Losing the Thread

27Guest post by Michael Leary

After someone commits suicide you begin to filter through everything you know about them in the hope of gleaning all that remains good and beautiful and true.

At first, this proves difficult: there isn’t much left but murk and silt. But you find yourself returning again and again, panning in the stream of memories because flecks of gold begin to appear and the mere weight of them feels so precious.

I became familiar with this habit of disinterment long before my brother chose suicide. I say “chose” because in David’s case it was an idea he had talked about and lived with for some time, the act becoming a final expression of personal agency in a world that had seemingly closed all of its doors on him.

And yet, despite his choice, his memory, our kinship, abides. [Read more...]

Ovarian Cancer and a Circumcised Heart

Unemployment (1909), Kathe KollwitzCircumcise therefore the thickness about your hearts.
—Deuteronomy 10:16

 

Her dying and death circumcised my heart.

For weeks, I knew only this: she’s on a lot of pain medication; she’s hallucinating; she’s in the hospital; she’s home; she has a staph infection; she’s in the ICU; she’s doing better; she’s in rehab; she’s in the hospital; she’s coming home.

How did I know the little I knew? Mother. She conveyed what they, my brother and sister-in-law, wanted others to know.

We knew.

We thought we knew. [Read more...]

Quitting the Cancer Battle

Dessicated Seated NudeI am not a hero. After my last post, some readers wanted to know how I arrived at my attitude toward cancer, which is to be found somewhere between a religious person’s submis­sion and the cordial host’s welcome. A better question—one my oncologist and I wrestle with at every appointment—is why most cancer patients tumble into a bottom­less slough of despond.

My intention is not to criticize other cancer patients. To be told that you have a disease which is going to kill you in the next few months or years is to be slammed by a violent and remorseless truth that nothing in experience prepares you for. At first you can’t even process what your doctor is telling you, because there is nothing to which you can com­pare the news in order to make sense of it—it is a monster from beyond your imagination. Denial, self-pity, panic, despair: these are the natural reactions.

I was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in the fall of 2007. Just before Sukkot my doctor phoned to warn that an “opacity” had shown up on my chest X-ray during a routine physical examination. To the Jews, Sukkot is zeman simhatenu, the “season of our rejoicing,” but there was little joy in our sukkah that year. Our season was one of dread. [Read more...]

Hymn to the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is coming up, and if there’s any time of the year to be less serious, it’s now. On religious holidays, joy is the regnant mood, but there’s always a matched reverence about the affairs; the same is true of the major secular holidays—each with a “let’s take a moment to remember the reason that we’re here today” interlude. Perhaps only Labor Day comes close for pure secular fun-centeredness.

Then again, the Fourth has the underlying commemoration of our independence, a high-minded foundation that Labor Day doesn’t share. But to me, Labor Day is a kind of last hurrah, since summer is officially ending. Personally, that makes it bittersweet, as pit-of-the stomach school dread always hits me hard, regardless of my age, and is coupled with a primordial hatred of the cold weather to come.

So I’ll give the prize to July fourth for noisy, unsophisticated, flat-out enjoyment, and these things in particular: [Read more...]

Can’t a Dad Hug His Boy?

When I sat down to work at my computer yesterday morning, I checked my email and saw the stories on the news feed: another madman shoots random people; global warming disaster almost certain; radical politicians calling for rebellion, secession; the rich hoarding everything, the poor getting more desperate. I got off the Internet and clicked open the piece I am working on, and I stared at four pictures pinned to the cabinets in front of my writing desk.

One picture is a charcoal drawing of a human skull, my memento mori every morning as I sit down to work. The other three are curling snapshots from years ago hanging by a single thumb tack each.

The bottom one is of my boys at a cookout when Evan was not yet three and Asher was so young he could still delight himself to laughter just by running, happily unconcerned about his diaper-full of poop. The boys are in front of a picnic shelter in Kanawha Forest, and they are smudged and smeared face to bare feet with the grime of hard outdoor play. They are both squatting at a dog’s metal water bowl, splashing in it with sticks.

The middle photo is of Evan on my sister Alma’s lap. They both face the camera, her arms are wrapped around his chest and their faces are side by side—that they are related is clear by their sharp Sizemore chins.

[Read more...]


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