Thursday, November 19, 2020

Indelible B-Side: Issue #1 "The Big C"

Over the past year, we have all gotten a dose of reality from several different directions reminding us that life can be incredibly and indiscriminately short and cruel. Being numb to all of the COVID news, I woke up a few months ago to read the headline of another bothersome (loosely put) disease claiming a life.  While I did not personally know the public figure who passed, I do know that this particular person, did touch people through his work in the entertainment business and some of their other ventures.  
On social media, I read a couple of on-the-spot expressions of condolence for the family of the deceased entertainer.  As the day progressed well into the weekend, I saw something that I found amazing.  The condolences turned into stories of how the person impacted their lives.  And then those stories turned into others who were sharing their own stories of connection through surviving cancer.  And most interestingly, I saw people using social media to connect and share their own stories of getting diagnosed, surviving, and supporting.  
Funny where the brain goes…
In September of 2016, I called home thinking it would be very routine; the call where you are already in cruise-control for at least the first five minutes, if not the whole call.   
"How are you?"
"How's life on the farm?" 
You know, the weirdly typical check-in for anyone who is relatively far away from family.  
Knowing where this call was going before I hit connect gave me time to think about what I was doing that afternoon and evening.  I suspect that going over to a bar and watching soccer, or having a glass of whiskey and listening to music, or combining all of the above.  Going back to that moment, my mind still slows down the nanoseconds between the pick-up and the broadcast of a signal.  
My brother answered with the camera lens turned towards a man in a hospital bed with tubes and meters attached to him.  That dude in the picture looked familiar but nah… didn't ring any bells.  I would have sworn that it was my brother and his family watching some sad scene from some medical drama like Grey's or E.R. 
Completely befuddled, made the sort of off-colored-nervous joke that one makes when blindsided with visual proof that not everything was ok.  (We all do that, right?  It cannot be only me?).   Turns out it was my father, who came back with his own dismissal; I think he said it was a  "little flair up" of something (don't remember exactly what he said).  You could hear people coaching my dad in the background because clearly, he was not interested in showing his weakness.  
He eventually got to the word colonoscopy.  That word hung with me for a minute as the memories of taking my dad to the hospital for the first time, a half dozen years ago crept into my mind.  The weird conversations we had, while he was semi-lucid, came back; everything from the "why are you here" chat to the "take care of your family and friends" chat.  
At that point, I immediately knew my dad went from fighting a little brush of "c" to actually fighting against the "BIG C."
He had been dealing with this "nuisance" (his word) for a few years at this point and mostly kept it to himself.  I admit we were never the most communicative pair; I would get bits and pieces of the story but our conversations over a year's time were generally less than an hour-long in total.  I had to put the clues together to get morsels of info.  Sharing was not really a thing between us and as we got older and life started getting in the way, it was less and less.  The most significant conversation I remember having with him in the previous couple of years was him in the "after-glow" of post colonoscopy.  I just sat there as he just talked and talked like I've never seen him talk since I was very young. We talk about all the things we used to talk about, music, movies, tv, and comic books... the important stuff. 
I immediately hopped a flight back to the US and headed over to my parent's house.  Getting there was a bit tentative; I'm typically not a nervous traveler but this was a tough and weird trip.  Going from a city with millions of people to a town just populated enough to host a hospital added a layer of culture-shock to the nervous anticipation. 
And then I walked into the house. 
My dad, much like me, loves a project.  Our modus operandi growing up was to create lists and bounce from project to project; from a pine-wood derby to simple tasks, such as figure out how to maximize efficiency in weekend chores.  As I walked in, the first thing I saw was his disassembled office that was being converted into something I would never be able to figure out.  This office was a safe haven from the family, where I would get the opportunity to sit at his command center if and only if he was not coming back.  All that was left were file cabinets and papers stacked along the walls.  There were also medical supplies and boxes of medicine on a bookshelf that was so overloaded it had a little gangsta-lean.  And of course, there was music, enough cd's to fill up a small bookshelf, and my boom box from like two-ish decades ago sitting on top.  You could see the evolution of what he used to listen to and what he was connecting with at that point.  I remember taking some of those old cd's from the bottom shelf and placing them on top.  I was sure he would notice as I would constantly get in trouble for altering the order of his musical universe. 
Over the next two weeks, I spent my days and night telecommuting from the hospital my dad remained confined to.  We'd get him home for a day or two and then have to send him back.  It was all temporary for me so I'd slept on the couch.  Don't think I even unpacked.  I mean, he's coming home soon.  Well, that and fear of him coming home and making me clean the guest room; hospital corners, perfect vacuum lines on the carpet, and all. But the reality of this arrangement changed by week three when we got an announcement that things were not getting any better. 
My dad spent the last few weeks in a hospital bed placed in his recently dismantled home office space.  I assumed my role as the caregiver to give everyone a little space as they'd been dealing with this for a little while now and clearly needed a little breathing room.  I was with my dad from sun up to sun down talking to him in ways I had never spoken to him before. When he'd sleep, I'd work or try to sleep.  There were a few days that I slept on the floor next to him, partially to try to keep him from escaping, and sometimes, that is just where I was when we were having random conversations. 
Those conversations were all over the place; about life and choices. The TV dad conversations I probably wished I'd had growing up.  We talked about my poorly perceived notion of being a disappointment to him because I chose one path over another.  And then his inability to open up which was countered by my inability to slow down and let things go.  My stubbornness that reminded him of one of his parents but my patience that reminded him of the other. His inability to show up because of his sense of duty.  And how he sees things in me that are reminiscent of him getting older.  You know… like real conversations. 
And once we got through those tough conversations, we started having a bit of fun.
We talked about action movies and TV of the kung fu and western variety; weekend religion in my house way back then.  He got a chuckle at me thinking I was a sub-10-year-old spy who could sneak into the room and quietly watch TV from the space between the couch and the wall.  He said something the effect of appreciating that I liked what he liked. He also appreciated the fact that if I sat still long enough, I'd just fall asleep back there. 
We talked about my obsession with reading. He poked fun of my other slightly sadder attempts to be sneaky by using a flashlight to read under the bed. I still think it is way more effective than using a flashlight under the sheets. We also had epic conversations about the first comic book he gave me, which dovetailed into talk about his comic-book heroes growing up; Black Panther, Power Man, Superman, and Green Lantern.  He had a great time as I regaled him with the story of Black Panther on screen, then in the Avenger movies leading up to the movie that we'd see a few years later if he was able to hold on. It was fun to see him want to get better to go see the movie. He was so interested. 
I eventually shared an idea that I had.  It was for a blog, to get me back into writing, or at least get me better at writing. But it was about storytelling around music.  Removing the BS from music and just listening to music as it is. Accepting the art form and if you don't like it… move on, don't trash it. And if you like it, share it.  I had a name way back then, like "Striking the Groove" or something; he didn't like that name either.  But as I put the project down because it didn't feel right, I come back to it nearly four years to the day that I got on a plane to make a memory. And sincerely, that's what this is about; recalling, reliving, and making new memories around music.  It's about starting a conversation and watching it evolve.  The opinions are mine, but I invite you to share your opinions but keep them civil, or at least constructive.  You are welcome to disagree that I'm ok listening to the King of Pop because I can separate the music from the person, because I cannot trade the fact that my first dancing partner put a 45 on the record player and it was probably one of my favorite songs at the time, "Working Day and Night," not for the song but for the memory. Because that was a good one. 
For me, I think I know that dad would have liked this project that I am finally starting. No idea where it goes, but if nothing else, the journey is unmapped but it's ... a journey.
- Freddy Wills
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