In an earlier post I shared some of the things I was angry about since this dance with the Big C began last fall. Mostly bat-shit crazy, Mad Hatter things that have been overwhelming and downright mystifying. The bubbling brew of oozing gooey undisguised and unrestrained emotions. My psychological backpack is already jam-packed, yet I continue to gather more of these sour candies with each passing day. It’s been a real slice and I am grateful to everyone who is on the road with me. I’m especially grateful to those with large hearts and even larger compassionate muscles who haven’t judged. Just walked the mile in my moccasins.
One of the big things I have wrestled with in this messy muddy life I lead is that there is just no way to sanitize these emotions. I wish I could. But the truth is, they are there. Maybe they always were and E’s cancer just brought them roaring to the surface. Demanding that I take note. So I have. And the thing is, I can’t paint a pretty picture. Won’t even try. All my life I have been referred to as “such a nice person.” Well, there isn’t anything nice about this. None of it. So if you will indulge me one last purge, one final rage, one more dump about anger, then I think I’m done here.
Warning: Some of you may want to quit reading at this point. No hard feelings. This isn’t for everyone. I get that. You can move on and read the blogs about flour-free recipes or how to make a tee shirt from toilet paper.
There is one colossal thing that I’ve been livid about for years. It trumps all those other things I’ve been mad about. Makes them seem almost trivial. Not even deep enough to be superficial. It’s the Big Kahuna of piss-offs. I intentionally left it out of my first rant because it’s been such a sensitive thorn in my side. And believe it or not, I was still trying to play nice in that post. But since this is the final puke-up, here goes.
Not casually. Not after dinner. Nor while on vacation. Not like those rare birds who bum smokes at parties but never indulge otherwise. It wasn’t a bad habit he picked up late at night while playing in bands. E was a hard-core smoker from the time his was nine years old. He chain smoked. Tons. It was the first thing he did when he got up in the morning and the last thing at night. If he couldn’t sleep he got up and had a cigarette. It comforted him in ways I never could. It was his best friend. An extension of his yellow nicotine stained fingers.
No one knows with 100 percent certainty that smoking was the cause of his disease. Even the doctors who treated him, and the nurses who cared for him, left the door open for other possible explanations. Cancer does strike randomly. Nonsmokers get lung cancer. Health nuts, who only eat organic foods and run ten miles a day, get stomach cancer. People who wear big floppy hats and cover themselves in gobs of suntan lotion get skin cancer. We know this to be true. Stress and inflammation are often at the heart of many diseases, from head to heel. I get this.
But here’s the two thousand pound elephant in the room. E stuck a carcinogenic substance in his mouth for 45 years, every day, all day. He has mouth cancer. Mathematical equations aside, odds are cigarette smoking most likely caused this thing.
And I’m mad as hell about that.
Before our daughter was born I begged and pleaded with E to quit. Once M was here, I tried every manipulative trick in the book. Of course, intellectually I knew this had to be his decision. He had to hold his own come to Jesus meeting. I had no control over this. I understood addiction. Having grown up with an alcoholic father and personally battled with uncontrollable sugar cravings my entire life, I knew what misery looked like. I’d grovel and drag myself through the mud just for an O’Henry Bar. I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night needing to feed. I will always be a sugar addict, whether I eat the stuff or not. I’ve also smoked. I know how hard it is to quit. I bawled like a baby for two weeks solid the last, and final, time I quit. It was pathetic. Not one of my more graceful and exemplary times.
Because I knew intimately how difficult quitting smoking could be, I exercised as much compassion and understanding as was possible with E. But I’m only human after all. And I have my own crap to deal with. There was always this underlying resentment about him not quitting. I often viewed it as defiance. Not something he couldn’t do. But wouldn’t.
There were a couple of occasions over the past 20 years where E attempted to quit. His longest smoke-free period was about four months. Most of his efforts were futile though. When it came to quitting, the best he could commit to was “someday.”
Over time, my protests and admonishments ebbed and flowed in volume and frequency. I also had a comrade, a buddy, a conscientious objector who shared my concerns. I went from wanting to shield my daughter from a swath of cigarette fumes to having her join me on the protest line. M and I were a united front on this issue.
At times we were passive aggressive in our objections and disapproval. Never really coming out and saying, “You’re an asshole for treating this so lightly,” but implying it just the same, in our offhanded comments. These ran the gambit from the descriptive, “The garage looks like a butt factory” to the succinct, “you reek.” His habit was bringing out the worst in us. We were evil twins.
But once E’s mouth cancer was confirmed, no one dared to say, “I told you so.” We knew there was a good possibility something like this could happen. He was playing a risky game with much at stake. Sad thing is, E knew it too. That was the frustrating part. Just like quitting might happen “someday” so could getting cancer.
It’s a peculiar thing how love supersedes everything at times like these. Instead of thinking, “I knew this was going to happen.” All I could think about was losing him. Nothing else mattered. The cause was irrelevant.
Having said all that, I’m still angry. At E for not quitting before it came to this. At his doctor, for not ever suggesting he should quit. At myself, for not being more persuasive, not fighting hard enough. At God, for not answering all those millions of prayers.
Pointless self-flagellation. I know.
One last thing. All over social media sites, but Facebook in particular, there have been these images of kids holding signs that read something like, “My dad says that if I get 1 million ‘likes’ he’ll quit smoking.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry the first time I saw one of these posts. For the most part these are scams called “Like Farming”, which can generate tons of money for the owners of those phony pages. Scams or the real deal aside, I found them disturbing. Because M and I know the truth. It will take more than 1 million “likes” to make someone’s dad quit smoking. No matter how much they love you. It just doesn’t work that way. Nothing’s that simple.
I’m angry about that too.