Marty is going to die. He’ll tell you himself.
I’m gonna die, ain’t much to be done about that. Not a fuckin thing to be done about that.
I liked him immediately. A man in his 70’s uses the word fuck, and its’ conjugations, differently than a younger man. He comes from a time when that word meant something. It wasn’t a common adjective. Fuck was a choice word, for select company, and rare situations. He used it only once in the hour we spent together. Not a fuckin thing to be done about that.
Stage 4 liver cancer will take his life, just a question of when. He’s currently on a chemotherapy cocktail based on doxorubicin. Nasty shit. Tears through you like a hedge trimmer versus kleenex. His oncologist tells him it’s the best weapon they have to stave off tumor growth. It’s a token effort, and he knows it.
I won’t bullshit you and tell you he’s full of energy and hope, despite his challenges. He isn’t bravely quoting inspiring verse, self-motivating his way to a miracle. Marty isn’t a beacon of optimism. He’s a realist. He thinks the President is an idiot. He thought the former President was an idiot, and the one before that too. Many people are idiots, he claims. Marty eats hospital food for every meal. He lives in terrycloth sheets with blue stripes near the top. He drinks through a straw poked into the aluminum foil skin of whatever pre-packaged juice the nurses bring him. He farts a lot. He doesn’t care that he farts a lot. He’s old, and dying, and there is not a fuckin thing to be done about that.
His wife died a few years ago. Pretty sure Marty took his foot off the accelerator at that point. No kids. One Niece, lives in Georgia, doesn’t like her, she doesn’t like him.
I read the Free Press to him. What’s happening with this ISIS thing? When is Justin Verlander gonna quit dicking around with his delivery? What’s the weather going to be like for the holiday? That kind of thing. We played Gin Rummy. He won. I think he cheated. I didn’t care.
What I got from Marty was a look at what I might have been if I were diagnosed at 72 instead of 25. I didn’t care for it much. I doubt he did either. I told him I’m a survivor, he guessed as much. Either that or I lost a loved one there recently. Those are the types who visit strangers he said, mostly. I also got an earful about why social security was both a necessary evil and a band aid left on too long, as he phrased it. He holds his cards like a man who’s played a lot of cards. His hands hurt, I know, but he still shuffled the cards the way hustlers do.
It’s impossible to know a man in an hour, but one can get a sense of whether he’s worth knowing. Marty is worth knowing, for however long he has left. I have barely a snapshot of the man now, but I have questions. Did he serve in a war? Why didn’t he have kids? Was he a good bowler? Does he love books? movies? music? what?
He has about 2 weeks left on this chemo cycle, and unless there is unexpected progress, there likely won’t be another round. He’s accepted death already, but his body isn’t ready to succumb just yet. He’s the guy in the waiting room at the mechanic who was there when you arrived and there when you left. This isn’t a tire rotation. It takes a while. I’m selfish I suppose. I want to drain all his stories, learn his failures and triumphs. He just wants me to read the free press and play cards.
I visit strangers because they let me read to them. Primarily and honestly speaking, that’s probably the true baseline of it. I hope Marty and the others get something out of it beyond what they could have gleaned from the TV news, but it’s a coin flip. Beats playing solitaire I’m told. This is the reality. When the nurse tells you Marty could use a visitor it means he hasn’t had one in a while. It also probably means he’s been driving her crazy, but she won’t tell you that the first time. We may think of dying patients in a somber way, with heavy emotions at play and the mysteries of life concluding rapidly. But really, mostly, you’re talking about people in slippers with grippers on the feet who are never comfortable. These are people who want to be somewhere else. They are bored. Yes, they are in excruciating pain more often than not and have tubes in and out, but they’re people lost between being tired and trying to remember what channel Jeopardy is on. Hospitals never have the same channel numbers you have at home.
I don’t go because of survivors guilt. I don’t. Maybe I have it, maybe I don’t. I am a survivor, and my thoughts are elsewhere. I did my time. I’m not interested in reliving it. I don’t mind talking about it when people ask. People are curious. I get it. There are moments where I get wrapped up in the private celebration that I am still here, and draw the energy from that to maneuver through difficult moments. But at the end of the day I was just a guy in terrycloth sheets with blue stripes at the top who was bored a lot. I got out of the sheets. I use 600 thread count now. Up your ass anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
I don’t know why I go. But I know this much….
Next time I’ll shuffle.