Monday, October 24, 2005

Gallows Humor

I've always been able to find humor in anything and those of you who are long-time readers here know that. It's a defense mechanism of sorts, looking death in the face and laughing about it.

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...

Skin Cancer.

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

11 comments:

Tina said...

It is very scary to have to go through something like that, believe me, I know. But these days, if it IS skin cancer, they can do wonders. If you don't have one already,I recommend my doc....she is great! She explains everything to you and makes you feel really comfortable. If you want her number let me know. I'll be thinking of you.

Ranger Tom said...

Thanks Tina... I'll let you know what I decide. I don't have any health insurance now so I'm just going to have to take it one day at a time.

Lora said...

You're right; there's absolutely nothing funny about it. But melanoma caught early is very curable. I hope you have a doctor's appointment made by now. And you pay $10, $25, or whatever a month.

Kev said...

D'oh. Find some way to get insured, Tom. Take a fourth job, or whatever. Check with the state or with VA or whatever. Once you get it looked at it becomes a "pre-existing condition." In the mean time, Tom, find something funny about it - perhaps once you look at it you'll find it's shaped like Ronald Reagan. You need the mental diversion now as much as you ever have.

Becky said...

Tom, are you nuts? Don't delay... go get it looked at! The money thing'll work itself out later.

The sooner you go, the more likely it can be removed and the less likely it is to have spread.

Lindsey said...

I had a tumor (the size of a lima bean) removed from my shoulder about 6 years ago and it freaked me out!!! It was benign though...you'll be okay. They can probably remove the lesion and you'll be fine. Let us know.

Stephalupogus said...

Good luck. It is scary, I know. I'll be thinking of you.

BUT GO NOW! THE SOONER IT IS DEALT WITH, THE LESS IT WILL COST! And I mean that emotionally, mentally, and financially!

Ranger Tom said...

Thanks all. Will try to have it looked at sometime this week.

Lora said...

Atta boy, Tom! (Guess we told him, huh guys?) :)

Bev said...

Knowing is always better. Not having insurance does suck though. (I can relate to that.)

Don't worry: You'll be fine.

Airforce Guy said...

Ur scaring me Tommy. Git it checked ok?