The Sickboy Chronicles – The Gift

Tonight Simone is slinging drinks behind the bar. Simone is badass with her jet black hair and I’ll-kick-your-ass stare. Better stay on her good side. There you’re likely to find that she’s a real sweet girl. Tonight she senses that Sickboy is feeling a bit down, so she takes a shot at cheering him up.

“Hey Sickboy, I was talking to Jenny this afternoon. She’ll probably be here in an hour or two.”

For just a second that does the trick. The mere sound of Jenny’s name fills Sickboy with strength and courage. He puffs up with anticipation. Unfortunately, Sickboy has a brain that quickly devours strength and courage and shits out insecurity and doubt. Poor shithead.

“Did she ask about me?” Sickboy inquires.

Simone’s hesitation is all the answer Sickboy needs. He is the furthest thing from Jenny’s mind. And why wouldn’t he be. Sickboy returns to a silent, sulky brood.

Simone sees that Sickboy is sinking. So she throws him another line.

“Sickboy, you are a sexy, sexy man!” she says with a wink a smile.

Sickboy chuckles. And Sevrin, seated next to him, gives Sickboy a pat on the back. That ought to keep him afloat for awhile.

“You have good taste, Simone. But you and I both know that all my sexy is on the inside. The girls on this side of the bar will just never understand.”

“You’re too much, Sickboy.”

Simone gives Sevrin a look and together the two head out to the patio for a smoke.

On the slick new flatscreen high atop the back bar, Ryan Howard circles the bases, having just hit a walk-off grand slam to propel the Phillies to a 7 to 3 victory over the Yankees in ten innings. The Phils have just secured a three game series sweep in interleague play. “That’s right!” Sickboy thinks to himself. “Goddamn Yankee fans.” But Sickboy’s heart just isn’t into it. Tonight he’s got mortality on his mind.

Five years ago to the day, Sickboy’s father passed away after a futile six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer falls right between burned at the stake and eaten alive by an army of fire ants on the list of most gruesome ways to die. Sickboy’s father had been a sweet man, but he taught his sons more about life through the way he died than he had ever taught them by the way he lived. Sickboy sips his medicine and travels back in time…

Mom uses the applicator to carefully place a few drops of morphine on the thin dry lips of the skeleton that once had been my father. There is no oxygen tank, no artificial breathing apparatus. There is only what is left of my father, heaving and contorting with every forced breath. This is how he wanted it — to be surrounded by his family and by the sound of his favorite music — jazz and big band mostly. Stan Kenton is his favorite. There is no beeping machinery, no blinking lights, no PA announcements. There is no army of white coats, no parade of shoes hustling back and forth along a linoleum laid hallway. There is just what is left of my father and his family – my mom, my three younger brothers, and I.

Dad has been unconscious since just after I arrived. I took the red-eye last night from San Diego and arrived at the house at 8 o’clock this morning. The hospital bed had been placed in the corner of the living room where I spent many hours of my youth napping on the sofa and watching television. Now there lays what is left of my father in a hospital bed, and the sounds of jazz fill the room. I drop my garment bag. (I knew to bring my suit for this trip.) I take his cold, fragile hand in mine. He opens his eyes. He recognizes me. He struggles to say my name. At this point he is not really talking so much as he is moaning barely audible fragments of words. He has been so brave and strong through the struggle as the cancer has wreaked havoc throughout his body, starting with his pancreatic ducts, shutting down his digestive system, cutting him off from his energy source, and finally causing his body to digest itself. I cannot imagine the pain. I hate to see him like this, and I fight to hold back the river of tears that wells up around my eyes. I kiss him on the forehead. He tells me he loves my mother. I say I know he loves her and that we will take care of her. He manages to flash something that resembles a smile. I continue to hold his hand and try so hard not to cry, but I can’t fight it anymore. I love you, Dad.

Mom tells me that yesterday she and my brothers went out for a while so that Shelly, the home hospice caretaker, could clean up what was left of dad. His insides were liquefying and he had bled out. Shelly had replaced the blood soaked sheets with fresh new ones and she had cleaned all the blood from the skin stretched tightly over the skeleton that once had been my father. Shelly is a saint.

It is 2:00am. I have been home with my family for 18 hours now. The skeleton that once had been my father has been unconscious since shortly after I arrived and cried at his bedside. Mom and I talk, and the skeleton heaves and contorts, the chest rising and falling violently. Every bit of the little energy he has left is used to force his lungs to expand and collapse. Mom tells me again how she and dad met. He was a smart but quiet clerk in the IRS office in which they both worked. She was intrigued by this tall, intelligent yet quiet and quirky clerk who would become my father. They fell in love. Suddenly, the heaving stops. Mom and I walk over to the bed and stand above the corpse that once had been my father. I hear his last breath escape his lungs and pass over his lips. I take his hand. I smile. I cry. I hug my mom. We smile and cry together.

Sevrin and Simone return from smoking their butts. Sickboy sits staring straight ahead at nothing, a smile of utter contentment frozen on his face.

“What are you smiling about, Sickboy? Your team win?”

“Yeah, Simone. My team won. Life is good. And every day truly is a gift.”

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