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Not to be sick

Measuring time minute by minute


Patrick looks better than I do, and I am not even sick -- I mean according to general consensus. For example, Lary thinks I'm sick, but that's a given. He would not even bother being around me if I didn't at least marginally meet those criteria.

But if I was actually sick -- like, physically -- laying around with the back of my hand to my forehead, needing things to be fetched for me and whatnot, Lary would be there, probably poking me with a spatula or something, saying stuff like, "Quit fakin' it, bitch." But I am one to talk. On the one occasion Lary was incapacitated with a cast on his foot from the time he stood too close to a falling block of concrete, I actually used that as an opportunity to throw things at him unheeded. They weren't heavy things, mind you, but some of them were pretty pointy, and the best one of all was a jar of Vasoline, which bounced off of him, landed on the concrete floor and belched out its contents right there. Let me tell you, there is something very satisfying about that.

But back to Patrick. He's been having a scare lately, what with the doctor diagnosing him with troublesome cancer in his throat and all. I did not see him during the hard parts right after the chemo treatments, but I heard about them. His wife Nicole couldn't even drink coffee around him, because the smell of it would just send him heaving to the sink. He couldn't eat, either, not solid food, anyway, and if it isn't solid what's the point? Since Patrick is a chef that had to have hurt. So I would hear these updates from Nicole and worry about him, picturing him laying in one of those adjustable beds you see in late-night TV commercials, with so many medical tubes sticking out of him he looked like he was being nursed by a nest of giant albino tarantulas.

That's how I imagined it, anyway, since Patrick didn't want a parade of people dropping by to ogle at him as he worked through this. So I relegated myself to outside-support person in case Nicole wanted to come over and hang out with me on my porch while their cute kid Kieya played with Mae on her new bunk beds. I'd listen to Nicole, and, Christ, it sounded hard, recovering from cancer. Just because it's not the death knell it used to be doesn't mean it's become a cakewalk. There are all kinds of walls you come up against, all kinds of agonies you have to endure, all kinds of affirmations you have to make to get through it. Because so many times dying dead right then might seem like such a welcome reprieve. But just when you think there is not a fraction of a molecule of fight left in you, just when you want to roll over and let the illness lift you away, you remember the people you love, and that is a whole other pain all together; the pain you know they will have to bear living their lives without you. It's more than you can stand, but somehow you muster the substance to get yourself through the next minute, and that one minute is the down payment on the possibility that you'll make it through the next.

And that's how it is. When you are fighting cancer, you don't measure time in days or hours, you measure it in minutes that you keep collecting one by one until the moment comes when you've got a big honking bunch of them behind you and, whaddaya know?, you can actually get out of bed one day. But that almost doesn't mean anything except that you can hold your kid in your arms without collapsing, and that in itself is good enough, because by this time you don't even know what it's like not to be sick. At this point you are probably sicker than anyone you know has ever been, yet you feel like you're on top of the world because this is paradise compared to how you felt yesterday. At this point all you know is you don't feel like you're dying so much anymore, and that feels great.

Patrick has made it to that point and beyond. I saw him yesterday, folks, and he looks so damn good I wanna cry. He's skinny, of course, and I could knock him over with a flick of my middle finger, but damn! You should see his face. He looks like he just opened a big gift and inside was the rest of his life, and who wouldn't be happy to receive that? That's what he looks like, anyway. We won't know for sure for a few days when he gets the official results. But for the time being he doesn't have to measure time in tortured minutes. He can hop on his bike and ride his skinny, tattooed ass down Memorial Avenue, right past the beautiful brick gate of Oakland Cemetery, tipping his helmet in respect to the gravestones on the other side, because for now he can remember what it feels like not to be sick, and that feels greater than great.

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