Tag Archives: compassion

ICE CREAM: CHAPTER 34

2448_1098935758122_8717_n

 

PART 4

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

–Kurt Cobain

 

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

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

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

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

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

Me.

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

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

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

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

Brown.

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

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

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

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

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

I am The Boss.

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

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

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

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

Five months.

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

Five months.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

 

 

 

***Subscribe for updates. New blog every Wednesday – friends, family, life, death, kids and adventure. And on Mondays we’re currently releasing a fiction in 10 parts called The Spiraling Cornucopia of Pale Lavender. Part one linked to the left and the intro is linked here. It’s a tale of evolving consciousness through many different plains of reality. If that sounds weird enough to check out, you should.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 6

1

It’s Sunday night and I’m driving to church solo.  With everyone we know being sick, we’ve decided to try and quarantine our children into the house and Bubble-Boy them from any diseases.  Six days pre-baby would not be an ideal time for the two kids to come down with the drowsy, coughing, dripping, sleeping, scratchy throat sickness.  Welcome to the world, new baby!  GERMS!

After serving in the Info Center and directing people hither and tither, “Water Baptisms this way, New Believers Packets down stairs, Sign up to Volunteer here,” etc, etc, so forth and so on, I make my way to the balcony and stare down at a man named Robert who gives a sermon about faith and obedience and about going out into the world.

How do you become those disciples in the Bible?  DO YOU become those disciples in the Bible?  How do you go from the person you are now to the person you are called to be?  Well, like everything in life, you take it one step at a time.  You wake up this morning and you pray on your way to work.  You read a chapter from your Bible.  You let someone slide into traffic.  You hold a door.  You reflect the love of Christ and you go out into a dark world completely fearless knowing that God has his arms around you.

2

On my drive home I speculate about what I could be doing; what are my next steps.  I don’t pray enough.  I don’t read my Bible enough.  I pray with my kids at night and over meals and I read them stories from the children’s Bible but am I raising them to invest in faith or am I merely showing them what a Christian going the motions looks like?

So I have to question myself and wonder, when people look at me – maybe not just the quick sideways glance – but when they look at me, do they know that I’m a Christian?  Do my actions and deeds in my public life reflect someone who cares?

I come home and sit down for a late dinner with the kids and I say, “Let’s pray,” and both kids shut their eyes and Quinn even curls her hands beneath her chin and I think, “God, please let me do this right.  I’m not just trying to raise operable adults.  I’m trying to raise children who love You and feel compassion for The World around them.”

I pray for our food and the children repeat, I pray for a small list of sick people we know and the children repeat, I pray for protection over my dad, who is currently oversees with the military and they repeat.  I say, “Amen,” and we eat.

After dinner Quinn asks if we can go swing and, it’s pitch black out and well beyond her bedtime but I figure, “What’s ten minutes?”  We go outside and I sit on the swing and she in my lap and as we rock back and forth, she looks up at the stars and says, “Dad!  Look!  Stars!” and I say, “Yes, that’s right,” and then she says, “Dad, give me a kiss,” and so I do.

3

Thirty feet away, through the darkness of our lawn, over our patio and on top of the steps leading into our back door, I see a small figure shyly emerge and look around.  It speaks.  “Daa-haaad??”  It’s Rory and he suspects we’re out here but can’t see us way out in the back, his eyes not yet adjusted to the light.

I shout, “We’re right here!” and his face follows my voice but I can tell that he still can’t see me so I say, “We’re swinging!” and he jumps off the back steps and runs, fearless, into the darkness, positive that his father is out there.  He runs straight to me and says, “Let’s swing!

As I push he and Quinn I wonder how I can be like that; how can I run into the darkness, believing my Father is out there, waiting for me with some ethereal and eternal swing set.

The first step, I suppose, is to jump off the back steps.

I get into my car in the morning and listen to a chapter of The Bible on my iPhone, hoping and praying that concentric circles ripple out from every decision I make and affect those around me in positive ways.  I pray that my decisions influence my children, who influence the world.

Remember, every free thinking world changer had a dad.  And remember, if you’re reading this and you are a dad, it is your responsibility to create and inspire change, not only in your family, but in your world.  You are a guiding light, a beacon and the Make-Or-Break point for each child in your life.

There are no excuses for being a bad example.

Grab your children, embrace them, and send them out into a dark world that needs compassion.

4

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,