Facing Death And Some Random Thoughts

Once, I had a sore on my shoulder that did not heal.

It continued bleeding and growing.

I concluded it was a serious melanoma skin cancer. I believed my days were numbered.

I had an unusually calm reaction to it. I remember sitting on the bottom of the stairs in our home with my wife, Cheri, and talking about our children. Our youngest daughter sat with us. I think tears came to my eyes. But not more than that.

The next day I went to the doctor and he said it was a blemish that had grown on a part of my shoulder that didn’t allow it to heal normally. He cut it out, put a bandage over it. Done.

I was surprised how calm and resigned I was. (Isn’t it odd that I would suffer from anxiety for fear of losing control of my finances, but didn’t when it came to thinking I would die?)

I once had a business partner, Lou, who never worried about obtaining new clients or losing control of our finances. He would go to the very last minute before he would act. He had been a professional baseball player and graduated from one of the top universities in the country in the hardest major there is (Electrical Engineering). Maybe I worried too much, because he worried too little.

I have a son who was once approached by a bully who was one grade ahead of him. The bully asked him for his money. My son said no. They went behind the gym, and my son won a fist fight.

I once talked back to a bully, Tom, who spilled water on an adult, and I told him to apologize. From that moment on I became a target of his fury. He was a year ahead of me in school. He grew to be 6’5″ tall and along with his brother would fight the toughest hoods in the city. I would never in a million years fight that guy.

At our fiftieth high school reunion I was reminded by a football player, Earl, that the entire football team (40 players) got into the high school pool, and played tug of rope against the water polo team (12 members.) I was on the water polo team. Earl told me we easily won. I couldn’t remember, but it sounded good, very good. Anyway, he said that football players were always scared of water polo players for fear that we would drown them if we caught them in the pool. The bully had been on the football team a year earlier. After that I wanted to look the bully up and invite him for a swim. I should have had my son’s courage and called his bluff when he was bugging me. Come to think of it, I never saw him at the beach during summers, and never saw him close to the lockers where the swimmers dressed. Maybe things were better than I thought.

Once in seventh grade my buddy, Bill, and I went into the Home Economics classroom after school. The girls had made a chocolate pie. We fought over the pie and he picked up a carving knife and sliced my finger open. I couldn’t believe he would do that. Bill was an interesting guy. In little league he would roll up his sleeves on his uniform like a hood. He was a powerful hitter. He was a great hitter in pony league too. He was a great football player in Pop Warner too. He once beat a kid to a pulp when a kid threw a pomegranate at his girlfriend and hit her. He also took my girlfriend away from me in seventh grade. Of course I couldn’t blame her. For some reason I was just too shy around her, I could barely talk. And by nature I wasn’t a shy person. This kid had a party for couples and didn’t invite me. So I told him I was coming. I did. (I had no shame. I am amazed that I would do that. What did I expect? It was a boyfriend/girlfriend party. I had no girlfriend, he took her away.) Bill’s father was scary. He was wound so tightly you never knew when he would fly into a rage. Funny, after junior high school, I never heard from Bill again. No one did. He vanished. None of my friends knew where he went.

One more story that included Bill. One time in metal shop during seventh grade, Bill and I hung out with another kid, who became a successful football and baseball player. We got into a fight with three other kids who hung out together, who were in the wood shop next door to us. Four out of the six fought. Two of us didn’t. I knew the kid (Jimmy) I was suppose to fight. I liked him too much. He became a great swimmer, an all-American in junior college. He died of cancer when he was 22 (I think) years old. His father insisted he get hormone shots to beef himself up so he could swim more powerfully. It helped him to become a great swimmer, but it also killed him. His father became deeply despondent afterwards. He drank heavily. He blamed himself for his son’s death. Yes, growing up Jimmy was smallish, but was good at baseball as well as swimming. He was good enough to pitch a no hitter in little league when he was twelve.

The other kid Bill and I hung out with was Gary. Gary’s nick name was Lefty. He was very likable, and extremely popular with girls. All the way through little league to high school, he played center field in baseball. In high school he played safety in football. I always felt Lefty was a victim of circumstances. When a group of guys would be hazing he wouldn’t necessarily engage in it, but was the one who would invariably be caught. He was a guy’s guy. I met him fifty years later at a high school reunion. I was the MC and tried to greet everyone who was waiting in line to get in. I came across Lefty and gave him a great big hug. He pulled back and said he “didn’t need Roger Hendrix.” I immediately sensed there was something emotionally wrong with Lefty. I didn’t push the matter, but noticed how small he was, like he hadn’t grown, but seemed to have shrunk. And the back of his head was unusually flat. I asked another friend, Jerry, if he knew what had happened to Lefty. “He scrambled his brain with dope.” I looked at him from my table, and stared right at him across the room for at least a minute. He would look at me, look away, and just generally looked lost and alone. His wife, I found out, refused to come to the reunion with him.

As I said, I lost contact with Bill. No one knows where he went and what he ended up doing. The girl he took away from me has been divorced twice, and just retired as some kind of legal administrator. Jimmy has been dead for over forty years, and his father ended up becoming a recluse, even though his younger son became an outstanding baseball player at the high school and college level. Lefty’s brain is fried and has lost the ability to interact socially.

I no longer worry about finances. I honestly don’t know if I worry about death. I don’t think so.