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Where I’ve Been: Wearing a Wet Laundry Spacesuit, Fighting a Big Black Bird

January 19th, 2010 by Jeff Simmermon

Last May, I used this blog to announce to the world that I had developed a very sudden and statistically rare case of testicular cancer. I had surgery, had the thing removed. Which remains, to me, a totally unacceptable way to lose a testicle. Maybe at the tip of a pirate’s saber, or while wrangling a giant octopus deep under the ocean, those’d be okay. But a regular old organized cellular rebellion — fuck that.

I wrote a series of posts that talked about my condition, what I was facing, and how I was holding up. It seemed only natural to me at the time, the best way to keep friends and family posted while I was dealing with something I really didn’t want to talk about on the telephone any more than necessary. Folks commended me for my bravery, for my sense of black humor and optimism, and told me how well I seemed to be healing up.

And yeah, in a way I was healing up. But in this other way, I really, really, wasn’t.

As my body was healing up, my mind was slowly donning a space suit made out of 400 pounds of wet laundry that never dried up and never, ever came off. Food all tasted the same, and I’d find myself flying into sudden rages when individual air molecules struck my skin.

Every night I’d lie awake and just look at the dark air above my bed, watching the little glowing fireflies that live in my retinas while an enormous black bird whispered very, very destructive and completely logical things into my ear.

Actually, I have a story about that part, which you can see here — the audio’s a little problematic, but you should get the gist:

Note that at the end of that story, the bird does not fly away. I wrote that story maybe in August. And at some point during August, that bird began to help himself right into my mouth at night, forcing his big greasy feathers past my teeth and uvula until he could wriggle down and sit right onto my heart.

I used to fight it, used to literally lie there with my eyes shut and list everyone that has ever loved me by name like my own Lord’s Prayer against my own special monster, but the struggle just prolonged the inevitable. So I got to where I’d just open up and let that big black bird right in.

I’d get a couple hours’ sleep, but every morning I’d have this thought, before my eyes even slid past my dry, wrinkly eyeballs:

I got cancer, and one of my testicles was removed very suddenly. It was attached to the drain in my soul, just like a bathtub stopper is tied to a chain. All my passion drained out, and if it ever comes back it’s going to take a very, very long time.

Then I’d dress myself, slowly, and go to work.

Which I really shouldn’t have done. Right after the surgery, all I wanted to do was get back to normal, just get the train right back on the tracks and act like nothing had happened. Which I really, really shouldn’t have done.

I will always be grateful to my colleagues at work who gave me the space to be a complete and utter train wreck, and pretended right along with me that I was performing useful work. Instead of just kind of flicking an endless lap between Digg, Reddit, BoingBoing, Facebook and Metafilter. I was rolling around that office for a good five months like a marble in an empty bathtub, and for several of them I thought that bird had left me.

Instead, I turned into the bird. I wanted everyone to feel as pointless as I did, to understand that really, all we think we have is just a marble rolling around a bathtub and one day some giant invisible hand is gonna turn that shower on and wash all our fun right down the drain. I didn’t understand how anyone could look forward to anything.


And I was crippled, too, by this paralyzing fear that I would lose my job. This job is the first stable job I’ve had with really, really good health insurance. And I needed every drop of it. I have to get CT scans once a month as a preventative measure – and those things cost about ten grand if you pay in cash. I also have to take artificial testosterone every day, for the rest of my natural-born life. And I’m of course taking antidepressants, too. I’m not just dragging home a sack of medicine once a month, either.

I’m seeing an endocrinologist, a urologist/oncologist, and a psychiatrist once a month. They take blood, they run tests, they run me through some very expensive machinery. And these guys, they don’t work cheap. All this is just to get me to feel normal. If this cancer comes back, they’ll catch that, too. I was pretty bitter about it for a while, but now I’ve just accepted it.

But if I didn’t have my job, didn’t have my health insurance, I’d be screwed. I’d be screwed, if I weren’t dead.

I’d be dead right now if I didn’t have some high-octane fancy-pants health insurance. And if I weren’t dead, I’d be bankrupt and homeless, living in my parents’ garage while they went bankrupt trying to take care of me.

And as far as I’m concerned, anyone that opposes health-care reform is pretty much okay with that. They’re okay with people bankrupting their entire families just to stay alive, and they’re okay with me and everyone like me having to live with that big black bird every day for the rest of their severely shortened lives.

I can’t talk about health care reform rationally, and I can’t consider compromise. I go from hearing the topic to cocking my fist in about fifteen seconds. Being gleeful about the fact that the first attempt to reform the system will get stonewalled is the sole province of ghoulish, gutless cuntbags.

For real. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already in my corner. If you’re not, shame on you. I don’t even want to know your side of it. Seriously. Just keep your mouth shut and think about it for a minute and realize that very, very bad things happen to people out of the blue, every single day. And it takes them the rest of their lives to recover, IF they recover. That’s bad enough. Losing their homes shouldn’t need to be a part of the equation.

So clearly I’ve still got some anger issues to work on. But apart from having a personal vendetta against the kind of gutless, narrowhearted cuntbags that would deny their countrymen adequate healthcare, I’m feeling a lot better.

Now when I wake up, I feel like any day could be a good day. I took a big fat break from writing and blogging and just focused on work and my girlfriend and getting my head back together. I spent a lot of time getting enough sleep and having dreams that were progressively less terrifying. Took a big old vacation and got some things rolling again at work. And now I have to admit, I’m getting better.

The day is never going to come where I’m a hundred percent sane and rational. That’s fine by me. I wasn’t like that before, being like that now would be weird and wrong. But most importantly, that big black bird isn’t sitting on my heart any more. And I don’t think I’m that bird anymore, either.

But I’m ready to stretch out and fly all the same.

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