The Martian

Isolation is real.

Whether in the case of astronaut Mark Watney, played in the movie by Matt Damon, stranded alone for a year-and-a-half on the surface of the planet Mars, or anyone experiencing isolation of any kind. I loved that movie BEFORE its implications meant more to me this year, when the common isolation of spring and summer gave way to another kind of isolation this fall.

In the last post, I talked about one kind of isolation. The one where you need to quiet the voices in a time of crisis. In this post, I’m talking about another kind of isolation.

Human beings make assumptions every day. A warm morning without a check of the weather app could mean not having a jacket with you when the rain hits that afternoon. A whirlwind romance without asking the newfound love of your life if they were raised by any character from season 8 of American Horror Story, and you could end up parenting the Antichrist. Or, making friends with people who are only there for you when things are good, could leave you wondering if there is some commonly held (but not by you because you make assumptions every day) belief that cancer is contagious, and that it can be spread through text messages or phone calls.

By the way, if, while reading this, you start believing the above paragraph applies to you…

*shrugs*

…maybe not. I mean, every disciple asked Jesus if THEY were the one who would betray him. And I have no friends named Judas. But really, there is no better way to know who was carrying the friendship load than for one of those people in that friendship to come down with a very socially awkward disease. And by awkward I mean, one nobody likes talking about because it makes them uncomfortable trying to navigate the feelings they get when that disease invades their comfy hi, how ya doin’ relationships.

And I guarantee you, I have done this myself in the past. I have self-preservation ghosted people before. Never explained it. Just did what I believed I needed to do for my own well-being, not even considering the feelings of that other person. Trust me, this recent revelation, the done to as well as the doing to, was eye-opening in a way that only having a potentially life-ending disease, and all the time in the world while living during a world-wide pandemic, can be.

So yeah, make that two *shrugs*.

Because everybody has their limit. Some people take the elevator. Some people take the stairs. Because not everybody can handle the stairs, and that’s okay. Some people just aren’t given a choice. So for now, this is my stairs. And anyone who wants to take the stairs with me, can. But if you feel the need to take the elevator, don’t worry. Maybe we’ll see each other when we both get to where we’re going.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Rashomon

“When that long-anticipated first conversation with your oncologist leaves you feeling like the words, ‘Today, you are cancer-free’ are as temporary as a sandcastle at hightide.”

This is a day for catching up with the present.

(flashback)

For the last three days, I have written about what happened to me during that week in August, when an innocuous trip the bathroom (“There Will Be Blood”) turned into a completely unexpected diagnosis of cancer (“Panic Room”) and soon after, how having nothing to say isn’t necessarily a bad thing when there’s nothing left to do but the next thing, and the next (“Requiem for a Dream”).

You may have also noticed that every post title is taken from a movie I’ve seen.

That’s also something that, if you know me, you know this is how my brain works, and how it will keep working, all the way through this series. This day is for flash-forwards and flashbacks. No particular order. Just telling the story as it tells itself. And this is a story about those who know me best.

(flash-forward)

Yesterday, four weeks to the day since my surgery to remove a cancer-ridden kidney, I had my talk with an assigned oncologist. It was not what I expected. In these protracted days of Covid-19, first conversations take place on the telephone, not in person. In the case of this first conversation, the oncologist spoke and I listened. I took notes and then asked questions to the best of my untrained and overwhelmed ability.

When I want to be, I’m pretty good at asking questions in a vacuum. Yesterday, I did my in a vacuum best. But after an hour of statement-question-reply-question-answer, I had a full page of handwritten notes, and now, one day later, even more questions than yesterday I had answers for. Today, I did something about that. I asked my friends who have been there and done that. A friend who has survived cancer. Another friend who’s father lived five years with late-stage cancer, with her as his primary caregiver. And one other who has been down the kidney disease road, and come out on top. Their wisdom, both theoretical and practical, helped me navigate more than just a resetting of my understanding, but more important, a repurposing of my personal strategy to overcome this shit, and live.

(flashback)

In mid-September, I sent out the first of a series of texts and DMs to people I had considered what came to be called the “First Circle” friends. That is, those who would be told first, by virtue of the frequency of communications between the two of us. A couple of dozen folks. The essence of that message was to tell them that I had been gotten a preliminary diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma, and that I was waiting for further steps to be taken, which would ultimately lead to surgery. In late September, having been given a date for my surgery, I sent a second round of texts and DMs to the First Circle, and a similarly-crafted message to folks in what came to be called the “Second Circle”. Ultimately, with a couple of days to go before the surgery was to take place, a final “Third Circle” message was sent to let those who, for a multitude of reasons, I had not previously informed.

So, you know how you can think you know someone… until you REALLY know someone… and then you realize you really didn’t know them at all? I will never assume anything about a Circle Friend EVER again. Through this, I have learned that a friend is not that person you assumed they were. A friend is someone who exists in reality, not in your mind. And not in your own wishful thinking about them. And a good friend is someone who never thought they needed to try and convince you of who they already were all along.

(flash-forward)

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday