Learned a lot

(Amos Lee reference)

I don’t know that there has been a more appropriate song leading into an entry than this one, Learned A Lot, by Amos Lee. Hopefully, you can play it. A great song, and a great way to dive back in.

I quit posting to this blog about five years ago, I guess. I have done things to update it, but those updates were cosmetic and probably not worth the trouble. From time to time I would drop in, borrow one of the entries to post somewhere where I thought it might help someone in the moment, but for reasons I cannot fathom, I quit posting new stuff.

In re-reading it, though, and in looking for things I thought I had described but apparently hadn’t, I realized that in the moment, in the living of the events of my two cancer experiences, especially the first one, a lot was left out, a lot was told from a very specific and, frankly, ignorant, perspective that omitted much that might have been of importance to others.

Additionally, of course, much has happened in these past five years that might be of use to others now that many of us are becoming long-term survivors: it seems that there is little literature on this phenomenon because it a relatively recent phenomenon, in the main. That is a good thing, obviously, that there are a lot more of us now. On the other hand, people need to speak. I am going to speak.

So, for better or worse, I am applying the defibrillators to this blog.

I’ve learned a lot. I really have.

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“Vaya con Dios, goodbye”

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(George Strait reference)

I have misplaced a friend.  No.  I’ve lost a friend.  Gone with a capital G.  Adios.  Bit the bullet, bought the farm, had a date with the Grim Reaper.  Pushing up daisies, a dirt inspector.

Dixiegirl has left the building.

I thought the world of this girl, this lady.  She had a cancer called non-hodgkins lymphona.  All my exes live with hexes.

No, she was not an ex of mine.  Hell, I only ever knew her digitally, except that we communicated, made each other laugh, showed concern for one another, wanted to outlive one another, maybe, but only barely 🙂 .  Okay, not that close.  But close enough.

She left the farm, bought the bullet, had a date with daisies, shoved the inspector grimly.

But we had some fun.  The last thing I got from her was an explanation of the family Schitt.  Yep.  Rough, homespun humor out of Kansas, and at least a kernel of truth in everything she said.

Briefly, the world, my world, was out of balance.  I was a friend short.  I opted to go to an art show in Norfolk, the Shockley Gardens Art Show.  For a good cause, they advertised.  For a very good cause, they did not know:  I needed to celebrate the passage of my friend to wherever Jayhawks fans go after the final buzzer.  I needed to celebrate with a splash of yellow and maybe some KU blue if forced to, but definitely some vibrant yellow in something that I can plop down on a floor or plop up on a wall and see every time I go into the plopping room so as to remember her, to remember Beth, to remember dixiegirl, so as to feel, and to laugh, and to shed a small, nearly indiscernible tear.  Every time I see that vibrant plop of yellow.

From an art show.

You’d think there would be lots of vibrant yellow at an art show, but you would be mistaken, at least if you went to this art show with my leaning as part of your handicap, given that we all have handicaps of one sort or another.

No vibrant yellow in media and thinking to my liking.  It is likely that I have, now, some digital friends that could conjure up a meaningful plop or splash or dollop or stroke or finesse or caress or point or swirl or dab or jab or touch of yellow for me, but it was hard to find at the Shockley Gardens Art Show.

Held at least partially to provide some funds to the Hope House.  And here I am, Mr. Hope and Humor:  how could I resist?

Corrine and I lit out for Norfolk (a block or so from her home away from home, the hospital where she works and where, incidentally, my life has been saved on a couple or more occasions) and among the Norfolk artista we milled and roamed and brayed and lowed and whinnied and generally tried to enjoy ourselves ‘mongst the art and the ART and the crab cakes and the lemonade, discovering early that art, ART, is not for the proletariat if prices are the fundamental indicator.

I think it is.  Price, that is.  The fundamental indicator, that is.  (Cindy:  Fundamental Indicator is a GREAT name for a band.)

I could afford none of the pieces I might have wanted on a more substantial budget (Cindy:  Substantial Budget would suck as a band name.)

Some folks had prints available.  But vibrant yellow, this was in short supply.  Artists are apparently in their serious mood in Norfolk and environs, OR yellow paint is really expensive because no one was using it, or if they were using it, were using it sparingly.  This, of course, allowing for my eschewing of the gangly and baublic, the three dimensional and the woody, the twinkling and the ceramic, although I nearly bent as desparation set in.

I found it, and found my new friend.  They were not replete with yellow as it happened, and she was mildly black, actually a lovely sort of smooth, dare I say it, mahogany, not elderly but older than the young crowd, cottony curly locks (is cottony permitted in this context?), her, I mean, not the IT, not the art.

Around her were various paintings of various subjects, all of one subject, and I said to her, when first we met (although we had not yet talked) “Ah, whimsy!”  An elderly white lady (it is important, I think, in the moment) looked at me and smiled and went back to talking to the mahogany lady, who looked up only briefly, eye to eye, nodded and said to the white lady, “Everyone says ‘whimsical'”, as if that were bad.  I nodded to air and ultimately left, scouring the remaining realm of ART for some art, a piece to represent my friend Beth, my friend dixiegirl henceforth.

I came back at the end of our day of art worship with my wife in tow (is tow permitted in these circumstances, tow-headed equivalent to cotton-topped in much of the English-speaking world), and showed my wife the work I liked, the work I thought might represent dixiegirl, Beth, but which I could never afford, proletarian that I am, more so now than ever, and Corrine liked some things if not the same things, and went riffling through the prints place (Proletarians shop here), and found some of my choices in print prices and showed them to me and she expected me to buy one and …

They were really nice, and included musical matter, an edge my wife knew would suck me in, and if there was not much vibrant yellow (there was some, in one) there was vibrant yellow in the intent, in the backdrop, in the meaning.  You know:  I could see and feel and taste and hear and touch yellow.  That was good enough for me.

I said to my new friend:  “You know, I said ‘whimsical’ before.  Do you remember me?  I said ‘whimsical’.  But the whimsy would not shout without the pathos there, begging for it to be noticed, there in the pathos.”  She smiled and nodded.

I’ll bet artists agree with everybody.

It’s a black kid eating a watermelon, but you make of it what you want you effing white devil!

Okay, I’m projecting 🙂

I began to bargain with her.  Corrine later asked, “Are you supposed to bargain with artists?  Don’t they find that distasteful?”

Um, not if they want to eat, Corrine.  “Yeah, I think they do, like musicans and even nurses and programmers, Corrine, but they have to eat, too.”

Not much haggling.  I said I had this amount and wanted the two, the sax and the piano. A deal?  She said don’t tell anyone, and I said, it’s about to rain and my friend is waiting.

I didn’t say that.  It would have been really cool, especially if we were in a movie or something, a play maybe.  I said, “Do I look like I can afford your stuff?  Besides, these are prints; they won’t appreciate.”

That was a kiss of death, nearly, but in boomerang fashion, I suspect, she realized I really was a boob (not a breast, certainly not one of Angelina’s sophisticated but Gone with a capital G breasts, but rather a rube of a boob) and she went for it.

And I have a new friend whose vibrant if tacit splash, dollop, bag, can, tin, bale, box, sock, tram, pram, trolley of yellow is on my wall in two doses of music for dixiegirl, Beth.

The circle remains unbroken, yin and yang conjoined slenderly, music, sweet music, and memories of Beth, dixiegirl, wafting through the echoing chambers of my heart, my mind, my soul.

“This is the end, my friend, the end”

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(The Doors reference)

As of today, I remain cancer-free. I know that does not mean I do not have cancer. It means that (a) if I have it, it is too small to detect; and (b) my ENT is so backed up that I have left rather than waiting for either of the two recent appointments set up for us and Nostril Damus.

Oh, and (:) ) I am cancer-free!

Note that I have GONE to both appointments with ENTMan, and the first time I even stayed for two hours or so before getting up and leaving. Even my wife, who HATES when I do that, had little argument with that one. Note that for the second, as someone who learns from his mistakes, I asked immediately upon filling out the paperwork how long it was going to be, and the lady at the desk checked and told me, “At least an hour.” I said, “He should know better than anyone but me that my time is valuable, as valuable as his (am I getting cocky or what?). Tell him I said ‘Hi.”

I left. Some people suggest that I am cutting off my nose to spite my face or some such odd pagan ritualistic thing (if it IS a Judeo-Christian ritual, I am not aware of it and am even more thankful that I left the church when I did). I beg to differ. Okay, I beg to argue for argument’s sake.

It IS true that the man saved my life. It IS true that I may need for him to do so again at some point, if I have not really ticked him off at this point. (My thinking is that I am making him happy by freeing up part of his day, the part, not where I would be slotted, since that is very obviously being filled by someone else, but the part where he gets to go home. That is the theory I am working with at the moment.)

It is probably true that MY surgery and prior and post stuff probably took time away from other patients for him, the surgery in particular. I concede all of that and more.

On the other hand (Dang! I could have used a Randy Travis song instead of The Doors! I made a wise choice.) he saved me so that I could spend my time wisely and fruitfully and all of that, and sitting in his office, actually, his lobby, is not fruitful, especially with my wife there. And all I mean by that is that I am not going to go forth and multiply while she is in the room. I’m just saying.

Okay. Even if she was not in the room, my chances of being fruitful, of going forth and multiplying, at least in that venue, are somewhere between zero and one percent. (There is ALWAYS that last percentage point, my friends! Fight for it! Keep it! Do not give it away!)

I left, I did, but I just had a rather complete CAT scan a month or so ago, and you can tell I am losing interest in cancer when I cannot even remember the date of my last CAT scan. No wait, I’ve never been able to remember. Ignore that last thing, please.

I DID just have a scan, and it was rather encompassing, covering even parts of my body that have not been covered before, at least to my knowledge (you know those young ladies behind the booth are going to scan your tool chest, right? Right? Is that just me? Am I the only one that thinks that? Oh, geez! I could have saved a LOT on certain ED-related medications if I had known that!)

(Think about it: five years ago, if I had written “ED-related”, you would have wondered, “Who’s Ed?”)

So I feel pretty comfortable with it at the moment. (The results, you perverts!)

And I bring that up because, well, it might be time for a hiatus, maybe even an end. I have not been a consistent blogger, anyway, but one who jumps in on occasion with some idea or another, some recording of events or another, and there never has been a lot of interest: maybe half a dozen beautiful and ultra-intelligent women, and one or two ugly guys of modest mental capability, and that is it.

I have really enjoyed doing this. It has been fun, and the responses I’ve received have always been at the very least informative and entertaining, (okay, at least entertaining), sometimes downright scholarly, and always, if I recall correctly, caring in nature.

I will miss it, and, clearly, more importantly, will miss those few who have let me know that I have not written in vain. I have been honored, truly honored, by your praise and by your presence.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that I have made very good friends among you, that I have even fallen in and out of love with a number of you from time to time. (Okay, that might be a bit extreme, especially if my wife is reading.)

(And I was just talking about the ladies, dudes, vis a vis the love thing.)

This is certainly not my best effort, and I should certainly say goodbye in better fashion, but this is what you deal with when you are dealing with non-professionals.

Know that you are loved beyond where you live and think and strive and enjoy, my friends.

Know that somewhere, some guy really cares about you. REALLY cares about you. And always will.

Take care.

“It happens all the time in real life”

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(Steve Goodman reference)

Note: Steve Goodman was a great writer of music. He wrote The City of New Orleans, for example, the song that Arlo Guthrie made famous. Goodman died of cancer. He had leukemia, and knew of it throughout his abbreviated but brilliant career. This is not about him, although, as I think about it, it is, after a fashion.

In my ‘real’ world, the one where I can touch people and squeeze their cheeks and tell them ribald jokes without fear of being banned, where my family and friends pretty much know what to expect of me and somehow deal with it, I do not know a single soul who has ever asked “Why me?”. I really do not.

That is the truth, as far as I can remember. I would like to say it is a family trait, but it is true of my friends as well, and, again, as far as I can remember, co-workers through the years. A friend at work, I saw him after an extended period of time where we were in different offices, and one of his eyes was bulging practically out of the socket. He never asked “Why me?” of me. He died within weeks, but I never heard anything like that from him, and know that he stayed at work as long he could.

My mom, I have noted, had breast cancer back in the butchery days of the mid 1970s. I never heard her ask that question, and she lived a good many years following that surgery and the subsequent treatments. Later, when they discovered ovarian cancer in her, and then metastasis of the breast cancer to her brain, she never asked “Why me?”.

If you read this thing, you know of the measures my wife has taken in my regard over time without ever asking that question.

I could go on and on with stories of people I have known in my physical life, the non-digital one, who never asked that question, despite the problem, despite the diagnosis, despite, even, inevitabilities. As Goodman writes so poignantly, “It happens all the time in real life.”

It is what it is.

I must submit a caveat: when my second child was born, full term, brain dead for some reason and not long for this life, I went home to an empty apartment and shouted that, pretty much, at the top of my lungs. I DO understand it, and would never suggest that people do not have the right to ask or to scream or to shout or to plead, “Why me?”.

Maybe, for me, when that happened, the loss of Amanda, it was like being cauterized. I do not know.

Lately, some folks I talk to have been bringing that up, more and more. I know that some of them, most of them, are sincere, and not just sincere but tough. I know that they are not really asking “Why me?”, but “Why him?” or “Why her?”.

Those people I empathize with. With prolonged illness, especially, prolonged illness destined to end in tragedy, defeat, passage, however you look at it, whether survivor or caregiver, it is easy to see how the question comes up, even among the faithful of one religion or another.

I am, as previously mentioned, an un-knower. An agnostic. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church, however, and know some of the tenets of that religion, and, as a student of religion in general, know a bit about what we expect of our religions, our deities.

They disappoint us. In times of extreme difficulty, and I am not talking cold weather or being able to pay a bill on time, but watching a loved one suffer in the waning days, or dying, oneself perhaps, there is doubt. I was reminded of this tonight.

I know about Job. I know about Abraham (I am, obviously, speaking to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic folk here, but most of you will get the idea).

It doesn’t make it easier for us, those of us who are believers, who become not just frustrated but downright angry at our God when we feel that we have been let down with no logical explanation.

“Why,” a friend asked, “could He just not take him?”.

Now, you will agree, that is a realist talking. That lady is not asking for a miracle, but for mercy. Not just for her, but, mainly, for him.

I do not have the answer to that question. I do not have the answer to the initial question, “Why me?”. I am, as I said, an un-knower in that regard, in many regards.

I said to my friend, not surprisingly to you if you have been a reader here before, “Do not let cancer take more than it must.” Something to that effect. We must fight to keep our lives intact, our relationships intact. We simply cannot let this disease have more than it gets on its own. We cannot contribute to its success, if you will.

But I also said, and this surprises even me, although it really adheres to the statement above: “Do not let it break your faith.”

Sadly, there are others who simply wallow in despair. I know a thing or two about depression (we’re in one aren’t we? :)), and I sometimes suspect, no, I frequently suspect, that this is about a couple of things. The first is attention and the second is joy.

I do not mean to belittle those who are depressed. I do not mean to suggest, even, selfishness, or, as I have wondered from time to time, fakes.

No. I believe that when you are depressed (I am not a doctor, so take all of this with about two pounds of salt) that sometimes you need attention. I personally think this one is a no-brainer. So, people who are depressed, whether with cancer or without, express their discontent, discover that it draws attention, discovers that it draws them away from their loneliness and agony and into a circle of people who care, and they, thus, wallow in it.

Harsh word, that: wallow. Just an observation.

The joy thing is a bit more radical, perhaps, but I really believe that it falls in line a bit with the sentiments in the previous paragraph: there is joy in being pitied and assuaged; there is joy in the concern.

Frankly, the latter is the only reasoning I have for those who would come into a cancer site pretending to have cancer. I have suggested to folks that these people may need more help than we do. And I mean that.

I am only speculating, and I am not a professional. But these are typically the people who ask “Why me?” Not “Why him?”. Not “Why her?”. But “Why me?”.

I really try to be upbeat, or at least sentimental, in this blog. As much as I can. But I have to be honest, when someone asks “Why me?” I am forced to ask, at least silently to myself, “Why NOT you?”, “Why NOT me?”.

(I will tell you, if I have not before: when I was told I had cancer the first time, I DID think “Why me?” for about five seconds. Quickly, however, “Why NOT me?” took over. )

It angers me, and this is why: there is a presumption, as I read it, that this person considers himself or herself special, different, beyond all of the cruelties that beset the rest of us in our lives, if you want to call them cruelties.. I resent that greatly. I try to hide it, but I truly resent it.

I do not blame anyone for being afraid. I do not blame anyone for wondering if they might have done things differently (as little as that will do). I do not blame anyone for considering the impact on loved ones. I do not blame anyone for growing weary, even for losing hope, eventually. I do not blame anyone for deciding that it is time to end the fight. I cannot.

I have experienced some of those feelings and thoughts, and of the ones I have not, I understand that they are personal judgment calls.

But, when I know that friends of mine have been hanging on and fighting tooth and nail literally for YEARS, double-digit YEARS, when I know that friends of mine are laughing and cracking jokes even as they face brain surgery, when I know that friends of mine have been through the mill with surgeries and treatments and STILL say this next trip to the Onco Man is not a big sweat, when I know that friends of mine are dealing with the death or impending death of dearly loved ones … I have problems with “Why me?”

I want to say “Get over yourself.” But I do not, and I will not. (I just did, but that is between you and me). We have our ways of dealing with things, and I know I am being harsh, or at least suspect that others will think I am being harsh.

I will say instead, in the words of a musician and songwriter who lived with leukemia and clearly enjoyed his life until it killed him at a young age: “It happens all the time in real life.”

Take care.

“With a Cowboy Like Him it Could Be Anything”

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(George Strait reference)

I do not talk to other cancer survivors (or caregivers, for that matter) because I am looking for a date.

No. It happens that I am married, happily so, most of the time. If you are married, you know it has its up and downs, unless you are newly married, in which case you make the rest of us sick, physically sick, with your lovey-dovey stuff.

Don’t worry. You will get over it, and people will like you again.

In the meantime, I am not looking for a date.

I hang out on CSN, I think, because I think that I can do some good in helping others, and because I know that if I do, it is good for me. Simply put, doing good is good for me.

My wife knows that and supports it. She is the only one that supports it, by the way, so I am looking for a job (:)). But, she does. I am grateful for that.

I suppose it has its limits. I spend a lot of time on the computer talking to people, writing responses, working on the blog, that sort of thing, and Corrine, my wife, does not complain.

The other night, though, I was talking to a former member of the CSN chat, one who had been given the boot for some reason. We were in MSN. She likes to use annoying graphics, like the fist knocking on your monitor (or so it appears) to wake you up.

I am not sleeping. If this were not a family room, I would have more severe things to say about that danged fist.

She also uses the smoochy lips smacking your monitor when she says goodbye, and this is where I ran into a problem. With the wife.

I allowed my wife to use the computer while I was still logged on, and I have nothing to hide, so that seemed like a no-brainer to me, and it turns out it WAS a no-brainer. As in no brains, dude!

My friend, who is, after all, just a friend, left with that big smooch of hers and my wife flamed on like the guy in the Fantastic Four. She was ON FIRE. And I was in trouble.

Raise your hand if you are a man and realize that I have done nothing wrong but am still in trouble and you know exactly where I am at because you have been there yourself.

I see: every guy has a raised hand. Oh, there’s that one guy over there in the corner who didn’t raise his hand. Do I take him out, or do you guys want the favor?

Before you answer, you should know he probably LIKES to shop with his wife. He probably makes dinner every night. He probably buys her jewelry at Christmas of his own volition. Now…do I take him out or do you?

Maybe it’s just me.

I am not a bad husband, in so much as that smooch is just something that lady does when she leaves and she means nothing to me, nothing at all, well, I mean, you know, sexually or whatever it is that worries women, and I am serious about that, just as I am about taking out the guy who likes to shop with his wife.

What is WRONG with that guy? I have no problem whatsoever with him shopping with his wife, until it becomes an issue for the rest of us. You know? Don’t brag about it! Keep it to yourself and do not let your wife tell other women you are doing it! Geez! Are you not aware that the others will start expecting US to do it too?

Sorry. I digressed.

Timing is everything. My timing was terrible.

My wife decided that I was online everyday hooking up with cancer chicks for, um, reasons I cannot quite figure out. Whatever reasons they were, she was mighty irate about them. I can assure you of that.

I said, and trust me ladies who read this, it is nothing against you but I was covering my own derriere if you know what I mean and I think you o, I said, Corrine! They have cancer! Geez!

Or something to that effect. And then, I hate to admit this, but I must, I tried to point out the potential defects in each and every one of you. It was hard to do. I do not mean that it was hard for me to do ethically (:)), I mean that it was hard to find defects in any of you. I did my best, and it was not good enough. My wife went off in a HUGE huff, suspecting me of digital adultery, if there is such a thing, and geez, some times I wish there was, I’m just saying.

I figured by the next night she would be over it. She came home from work and I was once again in the CSN chat room, and she came in and asked, rather directly, who I was talking to. I confidently began reading down the list of people who were in the room and realized about halfway through that there were no men in the room but me, and that my troubles were about to worsen.

They did.

She left in a bigger huff, and this is not funny, my friends.

I DID manage to sleep in my own bed last night, which is a very good thing, under the circumstances, even if I had to sleep next to a long and pushy dog (not my wife, people..PLEASE!).

I woke this morning not knowing what my status was. I did mention to a friend in CSN that my wife had left an open box of tampons on the bathroom counter (to which my friend responded: HERE’S YOUR SIGN). My friend is a lady, so maybe she knows more than I do about such signs. At least I was astute enough to notice it and to mention it. Give me some credit for that, at the very least.

If you can.

The bottom line, though, is that I was not worried about it. If she wants to go off about me trying to help others, about getting some sort of sustenance and personal satisfaction when I think I am helping others, then fine.

Okay.

I was worried about it.

Did I mention that my friend mentioned hormones? She did. I shrugged that off, save the comment re the Tampons. (If I keep mentioning them, do you think I can get a product endorsement here? I’m just wondering. Product placement is everything these days. I am wearing Avia sneakers for example, in case they are reading.)

So the first thing my wife says tonight is that she comes bearing gifts and that she is sorry. It is her hormones.

Women are brilliant. They must resonate to the same tuning fork.

Meanwhile, it is clear that men and women ARE from different planets. My sister and her husband have moved to this area very recently and we have been inviting them over and then, for whatever reason (I have nothing to do with it: I do what I am told, sit where I am told to sit, the whole nine yards, until Virginia Tech is playing, and then I am the man, in which case you should not stand in my way) they are uninvited. But they are coming over for sure Saturday night, tomorrow night. Tonight, now. (Geez, time flies when you are…never mind.)

I bring that up because it matters. We are, after all, when you get down to the nitty gritty, talking about communication or the lack thereof.

My wife would not listen to me for two days. She was allowed to plead the Hormones. I do not know why I am not allowed to plead something like that. I am trying to think of something, and all of the ones I can come up with are likely to get me in trouble.

I cannot, for example, plead, “Honey, I was drunk! What did you expect?” That has never worked. I have tried it. When I was younger, I assure you, and way more naive than I am now. I cannot say, “Corrine, I would not have grabbed her butt if I didn’t have cancer!” I have NOT tried that one, but am pretty sure it would not work.

No, men, apparently, have no legitimate excuses, while women have at least two, one of them being ‘hormones’.

I digress, as usual.

Here’s the deal: I said to my son, we will keep the Christmas stuff up until Amy and Paul come, and then we will take it all down. It doesn’t seem strange at all to me that he said “Okay.” It doesn’t seem strange at all to me that every time the 50 mph winds passed by, we (I) went back outside and put the wreaths back up and made sure the plants allowed to be outside at this time of year were still in our yard if you know what I mean and I think you do.

What WAS strange was discovering that a lot of the ornaments from the top half of the Christmas tree had disappeared. What WAS strange was that there was a box next to the tree filled with newspaper, bulging newspaper, as if it contained, oh, I don’t know…ornaments???

I am saying that for the last few days, I have been rearranging the stuff on the tree, so that it looks full again, and wondering why it seems to be losing its appeal, while my wife, meanwhile, has been REMOVING ornaments and wrapping them up in newspaper and tucking them away in what is now two boxes!

The real irony is that both of us think we are helping the situation. I advised Ry that we would not take down the stuff until Amy and Paul left, really for two reasons, the first so that they could experience a Christmas atmosphere when they came over (keep in mind I thought they were coming over last week, and besides, my neighbor’s lights are still brightly lit every night for some reason, which may cause me to call the police, once I take mine down :)), and the second because I figured we couldn’t clear out all of our junk in time for their arrival (last Wednesday, then last Thursday…you get the idea).

So my wife is taking things and packing them, and I am finding them and putting them back, until I realize what it is happening. THAT is communication :).

Tomorrow, my son and I will retrieve the lights blown on to the roof by the winds, make them appear to be icicles again (THAT should fake them out), and in the meantime, I will unwrap all of the ornaments I have already unwrapped earlier but which my wife has opted to wrap, and put them back on the tree, and we will hide the newspaper and the boxes, and light the tree (not torch it, although that is an attractive idea), and turn on the lights, and Amy and Paul will coo over our lovely decorations, and will wait until they are back in their car going home before saying “Geez, January 10 and they STILL have that stuff up!?”

Such is life. Glad to be here :).

“You better get on one side or the other”

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(Eagles reference)

I received a disturbing telephone call today. I am the oldest of six children, as you may know by now. Through some odd Catholic sort of rhythm thing, the three of us who are older were born within three years of one another, followed by some strange gap that I do not want to explore, then followed by the eruption of three more of us, in the same pattern. Don’t ask me, I just live here.

The end result, of course, is that the three of us who were born first are very close. We slept in the same bed when my dad came home wasted late at night looking for a fight (and got one). The Hank Williams would kick in, and suddenly my sister and my brother were in my bed with me.

I was not the brave one, by the way. I would talk my sister into going downstairs and talking my dad into going to bed. We figured that she had the best odds of surviving that, and she did.

It’s not that he was a beater. He was just a selfish man, especially when he was drunk. He would pour his affection on me, for example, if I went downstairs, when I didn’t want it. His affection smelled of alcohol and guilt and stupidity.

Meanness, too.

At that time, my dad was in the US Navy, trying to succeed, and doing well at it, as it turns out. My mom had grand mal epilepsy, chronic anemia, and, I now suspect, depression that was associated with panic attacks and social anxiety.

No one had heard of some of those things at the time.

I know my dad hadn’t.

But this is not about my dad. It is about us, the six kids. My sister and my brother, we grew up together in what might be considered an austere environment. We still laugh about the jumbo bags of puffed wheat, puffed rice, for breakfast. We still recall the treasure that was going to the commissary and getting to pick one box of cereal each to last for a month, and then eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, until it was gone.

But this is not about that.

My brother, my sister, and me, we grew up in a different time, in a different world. We never knew it was not a normal world, and to be honest, I am not sure it was not a normal world. I would not trade it for anyone else’s world. I enjoyed my childhood.

However, the younger three of us, they grew up pretty much in a different world. I went to college, my brother joined the service, my sister got married, all while my dad was moving up on the very fast track, to becoming vice president of a prestigious development company.

These three, the younger three, they grew up in the lap of luxury. There is no doubt about that. Even today, I cannot match the environs that my dad built around those kids.

All I ever did, really, was try to build a family. If my brother got into a fight and lost, I had to go find someone and whip his butt. And did. Sometimes the guy was twice my size. Really. And I was not a tough guy. I was a thinker and a lover (as today 🙂 ). But my brother had to know that I had his back. If you grew up in the city, you know what I am talking about. That is just the way it was. And we did not grow up in the city. We had, simply, each other.

That was passed along. I am honored by that. My family is a family. I think that many believe that my dad made this happen. I used to think so, myself. He did not. I did.

It was disappointing, therefore, when my youngest brother headed for the border more than three years ago when I announced that I had cancer. He did a magic act. He disappeared and took his family with him.

If you know me, you know that I understand that. I have learned enough about grief to know that we all handle it in our own ways and that it is really unfair for others to even question the way we handle it, at least to my mind.

You also know, if it has happened to you, that it doesn’t hurt any less simply because you think you know why it happened.

No, it still hurts.

You feel abandoned.

You might not care. I did not think I did. Once I realized that I was not going to hear from this little brother, I simply crossed him off of my list. Out of sight, out of mind, that sort of thing.

And it worked, to be honest. I am a man, and it may be that we process things a bit differently, but it worked. It really did. I heard about him and his family, of course. How could I not? I would ask. I would be told. I would leave it at that.

He called me today.

He probably would not like for me to be sharing this, but he came in to my world, not the other way around. And it blew me away.

He was crying. Really crying. I am not sure that there are many sounds more grievous than a grown man crying. There are! There are! I know there are. But not too many.

He was hard to understand at first, and finally I got it: he wanted me back in his life.

He said it several times.

I said: I love you. You are my brother. I love you. Nothing could change that.

He said: I’ll call you back when I have my stuff together.

I still do not know what that is all about. I wonder, frankly, if he has changed his mind 🙂 .

I wonder if he was just escaping from Guantanamo Bay, sleep deprived and half crazy. I wonder if he was half in the bag, or even three-quarters in the bag.

I wondered, for a while, if the police were outside his house using loudspeakers to beg him to come out. Really, the thought crossed my mind. You never know these days.

I do not know. He said he would call back.

He has not done that. It is probable that he needed a deep sleep. We will see how this goes in the days to come.

I wrote to him, to let him know that I love him and always have and always will. We are family and all of that. It has always meant something to me, and I hope that it was passed on to him.

He is a good man, and he should not be racked by guilt about my experiences and how he reacted to them. He did what he felt he had to do: take care of his family. I understand that.

He DID leave me, and my family, hanging out there to dry. I think that cancer does not fit into the tidy Truman-like life he is trying to maintain for his family.

I have other things to worry about. I am glad, though, that I was able to resist some other temptations and to, rather, let him know that I love him, as I do, and to let him know that he is entitled to his actions. It is his life.

Still, I was perfectly content in mine.

“Shine on You Crazy Diamond”

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(Pink Floyd reference)

(This one is for two Claudias, and for Helen (in memoriam) who I always used to kid about having Sid Barrett (an original member of Pink Floyd who was not her neighbor) as a neighbor 🙂 )

It IS that time of the year. For so many, it is a time of good cheer, of seeing loved ones, family and friends, of great food and pleasant surprises, a time that takes us back to childhood, if we are not still children (and secretly, of course, we all are, aren’t we, still children in a sense?). As the songs describe, there is the hustle and bustle, there is the music and the weather and the smells and the sounds and the sheer JOY of it.

If we are fortunate enough to have young children or grandchildren or young nieces and nephews, there is that fantastic reminder of the wonder of it all as we look into their eyes, as we walk them through the shops and along the streets and finally, if we are lucky, can watch their sleepy-eyed, but wide-eyed, exploration and delight as they rush to the Christmas tree on the most special day of the year for many of us.

As we get older, though (and for some of us, regrettably, that means as “old” as four or five or six years old, after all), we are burdened to one degree or another with loss. The older we get, the more likely it is that we have this burden.

I am reminded of that everyday when I talk to others who are now or who have cared for others with cancer.

There is not much new to say in that regard. We are all aware of it, if we live in what one writer aptly titled CancerLand.

Grieving and sorrow and depression at this time of year, of course, are not limited to those who live in CancerLand, and some of us seem to forget that, wrapped up, understandably so, in our memories and throes of loss.

Lots of people suffer at this time of year, whether it be from the memories and grief and loss mentioned above, cancer or otherwise, or economic woes, homelessness, joblessness, or other family problems, a child in trouble for whatever reason, perceived slights, selfishness, unexplained absences from family rituals.

Burned turkeys.

You know. It runs the gamut.

And that doesn’t even account for the stress that is, in my opinion, put on most of us unduly to make it something special. There are lights to hang, both inside and out, a tree to deal with, either real or artificial, ornaments and decorations to display everywhere within our territorial boundaries, there is food to cook, there are cards to send, there are phone calls to make, there are people to pick up at airports or bus terminals, there are planes or buses to catch or drives to make, there is the shopping and the worrying about perfect gifts. We know the drill.

Today, I talked to some friends, cancer survivors and caregivers, about people we have not seen for awhile. People who used to make us laugh with their presence, people that we miss a great deal. They were an interesting lot, these people we spoke of. Some were deeply religious while others were clearly atheists. Some were prudes, to be frank, while others were apparently orgiastic fiends :). They ran the gamut, I am trying to say, but when we were all together, we made each other laugh. We were able to cry and gripe and express our fear with each other.

We miss them, those of us who were talking today.

They are not dead. Well, okay, maybe one or two of them is dead and I know that shouldn’t be funny, and it most certainly is not, but part of what we talked about today is that when we were laughing so hard and so loud and so much, we were laughing at our own mortality. We were overcoming our fear of it, perhaps, or at least, yes, that is it, we were learning to deal with it. Together.

It is not a bad thing that many of them are now missing in action, as it were. For the most part it means that they have moved on, not BEYOND, but on, no longer interested in hanging out in CancerLand, and that is almost always a good thing.

Still, they are missed.

And, frankly, loved.

Here’s my point, my new point: today my son and I were tooling along in my “if I’m dying I’m dying in a nice ride” ride, and he asked, “So, dad, if that Doctor had been right last year, you might not be here right now, right?”. The doctor, Onco Man, had advised that I might have as little as 10 months to live. June of ’07. He was wrong, of course.

I said, “Yeah, Ry, I would probably be lying in bed with an oxygen tank, like our neighbor over there, if she is still around, taking morphine every four hours right about now. If I was still here. And if he was right.”

And here is my point: to all of you who are still here, defying the odds or simply (simply?) benefiting from the treatments you have received, to all of you who are still with us, and who still make me laugh when I see you, who still make me cry when you want to, who make me proud to be part of this large community, albeit one I would recommend others avoid if at all possible:

Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

“Pretty paper”

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(Willie Nelson/Ray Price reference)

Today is decorations day. Usually, the house has long since been SMOTHERED by the Christmas stuff we have. Including the tree, of course. You could suspect with some justification that if we put ALL of the ornaments on the tree that we have accumulated over the years, the tree, artificial as it is, I humbly admit, would simply roll over and die. (Well, if it were alive.)

I am halfway certain that we switched to the artificial tree, not because of my laziness (which was, no doubt, a factor) but to keep trees from dying from the LOAD. It is one thing to cut down a perfectly good tree and stick it in a pot of water and aspirin and hope that it lives; it is quite another to burden it with the memories of your life and hope that it can sustain. It cannot.

I am lying, as you know, if you know me. The real tree, the live tree, the live tree that was dying, seemed to have it in for me. It was ALIVE!!!! If barely, as time went by.

What I mean is that it seemed to enjoy attacking me. There was not a Christmas when I did not come away with arm and facial scars. You cannot properly put up lights in and on a Christmas tree without suffering. I think, in fact, that this might be the meaning of Christmas. But I digress, as usual.

We bought an artificial one when both of our children were old enough to ignore us.

If you have never experienced the raising of teenagers, you do not know what I mean. If you have, you know EXACTLY what I mean. I will let that rest right there.

The tree, yeah, the tree. In the early days, I would go get the tree in the off years, and during the years in between, when paw-paw (aka Santa Claus) was around, he would take the kids out on a hayride or some other event, and they would bring a tree to my house, and it would not fit into the little round ring if you know what I mean, and I think you do, and sometimes would not even fit into the house, and we would be out front with saws and such, shaving it down, while he watched and laughed, evil old elf that he was, and eventually it would fit, not just in the house, but in that little ring that resembles a birth control device (I’m just saying).

Me, I am a perfectionist, or so I have been told, and I would run my hands, along with strands of decorations, up inside the tree, from bottom to top, usually white blinking ones, to offset the bright and varied colors of the ones that would soon texture the outside of the tree, and that is possibly where I came up, from year to year, with the scars that live with me even now.

I was proud of those trees, I must say. None of them were perfect (and that annoys a perfectionist), but they were sweet and good and did the job.

Objectively, I will admit that the trees were non-sentient and not out to kill me. They only wanted to maim me.

They were somewhat successful in this regard, I assure you, but not so much in the decorating of them, as I have tried to describe above, but in the taking down. This is when they became lethal.

It is likely that we kept our trees up too long. After all, other little trees were growing around them by the time we decided, in July, that it was time to take them down. It turns out that if you leave a conifer (a scientific name for a very expensive pine tree, especially around Christmas) hanging out for any period of time after December 25, it is going to die rapidly, or at least pretend to, and then nail you when you (and why is it always ME?) try to extract those decorations and lights that you buried deep within its soul.

Perhaps that is too dramatic, re the soul. I do not believe that my Christmas trees HAD SOULS!!!

Sorry.

I get carried away about Christmas.

Really though, there is nothing like taking a bare naked dying (or dead) Christmas tree out to the curb. After all of the cuts and scrapes and things I do not even want to tell you about, you are happy that you have conquered the beast, that it is dead and that is out on the curb, and all that you have left to do is to spend five months vacuuming up the needles and such and avoiding them in the first few weeks after Christmas when you are barefooted, if you are silly enough to be barefoot (and most Indianians, Kentuckians, West Virginians and Texans are probably wondering: “What the hell is he talking about? Who ISN’T barefoot?”)

Now we have an artificial tree, and you can tell by how long it took me to get here that I am rather conflicted about that.

Despite all of the nuisance I cited above, is there anything better than a real tree?

Yes. It is called an art!ificial tree. With lights already attached. It can still be a pain in the butt to put up, trust me, but it is a lot better than a dead conifer.

A dying conifer.

When all is said and done, I will put the artificial tree back into its bag and have my son haul it back up into the attic (sometime around July), and all will be good.

In the meantime, and I am finally getting to this (:)), today is decoration day. It should have been done a week ago, or at least the day after I put the tree up (which might have been yesterday. I am losing track of time).

My wife is not here, as I think I mentioned. She is going to watch Scooter for the day. My son, well, I suspect his enthusiasm, although he usually comes through. For the most part, I think, it will be up to me.

Do you not like hanging ornaments? Putting crap, I mean stuff, all around the house? I like it. I really do.

Every ornament has a meaning to me (okay, not the balls, not the balls we bought when we were poor to make sure we had decorations, although, now that I think about it, maybe I like them most of all). I put up the musical instruments that my mom in law has given me every year. I do not remember which year I got which one, but I know who they came from, and I, frankly, love them, I treat them with care, I put them where the cat and the rowdy dogs will not get to them.

The ones, the balls, that celebrate Erin’s arrival, Ryan’s arrival, I almost cry when I hang them up, wondering how I got this old this fast.

Every one of them has a meaning to me.

That happens today.

I am really glad to be alive.

I hope you are, too.

Merry Christmas

“On the sixth day of Christmas…”

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 (Traditional/Mitch Miller & the Gang)

Well! Six days until Christmas, seven yesterday, I think, and we finally got the lights up, my son and me. Quite an accomplishment. Getting over inertia about the whole deal, getting my son pumped up about it at the same time I was. We did well, if I must say so myself.

There WERE issues. Prior to this year, I have insisted on having lights, you know, those ones that look like icicles allegedly, all around the house. Not just in the front, not just in the front and on the sides, but all around the house. My thinking was that it was putting on a false front (:)) not to go all the way around.

I did not consider electricity, of course, and stilll do not, but it did finally dawn on me that no one is really gazing at the lights on the back of your house unless you are having a pool party or some such, which is unlikely at the end of December, at least around here, unless your pool is heated, which mine is not, and so, I finally had to agree with my son that I was being an idiot.

He did not put it that way, of course, trust me. But he was right. Hundreds of dollars spent on lights, therefore, was about to stay in a blue storage box.

We DID do both sides and the front of the house. It looks nice.

It got interesting when I told my son we were no longer going to hang fishing line (filament, to the discerning) around wreaths in order to hang them around the shutters. Up until now, we have always used the filament, to keep from putting holes into the shutters, into the structure of the house.

One of the benefits of cancer survivorship is that you begin to think out of your original boxes. Screw the shutters, I thought. We are not using filament anymore. We are going to get this set up so that it is not a problem in the future. We are going to make this so that it is there for posterity!

Well, it was not that serious, actually. I was just tired of the fishing line. I mean filament.

I said, Ry, I have some long screws, and we are going to put them here and here and here.

And he said, this adult son of mine, “Does mom know you are doing this?”

Geez.

That sort of puts me in my place, you know?

Truth is, he thought I was crazy, the cancer and all, don’t you know. He thought I was being my now usual wild self. I am not wild, and I don’t have a life. I do not know what he was thinking.

I said, (roughly translated), “This is MY house, and on MY house, we will do things MY way.”

No, I didn’t really say that.

That is an old joke in my family, stemming from a poker game we played at my house one night, where things got out of hand eventually, and you don’t want to know that story unless you are a refrigerator repairman, so let’s leave that alone.

I said, to my son, “This is MY house, and on MY house, we will do things MY way.” But I didn’t mean it like I did during the poker game. Can you read the nuance?

Then I said, “Do you see your mom out here?” I tend to get like that.

I now have wreaths hanging that will be able to hang every year without much effort on our part, other than climbing up into the attic to bring them down (and putting them back up in the attic some time around the first of July, so that they do not interfere with July Fourth decorations).

I wonder what we will do, frankly, when Ryan is gone, since I hate going up there into the attic and am probably not up to bringing some of the HUGE boxes down. Maybe we should package after Christmas with more wisdom? In other words, if it doesn’t fit into a 12-pack beer carton, we should probably throw it away :).

I will have to ask my wife of course :).

Since these surgeries and treatments, I am not the same. I was MUCH lazier before. Now, I am not lazy. I am a supervisor.

Merry Christmas, friends!

“I Laid Down a Groove Like a Monkey Gettin’ Off”

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(Ray Wylie Hubbard reference)

(The Sequel)

I thought this story was over (and it probably should be) but my little brother has been kind enough to remind me of a few important details I omitted in the original telling, and some of them are really important.

I mentioned that I went into the coop with a lasso and had no luck with it, and that I eventually caught one of the geese using my hands.

I left out the part where, when I ridded myself of the lasso, I got some help from my brother and my brother-in-law with respect to catching the geese.

As my brother reminds me, ever so kindly, we, the three of us, with our superior intellect, managed to triangulate (a military term I picked up from a movie) on the birds, the three of us forming a human wall of will and strength (did I mention intellect?) against the birds, and driving them into a corner of the coop, where we could then successfully and rather easily have them succumb.

As my brother reminds me, ever so kindly, in the midst of this feeling of impending triumph, the birds turned on us and attacked. Clearly, they had read The Art of War, and were practicing learned principles. I had not yet read that particular book, and apparently, my cohorts had skipped it too. It is likely that we were all recalling that epigram: “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Which is to say, we ran like hell for the coop exit. (I think I mentioned in the previous piece that geese can bite, did I not?)

Bearing in mind that my brother-in-law is a heroic survivor of cerebral palsy, you might understand that he did not run as fast as my brother and me. To this day, he probably feels fortunate that he was not trampled upon by us in our urgency to escape the birds from Hell.

I was not looking back, so I am not sure whether the geese took out their revenge on him. And I cannot remember. I know we never called an ambulance (not at that particular party anyway :)). So, we all got out of there alive, more or less unscathed, with the possible, nay, the almost certain exception, of our dignity.

Eventually, as you know, if you read the original, we DID get the birds. Both my brother and I had been in the US Air Force, after all, and we do not back down from geese. The Marines, the Army, even the Navy, may make fun of us for other reasons (largely out of envy because we eat better than they do, but also, I will admit, because of the pretty baby blue uniform shirts we used to wear), but we do not back down from geese.

Well, actually, pilots are scared to death of geese, because they can get sucked into an engine and pretty much become your worst enemy, at least back then (sorry for the diversion and the potentially classified information: I do not want our enemies shooting AAG at us (anti-aircraft geese)), but we were on the ground, and we would simply not back off from the geese. We were Air Force!

We got the birds.

I think I mentioned that we did some pretty interesting things to the birds to try to rid them of pin feathers. My brother kindly reminds me that my father-in-law, the purported expert at all of this, lit a newspaper on fire and waved it around the birds (one at a time, of course) to try to burn off those pin feathers. If it looked like some sort of voodoo thing, well, I won’t argue with any observer who had that opinion. Here is Santa Claus, of all people, waving a flaming newspaper over a dead goose on the day before Christmas!

My children were young! They were probably scarred for life. (I know my brother was, since he is the one who wrote to remind me of this atrocity, one which I apparently had blocked out altogether :)).

All I know is that when the geese wander into my yard (there is a lake across the street, and the Canadians fly in every year (geese, not people)) I let them have their way. I note that my dogs, who are golden retrievers and SUPPOSED to chase geese, no longer chase them. The geese have had a serious talk with them, apparently, and reminded them that in the real world, they, the dogs, are only tough AFTER the geese have been mortally wounded.

I DO have a shotgun, but I haven’t brought it out since my daughter was old enough to attract boys to the house. The geese will have their way, unless the Wildlife Service manages to catch them, which they tried to do yesterday, much to the delight of all of us in the neighborhood who got to watch it, me in particular, realizing that I did not have their professional training back in the day (and still do not) but never looked as stupid as they did trying to outwit the geese with large nets and dog kennels.

The Wildlife people had large, and I mean LARGE, nets; really, they looked like a couple of pieces of chain link fence, each of them, and there were three guys (triangulating?) on the geese, and I will admit that they had more geese to contend with than we did back in the day, and hopefully were trying to capture them for some other, superior reason, although far more stupid than ours, if I know the Wildlife Department and I think I do, and they would finally get one trapped among their three fence sections, and one would grab the thing by the neck and, having clearly done it more often than me, not be surprised by the strength, would hold on to it, and open the kennel to put it inside, whereupon the one already captured would escape and go squawking off in rather angry freedom, so that they were right back where they started, and, ultimately, as I was pulling out of the driveway, a beautiful snow white goose (not a Canadian, I know) flew gracefully, rather, over my car and led me toward the end of the street.

I looked in the mirror and saw that the Wildlife Department guy was considering chasing him/her (again, the goose did not give me an opportunity to determine gender), then just shrugged his shoulders and apparently gave up.

I’ll bet I didn’t look THAT stupid! And I’ll bet I enjoyed it more :).

Merry Christmas, friends!