(Travis Tritt reference)
Not long ago, I wrote about sex and just beat around the bush, pardon the unintended pun.
I talked about the effects of body modifications and the like, and a very dear friend told me that she read it and found it to be right on the mark. I appreciated that. I was concerned about that one because of the subject matter and, largely, because I discussed how cancer does some things to many of us that we do not want to think about.
But I did beat around the bush.
I am a man, and we tend not to want to talk about such matters, unless we are bragging, but the truth of the matter is that cancer and the subsequent drugs provided for whatever reasons do affect us, just as they do women. And the impact on our self-image does have a negative effect as well, whether we want to recognize it or not.
I had a life-altering moment as a very young man. My child died, full term, the most beautiful baby in the world (except for her sister and brother, one who came before and one who came after, who matched her in beauty), while I stood there, unable to do anything but wonder what was going on, why there was this splash of orange on the floor, why they kicked me out of the OR, why my wife was on her way in an ambulance with our baby to a hospital in downtown Boston, why I was sitting in the last chair, the chair we left in the apartment as we were moving away, and crying in the darkness.
Why they were calling to ask if we would consider transplants.
I realized that I was not always in control.
That can be devastating, and I am sure it was for me. The United States Air Force made the unfortunate error of giving me 30 days of emergency leave, well-intentioned as it was, and I spent that time burying my child and drinking beer. I buried Amanda once, but drank the rest of the time.
I did get over that, the drinking, more or less.
Still, it was not a good idea to give me that freedom. Maybe I did not get over it, more or less. It runs in the family.
The point, though, is that I, for the first time, felt completely out of control. Before that, I knew, I absolutely knew, that there was nothing I could not dig myself out of it, no matter how deep, how deep, the ditch I dug. I was that good. I was that confident. I was that much in control.
And I was right. Until then.
What does this have to do with sex, you are thinking.
After Amanda’s death, we had a son. A son we love dearly. Good things can come from bad things, you know?
I love my wife now more probably than I ever have in our 30 years of marriage, although I would not tell her that. It is so. I think it is.
I do not know if it is the cancer deal or simply age and time together, but my feelings for her have grown rather than diminished. I love her and respect her.
Right now, we are in rarefied air, however. First, most people must know that if you lose a child, especially while you are still young yourselves as parents, you are not going to make it. The odds are against you. In fact, they are against you no matter how old you are and how long you have lived together. You are not going to make it, you are going to get divorced. The gamblers would bet against you.
Most of the time, they would win.
Hell, even without the loss of a child, how many people make it 30 years these days?
And, you know, we gave that a go from time to time, fighting and tugging and pulling and pushing, and it sometimes only got worse before it got better.
It was never about Amanda, our daughter, the daughter who died. I never blamed Corrine for it, and she, thankfully, did not blame me. To be honest, if either of us was complicit in her death, it was probably me. I did things in high school, especially, that might impact your gene pool. I do not know that for sure, but I suspect it.
Still, Amanda was born full-term and would have been a healthy beautiful baby if not for this matter of a twisted, wrapped umbilical cord. Guilt is probably not an issue, but we had it. That is what you do: you examine your life and wonder what you might have done to change things. That is, if you give a damn and your wife is in the hospital with your dying baby and they are calling you for organs (not yours, of course).
What does that have to do with sex? I’ll get there, I suppose.
It hit my wife harder than it hit me, even though I was the one in the empty room in the vacated apartment howling at the gods. I strongly believe, I have a theory, in fact, that women are more mature than men because they have little versions of themselves running around in the world, as a rule. Not to belittle women who do not have children, and it is clearly not so that all women who have children are up to the challenge of raising them, but I think that, for the most part, women who have children have a different perspective of the world, and I used to consider that just in terms of men, but now I include women who have not had children.
What I mean is that having a child sort of puts that new version of you, ME 2.0, out into the world. That was a terrible reference, but hopefully people will get it. A man provides an important component, without doubt, and hopefully that includes love, but the woman carries this entity, this being, for nine months or so, and then experiences all of this pain and then instant joy, and sees herself in this little one.
The man, the guy, if he is a good one, he understands this, and he also sees himself in this child, but he cannot ever be as close to this child, physically, as the person who nurtured him/her through utero. You know? I do not want to get into all of that right here, but wanted to start that thought process.
Do not get me wrong. My daughter’s death devastated me. I was the one who went pretty much on a 30 day binge at the government’s request. But, while I was impacted, my wife was impacted more.
She gained weight. And when we decided to go for it again, as they say (and were so glad to welcome Ryan into the world successfully!) she was overweight before, and even more overweight after.
And could not lose it.
It did not matter to me. I came from the wanna-be-hippie school of the mid 70s, and appearance didn’t matter. But it did. Eventually it did.
What is now funny to me is that eventually I also ballooned. For my wife, I think it was depression and relieving it with eating. For me, I think it was beer … and depression.
I look back at pictures of those last days before the original diagnosis and I think to myself that cancer saved me.
Had it not been for cancer, I am fairly convinced I would have died of a heart attack within a year. It looked like my head wanted to explode, to be honest. You know the type: I was not a 330-pounder; no, I was your typically offensive vein-pulsing, eye-popping, face-reddening 215-pound man on a mission.
What you call a Type A personality, but one of those Type A’s that just doesn’t get the entire picture.
I had always thought, I really did, from the time I was 16 years old, that I wanted to die having sex. I could think of no better way to die. I still can’t, to be honest with you.
I did not want to die of cancer.
I wanted to die of a sex-induced heart attack. I still do.
It is something of a literary miracle that I got through this entire diatribe without actually talking about sex until the previous sentence. Perhaps I am more prudish than I thought I was. Perhaps I simply do not want to offend. Perhaps I want to keep this going for one more round, for better or worse.
In the meantime, it is true, what I said about cancer saving my life. I am convinced of it. I have listened to others tell me the same thing, if for different and more poignant reasons: cancer saved their lives. Because they had a cancer test, or while doctors were digging around inside of them, they discovered some other, potentially life-ending, problem that got corrected as a result.