), but it’s definitely something.

“You’re not sick.” I puke again just to reinforce my point and then elaborately throw myself onto the bathroom floor, the back of my hand pressed against my sort-of-hot forehead. Not sick? Not sick? Has she heard of the norovirus?! Because I have it on good account (my friend’s friend is pre-med) that it’s making rounds this year. A couple people died in Missouri. Didn’t my wife hear about this? Doesn’t she watch the news on Comedy Central? Doesn’t she read The Onion?

She tells me that I don’t have the norovirus. She tells me that I have the moron virus and then she laughs at her own dumb little joke while I just dry heave twice in a row. I tell her to look away. I tell her that the norovirus is really taking its toll on me when suddenly my chest is racked with a pinching suffocation. It feels like someone is pulling the membrane off my lungs every time I inhale. Jade raises an eyebrow and says, “Pleurisy again?”

I just hold up a hand for her to “be silent” while I bare my cross. She says, “Oh, geeeeez.” After the pain passes I explain that, “I have pleurisy,” and she says, “I know you think you do,” and I say, “It’s an inflammation of the lining on the lungs,” and she says, “You’ve told me the definition,” and I say, “My mom has it too,” and my wife says, “I’m sure she believes she does.”

Is there nothing I can do to convince her of my various conditions? Is it my fault I have an immune system that is susceptible to such attacks? Someday, I tell myself, someday I’ll get something and she’ll believe me.

Jade says, “Are you day dreaming about your illnesses?” and I say, “Huh? What?” and she says, “Wishing someone would believe that your fake thing was real?” and I say, “My fake thing is real. Remember The Blood Shit Incident?”

Jade says, “I remember The Blood Shit Incident. I wonder if you remember it.” I say, “Of course I remember it. I was there. I wrote it.” And she says, “Every piece of good fiction needs an author.”

 

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I’m sitting on the toilet in my mom’s house and I’m staring at a piece of toilet paper covered in brown and red. I’m shitting blood. It’s been happening for a couple days. Not a lot. Just a little. Just a few drops. Just enough to fill a vile. Or two.

I’m nineteen and I try to weigh my options—the possibilities, the probabilities, the causes, the outcomes. “Why would my ass be bleeding?” I ask myself. “I don’t stick things up it. I swear.”

Who do I approach? Who do I ask for advice? Not my dad. Definitely not my mother; I don’t want to see the sequel to The Nut Sack Situation. No, I’ll handle this one myself. How to proceed, how to proceed. The Internet? Too traceable. The search engines all have a way of remembering things I type in, and I’m no good with PCs. I don’t understand how to clear the cash or eat the cookies or whatever. The library? Absolutely not. The idea of checking out a book about anal fissures will certainly get me on some Pervert of the Week list.

Finally, after meditating on the rhythmic drip-drip-drip, the answer comes to me clearly, like a comet in the night sky. It is a moment of what some may call divine clarity. It is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

I will simply ignore the problem and hope it fixes itself.

I am a human body! I get scratches and cuts all the time and what happens? Blood clotting, scabbing . . . something . . . something else, science, etc., and there you have it, back to normal! My inner ass cavern will be the same! I just need to leave it be and give it some time to heal. I’ll eat soft foods. I’ll push very, very gently. Or maybe not at all. I’ll practice Zen meditation and just let the fecal matter slither from my rectum like a snake shedding skin.

This could work. This could definitely work.

Two weeks later, I’m still shitting blood. It’s not slowing down. What was I thinking?! Scabs?! Inside my ass?! What if there are ruptures and the blood ruptures are being infected by feces? Don’t people die when their shit and blood begin to mix?

My stomach hurts. My head hurts. IT’S HAPPENING!

Could I bring this to my girlfriend? Could I ask Jade about this? Yeah! She’s really smart. A grade-A student through and through, she was studying to become a neonatologist and you know anyone with the suffix -ologist in their job title is legit.

She knows things I don’t know. She understands things about blood and bile and positrons and neutrons and Klingons and she pretty much just knows everything! She’ll know . . . she’ll know. But how do I breach the topic? This is touchy stuff, and it’s important not to make it weird. Then the answer comes to me clearly, like a comet in the night sky. It is a moment of what some may call divine clarity. It is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. The words come to me with such smooth precision it is as though a greater entity is speaking directly through me.

We’re sitting at the table, alone, at my house, eating jam-covered waffles. She smiles at me and I say, “I’ve been shitting blood for three weeks now. What do you suppose this—“ she drops her fork, but I finish my thought anyway, “—could mean?”

Coming from a world where it took eight years to get my missing testicle examined by a doctor, I was made strangely uncomfortable by the speed at which Jade scheduled an appointment for me later that same day. Neither of us knew it then, me nineteen, she just turning eighteen, but we were being given a small glimpse into our future, more than a decade away: The Caretaker and The Ass Bleeder.

I love her. I am nineteen and I know this. I love her for all of the fantastic things she is, says, and does, but I love her because I can tell her that I’m shitting blood and she is willing to get her hands (figuratively) dirty to solve it. She’s had commitment from day one. She’s a barnacle. She’s not letting go.

The next day, sitting again in the stagnant, falsely fresh smelling waiting room of my local clinic, I find myself staring at those same Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and wondering, “Where do they come from? Who is Georgia O’Keeffe? Why do all hospitals and clinics insist on using her work?”

I lean over to Jade and I ask (since she knows everything), “What do you think they’ll do? Do you think I’ll just get some pills or cream?” and Jade answers, “He’s probably going to take a speculum—” and I cut her off.

“Sorry. A what?”

“A speculum.”

“What’s a speculum?”

“Oh, it’s like this thing they put in your vagina and they turn this crank and it opens you up so they can get a really good view. They’ll probably do that to your ass.”

My face goes white. My blood turns to ice. She knows everything.

I say to her, “They’ve done this to you?” and she says, “Yeah. Couple times,” and I say, “And you think they’re going to—are you messing with me?” and she says, “No. They’re checking to see if you have blood fissures. They need to look. So they need to spread.”

I stand up. I am done. I will go with Plan B: The Scabbing Over Plan. But Jade grabs my hand before I can run and tells me to sit down. I think she’s going to say she’s just joking but instead she says, “Bleeding from your butt can mean colon cancer and men eighteen and up need to be getting checked regularly.”[*]

I say, “But the speculum . . . ?” and she finishes with, “Oh yeah, they’re shoving that thing way up there and parting you like the Red Sea.”

I stand up and begin heading toward the door when the nurse calls me, “Johnny . . . Buh . . . rookbag?” Every eye in the room lands on me, the guy standing up, looking like a deer in headlights. The nurse speaks softly, over the shuffle of papers and various weekly literature, “Right this way.”

Before disappearing into the halls, I turn back and take one last look at Jade who is sitting in her chair, a gossip magazine on her lap, spreading her hands open, miming a speculum.

I hate her.

But not the kind of hate that means I’m going to burn her house down. I mean the kind where you know they know better and they’re making you do something that’s necessary even though you don’t want to.

Inside the doctor’s office there is no cancer, there are no fissures or ruptures and there is, thankfully, no speculum. There is only a man with a rubber glove, a bunch of lube and a strange eagerness to examine me. In the end he gives me some pills and some cream and says to eat soft foods and to not press so hard. He tells me that the human body is an amazing thing and that I’ll be just fine.

It’ll heal itself.

I shrug and shake my head and walk back to the lobby, where I eyebrow beat Jade to death. We hold hands and walk out into the sunlight while Fate sits back and laughs, waiting eagerly for us to return on this path sooner rather than later. It watches our backs as we fade out with the glossy luster of blissful ignorance protecting us like armor.

We are still young, only nineteen. And neither of us have ever been struck with the harsh reality of true tragedy. We just don’t know anything yet.

But we very soon will.

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[*] Fact. So if you find the dirty death star dripping darkness, dash to the doc and have your derriere dissected.

 

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Alright, guys. Listen. That’s it for now. Next week is FIRST CONTACT: CHAPTER 4. And this is when the walls all begin to crumble. I’ve included a little excerpt below if you’d like to peak at it.

JB.

 

FIRST CONTACT: CHAPTER 4: EXCERPT

My left hand feels something that does not belong. A foreign object on my body, a second tongue, a third nipple, a fourth knuckle—it’s not right, not normal, not standard. It’s the size of a pea and rests casually on my single remaining testicle.

And this is the moment where my life breaks in two. I don’t know it yet but this is the moment of impact. Nothing will ever be as it was. Nothing will ever be the same.

 

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THE DESERT: CHAPTER 1

Welcome back! This week we’re looking at Chapter 1 from my book Cancer? But I’m a Virgo. If you’d like to start from the top, click here! Otherwise, we’ll see you at the bottom of the page! Let’s go.

PART 1

“Insert pithy yet poignant quote here that signifies the beginning of a long but life-changing journey.”

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It’s 5:45 a.m., and the sky is just beginning to lighten, turning from black, to shades of gray, to purple, to orange, same as a bruise. The sun just begins to peek over the mountains directly in front of me, and it’s one of the most beautiful and serene things I’ve ever seen.

I stare directly into the glowing orb and watch it rise, rise, rise, until it’s a blazing white-hot inferno too bright to look at. I roll my window down and the warm desert wind hits me in the face. After driving straight through a chilly night, it’s the perfect temperature. I crank the stereo; Zack de la Rocha’s latest band, One Day as a Lion, has just released its first five-track EP, and it has been my soundtrack from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for the past several hours.

The wind blows in my ears so I turn the music up louder. I turn the music up louder. I turn the music up louder. It’s at maximum volume and I am simply screaming alongside the lyrics, shaking my head and pounding the steering wheel. Whenever a car approaches, I quickly compose myself, pretending to just be a regular guy driving a regular family-friendly car on a regular freeway. As soon as I’m sure the car is out of sight, I resume my full-body-dry-heave inspired dance moves. Remember, dance like no one is watching . . . unless someone actually is. I am Axl Rose. I am Anthony Kiedis. I am Andrew W.K.

I slowly push my foot toward the floor and watch as the speedometer begins its sluggish ascent up the numeric Mount Everest built into my dashboard—75 . . . 80 . . . 90 mph . . . . I lock it in and cruise, watching cactus and dirt blur past me on the left and right. There is a certain freedom in the desert, a dirty voice that calls out to let everything go . . . a voice that is Reckless Abandon.

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At this time of morning, there are almost no cars on the highway so, like a horny high school boy, I begin to nudge a little further, just to see what’ll happen: 95 . . . 96 . . . 97 . . . 98 . . . . I’ve never pushed this or any other car to 100 mph, and being this close makes me want to just stick it in and slam it down.

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I take a deep breath, hold it, and juice the pedal. The gage immediately leaps like someone has jammed a cattle prod into the base of its skull . . . 99 . . . 100 . . . 105 . . . 110 . . . 115. At 120 mph I scream out the window at the top of my lungs.

I am twenty-five. It’s one month before my birthday, and I am invincible.

Nothing can touch me.

Nothing.

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Short chapter this week but please stick around! We’ve got a little set-up to do before we dig into the really bloody, painful, tragic stuff – you know, all the really delightful things!

Next Monday we’ll be experiencing Chapter 2: The Orange and The Sock where we’ll talk about my penis. It’s going to be really uncomfortable and I hope to see you there!

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Discovering Rainbows: When your children turn to memories

Sometimes, when we speak to children, specifically those under the age of 3, we find that there is something of a communication barrier.

Sometimes it’s because the words they use contain different meanings than the words we use. For example, when my children say “yesterday” they don’t mean “the day directly previous to today.” Instead they mean “any period of time that came before my last sleep.”

Dinosaurs were yesterday.

Sometimes Rory says that I’m being a bully. But he doesn’t mean “someone that pushes smaller people around” he means… well, he actually means exactly that but the heart of the matter is quite different. He doesn’t like being disciplined. So when I give him a time-out for hitting his sisters, I am, effectively, being a bully.

And then there are times where things are not understood because they are taken out of context.

One day I’m at a friend’s house and Rory turns to one of the girls there and says, “My dad says that we should eat blood.”

And then all eyes slowly shift towards me and I smile sheepishly and stupidly because, well, yes. Actually, as a matter of fact, I did say that.

But my context… was a little different.

Jade and I had recently visited Ireland where they have black pudding. Black pudding is made by taking animal blood, mixing it with oats and spices, forming them into patties and then frying them. Ultimately they look and taste a little like breakfast sausages. So I was telling the kids about this. I was telling them about the time daddy ate blood. And I was telling them that people do this. And I was telling them that they could do it as well.

So yes, I was telling them that they could eat blood.

Conversations and words are strange things because ultimately, words are just empty containers – empty cups – and each of us gets to choose what we’re going to fill them with. Knucklehead can be aggressive or endearing. It’s just an empty cup until I fill it with intent.

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Sometimes, however, we can’t understand children of that age because, well, we just literally can’t understand them. Their lips and tongues and brains aren’t quite functioning at full capacity yet. Their words sound mushy and drunk.

Like today when Bryce said, “Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

I hear these words escape her mouth and they’re said with such conviction that I’m certain they mean something. Certainly she’s saying something. For Bryce it seems that she has full intent but no cup and her words, rather than being neatly contained, are just splashing all over the place.

And so we try to interpret.

“Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

I’m sitting in a chair reading a book when she says this. I’m in the other room. There’s a wall separating us and my location in space has my back positioned to her. Ironically, you’ll just love this, my book is about finding happiness in the minutia of life. So it makes sense that, reading this book, I turn my head a quarter of an inch in my daughter’s direction and I say, “Oh, yeah. Neat. Okay,” and then go back to reading.

Rather than finding joy in my daughter, who is discovering and interacting with the exciting world around her – rather than connecting with a human, a child that came from me, no less – I choose to bury myself further in my own thoughts.

Because that’s what kind of person I am, I guess.

Because actions do speak louder than words.

Because even if we say, “I’m not like that,” our actions show us who we are. It’s so funny how, more often than not, our thoughts and our actions do not align. Our thoughts speak to ourselves (no one else can hear them) and our actions speak to others. So if we think one thing but do another, it creates a rift in our reality. We begin to think that we are someone that we are not. Or, worse yet, the world thinks we are one way while we think we are another.

There grows a haunting disconnect between that which we think we are and that which we actually are.

If I think I am the guy that gets up and engages with my children but when my children speak out to me, I pay them lip service in order to make them go away so that I can indulge in whatever it is I’m doing… who am I?

I give her just the absolute most minimal attention possible to hopefully satiate whatever want she has in this moment. Because I’m sure it’s nothing.

And then Bryce says, a little more enthusiastically, ““Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

“Nice. Nice. Yes. Yes. That’s very wonderful, isn’t it?” Look! I’m paying attention to you, Bryce! I’m giving you words.

I am giving Bryce empty cups. My words are cups but I have filled them with no intent at all. She is asking to be fed with attention and I’m just pushing empty plates at her.

“Nice. Nice. Yes. Yes. That’s very wonderful, isn’t it?” Whatever, whatever. Please leave me be. I’m reading a book. You are a babbling child who is almost certainly making a mess out of chocolate cereal at my dining room table. What do I have to say to appease you?

Or… what do I have to say to silence you?

Or… best yet… what do I have to say to make you go away?

Because you are bothering me and I want to be left alone.

What are we really saying when we say the words we are saying.

Sometimes I don’t understand what my daughter says because she’s three.

Sometimes I’m thankful my daughter can’t fully understand what I’m saying because she’s only three. Thank you, Bryce, for not understanding that I’m pushing you off.

Daddy. Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

Alright. So this problem is not going away. I’m actually going to have to engage. I shut my book and I set it down and I stand up and I walk around the corner and I see Bryce sitting at the table with, wouldn’t you know it, a mess of chocolate cereal in front of her. Wonderful. Guess whose cleaning that up?

“What is it, Little Ohm?” This is a character from a movie I saw once and for some reason I started administering the name to Bryce.

“Look. Darezah aimbow,” and she points. And I look. And I see nothing. I see nothing and I just think to myself, of course.

“What are you saying?”

“Darezah aimbow. Dare.”

“There’s a rainbow?”

“Yah.”

“In our house?”

“Yah.”

Where is this rainbow?”

“Dare.” She points. I still see nothing.

I sit down next to her at the table. I lower myself several feet. I squint. I lower myself further. I try to relax my eyes. Still nothing.

“Are you a freaking psychic medium?”

“Yah. Dare.”

I squat down lower. I bring my eyes to her level. I tilt my head like hers. And I follow her finger and I see… a rainbow.

In our house.

And it is a simple thing. But it is also a beautiful thing.

“There is a rainbow. Look at that.” I sit in silence and stare at the thing for a moment. “It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yah. Vewy pwetty.”

“Yes. It is vewy pwetty, isn’t it?” And then the two of us just sit and watch it. We just… enjoy it together. Like a piece of art in a gallery. We just sit and watch the rainbow, the silence periodically broken by the sound of dry, crunching cereal next to me.

“I wuv you, Daddy.”

It’s out of nowhere. Out of the blue. It has no greater purpose. No shadow intent. She isn’t trying to get something out of me. She isn’t trying to do anything. It is a cup that is filled with cold and refreshing water. The perfect amount. At the perfect time.

Where do I fit in this picture? How did I help create a being like this? They arrive here perfect and then we just start to slowly mess them up.

“May I have a hug, Bruce?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, Daddy.”

She puts down her spoon, delicately and intentionally balancing it inside the bowl, steps forward and hugs me. And she holds it. And she squeezes. And I can feel her smiling. When she pulls back she gives me a kiss on the cheek and says, “I love you, Daddy.”

Oh, it’s funny what a little perspective will do to your life. It’s funny that if we stop looking at things the way we see them and start looking at them the way someone else sees them, we actually get to experience life in a richer capacity.

If we open our ears and hearts to others, we get to see the world in a multitude of ways.

We can be both here and there. We can see things as adults. We can see things as children. And if we join together and sit down, we can somehow see the world as both. It’s like the 3-D glasses. You get to see through two lenses at once. And everything pops. Everything is brighter. More intense. More saturated.

I glance back at the rainbow and see that it’s fading – almost a gray color now. And I think about how fleeting all things are. The sun, nearly 100 thousand miles away, cast its light in just this way, to reflect just perfectly through that window, that someone built in that way. All of that coupled with my daughter standing in this room at this time (making a mess from her chocolate cereal), facing the proper direction as she was the exact height at this time of her life to see this miniature spectrum.

And she saw it in this tiny little window of time where it was available to her. Just a few moments in the late afternoon.

This special thing happened.

And then it was gone.

And we couldn’t get it back. So hopefully we enjoyed it.

“You want some cereal, Daddy?”

I nod. “Yes, please.” And she feeds me one small piece of chocolate cereal at a time. She drops a marshmallow on the floor, says, “Oops,” and then picks it up. It’s now covered in dust and hair. She balances it back on the spoon and says, “Here.”

I reach out, dust it off and bite.

The rainbow in our house is gone.

And then the cereal was gone.

And then Bryce left the table.

And then years passed.

And then Bryce left the house.

And then it was just me sitting in a chair with a book, remembering the time that I got to share a rainbow with her. Hoping that I enjoyed it.

Because this memory is all I have left.

 

 

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THE CAVE: Getting lost in the darkness of a failing marriage

“You’ve been married for eleven years?” someone asks me.

“Yeah. Eleven years. It’s a long time. We’ve been together for fifteen.”

What? Did you get married when you were twelve? How old are you? You’ve been married fifteen years? What’s that like?”

I suspect that they anticipate me to tell them that marriage is beautiful and wonderful and that I’m married to my best friend and everyday is a marvelous adventure.

But I don’t.

Instead I tell them the truth.

“What’s it like? It’s, uh… Marriage is like this dark cave. And when you get married you both go into the cave together. You take hands and you step into the darkness. That’s the unknown – this new part of life. You walk next to each other for a while and then one day your hands get sweaty and so you let go of each other but it’s all good because you can still hear them next to you. You’re still talking and you know that they’re there. It’s dark. It’s black. But you know they’re next to you.

And then one day you’ve talked about everything and so you get kind of quiet and you decide that just spending time in one another’s company is enough. And so you just keep walking in the dark, next to each other, in silence. And it’s okay because you know that they’re still there. You can still hear their footsteps.

And then one day you ask them a question. And you get no response. And you realize that they are gone. You realize that you’ve gotten separated. You’ve drifted apart. And you are alone. And somewhere, they are alone as well.

You call out to them. You shout their name and you get no response. And so you go looking for them because you know that they’re there… somewhere. You know that somewhere in this cave they’re wandering around. They’re doing their thing and you’re doing yours.

You call for them and in the distance you hear them. And you keep shouting and you keep calling and you keep walking and you try to get back to them.

And you hope that you find them.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Some people are walking in the cave and they’re like, ‘I’m done walking in the dark with you.’ And those people turn around and they walk back towards the light. Sometimes they walk back towards the light and out of the cave together. And sometimes they do it alone.

And sometimes that’s okay.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

One day you wake up and you’re thinking, ‘This is not the person that I married. This is not the person that was standing next to me at the altar.’ And, if you’re self-aware enough you may realize that you are also not the same person that was standing at the altar and that your spouse is experiencing you in an entirely new way.

You’ve both changed. You’re both completely different people. And then you wonder if you can keep making it work. Because those other versions could do it… but you’re not sure these new versions are a fit.

How do you put together a puzzle when the pieces keep changing shape?

Now drop kids into the mix. Oh, shit. Things are getting complicated.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

You have a dream of having a career. A specific career. And so you educate yourself in that field. Maybe you go to college. Maybe you go to a tech school. Maybe you read books and watch YouTube videos. However you prepare for it, it is, at its core, a preparation. An education of self.

So then you get that job and then the industry changes – new technologies or practices emerge. So your boss sends you to receive additional training. You learn new ways to process information. You learn new techniques. The career field changes and so you must adjust.

So we apply hours and weeks and sometimes even years and sometimes even decades of preparation to a job (say hello, doctors!) and yet, when we discuss marriage, when we prepare to live with another person full time and make life changing decisions with them… we… do… nothing…

The church that married Jade and I encouraged us to take three 30-minute classes.

90 minutes of training for the task at hand is not enough.

I’ve been married for just over a decade and the training I’ve received on-the-job has not been nearly enough.

But marriage is not like a job. You just get thrown in first day with no idea what you’re doing and nobody encourages serious training. Nobody tells you to re-educate yourselves after five years or ten years. Nobody tells you that your marriage career is going to change and you’re going to have to make it work or get fired. And if you suggest education – if you suggest marriage counseling you get this taboo sense that something is wrong with you.

You know that feeling I’m talking about. That unspoken weirdness that everyone thinks but does not speak. This idea that is perpetrated in our culture that marriage counseling is for the weak and broken and… my personal favorite…

If you have to go to marriage counseling you weren’t meant to be.

Because if you have to ask for help it is because you are stupid. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that everyone else knows how to do this? Don’t you know that it comes easily and naturally to everyone else? Marriage is simple and straight-forward and if you need advice it is because the pieces do not work together and there is no hope anyways. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that it’s better to live miserable little lives than it is to seek counsel? Don’t you know that?

What if we applied that logic to other areas of our lives? Son, if you need to ask a question in class, you probably just aren’t smart enough to begin with.

If you need to look at the recipe for how to make chili, you probably weren’t made for chili. Sorry. It’s delicious but you don’t get any. Shoo-shoo, Oliver Twist.

Listen. Seeking education does not make you stupid or wrong. Seeking education makes you self-aware. Education and intellect craft a stronger individual, crafts a stronger family, crafts a stronger culture, crafts a stronger world.

Do not allow the uninformed to inform your thinking.

Do not be engaged and dissuaded by a society that has a 50% failure rate in marriage.

Set your own rules. Live by your own standards.

Education is not a swear word.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I’m broken.

That’s a fact.

I’ve got a bunch of baggage that I carry around with me everywhere I go. I’ve got baggage about my family. I’ve got baggage about my parents. I’ve got baggage about my faith. I’ve got baggage about my body. I’ve got baggage about my personality. I’ve got baggage about my grades and my IQ and my creative abilities. I’ve got pride issues. I’ve got insecurity issues.

And my wife gets to adopt them.

And I get to adopt all of her bullshit.

And then we have to figure that stuff out together.

We say things we don’t mean. We do things we know we shouldn’t. We raise our voices and we walk away from conversations and sometimes we hurt each other with nothing more than our intent.

Thank GOD people have not heard some of the stuff I’ve said to my wife in the heat of an argument. Shit has come out of my mouth that I think about today and cringe. I have said things to her for no other reason than to hurt her. And that speaks to who I am (or hopefully was) as a person, at my core. At the time I would have said it was her fault. It’s her fault for being a specific way and I was just bringing it all to light and if it hurt her it’s because it was true.

These are the words and thoughts of someone that is selfish and arrogant.

The vows tell us that we’re going to be together through sickness and health, for better or worse but what they don’t tell us is that it’s sometimes going to feel like you’re dragging along a dead marriage, fighting uphill to make it work. They don’t tell you that there will be periods of time – not just days and weeks but entire months – that drag on through the gray drizzle of time and you’ll wonder just what is wrong with your spouse because it’s not you. It’s not you. It’s never you. It’s always them. Making mistakes.

“I’m trying. You’re not.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Getting married is like a light to all of your shortcomings as a human being. Your spouse will illuminate all the problem areas. It’s painful and it’s terrible and it hurts to look at yourself and see all the flaws. And it’s just so much easier to turn your face to one side and not look at that pile of problems that create you, as a person, and it’s so much easier to deflect blame to the other.

It is so much easier to look at someone’s shortcomings and it is so much easier to nurture resentment for a million little things and a handful of big things.

It is so much easier to judge others.

And it is simple to judge our spouse.

And so you choose.

Those three thirty minute classes didn’t prepare us for cancer at 26. They didn’t prepare us for lay-offs. They didn’t prepare us for invitro-fertilization. They didn’t prepare us for twins. They didn’t prepare us for a miscarriage. They didn’t prepare us for the day-in-day-out minutia of life and they didn’t prepare us for the fact that Jade likes things done a certain way and I like things done a certain way and those ways typically are not the same but are, more often than not, quite opposite.

Those classes didn’t prepare us for anything.

I wish I could say that everyday Jade and I choose to hang onto each other in the darkness of the cave but the reality is that we don’t.

Sometimes we are cold and calculating.

And sometimes we are terrible.

And cruel.

But we try.

We choose.

We choose to continue to stumble blindly through the dark, seeking each other.

And sometimes we choose to talk about walking back into the light. Sometimes we talk about what a divorce looks like.

And sometimes we have fun together and we find each other and we remember why we do this. We remember why the search is worth it.

We remember that we love each other and that our family is amazing and that we’re very lucky and it is only our own selfish shortcomings that are destroying us and we realize that if we can choose to be better people, we can choose to be the best for each other.

And when our spouse shines a light on our problem areas – our selfishness, our arrogance, our pride – we can choose to get angry that someone noticed our darkness… or we can thank them for being close enough to us to point out our flaws. And then we fix them together.

“But, man…” I conclude. “Marriage is really hard.”

The guy across the table looks at me. I notice he doesn’t have a ring on his hand. I wonder if he’s thinking about proposing.

“But it’s also amazing. Marriage is beautiful and wonderful and I’m married to my best friend and everyday is a marvelous adventure.”

 

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THE SPIRALING CORNUCOPIA OF PALE LAVENDER [SEQ. 7 – 8]

 The Spiraling Cornucopia of Pale Lavender is  a 10-part series of fiction that explores faith and reality. Below is part 6. To read the introduction of the project, click here.

To read part 1, click here.

To read part 2, click here.

To read part 3, click here.

To read part 4, click here.

To read part 5, click here.

Otherwise, begin scroll.

 

42The Painter says, “You have to do this part alone,” and I turn around to find him standing at the top of the steps. 43“I’m afraid.” And he says, “I know. Everyone is. You are not alone.” 44And then he shuts the door and I’m left in the starlight. 45I witness a shadow descend from the ceiling – a shape about my size but darker – its features a shadow. Not cloaked in shadow. But actual shadow. The form of a man. 46His clothes are baked of darkness. 47I can see Him but I cannot contain him with my brain. 48I see a figure but not a form. 49His structure is both tall and narrow. He slowly descends through the air until he lands on his hands and knees. 50I watch his face rise and think that the lack of light must be playing tricks on my eyes. “Who are you?” I ask but there is no response. “Hello,” but still nothing. 51HE stands up and says, “Don’t think of me like that. I do not deserve capitalization.” 52He walks to me, cracking his knuckles as he does so and I see that a silvery stream is being left in his wake. It fades. His shoes are black and 53his socks are red. “They are not red. You only perceive them as such.” I perceive his shoes to be black and his socks to be red. My mind also perceives him to be wearing a soiled black suit and a white shirt that has been covered in dried sweat. 54He speaks, “If you mean to converse with me it is because you have come a long way. You have come a long way to find me and so you deserve certain truths. 55First, understand that you do not see me. Understand that this is a form your consciousness gives you in order to process my vastness. 56Understand that I am not a HE or a she. Understand that gender binaries are beneath me. 57To be a singular male is to have weakness for you cannot repopulate alone. 58Your species is destined to die without your counterpart. 59Likewise, I am above it as well as you would place value upon it. I am not an it, lacking in sexual orientation. 59I am above sexual orientation because it serves no function to me as I live outside of the parameter of time, your greatest enemy. 60Time plays no role in my existence. 61Day and night are just different points in one long stream of consciousness. Time holds no value for me and as such, I will never die.” 62The question comes tumbling out of my mouth, “Are you God?” and the creature stops and smiles. “You always ask the same question. And I always answer the same way. 63Why do you wish to know? When will you cast aside your simple curiosities and step forward in conscious decision? 64What would you do if I said, Yes. I am God and you are my great ejaculate, formed in my image to wander the earth seeking truth. 65Does this help you? Does this give you forward motion? Why are you here?” and I tell him (it) that I want to know the truth. 66He laughs and says, “There, there. You’ve made it. Great job.” And he places his hand on my shoulder and I cringe at how much emotion radiates from it. 67I feel the complete spectrum in one complete charge. The happiness and the fear are tangled and braided together. But I can also sense something else. Something bigger. 68There are emotions beyond my spectrum. I can see them at the edges of the color wheel. I can see that the spectrum continues on but it all goes black and white and then it starts to fade. But it’s right there and I’m on the edge of it all. 69I almost ask what it is but I know what he’ll say. He’ll tell me that I already know and he’s right. 70Everything is coming back to me. Whatever I knew before. Whatever I used to understand, it’s all coming back. 71I know that I used to know something else and I know that I’m hatching into it. 72Have I been here before? When this creature said that I always ask the same question, did he mean me personally or did he mean all humans or did he mean everyone / thing that has ever come up here and the man says, “That is right. But I am not a man.” 73I look at him and think to myself, “Who are you? What do I call you? How do I think of you?” 74“My name is not important and what you call me is not important. 75For the sake of our exercise, you may call me Uncle. You may associate that term with the male side of your species but understand that I do not. I tell you all of this to help you understand. 75First, elevate your perception. 76I am beyond sex. 77Second, your language lacks proper words and I would like to be represented as closely to my true form as possible. 78Your personal emotions are very closely tied to the word ‘Uncle’. I see why but I would like to hear you tell me. 79I find your voice pleasant. Do you ever go to the park to listen to bird’s chirp? It’s quite nice.” 80“My Uncle Andy raised me when my dad left.” “Uncle Andy. I appreciate the transgender element of the name. Would it help you if I were to dawn the glamour of Uncle Andy?” Uncle Andy asks me, sitting in front of me, in his leather recliner. 81I try to pull back what The Shadow Thing looked like before – before he was Uncle Andy. Did I see his face? 82All I can bring to the surface is pock-marked skin the color of fabric softeners, a scar of red lips and black, featureless eyes that hold universes within them. 83“Does this help you, son?” Uncle Andy asks me and pops a small powdered donut into his mouth. 84“We can talk about ultimate consciousness if you think it sounds cool.” 85“No. I don’t want this. I don’t want the pony show. I want the truth. Not a version of it. Come back to me as you are – as close as I can understand you. Help me understand you more.” 86“Oh, lonely boy. You will never understand me. The Big Bang was earlier in my afternoon. I have seen the rise and fall of cultures before brunch. I have witnessed countless evolutions. I have seen life crawl from the seas and descend from the heavens and I have watched it grow and breed and destroy itself over and over in many places, in many realms, on many plateaus. 87And now you’re wondering if god created you in his image and I’ll tell you that god did create them in his image but “they” are not “you” and “you” are just a nucleic acid in the petri dish of a greater intelligence. 88How does that make you feel? How does that answer make your heart cry out?” 89and I feel hopeless and tired and everything turns grey. 90“If not for god, what is my purpose?” and Uncle Andy says, “But what has changed? Do you not feel your simple curiosity for the zest of life any longer? 91Does your compassion for your earth bound brothers and sisters dissolve into mud? Do you no longer desire your favorite foods or yearn to take part in your favorite past times? 92Do you not desire to have a career that feeds your soul? 93What difference does your origin truly make to you?” 94I stare at my hands and at my feet and realize that I am a cosmic joke. 94I stare into the sky and wonder if a technologically advanced microscope is staring into this lighthouse and if it sees me and I wonder if, worse, it can actually see into me? Can it peep into my brain? Can it stare into my soul? 95Do I have a soul? 96“What do you mean when you say soul?” “I mean something inside of me that makes me live.” “Like your heart?” “No. Something deeper.” “Your brain holds many mysteries.” “Not my brain. My soul. It is the thing that makes me tick. It’s the thing that brings me life.” “But your organs bring you life.” “But what brings them life?” “Your blood.” “And what gives me blood?” ”Your bone marrow.” “But – ” 97“What is it you want me to say that will put your silly curiosity to sleep? 98If I told you that I were god and that I created you, would you next ask me…” “Where did you come from?” 99“And if I told you that I were burped from a black hole you would say…” “Who put the black hole here?” 100“Yes. And at risk of sounding rude I am going to tell you that your simple curiosity is stupidity cloaked in false intelligence. 101Do you know what I am? That is a rhetorical question. 102You have come to my realm and crawled up the steps of my tower and you have found me and you could ask me anything and you waste your time with trivial brain vomit.” 103I apologize and tell him or it or THAT or THE CREATION or Uncle Andy that I am sorry and feel insignificant for wasting his time or its time. 104“You are not wasting my time. Time has no bearing on me. It is a box that does not confine me. Time is an element that I do not have to acknowledge. 105Do you understand that you are a projection? 106“What? No. A projection of what?” 107“You are a projection of your true self. This place – this world – this level of consciousness – is defined by laws and rules. Time being one of them. Gravity. The elemental forces. These are things that are unique to this level and your being – your present form – is being projected onto this surface. 108Who you see is not who you are. Who you see is just the version of yourself that most accurately suits this realm. 109I will tell you what you need to ask because it is clear to me that you are drowning in a sea of thoughts and anxieties right now. 110What you need to ask me, while you still have time is who is your projector? What is your projector? What and where are your projections coming from? 111If this is just a version of yourself that is meant to fit into this world, then what is the true version of you? 112Is it in your brain? Is it in your heart? Is it in this soul that you speak of? 113Do you exist on another realm? Is your real self aware that it is projecting an avatar onto different worlds? 114Are you being controlled by someone else? Is your projector a part of you? 115Or are you just a tool that someone else mentally controls to complete tasks? Are you a defunct program? Have you gone rogue? Are you a virus? Are you a cancer? What are you?” 116A heavy silence falls across the room that causes the windows to shatter. The breeze blows in and brushes my blonde hair out of my eyes. 117“I just want to know the truth.” Uncle Andy shakes his head slightly. “No. You don’t.” 118“You don’t know what I want.” The words sound childish coming out of my head. 119“If everything in this world was breathed into existence by The Painter then aren’t you and your Eternal Power also subjects of another’s creation?” 120Uncle Andy smiles and asks if he may touch me. I don’t answer but he reaches out regardless and places his palm against the center of my skull. “Are you ready for a glimpse?” 121A tear runs down my cheek and my stomach and heart fill with fear. 122I don’t know what’s about to [SEQ. VIII] 1I see a giant black orb floating in a sky of absolute white. Small streams of red pulse through the white like rivers of blood. It reminds me of photos I’ve seen of Earth taken from outer space. The white stretches to the horizon. 2A rushing wind hits me and tears my skin off, peels it back until I am just muscle and blood myself. 3My skin flaps in the breeze and disappears like a pair of lost pants. 4I hear a voice that is a loud and booming whisper. A spring breeze that will destroy a city. 5Voice says, “Look upon me and be in awe.” 6And it is in this moment that I realize I am not looking at a giant black orb and the sky is not white and the red is not rivers. 7I understand that I am looking at an eyeball. A singular eyeball. An eyeball that is so large that I am dwarfed by the pupil. 8I look down and see that I am standing on a platform made of flesh.

 

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Part 7 premieres next Monday the 27th. We become a food source of God, travel through the holy G.I. tract and find ourselves evacuated into a living memory.

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HUG CONTEST

I’ve got this thing that I do.

At night, after I’ve got the kids in bed and settled down, books read, conversations had, questions answered, minds settled, I announce a Hug Contest.

One by one, they each get to give me a hug and then, at the end, I announce a winner. And yes, I announce an actual winner. I tell one of them that they gave the best hug. I try to mix it up but I also try to be fair because, honestly, not all hugs are created equal.

When we started doing this, Rory was more of a quantity over quality type of guy. He would jump at me, throw his arms around my neck and squeeze so hard that I would begin to see black dots in front of my eyes. I would fall to the ground, he would wrap his legs around me and wheeze into my ear while straining, “Is… this… a… good… hug?” Instead of answering, I would tap out.

Bryce is always a welcome competitor afterward as she likes to gently but firmly wrap her arms around my neck and squeeze. It is as though she often times actually embodies the hug. Becomes the hug. Her hair nuzzles up against my cheek and tickles my nose.

Quinn likes to mix it up – she’s kind of a mixed martial artist in that capacity. Little bit of technique from here, little bit from there, put em all together and what have you got? I never know what’s going to come at me. Sometimes it’s quite nice. Sometimes it is exceptionally painful. Sometimes she takes the Rory route, sometimes she takes the Bryce route and sometimes she just gives me a quick squeeze, almost an accidental brush-by and says, “How was that?” like she’s gaging my reaction in order to perfect the technique.

But here’s the thing about naming a winner in a Hug Contest… more important than the execution of the hugger is the need of the huggee.

Sometimes I want a warm hug. Sometimes I want it to linger. Sometimes I want Rory to put me in a rear chokehold until I black out. The kids are aiming at a moving target but they don’t know it. Which is great because they just try their best every single night.

And every night there is a new winner.

And the winner is always so happy. The winner always goes to bed smiling. Because the winner won.

And the best thing? Even when you lose, you’ve still gotten a hug.

I started by just rotating winners and that worked for a bit. Rory, Quinn, Bryce, Rory, Quinn, Bryce. But it quickly became too predictable, even for a three year old. I wanted to keep them on their toes. I didn’t want them to think that they were trapped in a thankless system where they just won every third day.

So then I started actually judging them. And then I told them why. I would tell them why they won.

So then. Quinn had proven herself victorious in the Hug Contest two nights in a row and then Bryce had won the following evening which ended with Rory saying, “I never win!” and then on the fourth night, just as I was getting Quinn into bed, she says, “Can we do the Hug Contest tonight?” and I say, “Sure! Let’s do it,” and then Rory says, “I want to be the judge,” and I say, “You want to be the judge in a hug contest that you’re competing in? Do you know what conflict of interest means?” and he says, “No.”

So I tell him that he can’t be the judge and I tell him this because I know. I know. I know what this little scoundrel is thinking. He’s thinking that if he is the judge then tonight he could rig the competition in his favor. He will nominate himself as best hug giver. He will reap the plunder.

But I’m a parent.

I’m smarter than that.

I’m smarter than him.

And so I say, “No. Sorry, man. You can’t be the judge. You can’t do it. Not if you’re in the contest. It wouldn’t be fair,” and he says, “PLEASE!?” and I say, “No, dude. It isn’t fair,” and he says, “Ug, doood.”

And so we round robin this thing and at the end I’m feeling quite loved and quite wonderful and I tell them all, their six eyes staring at me, “You guys… this is a first time ever, history making event, in the annals of Hug Contest history…”

They wait with baited breath.

We have a three way tie!”

I applaud and then Quinn says, “Yippie!” and Bryce echoes her and Rory moans. “But who won?” he asks and I say, “You all did!” and he says, “I want to be the judge,” and I say, “You want to judge?” and he says, “Yes. I want there to be a winner. Not a tie,” and I say, “Alright. Let’s all give Rory a hug and he can decide who wins. A second Hug Contest in one evening! Another history making event!”

And Rory gets serious and he says, “No. No dad. I don’t want to,” and I say, “You don’t need any hugs?” and in my head I think, How convenient. You don’t even need to see the competitors. You already know who the winner is. You’ve got a lot to learn about being shady, bub.

And so I say, “Okay. Let’s hear it, Rory. Who’s the winner? Who is the winner of your Hug Contest? Who… have you named winner?”

And Quinn and Bryce and I sit and stare at him as he holds a finger to his lips. He says, “Hmmmm…” and really mulls over the options. Decent form, I think. He’s obviously fooling the little ones but not me. I’ve got your number, pal. You think you’re being shady? I invented shade. I am the tree that casts it.

And then he smiles, completely aware that now is the moment he is unveiling his master plan. He looks at me and says, “You are the winner, dad! You give the best hugs!”

And then my heart breaks. And then my stomach turns inside out. And then my eyes begin to fill with tears.

Ah, shame. Guilt. Stupidity. Give me your best because I deserve them all. I am insignificant and putrid and vile. I am disgusting and full of loathing. I am selfish and stupid and, worst of all, obtuse and ignorant.

Aren’t I a humble parent? Aren’t I a humble person? No. Not at all. You think you know so much but you know nothing, Johnny Snow. You see the worst in people. You expect people to act selfishly. You anticipate people to act in a specific way. You think you are better. And this is one of your greatest faults.

The mirror is a painful place to look. Oh, there’s a shortcoming. And another. And another. And another.

It is one thing to look at yourself, examine yourself, and come to terms with certain facets of your personality, slowly turning them over and slowly revealing them. There is something soothing in that process – the process of growth, which we are all on over many, many years.

Oh, but the pain of having a child reveal the entire ugly picture of yourself to yourself, all at once. It’s like the coroner pulling back the blanket on the corpse of a loved one and seeing them diseased and rotting. But it is not a loved one. It is me. And it is not my rotting skin but my heart.

I leave their room with my head down, the weight of my pride dragging me to the ground.

 

 

 

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