I awoke stiff. Without personally checking emotion at the door, I could have screamed — the cervical bones within, and maybe the tumor within, grows angrier each day. Still, things moved. Legs worked. Arms worked. Fingers grasped. Nothing seemed to operate efficiently as yesterday.
It’s a sick person’s life. The body groans. Maybe it’s a moaning borne from careless days of abandoned discretion, discarded thoughts and pushing the barriers of my body beyond natural law.
My brother asked, “What caused the tumor? Something caused it.”
In truth, it could have been a wanton disregard of my body. Maybe carelessness. Maybe even genetics. Could also have been exposed to white phosphorus emissions, a heavy dose of radiation, exhaust carcinogens from having worked 12 years a slave for American Honda or any number of exposures.
I could only muster, “Life. There is no reason. Shit happens.”
“Maybe there’s a ‘new normal,’” he replied.
A new normal. Hmm. ‘New normal?’ How does one define ‘new normal?’
For anyone with a terminal illness, there comes the point in time when ‘normal’ undergoes several stages of metamorphosis. Paraphrasing from Heinrich Harrer, “I am now in a place where time stands still, yet everything moves.” Prediagnosis, the world stopped for no one. Post-diagnosis, the world stopped for no one. All of us are skateboarders on a cosmic marble.
Life continues regardless of trials, tribulations or triumphs. At work, there are projects, plane tickets, phone calls and money spent to complete them all. Nights are filled with my mother’s surgeries, my father’s dementia, and any number of assorted crises from friends, family and neighbors alike. Strangely, each offers a reprieve from my burden, yet none affords the pardon silently sought.
My life stopped April 22, 2019, 1:09 PM. Diagnosis? Tumor. I wonder if others experienced the same.
I’m not an expert in medical systems, PET or MRI. But I’ve had enough training from countless EHR installs that even I could tell across the room. My PET scan measured how much work cells were doing. Cancer is very active. And part of my neck scan looked light city at night, from an airplane. When there is no cancer, the film appears dark. “Double Fucked,” or DF, as some nurses call it, looks like downtown Los Angeles. My scan didn’t look like Los Angeles. Instead, it looked like Saint Louis.
The doctor used many words — the last few reinforced what I already knew. Treatment will focus on arresting the tumor. “Quality of life,” not cure.
The EHR delivered the scan electronically. I read it on April 22, 2019, 1:09 PM. The day my life stopped.
An acquaintance from work noticed I was lost in thought.
“Interesting question,” I thought. “Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for upstate New York. I often think of walking the banks of the Hudson River, where I can still hear the cries of wild geese and deer as they darted throughout the clear, cool moonlight. I remember no other home, not even that of my childhood where I can be so instantly immersed.“
Admittedly, I wished to have been walking the Hudson, where both comfort and hope percolated and bathed the soul. It’s where I felt the presence of God, just as I do now. And just like MacClean wrote, “I am haunted by water.” The Hudson haunts me.
Laying in bed, a breeze spilled through the open window. I mustered to sit forward and peered outward at the cars three-quarters of a mile away. A silence fell upon me. There, in the late-night silence, my thoughts stirred. Not everyone will understand my journey. And that’s OK. I have to this life, for I can live no other.
Once again, I paraphrased Harrer, looked up to the stars above, and silently whispered unto the heavens.
“I can’t say I know where you want me to go, nor if my bad deeds can be purified. There are so many things I have done that I regret. But when I come to a full stop, I hope you understand that the distance between us is not as great as others may claim.”
I rolled back to bed and muttered to the Godly presence still with me.
“It’s not what has happened to me that counts, it’s how I choose to respond. I will give my best.”
Laid quiet for some time. I sighed heavily for a moment. Just like others before and after me, my life will change irretrievably; priorities, aspirations, and promises would go unfulfilled.
“By the way, please start time again?”