We have the Hawaiian Chair and Predator Drones but no fucking CURE

For a short time my wife and I watched “The Big C” on Showtime. It’s a remarkably smart and engaging show about a woman dealing with cancer. The disease sends the main character and her family up, down, and inside out. It’s insightful and touching and captures the array of emotions that those affected by the disease experience. It’s also one of those shows I can’t watch anymore. Cancer took my grandmother, threatened my mother, took my aunt’s ability to have children, and now is attacking my best friend.

A few years ago, he told us he needed a liver transplant. I was shocked. Cancer. The doctors went in, got it out, and he was put on the list for a new liver. When he received one, he seemed good and things were on the mend. Visiting him was an eye opener. The immunosuppressants he took were quite intense, but things were progressing well and he was smiling again. He even talked about returning to teaching. Then he told us, the cancer returned. The drugs he took to make sure his liver wasn’t rejected allowed the small pieces of cancer the doctors missed to bloom. I couldn’t believe it. He started treatment with determination and family support. It was touch and go with good news followed by not so good news. Last Fall when he told us he was terminal, I refused to believe it.

Sometimes I hate existence. I mean the sheer weight and ridiculousness of it. The lack of justice. As my kid says, “It’s not fair.”

1973: Watergate, George Foreman, Pink Floyd, Badlands, and the year my buddy was born. We met in college in 1991. We were both artists. We read Kerouac and Rimbaud and hung out with painters and musicians. We spent numerous hours at the coffee shop and the bars (still have our names immortalized at one pub after going “Around the World” which consisted of drinking a whole lotta beer). We talked Serres and Nietzsche, Jung’s dreams and Skinner’s experiments, and religion. Quite a bit of religion. We wrote together, did readings together, critiqued each other’s poems. Road trips were fairly normal (once ended up in a diner called Venus that was full of rednecks and truckers). We were editors of Prairie Margins, a literary magazine, then started our own called Anathema Review. Somehow we schemed well enough to get the university to publish large runs of the thing.

While we had our fights, as good friends are apt to do, we also had some great experiences. He was one of my best men at my wedding. For a time our kids grew up together. We did house projects, worked construction in the summer, shared many stories over dinner while the kids played or our wives worked on the landscaping.

He is a tall man, 6-4 give or take and has always been skinny, but when we recently hugged I was not prepared for feeling of bone pressed against the thin veneer of skin. He had long hair that he’d wear in a ponytail, though now the chemo has stolen much of it. He doesn’t walk, he lopes on the balls of his feet. He loves B movies and comic books. His sweet tooth is legendary, especially for doughnuts. Now he sleeps a lot and he doesn’t eat much.

There’s a stark beauty in his poetry. Not a word unexamined or line break ill-conceived. His poems often explore the dark places we push into the recesses of our minds. The white space on the page gleaming with significance and power. His silences cut like broken glass; infects your psyche. Recently we spoke of his death. It was a frank discussion. I asked questions. A lot of questions. He seemed both relieved and open. (I found out later from his wife that many people hadn’t been around for quite some time — perhaps afraid to intrude, perhaps unable to think of things to say). He told me of the last conversation he had with his father. His father was crying. He didn’t understand how my friend was handling it so well. My friend told me his father just didn’t understand that he’d been preparing for it since he wrote his first poem so many years ago. This made as much sense as anything.

My friend said he made his peace, that he is ready. The rest of us have not, are not.

His wife is a soft-spoken woman. She’s a good foot shorter than he is, but so strong. She carries him. Her daughter. The silences of her family seem walled up in every cell’s membrane and she doesn’t falter under their weight. Instead, I see her plod along, step-by-step, determined to kick them free with every footfall. Death: that final silence. How does one push air through the vocal chords, shape the tongue, create the sounds to tell your ten-year old daughter you won’t be there for her 11th birthday? Her prom or wedding? To share life’s stories?

Many nights my wife and I sat up drinking coffee talking. We considered the past and the future. We wondered what we could do? What we should say. How to say it. We still don’t know. But we share moments with them while we can. It’s terrible being so far away. Every few months we try and make it down and visit. Each time he is different. Sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse.

My dear friend is sick. He and his family face it with a grace, delicacy, and courage that I doubt I could muster.

He is one of many. He is unique.

Fuck cancer.

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By Chad Rohrbacher

3 comments on “We have the Hawaiian Chair and Predator Drones but no fucking CURE

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