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(Cryptkickers reference – don’t ask me!)

I am not, lately, known as a social person. Since the tongue and neck thing, in particular, I have tried, and I think at first I did a good job with it, but eventually, and with the things that followed, I sort of closed up a bit.

There is always eating involved, principally, and that is, or can be, awkward for me. For a time, even drinking was an issue. Still, I made it out there, hung out with my friends, did what I could to fit in.

Eventually, though, it became, not too much, but not enough. Or both. I am not sure. I was frustrated with being treated like I was normal when I certainly was not, and at the same time I was frustrated with being treated like I was different, which, in fact, I was, to some degree, but not enough to be treated that way.

It was an interesting dichotomy, to be sure, but a frustrating thing to live with.

I chose the wrong thing, and not on purpose, but just by happenstance. I began to turn down offers to go with my wife to functions. Watching people eat almost killed me. It was hard to bear, to be honest, to smell the food, to see it, to savor it and not be able to eat it. But that is just an excuse, really.

It is a good one, don’t get me wrong. There is not much tougher than sitting at a table burdened with bounty and people piling a bunch of it on their plates while you are, at some point, not even allowed any more to smell it :).

I ignore that dictate, by the way, whenever I want to. The wife just thinks she controls me :).

But it is true that I have tended to avoid social occasions. Avoid? Hell! I have run in the opposite direction!

The food thing is one thing, maybe the critical one. The other is that I look like I am dying, in my humble opinion, even though I am purportedly not doing so now. I am underweight and working on that, I’ve lost some hair, and the hair I have is gray. I am not being fashion-conscious here, folks, but simply telling you that I already had two strikes against me for my friends: he can’t eat and he looks like he is dying.

That tends to freak people out, more so if they care about you.

Oh, and strike three? I have an anxiety issue, something that came up before the cancer, so I cannot blame it on that, but it was under control prior to the cancer, and is now back pretty much in full force.

I have not been a social person.

Last night, Thursday night, my wife hosted a party for her business women’s group. I frankly went to this room, which my son calls the Bat Cave, and hung out for much of the night. I do not think most men would blame me for that. Who, after all, wants to hang out with a bunch of ladies, most of them elderly, eating and chirping and cackling?

Not me. Not my son. He came to me for refuge. I had none for him, so he went to bed :).

Eventually, though, I did go out. I took some pictures. One lady, I think the youngest of them, was dressed in normal attire and carrying a sign that said NUDIST ON STRIKE. I thought it was cheap but clever, and spent much of the rest of the evening trying to renegotiate her contract, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

They are wonderful women, all of them, don’t get me wrong. They have shown their concern for me, and especially for my wife, throughout this shared ordeal. There was, however, a World Series game on, and the only one of them who truly intrigued me was the nudist on strike, and I tried all of my tricks but could not get her to take her clothes back off. I even walked by where they were sitting, a load of clothes in my hand, and asked if she wanted me to wash hers while I was at it.

She paused, I think before saying no. Perhaps I am projecting.

That was last night, Thursday night. Tonight, Friday night, was OUR party, our friends, if we had any, our rules, all of that.

I did not know what or who to be. I wanted to be the Joker. The pathos is there, no matter who plays the guy. And the makeup is easy :).

A rodeo clown was suggested, and that is close enough to the Joker without being so tragic that maybe I should have done that.

What I did, though, was to worry.

It has been more than three years since we had a real party at my house.

I mean, by real, we have had relatives here, we have had friends here, but we have not had a gathering of folks of any numbers since a Fourth of July the very year I was told I had tongue and neck cancer.

Between then and now, there has been so much going on, so much weakness on my part, so much chaos, so much of everything, really, that we have never even considered such a thing.

And then there is me. Hiding out in the Bat Cave, the Man Cave, as one friend likes to call it.

I am not blaming this on cancer, by the way. I had the anxiety and panic and all of that long before the cancer. I took care of it, had a successful professional career, in fact, and the cancer only brought it back. My bad. I will fix it. I am fixing it.

In the meantime, as tonight approached, I went into a sort of stasis. I had ignored advice to get a costume or to buy the stuff to make myself into something, and now here we were.

In case you don’t know, I have an adversarial relationship with the mask I wore during my radiation. They screwed me down to a table inside of that thing and strapped my hands down and had their way with my head and neck. It sucked. If you are a head/neck cancer survivor reading this, let me tell you: it sucks.

I hated it, and, yet, I kept it. I have read of a bunch of others who did the same. Some throw theirs away, but a lot of people keep them. I kept mine. But I will tell you, it has been like having a Chucky doll in the house :). I am halfway afraid that it is going to come alive and do me more evil.

That is foolish, of course. But it is also foolish to retain the danged thing, don’t you think?

What possible good comes from keeping it?

Until Halloween.

(When it is not Halloween, the mask is in the deepest recesses of a closet that I rarely even open, I assure you. I hate that danged thing!)

I have put it out in a window for the last couple of years, and my wife says I am a sick pup for doing so. She may be right. One thing for sure, it is not going on MY face.

Until we are having a party and I don’t have a costume and the guests have started arriving, the early ones, and are fairly well decked out.

I ask my wife to blacken my eyes, (not in the usual way :)), and I put fake blood around my mouth. Please note for future reference that I said fake blood.

It takes me awhile, but I stuff my mask into a hoodie (a sweatshirt with a hood, for all of you who are of my generation), and I wear it, and it is, frankly, modestly, looking pretty darned good. It is incredibly scary, even before I add the tears of fake blood from the eyes.

Not bad, if I must say so myself, and I must, because the wife is pretty hacked that I did not plan in advance, and probably even more hacked that I was able to bail out so easily :).

It really is scary. Maybe just to me, I don’t know, but it scares the heck out of me. I look in a mirror, and I want to cry.

A problem develops fairly quickly, however: beverages are hard to put into your mouth through a mask of this sort, and when a straw is suggested, I scoff at the notion. No man drinks a beer through a straw! (Well, my brother in law does, but he has CP, so he is forgiven the transgression.)

This means that I am putting the thing back on when people arrive, and then taking it off, then putting it on, then taking it off. You get the idea.

(I hope.)

So, I put the black stuff around the eyes, and I put some fake blood around my mouth and on the mask, and I am good to go, and all of a sudden, there is a plop.

A plop.

A bit of blood drops onto my hand. What? I know I smeared that fake blood pretty well, and I know I didn’t put any on my ear.

But here it is again! Plop. Plop.

I go to the bathroom, and I locate the source, behind my ear, or so it seems, but everytime I wipe it away, it reappears. I am thinking, already, of my wife’s advice that I have ignored, and knowing that I cannot let her know this is happening, that I think, ironically enough, that I have real blood on Halloween night. But I would rather be wrong than dead, so I walk out to the kitchen and say, Corrine, can you look at this?

She does. To her credit, she only makes one “I told you so” remark. We (she) do some things to fix it and finally just bandage the ear. Turns out my old mask got me one more time.

That is irony. In my land.

I couldn’t wear my mask anymore, and that is probably a good thing. It was prohibiting drinking anyway. Beyond that, I hate the danged thing.

The party went very well after that. A young lady came in with a kid I once coached in soccer (and ran him out of the sport altogether :)) and she was dressed provocatively in a little Bo Peep or Raggedy Anne costume, and I kept telling her that her shoes were untied, hoping that she would bend over. She caught on to me immediately, of course, but eventually, thinking she was fooling me, bent over front facing me, not realizing what I could see that way.

I am sick. I admit it.

My friends were there.

Most of them.

I don’t know what to do with the mask.

It can still bring tears to my eyes, just to look at the danged thing. I should probably throw it away, but the real Halloween is only a week away, and now it is really scary.

Not as scary, of course, as what will happen if Little Bo Peep takes me up on my offer to fly off to Mexico together :).

I’ll deal with that when it happens. 🙂