You have to laugh at it or it will consume you, especially when you see so much of the shitty side of life, day in, day out. Stabbings, shootings, rapes, homicides... Scraping people off the pavement... So many innocent people hurt... And the kids. Seeing hurt kids has got to be the worst. Adults at least have some idea that something bad can happen to them but children are innocent. It's one thing to watch it detached from it on the evening news, but when you're asshole deep in it every day for the better part of ten years it gets to you.
You look at this on a daily basis and your own mortality is rudely thrown back into your face and you have to laugh or you'll go insane. I only know one other person besides my old partner who really understands it. I know my ex-wife never did.
You get to the point where you laugh at it almost instinctively. I had written about cracking jokes when I was a pall-bearer at my father's funeral several years ago. It wasn't meant in any way to be disrespectful and I'm pretty sure my old man was laughing his ass off in heaven. My dad died at home in bed of a massive heart attack. I helped the undertaker put him in the body bag and carry him out of the house and put him in the hearse. I had done it so many times on the job it was like second nature to me. The jokes and wise-ass comments during the funeral were a shield I put up to protect my sanity.
But one's own mortality still has a nasty way of letting you know none of us gets out of this alive.
Another example. A good friend of mine in the neighborhood the same age as me was diagnosed with testicular cancer shortly after my father's death in 1992. He had one of his testicles removed and that seemed to get rid of it. I understand he's now a father for the fifth time... But shortly after that diagnosis he was then known around the neighborhood as "The Chinaman"... You know, "One Hung Lo". But even as we laughed about it, him included, we knew deep down that if it could happen to him, sure as shit it could happen to one of us.
So getting back to where I was heading with this. For about four months now I've had this thing on the back of my arm, right on the tricep about the size of a pencil eraser. It itches from time to time and sometimes bleeds a little, and because of it's location I really haven't been able to get a good look at it.
So last night as usually I meet up with my buddy the paramedic on the FD. After telling jokes for a while and drinking a few cup of coffee I just came out and asked him to take a look at it.
"Hey Tommy. I think you should have this looked at..."
Words I was really dreading because I knew deep down what the answer was going to be.
"It looks like a small melanoma..."
Melanoma. The word burned in my ear...
And there again was my mortality staring right back at me. The old fears coming back to the surface, of dying alone... Never having accomplished the things I truly want to do... Driving a locomotive, seeing the Australian Outback, seeing Europe again, owning another house, having someone to hold on lonely nights and to wake up to in the morning again...
Maybe it's not my mortality or dying that frightens me so much. It's dying and knowing nobody cares. That all I've done in my life meant nothing.
The most ironic thing about it is that from the times when I was a kid making my own little improved expedient munitions, to the when I joined the army, doing some really stupid shit with real high explosives, jumping out of perfectly good aircraft, combat in Grenada, to Central America, ghetto punks and gangbangers, being given "frequent flyer" miles at some local emergency rooms at the hospitals in Philly, times when I, in all actuality, should be dead already. The one thing that's scaring the shit of me the most is this little two-centimeter thing on my left arm.
And you know what? I can't think of a single thing funny about it...
Copyright 2005 Thomas J Wolfenden