Monday, March 26, 2007

Mr. Edwards' Matter

I can't stop thinking about John Edwards' decision to continue his campaign for President with a sick wife to worry about and care for. Warning: I am not going to sugar-coat this blog entry.

I don't know who Edwards thinks he is. Superman I guess. And Elizabeth too. They strike me as people in total denial of the jagged edge of a crossroad they have come to. And maybe their money and the media and wealth and power and fame and burning ambition will carry them through to the end, bitter or otherwise. I just wonder how long anyone can keep up such a super-human facade. Its lifespan is relatively short too, as is a person with cancer in their bones, I'd imagine.

I look at my friend, the one who's always going to be the guy who's wife has cancer, and I just see a lot of anguish in his eyes. Tiredness. He's so burnt right now. Yesterday he had to take his wife back to the hospital. She's not doing so great with her cancer right now. He was hoping to get a nap in yesterday, after his youngest's soccer game, where he looked tired and and tired and more tired. I wanted to put an arm around him at the game to let him know I care so much about him. I really do.

But all the other soccer moms and dads were there watching me, watching everyone, every kid, every parent, like the hawks they are. It wouldn't have "looked right" for the only divorcee around, the single mom in a crowd of such "strong marriages", since we're not exactly a shining star of marital stability, more like a source of marital suspicion, to be making any kinda physical gesture towards the husband of the cancer victim though. So I did nothing. I told him nothing. Against my natural impulse, I withheld affection.

No one says the word "victim", but it lurks out there around every association with this "cancer family" now. You can sense the unspoken pity. I sense it because I feel it within me. I sense all kinds of guilty weirdness, because truth be told, I like him better than her, the one with the actual disease. While wildly unique and fascinating, she isn't exactly the nicest person on the planet, and having cancer certainly hasn't made her any nicer to me. She was kinda mean and bossy and domineering and rude before, when she wasn't busy being totally hospitable and welcoming and fun. Cancer has made her a victim, not poof, suddenly a better person.

But then his wife was in a lot of pain from an infection setting in at the biopsy point, so there goes his one chance for a nap in weeks yesterday; he had to take her back to the hospital, where she'll likely be for another coupla days. And he has to be back up at the crack of dawn for rounds. Sometimes he sees up to 60 kids a day at his practice. He's a pediatrician, and it's exhausting work whether there's cancer or no cancer in the family.

And he comes home now to a sick wife, or from one hospital to another, and home to two very needy, very active youngsters if there is no one to keep them. Luckily for him, there are grandparents and neighbors to call on in such times. But all children are soooo relentlessly needy, mostly needy of their parents' time and love and unwavering devotion and discipline.

I see the neighborhood women practically elbow each other to compete for a "helpful" piece of this neighborly cancer pie, another unspoken phase of expected behaviors associated with cancer, this almost competitive bid to "help out" the family, providing meals and childcare and laundry assistance, etc. Thanks God such impulses do exist, in some people though. Those kind of people in this neighborhood helped me get through my child's horrible injury last year. The most helpful of all was the woman who now has cancer. I simply could not have gotten through the sheer physical demands of a serious injury recovery process without her. It's a rather schizo relationship we have, I admit.

The impulse to help others doesn't really exist in my family. Their defeatism and ineffectualness causes them to feel great feelings, wring hands, gnash teeth with the best of 'em, but to expend actual energy only in disassociating themselves from other people's unpleasant circumstances. None of them, other than my hopelessly ineffectual yet annoyingly loving father, bothered to show up to help me or Ava through that time last year. His idea of helping is to bait me with his racist politics. I struggle daily with the bitter bitter residuals of their glaring absence.

I see the men in the neighborhood do nothing to reach out to the husband of the wife with cancer. Maybe I've missed something, but they do nothing, they organize nothing; they seem to have faded into their jobs, where they all seem to fade away most of the week anyways, or they fade off to their own backyards. Men just... well, fade away in a crisis.

I think of my ex-husband in the hospital after I gave birth to our child, about 10pm the same evening, after having been woken at 2am earlier in the day by me as I commenced a short, efficient, to-the-point labor of only 10 hours, saying to me, "I'm really tired and exhausted. I need to get some sleep! I'll be back in the morning." And off he went to a nice, hospital-free night's sleep, never noticing a thing about me ever again. When I had a miscarriage about a year later, with complications, he never said a word to me, for me or about me, but I could tell he was relieved there would be no more children that his wife would have to get up and feed in the middle of the night, rousting him from his precious sleep and simplistic routine. I couldn't divorce him fast enough.

The men folk (you're more than welcome to cluck at this point and say "Why bless their heart" but not me) merely occasionally, lamely, inquire with stock questions of the women folk, "How are things are going for the family?" I feel like yelling in their mule-ish, dumb faces, "Fuck if I know! Why don't you go ask the dad? He can likely tell you to your socially-retarded face how he's doing. I don't know. But I doubt he's doing really great right now. As if you were able to even express any kind of male-to-male utterance of care and concern for one another. You men just hang about like lumps and do nothing for one another. Oughta ship you all off to Iraq and let you do something useful there."

Cancer in the 'hood hasn't exactly brought out the best in anyone -- yet. It certainly hasn't brought much good to the surface for me. I'm still trying to swim out of an ocean of my own personal anger, polluted with bitterness and self-pity right now. I know I will. I can do this, but the last thing I've felt is strong or courageous or up to supporting anyone's run for the Presidency. And I don't even have the stupid, evil cancer.

Those Edwards must sure be made of entirely different matter than me. So maybe he should be President.


elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Cancer can and does do strange things to just never really know how people are going to react. I teach with a very nice lady who went through the diagnois of breast cancer, the chemo, losing her hair, etc. She never, NEVER told a soul about it at school. Her sister who also teaches with me told me about it, but told me my friend didn't want any help, compassion, etc. She just wanted to deal with it on her own. To this day it is something unspoken between us. Strange, isn't it?

Don't forget about the Ga. Carnival....posts are due tomorrow.

possum said...

Very, very powerful, Spacey. Congratulations for the heartfelt prose.

Grayson said...

Thanks Possum. That means a lot to have someone like you, at your level of creative expertise, say something like that. I'm not exactly Joan Didion I know, but if we keep on trying, who knows where any of us will end up?

Mrs. Bluebird said...

The first thing that popped into my mind when I heard about the Edwards' decision to continue the campaign was "who's going to be there for the kids?" I see so many children who need and crave parental attention, even when times are good, and to think that Edwards is going to hit the campaign trail at a time when his children need him the most just sickens me. Their children are going to go through a horrific time dealing with their mother's illness and they will need their Dad, not a substitute, to help them through it. Two of my former students, twins, just lost their mother after a 4 year battle with cancer, and I admired their father for being there to help them through this ordeal. I just can't help but think that Edwards is being so incredibly selfish.