I saw a guy the other day with tattoos all over his arms and neck. He was a slight, maybe forty, and with the exception of the tattoos, he looked pretty harmless. I understand it’s awfully painful to get a tattoo, and I always thought you had to be tough to get so many of those.
And to ride a Harley – maybe wearing leather and a bandana. Those things can all make a guy look tough. Sometimes a goatee can make a guy look a little ornery, and definitely a shaved head. If he’s beefy, then I’d stay away, and if he’s got beefy friends, well, I wouldn’t even say hi. And I would likely keep my head down and keep walking - yes I am a wuss.
But what a silly, stupid idea. A guy spends his mornings shaping his beard into some priggish pattern on his face and I start to shake? Another guy has enough money to buy a Harley and a two dollar bandana and that’s enough to make me cross the street in aversion?
Forget it. I’ll tell you what tough looks like.
She’s wearing a wig. It’s too big, and you can see the extra lining hanging over her forehead. Her eyebrows are penciled in with a color that doesn’t match the wig. She walks with a stuttering gait to and from the bathroom. Her clothes are too small, and cheap. A IV stand – one taller than her – is next to her chair. Three bags hang on the stand, and their tubes disappear under her brown, velour jacket. Her eyes are like hot bayonets.
She has a son sitting next to her. He nervously jerks his head up at her every time she makes a move. He stands up when she gets up to walk to the bathroom, and although he’d like to help, there’s nothing he can do. He listens attentively when the nurse talks, but he doesn’t really understand everything that’s going on. Like, what is it like to lose your stomach lining? Why is there a rash on his mother’s chest? What does she feel when her friends ask her how she’s feeling?
His mother comforts him when she returns from the bathroom. She puts her hand on his shoulder, says, “I’m ok” and “Sit down, it’s ok.” She has the nurse get her son a blanket.
Now THAT is tough. She doesn’t have a Harley, or a bandana. (or maybe she does, but she doesn't ride it and she is not wearing one) She’s maybe 5′ 2″, and she couldn’t beat anybody up. She’s dying, like everybody else, but the difference is that she knows it. Maybe she knows when. Maybe not.
But she doesn’t give up being a mother. Or a woman. Or a person. That’s tough.
I’m not that tough, maybe. But I’m tougher than I was before all of this. But I am not that tough.
But I have good days, and I have hours that go by without a thought about chemo. Some people in this mess don’t have that luxury. I’m lucky.