Cancer complicates things. By things I guess I mean relationships, though I’m sure it complicates many other things as well. Still, it does a number on relationships. People are just going along planning their lives with certain expectations, and—bam!—cancer throws everything out of whack.
It’s like how people thought Johnny Ramone should visit Joey on his deathbed, but Johnny thought he was the last person on earth Joey would want to see as he drew his last breaths. Would Joey be more of a monster for not visiting or for showing up? I don’t have to figure it out, so I’ll leave it to you decide.
I just know there are some people I would never want to come to me as I lay dying, but others would be forgiven and welcomed on sight without a second thought, because I miss them so much. I don’t think Joey was missing Johnny, though, so maybe Johnny made the right decision. I know I wasn’t going to choose sides, but I never know what I’m doing from minute to minute, so it’s something we have to get used to.
Anyway, Kat knew her husband was wanting a divorce when she got the diagnosis. Just his damned luck she got sick and people would think he was a real heel to leave her in the lurch. Kat was not one of the people who thought that. In all honesty, she wanted him to get out of the way so she could at least have enjoyable sex once or twice before she got too sick, so she wasn’t wanting him to hang around.
Family and friends are sure to have an opinion about whatever choice he made, though, and it wasn’t easy to negotiate everything. How do you explain to your grown daughters that you are happier for their father to leave so you can enjoy getting laid once or twice before you are laid to rest? It can be done, sure, but let’s face it—it’s not a fun conversation.
She managed the whole thing somehow, though. She had an amicable divorce, was happy with how the property was divided, and managed to sleep with her divorce attorney. Not a bad trick, really.
I’m not one to say whether there’s such a thing as a happy death, but some seem much worse than others. I guess death is always traumatic for the living. Even if you don’t know a soul in the world and die anonymously in the street, someone has to find your body. Someone has to report it. Someone has to pick it up. Some find it more traumatic than others, but you are sure to leave some pain in your wake, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
So that’s something we have to live with. As we die.
You have to be careful. I mean, you have to watch what you say. It’s easy to think everyone will see things your way, but you never know how they’re going to take things.
That’s what happened when she went to talk to Valerie. She wanted to get some things off her chest, and she just knew Valerie would be sympathetic.
Valerie was sympathetic. Of course she was sympathetic. What kind of friend wouldn’t be? And Valerie enjoyed, maybe enjoyed isn’t the exact right word, listening to other people talk about their sexual problems, so she was bound to be a good listener.
So she unloaded on Val. She talked about how her husband was supportive and everything, but the sex was too burdensome. She told Val how he had a slow fuse and could never just “get to business.” She liked a sort of “stick and go” approach, but he always made a big production out of everything with lots of cuddling, kissing, and holding before ever getting around to the good stuff. By the time he was ready, she had lost interest. You know how it is?
Valerie certainly knew how it was. Valerie understood the dynamics all too well because her husband, too, was a “stick and go” kind of person. He never cuddled her or kissed her or stroked her at all. He just went at it, had his orgasm, and fell asleep.
So, as Val listened to her friend sort of just describing her frustration with the burdens of too much kissing and cuddling, Val got a little turned on. Her fantasies were racing through her mind. She’d been lost in a kissing desert, and now her friend was describing a sort of sexual oasis, and, man, she’d like a good long drink.
So Val was a good friend, and a good listener, like I said. She shared stuff about her life, her sexual past, which had a bit of trauma, too, and her frustrations with marital difficulties. She listened intently. She made herself vulnerable. She offered warm hugs and encouragement.
Once she’d set her friend off in a cloud of mutual support, her own needs and fantasies drove her straight to the telephone. She was tentative and nervous, but desire is sometimes greater than fear. “Hi, I was just talking to your wife. She said you really enjoy long, deep kisses, just like I do.”
He made a clumsy compliment,
And it was taken for an insult.
Immediately, he tried to explain
The misunderstanding, but
He was told to “stop digging.”
And so it was.
He wasn’t in love, exactly,
But he admired her
Constantly and consistently.
He spoke highly of her to colleagues
And mutual acquaintances.
Hoping to eventually mend the rift,
He overcompensated with kindness,
But she seemed to recede further
In the distance with each step
He tried to take forward.
And small mistakes can have
Grave consequences. They say
The entire universe is a mess
Because Brahma was too drowsy
During the act of creation,
Which is an important lesson
For fertile but untutored lovers.
And as the universe tends to replicate
An original error exponentially,
So relationships can create
Great webs of resentment
And confusion. Even chaos.
It was all right, of course.
He found other jobs and
Other social and vocational
Networks away from her gaze.
He found a wife, passed his
Own genes on to unsuspecting
New persons peering into
Brahma’s mistake for the first time.
After her divorce, she heard of him
And his relative success and wondered
How such a ham-fisted and socially
Awkward dimwit could carry on.
But we do carry on.
Brahma hasn’t had a nap
In eons, and light travels to our
Eyes from the furthest reaches
Of space, just so we can experiment
With clumsy compliments.
Standing on the platform, waving goodbye to yesterday’s train. Perhaps you wanted to feel you had a little bit of control. You’re saying you hope that train never comes back again.
A peripatetic pretense helps to ease the pain. It’s a phantom journey, but no one has to know. Standing on the platform, waving goodbye to yesterday’s train.
You collected yourself, stood erect, and hoped to appear sane. I’ve been on this journey for years—the train is so slow. You’re saying you hope that train never comes back again.
I think all I wanted was shelter from this rain, But you’ve let the rot set in and grow, Standing on the platform waving goodbye to yesterday’s train.
You’re still battling the demons I thought we’d slain, We could have escaped together and reached our goal. You’re saying you hope that train never comes back again.
You wished me well, and I left after the hurricane, And now you seem darkened by your own shadow. Standing on the platform, waving goodbye to yesterday’s train. You’re saying you hope that I never come back again.
Last year, I wrote a short essay on why I hate “Steak and BJ Day,” which is that it is built around sexist stereotypes and highlights relationships as transactions, consisting men giving gifts in exchange for red meat and sexual favors from women. Indeed, the idea of Steak and BJ Day (March 14) was to repay men for their generosity to women on Valentine’s Day. After being so kind to women with flowers, chocolate, and diamonds (or whatever), men deserved a day devoted to the kinds of things they like (ugh!).
Valentine’s Day is less crude and less obvious, but it still reinforces and exploits gender stereotypes. You might object that Valentine’s Day is a day for couples to express their love for one another equally, and I’m sure some see it that way, but men spend, and are expected to spend, far more money on Valentine’s Day than women. The implication is that men who buy lavish gifts will receive rewards of affection and sex. Satirist Andy Borowitz succinctly captured this relationship when he posted this:
I really object to the gender stereotypes that say women just want chocolate and flowers from men and will reward men with sex when they receive what they really want. I’ve heard of some mythological women who actually want sex for themselves, but men aren’t expected to hold their genitals for a ransom before providing sex.
I also have some suspicion that some men want more from women than a hot meal and a sexual favor, but women aren’t expected to show men affection and care just as a means to get in their pants.
Nonetheless, I do celebrate Valentine’s Day, and I think I always have. Perhaps I am just a victim of social programming, or maybe I’ve tried, with limited success, to create a holiday for a genuine and equal sharing of love, affection, and small gifts. I’m not sure whether it is possible to rise above the reductionistic stereotypes that infuse us from birth, but Valentine’s Day gives us a little more wiggle room than Steak and BJ Day. It is impossible to say the name of Steak and BJ Day without invoking crude masculine stereotypes. However, we can create our own Valentine’s Day, or at least pretend to, so let’s share equally, love equally, and make a better world.