I am not sure how often people of any age are forced to confront their mortality head on. Perhaps many people go through their entire lives never having to face the fact that until they die, they might die at any given moment. Many people have a vague awareness of it, but barring some catastrophic tragedy, a disease, an accident, the loss of a loved one, war, we mostly go about blissfully unaware of how we will all end up. We do this to get by, because death is seen as a loss, we’re trained to think of it that way, so we distance from it so we can drink the latest cocktail, eat the latest trendy street food brought to you by an expert chef for far more than the street would ever charge for it, or in my case, we push it away to try the latest fashion, chunky necklaces, overly tight jeans, whatever it may be. We push death away, and we react the best we know how. Some are truly self-aware, savoring all those special moments with the people they love, others are flippant adventurers taunting that very monster they pretend doesn’t exist. Some people have no idea what they do to cope because death has never been at their doorstep, so they don’t recognize the ways they are unaware of where we all must end up. So my dealings with my tumor get treated in just a handful of ways, because in this awkward way it forces all of us t think about our lives in a way we just really don’t like to. There are those that laugh with me, at my “gallows humor.” For example:
Me: “If I die first, bury me in these red suede heels, I gotta look good wherever it is that I end up”
A friend: “Okay, and a red dress, or just that red lipstick?”
We make our jokes and then share a chuckle, it’s funny, we know it’s a joke,neither of us intends to die, but boy are those good shoes… There are others who don’t share the gallows humor, you make a joke and they look at you with puppy dog eyes perhaps wondering why it is that you refuse to be solemn and serious in the face of a new surgery. For example:
Friend: “I heard you need another surgery, we’ll be thinking of you. Is it serious? Are you scared?”
Me: “Nah, it’s just another excuse to have a going away party for the little bastard in my head.”
Friend: “Aww, but really, we’ll be thinking of you, we know this is a difficult time. It must be really tough.”
No laughter, no smile, just those sad eyes, staring at you, imploring to see your whole life as a tragedy when you are adament that it is a comedy! Then there are those that think I am just maybe a bit too melodramatic. For example:
Me: “Isn’t this outfit fab?! Seriously though, we all know odds are forever not in my favor, so write down the best outfits for my wake…”
Them: “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DIE!”
Me: “Eventually I am, let me go out in style!”
Them: “STOP IT, YOU SERIOUSLY KNOW YOU AREN’T GOING TO DIE RIGHT?!?!?!! Oh my god, should we be worried? Do you have a death wish?”
Me: “No shit I’m not going to die, and no you weirdos, I don’t have a death wish, if I did I wouldn’t schedule a surgery to save me from the stupid asshole in my head, but laugh with me!”
They don’t get the joke. I’m not sure I get the joke either, and while I am a bit melodramatic by nature, and I do have a weird, increasingly macabre sense of humor, it is what is getting me through the veritable mess I call my life. Now looking globally, respectively, I am very blessed. I live in an area where I am safe, I have a roof over my head, a new pup to keep me company, food to eat, and all the fashion my heart desires. When we look a little closer, between me and other people that share my basic identity and social markers, it looks more fishy. My almost-marriage collapsed around me and with it one of the most valuable friendships I have ever known began to hang in the balance. The strain and causes of that whole mess led to fractures and strains in all kinds of other places in my life and so as I sit here and write I can feel the palpable resonances of each of the challenging moments of this past year. With all of that was the surprising conclusion that Herbert, fat ass that he’s always been, has gained weight at a rate which warrants a surgery, “as soon as my schedule allows.” So I have to joke. That’s what I have, I have jokes. And retail therapy, and the occasional “meaningful tattoo.” This is not to say that I don’t have AMAZING friends and family circling my heart, always available and there for me. My friends in particular have truly risen to the occasion, and I am grateful, so eternally grateful. It’s just that, at the end of the day, when they each go home to their people, their work, their lives, their problems, they must figure out how to cope with their lives and I must figure out how to cope with mine, and humor, light, that is what I choose. Because the dark, it’s too dark.
I have to be this way because while I have come out of each of my surgeries and I know with full and total confidence I will come out of this one, I die on the table each time. It’s not that my heart stops, it’s not that I actually die, not scientifically anyway, but for those 10+ hours of darkness, with my body naked, strapped to machines, my skull cut open and my brain literally in someone’s hands, my humanity is gone. I am a subject, an object of discovery, an experiment of sorts. A test of the human imagination and the limits of our scientific abilities and advances. But I am not there, I am not in there, not conscious of the movements. I am stranger in there, a delightful and adorable stranger, but a stranger. When I’m there, for me, it is dark. It is a mystery, it is something that happens to me. It doesn’t happen for me, or along side me, or with me. It is darkness. It is profound. It is the closest the living have to death. I die on the table. My life becomes a series of cuts and staples, iron plates and nerve signals. And I don’t really get to choose if I enter that darkness, so until I do, I choose the light, the laughter, the hope of a joke or the nuzzle of a pup. It’s all too much to bear otherwise. You want me to feel the full force of the feelings this past year has thrust on me, and that I have thrust on myself (for I am not a victim of circumstance), I have and I know they are there, lingering in the periphery waiting for me to cave in, but today I get to choose my life, and it’s going to be fucking funny.
I go into surgery, to save my face, my smile, my hearing, my balance, my brainstem, ultimately my life, and my hope, and in order to do that, in a way, I die on the table. I die on a table in order to save my physical body, and regain the humanity that my laughter brings me. I must give my physical self over to someone (hopefully) much smarter than myself, so he can eradicate this things that threaten this face, this smile, this life, and as he takes that away, perhaps my spirit will become whole again, free of worry again. We must all risk our lives, risk our humanity to save ourselves at times, and that my friends can be a very dark place. So until we must be there, let’s look towards the light, and for the love of all things sacred, let’s laugh about it while we can.
Peace and love,