Hope is Dope
The doctor spoke gobbledygook about the name of the cancer so I wrote it down so I could study all about it. And the word was a long serious word as was the situation it was adenocarcinoma how do they come up with these names? He told me about it moving around without my knowing, and without my invitation, and then I heard a word I wasn’t expecting: Metastatic. I’ve heard it before but never used it before. He said more things that I didn’t really hear, but I heard support group, and I noticed that it started up soon and it was just down the hall so I headed off to it, which was open to everyone with my disease. I hated these things because men and their feelings made me gag but it was just down the hall and about to start.
When I arrived, I noticed right away three men parked on a couch all staring at me.
I wanted to run, right away, especially because my right lung, where it all started, was painless.
One man pulled up his jeans and adjusted his tank top and he looked at me, pissed-off like, as if I had reached for his wallet and he chewed on a toothpick and introduced himself, Otis, he said. We got started, sharing our stories that is, and someone mentioned their treatment, and he blurted out, Chemo kills people and they know it! So I played it cool and pretended that this was old information.
Otis laughed like we were all fools including him, at one time, I gathered. The room went all silent and he placed his hands on his knees like a coach would just before telling his players that they all sucked. Please refrain from saying such things our facilitator said and she swiped her hand in the air at an imaginary face. A playful slap of sorts, and her name was Janis.
Now it being my turn I opened with I’m Johnny and I have lung cancer and I’m waiting for the doctor to tell me what to do next, blah, blah, blah and I’m sorry because I’m not sure what else you want to hear?
When I finished I felt Otis’s eyes on me. He sat back and folded his arms like he knew something I didn’t. First of all don’t ever apologize again for being put into this situation, he said. His spit soaked toothpick disappeared into his mouth when he finished saying what he said. Disappeared into that cavernous hole.
Ripe to talk, he leaned into me and whispered, the industry is just that, an industry, a business, but in a way that was all loud so everyone could hear. Keeping you alive for five years is their goal. Their only goal. The others in the group were like his apostles or something and they stared at me with disdain as if I were circling the drain, I gathered, ignorant about the whole affair.
I felt all scared and he invited me to a fire at his home that evening. I said yes and arrived just before dark. Members from the group gathered in the distance. They stood around a blazing fire pit between two rusted-out cars mounted on blocks. They stood mummified in the flickering light, each locked in their own thoughts mesmerized by the flames, and I walked towards them and I felt like crying but I kept reminding myself to not lose it, no way. Against a backdrop of a black sky a deep red clung to the horizon that felt pretty to look at, and Otis heard my footsteps and turned and he said I knew you’d come he said.
One must adopt the right attitude to get through this, Otis said. I pulled up my shirt and pointed toward the location of my tumor right below my breast, but Otis looked at me as if I were playing a game of hot and cold and clearly I was cold.
Whatever we focus on gets bigger, he said.
But there are lots of types of lung cancers, like lettuce, I told him and the firelight flickered in his eyes but he didn’t want to hear about it.
I said I had hope and he scoffed like I said dope and he told me hope is a con-job. Hope is for suckers. It’s a lottery ticket he said. As it is, I recalled how many times I bought one of them tickets and scratched it off before I even left the liquor store dumping it in the trash before I left because I lost.
If I can’t rely on hope then what? But he wasn’t done talking. One day everything you know and love is going to die and maybe sooner than you planned, he said, and I said okay. The most important thing you can do is grieve, he said and he believed the logic of his own thinking because he had sorrowful eyes at that moment. But grieving only means a man can see the world as it is, not as he wishes, and that’s a good thing. Then he said, trust me, and he smiled and some of his teeth were missing along the sides but he smiled, unawares.
I smiled back and the others around the fire?
They grinned again.
My head felt fuzzy and I was kind of sorry I went to the group, in the first place, and to the fire, later, even though both were free. But like they say you can’t put toothpaste back into the tube and that’s what it’s all been like, this whole thing, grieving the toothpaste, I gathered. No way to put it back in, and in thinking that thought I stared at the fire in awe and wonder and it was good.
Sean Daly lives in Ojai California. His work will appear in The Incubator Journal, Jelly Fish Review and Spelk Fiction later this year. His memoir,What We Talk About When We talk About Cancer, was published in 2016. He tutors at Todd Road Jail in Ventura CA. @seangdaly.