The Hourglass

The people I love are grains of sand in an hourglass. And they’re starting to slip through the narrow curve at the center.

Three months to the day after my mom died from complications involving lymphoma in her brain, my dad called me to tell me he had cancer in his throat. The prognosis was good for a recovery, he said. But he was going to need to have surgery to have it removed, followed by six to seven weeks radiation. I said, Six to seven weeks is a lot of radiation. He said, Sound familiar?  My mom had died two weeks after her fifth week of radiation. I laughed.

I was at the gym when he called. I am often at the gym when people call. I don’t always pick up, but this time I did.

I knew he had bad news as soon as I heard his voice. He said, I can call back. He said, I hate having to stop in the middle of a workout. I said, No, it’s okay. I said, What’s up? He said, What are you working on today? I said, Back. And triceps. I thought, You didn’t call me to ask about my workout.

I assumed it was my grandmother. This would not be a surprise. I thought about what I needed to cancel for the weekend. I thought about dry-cleaning.

I seem to always need dry-cleaning in the wake of bad news.

Generally, I don’t like phone calls. The only time people call me these days is when they have serious things to discuss. Like tumors.

Okay, look: I fucking hate phone calls. And I sometimes don’t check my voicemail for weeks. It’s nothing personal. I just have an aversion to it. So if you really need to say something to me, send me a text message. Even if you’re breaking up with me. Or giving me news that I’m going to be a father. Or telling me I have cancer.

No, really.

I sat on a bench near the exit sign alone and listened to him speak. I said “okay” a lot. I said, Damn, Dad. I’m sorry. I said, Let me know when you want me to come down there.

♦◊♦

My dad never smoked. He is not a routine drinker. He exercises regularly. He is pretty much in the shape men want to be in when they are 65. He did most of the things a person wanting to avoid throat cancer should do. Except, it turns out, this one thing: he had a healthy sex life.

The doctors told my dad his cancer was most likely caused by an HPV infection. Later, in front of my computer, I Googled “HPV men cancer.” I Googled this because I have perfomed a fair amount of oral sex on a fair number of women. I enjoy it. I plan on doing more of it.

Here are a few things I learned: About half of sexually active adults have or have had HPV. One kicker is that you may never know you’ve had it. Sometimes there are no symptoms. Or sometimes the symptoms seem like something else. And cancer can come along years after an infection.

Doctors actually think men may shoulder the majority of HPV-related cancers in the coming years. While this all sounds worrisome at best and downright terrifying at worst, it’s somewhat comforting to note that doctors can point to only a handful of HPV strains that actually lead to cancer.

Somewhat.

At the gym that day, after I hung up, I thought about calling my sister. My dad is not her dad. And we’d just been through the thing with my mom. She’d understand. She’d be strong for me. At that moment I was tired of being strong. I was tired of lifting weights. I wanted to unload them on somebody.

But I didn’t call her. I didn’t unload.

I finished my workout.

I worked on my back.

♦◊♦

The people I love are grains of sand in an hourglass. And they’re starting to slip through the narrow curve at the center.

And I am the hourglass. And the longer I stand upright, the more the weight shifts, and the more empty I feel up top.

And every day I think about breaking that fucker. And putting an end to this slow, terrible drip.

I’m so glad for my job. I really am. Being at work helps me forget. I get lost in the routine of it. I put my energy into a well-mixed cocktail. When I take a pint glass from the cooler, I flip it before resting the inside of it against the cool, wet nose of the tap.

I like how each motion I make is calculated. Decisive. Fluid. How I can look away as I flip that glass. How I could even close my eyes if I wanted to.

And I just open my hand and the glass falls into it because I know it will be there. I don’t need to think about it. Or wonder. I like how my muscles act independently of my brain. I like that they are strong and certain.

They don’t equivocate over a strong pour.

They don’t pause over a row of shots.

I like the clinking sound of the glass. The shaking sound of ice in the tins. When I’m done, I like to put them back clean on the rubber bar mat in front of me. I like to chill a martini glass before I fill it. I like to do things the way they should be done.

And also: I like giving people what they need. I like listening. I like showing them I understand. And that I will not judge them. And that they can count on me to be there. That they can use me for that.

I am comfortable around drinkers.

I’m as comfortable around them as I am when I’m alone.

I try to always be alone or around drinkers.

Lately, it feels like I’m that much closer to being truly alone. And it bothers me. A lot. It bothers me that I can’t talk to my mom anymore. It bothers me that I can’t hear her voice and feel the warmth of her words.

I’ve been dreaming about her lately. But the dreams haven’t been good. She’s been confused like she was before she died. I want to dream about the woman she was before that. I want to talk to her in my dreams like I did when I was a kid. I want to wake up happy.

But instead I wake up crying. I wake up with my chest hurting.

♦◊♦

I have many brothers and sisters. Joined to me by various ways and means. Some by blood. Others by thoughts and words. Others by taste and smell. And sex.

And they’re all going through that curve in the hourglass. One by one. Until there are no more grains of sand.

Or until there is no more hourglass.

♦◊♦

The call at the gym was a month ago. Today he’s having the tumor removed. Right now, in fact. As I write this. It’s the first step in what will be a fairly long and unpleasant battle. And tomorrow I’m getting on a plane to go to the same city I went to earlier this year. A city where, only a few miles from the hospital my dad is in, there is a parade happening to celebrate a basketball team winning “The Finals.”

It’s my second time this year to travel there to see a parent in the hospital with cancer.

And all I can think about is that I wish my dogs were going with me.

If things go well, he’ll go home on Saturday. And I’ll keep him company on Father’s Day. And make him blended vegetable smoothies so he can keep his nutrition levels high.

I believe things will turn out all right this time. For him. For me. My dad is a healthy guy. And he has a strong will to fight. Unlike his first son, he doesn’t spend time thinking about the past or contemplating the what-ifs. He doesn’t spend time shoulding.

He’s made mistakes. I’m old enough now to have made some of the same mistakes he has. And I’m not angry at his mistakes anymore. And I’m proud of the way he’s chosen to live his life.

For the past fifteen years, he’s been a source of strength for me. He’s  helped me put my life in perspective. To see the black and white of a decision instead of all the shades of gray.

He called me last night just to tell me not to second-guess the decision I made to go down to Dallas on Friday instead of Thursday—instead of today. He said, We both made that decision. He said, It was the right decision. He said it with certainty.

He said it like a strong pour.

He said, Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t turn out as expected.

He knew I already was.

Like his dad before him, he’s made me appreciate the simple beauty of good work. That it’s important. That it’s its own reward. And it’s all we can do. For him, it’s putting numbers together. For me, a well-made drink. A well-crafted sentence.

He’s made me see that I should take control of the things I can control. And I should let go of the things I can’t. And I should practice each thing I do until I can do it with my eyes closed. And do it artfully. And with style. And with pride.

And when I go to sleep at night, I should be tired. And when I wake up in the morning, I should be happy. And awake. And ready to do the things I’ve planned. Even if the things I’ve planned turn out to be a mistake.

I count on him to remind me of these things. And when I close my eyes, I know he’ll be there when I put my hand out, regardless of where he is. Regardless of where I am.

I’m not ready to lose that, yet.

I’m not ready to be that fucking alone.

I don’t think I ever will be.

 

Read more on Cancer

Hourglass photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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About David Olimpio

David Olimpio grew up in Texas but currently lives and writes in Northern New Jersey. He believes that we create ourselves through the stories we tell, and that is what he aims to do every day. Usually, you can find him driving his pick-up around the Garden State with one dog in the passenger seat and the other hiding on the floor behind him. You can follow David on his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Comments

  1. “He said it like a strong pour.”
    …looove….
    xoxo

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