Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Fifty-five

Posted by ilbebe on June 10, 2010

During my senior year of high school, my friend Garrett played the role of the father in our school’s production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, and I would often come across him mumbling somnolently “A colewaddah flat on Delancey Street” and staring intently at his hands. I’d never seen the play before, and I remember one of my favorite lines being when Eugene has to lower his voice to inform the audience that his aunt has “The cahnsaahh“. I guess I got the point; that suffering from something like cancer was practically unspeakable, the same as a young boy’s urge to jerk off.

(Tangentially, I saw another production of the same play a few months later at a local community college with a girl I’d been dating for a few months. That production really sucked. Upon leaving, the drama teacher who’d escorted us all out there remarked “My GOD, could the Dad have crossed and uncrossed his legs any more?!” My girl’s refusal to hold my hand during the performance didn’t improve my experience, and after we got dropped off outside of her house, I broke up with her, explaining that I was going through a lot of shit because my parents had separated. I walked home in the cold.)

About a month after my family moved into our second house in Brentwood, my Mom’s mother, Grandma Gert, died of lung cancer. My Mom flew back to New Hampshire right before she passed to be with her, and then settled her affairs afterwards. She reported clearing out entire kitchen cabinets full of pots of full of grocery coupons that had expired a decade earlier. She also said that in her Mom’s final days, her Mom was nice to her to the first time ever, and seemed to be at peace. I was in the middle of a successful eighth-grade basketball season, and wasn’t too affected by the news.

My father’s mother died of lung cancer a few days after my second year of college ended. I left early in the morning on a Thursday to drive from Arcata to Brentwood with my girlfriend Kaydee and two other friends, went to my youngest sister Tate’s eighth-grade graduation, and then hit the road with my whole family to drive to San Diego overnight. Around dawn we arrived at a motel where my Dad’s girlfriend has gotten us a few rooms, and I tried to sleep for a few hours before waking, dressing, and going down to the small town of Bonita to bury Grandma Shirley.

Afterwards, my Grandpa talked about how in the last few months of her life, Grandma Shirley was repeatedly admonished by doctors to never smoke again, and yet he’d find her around the side of the house, enjoying a drag. “I don’t even know where she got them,” he said. “She’s say ‘Oh leave me be, it’s my only vice.”

In May of 2007, my sister Lee graduated from college, and I was in San Diego again, taking her dog for a walk with my Mom. My Mom was harassing me about smoking, Don’t You Realize That Killed My Mother?

Yes, I replied, And Dad’s Too. And I Don’t Fucking Care. Four Years We’ve Been At War In Iraq And You Don’t Seem To Give Too Much Of A Shit About That Any More. Give Me A Couple More Years.

You’re Scaring Me, Son.

I Know, Mom. It Bothers Me Too. Believe me, I’m Not Even Really Enjoying Smoking That Much, But Whaddya Know, It’s Habit Forming.

And now here I am, three years after that. Now it’s been four years I’ve been smoking, seven years the US has been in Iraq, nine years in Afghanistan, eight years since I graduated from college. Sixteen years since Grandma Gert died, nine since Grandma Shirley died. Nothing’s gonna change that.

I recently read the autobiography of Lenny Bruce, How To Talk Dirty And Influence People. He spends a large part of the second half of the book talking about his various court battles and emphatically denying that he used any illegal drugs. He was found dead at forty of an accidental morphine overdose. I laid on my back in Golden Gate Park recently, thinking about the notion of dying on my own terms, and wondering if maybe I should accept the lung cancer that’s surely heading my way if I don’t stop smoking as my cancer. I’ll never own a home, I’ll be out of a job in three months, I can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetary, and I’ve decided against suicide, but maybe I can own my cancer.

I think that’s silly. Tired as I am of all the things I can’t fucking control in this world and my own life, I’m not about to beat myself into ruin just to prove a point or to own something. I’ve been eating better lately, stretching more, sleeping more soundly, and I’m in a good relationship with a great girl. We smile a lot. I’ll probably see my parents die before I do, but that’s how it ought to be. I’m gonna quit someday.

In the meantime, though, I get to reward myself for writing new chapters.

Smoke break!

-6/10/10, Oakland, home

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