9 1/2 Weeks

Today, I rode my bicycle. First time in almost 9 1/2 weeks. No, this post has absolutely NOTHING to do with a movie about sex and eating jalapenos blindfolded in lingerie. It’s just the first movie reference that popped into my head when I looked in my journal for the last date I rode my bike. Monday, September 14th. A grocery run to Trader Joe’s. 64 days ago. My bike chain jumped the gears on the way home with 30 pounds of groceries in the pack on my back. The chain wedged itself between the gears and the bike frame, and it took me about 20 minutes to cautiously work it free, reset it, and slowly ride it home using only the one gear I got it to loop back into. 21st gear. The top gear. Up hill the last 2 miles home.

It was my last ride. The pains and symptoms that had become a part of my recent life with kidney cancer were becoming more than I felt like riding to the store with. In fact, by that night, I started to notice an increasing pain in my lower abdomen that, by the next night, made me decide that a trip to Urgent Care was a good idea. Because in my mind, after my catheter and camera bladder exam the Friday before, I thought this new pain might be a bladder infection. And at this point in my Summer of Cancer adventure, NOTHING was going to stop me from having the surgery scheduled for October 6th, to get my cancer-coated kidney out of me.

As I’ve mentioned to a few folks since, that pain I was feeling turned out to be a little bonus affliction called diverticulitis. You fans of WebMD can play with that one at your earliest convenience. A couple more trips to the doctor and two prescriptions of antibiotics later and the surgery happened right on schedule.

Anyway, that’s all just backstory now. Same with why I would ride to buy groceries and run other local errands. It’s all just history now, and probably more filler for another post I’ll write before the end of the month.

The important thing about this day was, I rode my bicycle. For the first time in almost 9 1/2 weeks, I rode. Six weeks to the day after surgery. Just like the doctors said not to do. Not to fuck up the healing I can’t see on my insides, while the scars I can see on my outsides do the same.

Today, I rode my bicycle. It felt good. The day felt good. Writing this felt good.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Before Sunrise

“But I promise the coffee tastes better before the sun comes up.”*

*Me, today. In an actual conversation with an actual human.

It’s been years now… three years and change, anyway… that I have been, more often than not, waking up before sunrise. If you didn’t already know, I worked about a dozen years on the graveyard shift. That means sleeping in the daytime, like a drunk vampire. Sleep-deprived. Most of the time as an on-call delivery person. Then, one final year isolated in a warehouse from 5:30 pm to 7:00 am, left to scurry home between the shadows, hoping direct sunlight couldn’t catch my hair on fire before my head hit the pillow.

In time, I convinced myself that I did my best writing, best living, between the hours of dark and light. That I got my writerly brood on after midnight. Told myself that I could barely function in the daylight, and I was just living in both worlds because I couldn’t convince enough people to come join me in the neon and fluorescence.

Then I quit that job.

And soon after, my whole life crashed.

Until I found the one thing a vampire can’t understand.

Welcoming the sunrise.

Move the calendar ahead three years. Looking where I had come from. Looking where I assumed I was headed. The loss of another, much better, job. The open-ended loss of autonomy in a pandemic. Finally, cancer. And through it all, one, and only one, thing stayed the same.

A single cup of black coffee before sunrise.

All the way back three years before, even after those dozen years in the dark, my body went from undead to alive in the daylight. Regulated itself, almost immediately, into existence at the beginning of every day, not the end. Yeah, even on weekends. Woke up without an alarm. Fell asleep without forcing myself to end each day dreading the next day, because each next day began of its own free will, with coffee in my hands and quiet outside my window. Ultimately, even after the time between August and November and the shitstorm of a dumpster fire life kinda became in The Summer of Cancer, most days were still about beginning them as I came anticipate more than any other thing.

The sound of a coffee maker. The joy in the silence before the noise to come. The beauty of a new day. And the promise of how much better the coffee tastes before sunrise.

Prove me wrong.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

The Candidate

The day I met my urologist, in person, not over the phone, he said the funniest thing I will ever hear from any medical professional, from first symptom, to surgery, and beyond. As we were about to conclude our pre-op meeting, he said,

“You are the perfect candidate for this.”

Visibly startled, even while wearing a mask, I said to him, “So, a fifty-nine-year-old man with no pre-existing conditions is the perfect candidate?” And without hesitating, he said,

“Yes. Basically, this is bread and butter urology.”

And I needed to hear that.

Because at this point, about a month into the adventure of a cancer diagnosis, I was living with more than just physical symptoms. I was living with symptoms of fear, doubt, confusion, dread, and a genuine panic about ever seeing a future that, until August, I had completely taken for granted was still on it’s way. Nothing, not the well-wishes of friends, or the educated guesses of medical professionals, gave me any reason to hope. This is some scary shit, but I left this appointment with hope.

Now if you could just box up hope, and carry it with yourself to the end of the line, when they finally “fork that thing outta ya”, like one friend said of my kidney, in a text.

At one point in my not too distant past, I had been accused by another friend… accused, in a good way… of being “the most hopeful person they knew”. That hopeful person wasn’t around anymore, having left, for other reasons, a few years before the Summer of Cancer began. Now, I was looking for that person to make fresh appearance. A Deus ex Machina cameo that didn’t rely on a well-developed plot, or other accounting of an existing character arc. Just a re-emergence of the guy I was… before.

And this moment felt like that guy was living in my body again.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Punchline

Turns out, cancer isn’t as funny as I originally thought.

A couple of weeks ago, when I first legit committed to writing about my Summer of Cancer, AKA What I Did on my Pandemic Vacation, AKA The Guy with the Blood in his Urine, I assumed, mostly because when I journal about it… personal, PRIVATE journal about it… I always seem to make at least one joke per page about what I’ve been going through since the Hibiscus Tea Incident of August, 2020. I mean, I’ve hashtagged it everyday.

#inappropriatehumor

That’s supposed to be something you can’t come back from. A promise. A solemn oath to make something potentially tragic also something you laugh in the face of. It’s like mocking the devil, or the President. Yet here I’ve been, uncharacteristically getting in touch with my feelings, in public. It’s like a sad Hallmark movie. Shut up, I know every Hallmark movie is sad, just not in the way that Hallmark intends. A lot like that movie where Forrest Gump’s mother plays his girlfriend. Two noob stand-up comics, neither one is funny. But they spend the entire movie trying to convince the audience of said unfunny movie which movie reviewer Rex Reed gave FOUR STARS… whatever… that if you just try hard enough to overcome your traumas and triggers (although this movie was made in the ’80s so I don’t think the writers even had words like “traumas” or “triggers” in the script), you TOO could be one of the sad funny people on open mic night at the comedy club.

Spoiler… no, you can’t. Because a movie about unfunny stand-up comedians ISN’T FUNNY. Just like cancer ISN’T FUNNY. At least not intentionally.

But a promise is a promise.

So I guess the trick isn’t trying to write exceptionally funny cancer jokes. That would be like Tom Hanks and Sally Field writing their own material for the open mic scenes in Punchline. And if we learned anything from the movie Sunset Boulevard (RELAX, THAT won’t be on the test) we all know that even though everybody thinks that actors are making up their lines as they go, they aren’t. And I’m not writing cancer jokes on cue as I stare blankly at the screen at the start of every blogging day.

No, I’m remembering something that could have been sad, that in the remembering of it, at least made ME laugh. And that’s the punchline at the end of story. That if I can laugh, then I can laugh the next time, and the next. Until maybe I won’t need to remember to laugh anymore.

And if I’m laughing, maybe you can laugh with me, too.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday