Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Massachusetts Melanoma

(a shaken picture of the moon, during a lunar eclipse, or a cancer cell)

This is a tragic tale, as my friend would say. Her and I have had an ongoing conversation about the differences between what constitutes "tragic" and what is merely sad, or worse... pathetic.

This story is a little bit of all of those things.

I have been asked to use no details or the insider information that I've been privy to. That will be difficult, but I will try. In doing so, this means that I might editorialize a bit. Let the chips fall where they may.

Several weeks ago....

We were chatting with our friends when the wife-hostess announced that one of her friend's husband had just told her that he had cancer and he only had 3 months to live. They had recently been going on an increased number of vacations and family events. It had been wonderful for the wife, and their child, she thought.

He explained that he didn't want her to know, that he had done this to hide her from the oncoming pain, the eternal loss, he had chosen to face this knowledge alone, to save them from the anguish. It made perfect sense, to some of my friends. How noble, some of them thought. What good could the truth have brought? Why prolong the shock of mortality, the stab of loss., etc.

Others said, well... no, if not truth and disclosure about the most important and mortal of all concerns, then what? People need time to prepare for death, however ill-equipped we all might be. That's one of the reasons that suicides are so shocking, and as some claim, selfish. By committing suicide you've denied those close to you time to either bid you farewell or convince you of the meaningfulness of life and its many merits.

None of us saw eye to eye on this subject... the silent sufferer of cancer, the noble patient, the quiet one, dignified in death.

On this point I will draw out a specific conversation:

To simplify the conversation we had... I tried to further explain my point to her, that a suicide is sad and perhaps even pathetic, as they quite often are, but tragedy is a literary device employed when a hero dies defending a great cause, roughly. So, suicide does not often qualify as tragic, though it might be infinitely sad, it is not tragic, that is a function of high ideals and literature alone.

She said that no, a life wasted, a life of potential can be seen as tragic, because it is a life given over to the unknown, and if any signs of promise are lost in that sudden and unredeemable act of self-destruction then that also qualifies as tragic.

We agreed that perhaps we were addressing related but forever separated worlds, that of literature and that of the world we live in, the world of bodies and the warmth of life.

It is an ongoing conversation.

I reserve the word "tragic" to address things other than the death of a salesmen, etc., though the word is flexible and can be used many ways.

Some clarity: Each person can choose to live and die in whatever way they choose. I do not believe in punishment or retribution in the after-life. But I have more stringent ideas about how we must deal with those who are still with us in body, only because they have the potential of causing increased and recurring suffering in others. This cancer victim was apparently of that sort, one who is able to cause additional suffering.

He was described as a loving and attentive father, a man who was always on time to pick up the kids, his word was apparently implacable.

So, the next part of the story is where it gets really strange, and I have to assume, or suggest, but have been asked not to use specifics.

He was found, still alive, an apparent attempt at or a move towards suicide had been made.

He had been involved in some series of drug-related badness. There was a stabbing, a getaway, a witness in the other room, a series of ill-schemed crimes, and all of this on top of a life of reasonably carefully planned maneuvers, but a desperate drug-addled money grab nonetheless, one with severe implications. The witness in the other room had some knowledge of the crimes. The victim lived, I believe, though barely. A thing that is alternately good or very bad for the perpetrator, depending on a total getaway or measured in years served.

 Grim fact, that.

I've never been able to understand people who are able to live double lives, I struggle greatly with a single life. Of what cloth is a man made that lives as a reversible jacket.... It is not envy I have, but wonder and disbelief. The more that I try to invest into the commitment of one life the more suspect I become; the more honesty I deliver the more doubt and incredulity is returned. There are these other types of guys that have two or more lives and the more lives they lead the more well-balanced they seem.  That is, until the theaters catch fire, the rooftops come crashing down, and a hidden addiction is discovered by the police while investigating a stabbing. They then patiently and judiciously distribute the information to the local newspapers, to be consumed and then forgotten, by most.  But they pursue, it is what they do.

Perhaps the requirement of leading a double life is a strict adherence to schedules, unnamed and unknown protocols, only giving the appearance of order and commitment.  It seems that it requires a series of calculations in life that most aren't capable of, an immense pattern of scheming. A full lifetime of it done in double speed.

I don't know what drug this man was addicted to, but if I had to guess: heroin. Heroin is an addiction that can be hidden more easily than some others. It has literary appeal in that it sounds like heroine, though I have no idea if this guy could read or not. He seems like the type guy to take up serious reading in prison. A hidden addiction to heroes and heroines.

Well, I somehow didn't get around to telling the story of what actually happened, too much digression, I suppose, that and an avoidance of the more interesting facts concerning the guy and his wife.

Now I've run out of time and the needs of the normal, screwed up singular life that I'm living are making their demands.

I perhaps need another cup of coffee, some more time, and the permission to tell the secrets of others.

Addendum:  It seems that the subject of this story did not actually have cancer, I was not clear about that.  It was what he had told his wife and friends, knowing all along that he had plans other than going to prison.