Bill died.

So it goes.

Now we know why he missed writer's group last week.  Best excuse humanity has to offer for missing an appointment. 

His writer contributions were modest.  He was a good humorist.  Wrote a lot about being a kid, breaking windows with baseballs, crashing bicycles, pulling the girls's hair on the grammar school playground. No cursing.  No anger.  A regular "Leave it To Beaver" life.

Meanwhile, he got married and had kids of his own.  Meanwhile he was superintendent of schools, dealing with angry parents and putting kids into detention.  Getting prostate cancer.  Surviving chemo and radiation.  Coming back to write in the writer's group, hairless and scarred.

He didn't talk about his trials.  He didn't speak unless he had something nice to say.

Now he's gone.  Another of the millions of humans who will die today.   Something will have to be done about his stuff.  About his bills.  His final repose.

Those of us who only knew him casually will shrug and say, "What a shame.  Such a nice guy." 

Close family will grieve and lose weeks of work and school.

I say:  I hope Bill is happy with what he did for us here. Most of us are.

Goodbye, Bill.  You were a very good guy to have met.  I hope you get extra credit for being so nice to everyone, no matter how much you hurt.




As a cancer patient/survivor I see things much differently than when I was a hale and hearty male, playing high school football, working for grades in college, for money and status at work,  being tempted and succumbing to my dark side, then begging and groveling but never forgiven for what I've done. 




It turns out the only way I can survive is chemotherapy. Second round.  I know what I'm in for.

Here is chemotherapy:  Imagine you are taken prisoner in North Korea and thrown into a labor camp with no possibility of escape. No possibility to escape the pain.  And you know your torturer is coming back monthly to beat out of you any hope and happiness you may have regained since the last torture session.  And this goes on for months while you build up scars and deformity from the beatings.  What you see in the mirror is no longer you, but a prisoner of cancer.   A shell of a person with no life force inside. 

This is how people get ideas to write zombie stories.  Because they see it happen to someone.  They have to add the part about roaming the earth and eating brains.  Most people in chemo don't have an appetite or the energy to stand for any length of time.  But we scare people anyway.



Panic Attack wakes me out of a sound sleep. 

Maybe it was Bill's death. Knowing I have to go back to chemo to pay the cover charge to more living.

I find myself at 2:30AM,  waking up, drenched in sweat, heart pounding as if I've been running for half an hour, mind spinning in terror.  

Yes, I know this is chemical.  It's the amygdala working overtime.  It happens to people with cancer.  Maybe it's the subconscious.  All the horror you repress figures out how to unlock the box and comes out to roost.  While you are sleeping.

I didn't think this could happen to sleeping people.   But it does and the oncology people know it.  They ask you about it when you go in for treatment.  

You tell them it's happening.  They nod.  It always happens.  They point to a poster on the wall about psychotherapy.  You shake your head.  You don't need psychotherapy.  There are no uncovered issues. Sickness and drugs caused the problem. 

Drugs can fix it.




The only clear thought I had while pacing my house at 2:30 was I needed some kind of drugs.  Ativan. A THC Chill Pill.  A couple swigs of Jim Beam.   Heroin.

It seemed so utterly useless to try anything because inevitably, the panic would be back.

I will die an imperfect person carrying the baggage of all the hurt I've caused. This cannot be undone.



this song came to me.  Even as I write this, I can't get it out of my head.  It as if someone is in there, playing it for me.


"I'm thinking of a girl,

As golden as the sun.

She loved me not like you.

Pray do you love me more?

A child 16 was I

Both virgins did we buy.

We buy, we buy...

She left me one dark night.

She took my heart for free.

I've seen her not since then. 

Since then..."

   -- Anthony Philips - 1977



That song is very peaceful, yet troubling.

And I had forgotten all about it.

Then, a movie in my head.  My past.


I remember a dim glowing bulb in a lamp on the corner table.  Bronze elephant. Linen shade stained brown-yellow by the heat of the light. 

An old tufted sofa in a finished basement.  Dark wood paneled walls and a yellow shag carpet clogged with hair from the Norwegian Elkhound

That song on a record player. Black disk spinning, imperfections reflecting occasionally at 33 rpm.

A girl next to me. Her warmth: all of the environment. 

Her house.  Her basement.  Parents upstairs. Everything soft and orange.

Sitting thigh to thigh.  I try to look straight ahead - my body an awkward machine with loose bolts and wobbly joints.

A tiny bright ball in my gut feels like fear.  Maybe excitement.  Doesn't belong.


I didn't know that she was ahead of me.


We talk about different things  just to keep the voices going.  Parents would come down if it got quiet.

She says something about love.


She kisses me. 

A real one. True. 

She must have known.




She died, that girl.  She was dying when I knew her in high school but she never said it.  She didn't make it through college.




And then there was nothing to do in my house at 2:30 AM but stand there in panic and cry.  Nobody would know, anyway.  Sick old men cry all the time. 

Now I know why.




I think there are signs.

My life is sometimes full of them.  The redtail hawk that leads me up the mountain.  The peach-colored light that flies overhead.

Lyrics to a song that pop up suddenly.

I ignored how cruel it was for me to leave her in that basement.

I couldn't be a mean person.  It couldn't be me.

How could she forgive me for leaving her like that.  Marrying another?

I burn for my sins. I will burn for how I treated her.  I will be anhillated by chemotherapy. 

My mind says that Magical Thinking is useless or maybe harmful.

And it is.  If it's actually magical thinking.


I don't expect any of you to believe me.  I don't need to be believed.


How could she possibly have forgiven me?