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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Half-way


                                                



  As a parent, dealing with my son’s bone cancer has been an expanding evolution. It’s been five and a half months since the diagnoses. He’s lost 40lbs. We set up an IV each night now because he can barely eat most of the time. There are mouth sores and nausea so everything that goes down tends to be a torment.
  His mother is worn down. His brother seems angry. I have arrived at a place of resignation cloaked with a dutiful determination like a too heavy coat.
  There are good days with his wry grin and jokes about my age. Sometimes he wants to go to eat mussels at Olive Garden. Last time he was cheerful when we left. When we exited the car at the restaurant he had gone pale. Head hanging he stood quietly leaning forward on his cane. He’ll touch his long thin index finger to his temple as if trying to recall something.
  It’s like a “tell” saying, “I’ve gotten nauseous and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.” I want to say calmly, “Let’s just go back. There’s plenty to eat at home.” but I don’t because in a way I know it would be admitting defeat … or even worse stealing a moment of joy from him.
  He perseveres through the meal. I’m a little on edge and watchful. It’s way too loud and garish. We notice an alarming exposure of hairy “butt crack’ like a too fat plumber at the table beside us and it provides a cleansing laugh.
  Home on a dreary weekend of no chemo he immerses himself in an Xbox game. When this all began I admonished him for playing it too much. Now I’m glad for anything that distracts him from this plodding and shrunken world.
  His dog, Willow, continues to be a too large lap dog. Though he sits in a tiny game chair with his salvaged leg propped on an ottoman, she is splayed across his now alarmingly thin lap watching the game as if to give advice while he peers over her white bulldog head.
  Sometimes when we have to “hook him up” to the IV we’ll look over after a few minutes. He’ll be flushed and thin lipped. At first I thought he was sick. Now we know. He’s angry. He’s angry at this hateful trial that rest heavily in his young heart.
  The truth is we’re all angry but not with God or ourselves. We’re angry at the random insidiousness of this disease that wants to steal a  boy’s youth. We’re angry at the hateful response the body has to the only protocol for cure.
  Maybe the anger is a good thing. At least we all feel the same. We’re all fighting in the same battle.
  His school class went to Disney this past weekend. One of them said, “You know we’ve missed Corson all year but we miss him even more on this trip. He’s always been with us when we went somewhere.” One of them brought him a leather bracelet that said “I win.”
  Corson told us a while back that when all this was over he wanted to get a tattoo. For a moment I hesitated. Then he told me what he wanted it to say.
 “I win, Dad. I want the tattoo to say, I win.”
  I think I’ll get one too.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Harry




  Many years ago when I returned home after a stint in the U.S. Navy I was living in “apartment city” near downtown. There was a couple of square miles of singles frolicking in pools, dancing the nights away and generally wallowing in hedonistic rapture.
  Many were working while attending college or beginning careers on the bottom rung. It was a wonderful time of friends and blood boiling youth. I couldn’t help but at times be mindful that we were moving forth into society with much more liberal views than the generation before us.
   It was funny though that in many ways we had one foot in the Woodstock 60’s while the other seemed to be surreptitiously planted in an Elvis and Buddy Holly mode that harbored deep and abiding attitudes straight from a 50’s southern culture.
  Enter Harry Fosdick (or so I’ll call him) Harry lived down the way from us. I was living with a feisty young Italian Yankee I had met in San Diego. We had a third floor unit with a view of the pool, a mattress on the floor and a lot of Indian cotton and tapestries.  I’d go to school courtesy of the V.A. in the mornings and lifeguard in the afternoons for a little extra money 
  It was a macho existence with lots of chest swelling and horsing around. Hormones were the rule of the day. Harry was kind of refreshing because he was a little brighter than most and even though somewhat effeminate in an odd sort of way he appeared strong and athletic and could hold his own.
  I related to him because we were both rather political and had many compatible interests in music and art. I could be myself with Harry unlike many men where it seemed there was always a need to alpha posture in some way that could at times leave me scratching my metaphorical head a little.
   Even in the service I had tended to graduate towards the more introspective people though they were often what regular folks would call rough necks nonetheless. The truth is I was a rough neck myself (or thought I was anyway)
  Often my “girlfriend” and I would hang out with Harry. He was a lot of fun and had a good job so was able to carry his own load unlike many of the student types we sometimes hung out with.
  I had asked him about his lack of girlfriends a time or two. He shrugged it off saying he’d just not met the right girl yet and was picky. Sometimes when the Italian Yankee and I were fighting I’d go over to Harry’s and he’d sit up talking with me and let me crash on his couch. He was a good guy. I liked Harry a lot.
  One day down at the pool some jerk started going on about Harry “being a queer” and all. It wasn’t the first time it had come up. Like I said, Harry was a little effeminate in a fuzzy kind of way.
   I’d even mentioned it to him a time or two and he’d said, “ No … I’m just as heterosexual as the rest of you, Scott.”  I’d simply moved on.
 So I set the guy straight and told him I didn’t appreciate his disparaging tone about a friend of mine. I suggested he might take a lesson or two from Harry on how to be a decent sort.
  A couple of weeks later Harry invited us to a party at his apartment. He liked it if everybody got a little decked out so we put on our best “rock and roll” duds and went across the way around 10:00 PM.
  Harry came to the door and greeted us with a hug just like always. There was a small crowd and a couple of folks I didn’t recognize, which was a little unusual since we were a rather close knit group as a general rule.
  Introductions were made and I couldn’t help but notice that one fellow absolutely had to be gay. I mean he was doing the whole “queen like thing” with the wrist and all and had this high-pitched voice.
   He was conversational and witty so I just shook it off and went on about my business. Our attitude in those days was sort of “live and let live” as long as you keep it to yourself. If anybody ever got “funny” though they’d end up on their butt. (Well that was the dialogue anyway)
  It wasn’t long until Harry came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked me to come in the back room to talk with him for a moment. We were always having these deep sessions about feelings and folks and such so I didn’t think anything about it.
  We went in the bedroom. He sat on the bed and I sat on the little chair across a couple of feet away. I leaned in with my elbows on my knees and chirped, “ Wha’s happnin’, Cap’n?” We used to say that all the time.
  Harry took a deep breath and muttered, “I’ve got something I need to tell you.”
  “Ok, Harry … anything … what is it.”
  “Scott, you asked me once if I was homosexual and I told you no. I’m sorry about that because the truth is that I am.”
  To this day I don’t know why I was surprised. I sat there looking at this man I had known for a couple of years and I did not know what to say for a moment.
  He continued, “I didn’t want to tell you because I valued your friendship and Gina told me you would probably not want to associate with anybody that was gay.”
 He continued as he gazed down at the carpet,
   “I’ve always been a private person and discreet in my personal affairs so it was no big deal but now I have someone I really care about.”
  He looked up at me, “ I don’t want to hide anymore.”
  There are moments in my life when I look back and I have no idea what happened or why. This was one of them. I stood up, motioned for Harry to stand with me and I gave him a long, close hug.
  I remember we were both kind of sweaty and smelled like cologne. He was a hairy guy so his beard sort of chafed my fair Irish cheek. I patted him on the back and whispered in his ear …
   “It doesn’t matter Harry. You’re my friend and this ain’t gonna change that. You are who you are. Thanks for telling me.”
  We separated and when we looked one another in the eye we were both a little misty.
  “Ok, Ok … that’s enough of this. Let’s party,” I exclaimed.
  We turned and walked back to the den where everybody was shouting over the Christopher Cross album playing on the high end stereo system while “oohing and ahhing" over the exotic fish in the salt water aquarium. (You would of thought I could figure it all out, huh?)
  So I had my first gay friend. He took us to some “gay places” and introduced us to some of his buddies. You know they were some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. I usually enjoyed their company until every now and then things would get a little creepy and I’d have to hit the trail.
  Funny how life works. To this day I don’t have any qualms about gay folks. Even though I’ve been accused of having a “redneck streak” a mile wide (that story another day) I just shake their hand and invite them into my world making sure as best I can that nobody gives them any crap and move on. They have done the same for me.
  I can’t for the life of me figure out why folks get so crazy about it all. I don’t think anybody wakes up one day and says,
  “You know what? I think I’d like to be ostracized for the rest of my life. I think I’d like to have to fight tooth and nail to have the same civil rights of any other citizen. I’d like to be ridiculed and judged and called names. I want folks to attack me emotionally and physically for the remainder of my days on this planet. I want to say I’m gay because I think it would be a fun thing to do.”
 Oh well, who knows? Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. What's a dumb ole redneck know anyway?
  All I do know is, if everybody had a friend like Harry, I’ve got a feeling this whole gay prejudice thing would play out in a totally different way. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Last Night




Last night we sat in the glow of the screen
 Being together, resting on our recliner
Of pain watching apes grow smarter as
Humanity wallowed in its ignorant science.

Ever glancing at his strained countenance
I worried for his future in silence.
 He’ll not tell us when his stomach boils
And the blood drains into his toes.

He’ll only persevere as the hatefulness
Breeds and he searches for strength.
No salve will heal this blood wounded
Place of nagging body betrayal.

 The note from his mother laying on the
 stark white tile of the kitchen says,
 “He got sick on the floor outside
 the bathroom after you went to sleep.”

Guilt lies under every rug in this
House of doubt. Each day we climb
Further into the unknown, praying
For a respite that eludes our grasp.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rear Naked Choke


 As a child, I was surrounded by men that felt violence was an integral part of life. They were rather expert in its application. Where they may have been lacking they were subsequently expert at convincing the surrounding world that they were not. 
  Raised during the Depression in rural S.C. my Dad was one of these men. The simple truth was that you did not mess with Dad. He might hurt you if he got upset. He might be sorry later but that wasn’t much of a salve.
   There were times here and there when I tested him in tentative ways as sons will do but he was not one to playfully tumble. They say young boys learn boundaries by wrestling and such with their fathers. I built “walls” instead.
  That brings us to the story at hand. Recently one of my sons announced that he was fond of a young girl and would like to invite her over. She was a charming and lovely “child”. They are passed the age of puberty so hormones are obviously at play. They were joined at the hip for most of the afternoon to a physical degree that made even this reformed old rounder a little uncomfortable though it was all innocent enough.
  I made a couple of cracks about it but tried to give them some space. There were certainly no closed doors involved and a lot of checking in. I worked out on the heavy bag and did an exercise video, then joined them for the Super Bowl in the den.
  My son and I began to discuss one-handed push-ups from the video and both got down on the thick carpet to exhibit our minimal abilities in this area. I was fatigued and the point I was trying to make was that I could barely do one of the push-ups in a partial way when reasonably fresh.
  The next thing I know my 14-year-old soccer-playing athlete that is built out of something like wire cord is on my back attempting to subdue me by choking from behind. My first reaction at this assault was to rise up, turn and plant this rabid 140 plus pound monkey onto his back but midair I realized that we were dangerously close to the glass and slate of the fireplace. I shortened the maneuver just in time so that we fell alarmingly close to disaster.
 Well he not only did not release his hold but dug in with all his might until his skinny forearm restricted my air passage. I attempted to grasp one of his fingers and peel his hand away but he quickly jerked it back from my sweaty grasp and resumed his choking.
  Suddenly my animal instinct rose up like a flame exploding in a back draft and I reached back to grasp a handful of his thick brown hair. In the moment I began to snatch and rotate out of his grasp, something happened. It would probably be more accurate to say that something did not happen. I froze.
  In my mind’s eye I could see the young woman-child watching from the couch. I could tell that he was choking with every ounce of strength that he had. It was evident that he was willing to do whatever it took to win this “contest”. I sensed that he needed this with every fiber of his being.
  The problem was that I needed it too. I needed to prove my masculinity and strength. I needed to show my now deceased father that I was a man and could be as violent and powerful as anyone who walks the face of the earth but I did not.
  I let go of his hair, reached down for his forearm, shrugged my shoulders a little in order to find some breathing room and I laid there tense for a pregnant ticking of seconds.  He squeezed even harder until I heard him say, “Ok, ok … I heard something pop. I’m gonna let go … don’t get mad. I was just horsing around.”
  We stood in unison as I managed to humorously mumble, “Nothing like a surprise attack to get the blood going.”
  We all laughed it off and spent the remainder of a pleasant evening watching the Super Bowl until we took the young lady home.
  Later as we readied for bed I told my son that I did not appreciate the surprise attack from behind. (He has always had a propensity for such) I suggested that if it happened again, regardless of whom was present, that he might find the result to be somewhat different.
 The next day the whole thing lingered. I shared it with my brother to get his reaction. He too had spent a childhood ruled by fear and has many of the same defense mechanisms that I carry … namely a quick temper and an inability to take any degree of what we perceive to be “crap” from anyone.
  He was nothing short of astounded at how I had reacted and much to my surprise was rather complementary of my control.
  I told him that all I could make of it was that when I felt my temper flare the night before a better part of me had somehow miraculously taken over. My desire not to harm my son in any way had won out over a lifetime of conditioning.
  In the moment there had been no clear conscious thought. I had simply “let go” rather than fight back. 
  Years ago during a spiritual retreat I had heard a grizzled, large and obviously powerful man share that his alcoholic father had physically abused him all of his childhood. He said that as a man he had learned that his father and his father before him had also been abused in the same way.
  He told the group that he had a son now and that he felt God had left him alive on this earth through all of his sins and escapades so that he could break the cycle of violence between father and son.
  I knew in the moment that as I sat and listened to this scarred yet humble bear of a man that in many ways the same was true of me. I chose to stop any corporal punishment of my children, mild as it was, shortly after. 
  I did not know then how deeply God had embedded the pain and hope of that man’s sharing until I felt my son choking me from behind with all his might.
  I suspect that on some level what he heard “pop” might have been the chain of violence that had festered deep within since the beginning of my consciousness.
 So here in the dim light of a restful Sunday morning I feel deep and abiding gratitude. All I can think is,
   “ Thank you, Son for the gift of who you are. Thank you, Father … for every breath I take.”