Threshold of Revelations: Part One
It started in November. Well, September really. My mother had come back from Europe with her boyfriend, Asshat, whom I hate.
I know what you're thinking. Hate is a strong word. Surely you don't HATE him. No, I do with the type of hate that actually raises my blood pressure for DAYS after I saw him. A hate that meant that I had to cut off contact with my mother for months just for my own health and my own sanity.
He had an old school Italian mentality paired with an outstanding belief that only he knew the right way to do anything.
Well, look at that, I'm already writing about him in the past tense, even though now, he's still alive. Still, his death is so imminent, the past tense seems to be more appropriate.
Once, we went to a prestigious Italian restaurant in my neighborhood. He saw zucchini blossoms on the menu, but insisted the chef was preparing them incorrectly. He gave the waiter very particular instructions for how he wanted the blossoms. When the dish arrived, he was openly and more embarrassingly vociferously disappointed. For the rest of the entire night, he would not let five minutes go without ranting about what a catastrophe the blossoms were. I found the entire night appalling and have never dared to show my face in that restaurant again.
Far more painful was his attitude toward my disability, which was "Just get over it." Having coped with massive neurological damage in my lower body, and several chronic health problems related to the damage, his callousness was upsetting. Christ, I spent most of my childhood flying to see specialists at hospitals, sitting in waiting rooms, having painful tests, waiting through winters and summers in casts and on crutches, recovering from surgeries and hospitalizations, facing an ever increasing line of doctors. And I had pushed through it. While I attended college, pursuing a BFA in Acting in one of the most reputable programs in the country, my father died, I almost bled to death, I was emergency hospitalized, had emergency surgery, had ambulatory surgery, and STILL graduated on time with honors. Furthermore, I went onto to pursue my Master's at one of the most highly ranked graduate writing programs in the country and then began my teaching career. I was an expert skier and amateur ballroom dancer. I had traveled to Europe alone. In short, I did my best not to allow the disability to interfere.
Still, it would part of that is the fear that I ever did let the disability effect me, I wouldn't be loved. The fear that the only way for people to accept me was to pretend to be something I desperately wanted to be. To be healthy. And while, I could make people believe I was healthy, it made me feel isolated and afraid. That love was tentative and came with a high price. That love meant I could never really be accepted for who I really am.
He made my position absolutely clear. I could never let down my guard. Never be truly understood. Because to do so, was to be weak, to be sick. Because sickness, disability on some level, was a choice. It was a failure of will.
Meanwhile, he thought all doctors were shysters. Of course, because if will is all that is necessary for health, then why would medicine or doctors be necessary? Strange that my mother, the ex-wife of a doctor, the daughter of a nurse, a former nurse herself would allow him to persist in these beliefs. She never saw how hurtful, how insulting and desultory his attitude was to me personally because she excused it with her excuse for everything he said "Oh, he's just that WAY." As if confronting that insidious attitude within my own family, harbored by my mother's own affection, was a minor pet peeve, like sucking his teeth. He, of course, was convinced that if he got sick, if he became disabled that's exactly what he would do. Because he was, despite his lack of experience and in the face of mine, always right.
On more than one occasion, I wished he would get sick, not seriously sick, but sick enough to actually have some empathy for the rest of us who have to cope with this kind of incapacity everyday. Sick enough to learn that illness is not a failure of will, not a show of weakness. It takes incredible strength to survive illness, not just physically, but emotionally-the abandonment of friends and family, the lack of privacy, the pain, the fear, the rage, the helplessness. To survive alone takes fortitude and faith. I wanted him to get sick enough to learn this, to appreciate how difficult a battle it really is. I wanted from him what I always want from the healthy: understanding. I understand them, but they flinch, they avoid, they deny understanding me. That's all I wanted. Back then I was naive enough to think that a bout with illness would de facto produce insight and compassion.
Illness memoirs enforce this view, particularly breast cancer memoirs. Often survivors say how the cancer helped them see their lives with clear eyes-to re-prioritize, to be thankful, to really live. I was diagnosed with cancer at 6 months old, so re-evaluating my life choices wasn't high on my list. I'll be honest. I've never been thankful that I had cancer, but I've always wondered how much of my development, my drive to help others through teaching and charity, has been spurred on by my own struggles. I accepted what these memoirs told me about the transformational powers of cancer.
I know a lot better now.
In September, my mother returned from Europe ill. At first, I didn't think it was serious. She claimed she had "travelers diarrhea." But weeks went by, she kept losing weight, and she still couldn't keep any food in her system. Finally, after a month and a half and a colonscopy ,she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis-not a great diagnosis, but nowhere near as serious as I feared.
As soon as she recovered, he got a cough that wouldn't respond to treatment. I wasn't surprised by the cough, in fact, since he was a hard core smoker for 40 years who had only recently quit, I was shocked he hadn't suffered from a cough like that sooner. Plus with my mother's illness, I thought his illness might have been a bid to regain attention and focus. Still, my mother was concerned. Then, he got diagnosed with pneumonia. The pneumonia didn't respond to any treatment. Now, my mother told me that he was having chills nightly that were so severe "they shake the mattress like in the exorcist" but he would soak the sheets with sweat.
"I'm worried this is something bad," she said to me.
In the darker parts of my mind, I thought "Wouldn't it be ironic if months after he quit smoking, he got lung cancer?" I thought it because that kind of perfect irony only happens on "Made for Lifetime Movies" and soap operas.
Except this time, it did.
I remember calling my mother from work the minute classes got out. We knew it was cancer by now, but not the prognosis. She answered the phone and said rushed, that he had 2-5 years and then hung up. In retrospect, those years would have been a gift. It seemed horrifying then, but now, how much could have happened in those years? We shall never know because he won't even make it to the end of the first year.
That's one of the first horrors of illness. It's like life on a swiftly tilting planet. Everything changes radically day to day-one day you're hoping to die, the next day you're praying to live. My mother says it again and again on the phone now to the many people who call to inquire, "I don't know. I just don't know. Things change so quickly. I mean, I can't tell you anything because in the next ten minutes everything could change."
Everything could change except one thing: he's going to die very soon.
Labels: cancer, death, illness, lung cancer
Bad Bunni posted at 6/15/2010 11:03:00 PM