Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hot, Cold, Just Right

After my brother left, I had the honor of being an usher at a wedding. I’d been a groomsman several times and the best man at a wedding but never an usher. I kept joking through the weekend that I had only agreed to do it because I thought they’d asked to me to come as Usher and I even had my big sunglasses and bling prepared.

This ended up being, in one particular sense, my favorite weekend since the diagnosis. At the rehearsal dinner, my condition didn’t come up once. At the wedding where I met lots of people and took hot girls (like my wife), some little girls and some elderly classy ladies all out to the dance floor, it was a great time. I got to be witty, charming, intelligent… and people said things like: you have such a great smile, it was awesome hanging out with you, good meeting you etc. These were remarks that I’d gotten frankly since I was a child but I had semi retreated in the last couple of months from meeting people. Every time I met someone it appeared to be around good friends who caringly asked about what was going on but it felt like it caused the people who were meeting me to see me through the prism of the cancer patient. They all loved how positive I was etc but I wanted to be the guy who was all those positive things period, not the guy who was all of those things even though he had cancer.My wife tore up the dance floor that night and came home the happiest (and most exhausted) I’d seen her in a while. It was a great time and I was on cloud nine but then my mind went to a dark place.

See, I grew up with mineral stained teeth; they had these big brown spots on them and when I was 25, the only time I had a high paying job and money to blow through, I spent a few thousand dollars in order to put in caps over the teeth so that I’d have a smile I was comfortable in; I’d always smiled but incredibly self consciously. They didn’t reshape my teeth, they didn’t even change the color per se because they weren’t all capped and the new ones matched the ones that didn’t have stains. I’d gotten 5 years of smiling without hesitation about making an impression. What does that have to do with anything you might ask? Well, in less than a month I’d have a gigantic scar on the side of my head and that would invariably be my first impression. Not only would I likely have neurological ‘scars’ but I wouldn’t be spared what many cancer patients are, having to show their scars. People who had breasts, colons, kidneys etc removed had very private scars. Mine was going to be on my head and like my teeth had been for 25 years, now my scar would be something to overcome on first impressions. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but humans are conditioned to notice things like that, odd noses, lazy eyes, whatever looks different about the face. Even the best of people register it…the universe had only given me 5 years of letting my personality over shine physical deformities. That was one of less than a handful of nights that I fell asleep crying; call it vanity but a childhood full of memories of being different would tell you otherwise.

The day after the wedding was the Superbowl and we had a great party that I had organized at someone else’s house. All the people there were good friends and most were up date on all that had gone so almost no questions were asked. It was great to be able to put together squares, make infantile jokes at people, throw things at each other. The longer this process dragged out the more I realized what great people I’d surrounded myself with. The joke I’ve made for years may have more truth than fiction in it: I could only have good friends because you had to be an incredibly nice and tolerant person to put up with someone like me.

That night I went home and realized that at least until I found my footing, reclaimed whoever “Iram” was going to be that I would need to turn to these people. New people were probably going to be hard to overcome for me and them; medium people had been too impressed with my positive attitude despite cancer; the good friends were the ones who were checking on me and asking about cancer the way they would about anything transient. It was a conversational piece but in the end it defined neither me nor any significant part of our relationship. In the Goldilocks story, they were the right stock of porridge.

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