A Letter in Regret

This is a story I wrote in a blind flash of inspiration. I had originally written the first paragraph to begin what I imagined as a Zombie road-trip story. Upon revisiting that stanza a year and a half later, this is what poured out of me. This is obviously NOT a true story though, for some reason, people keep giving me their condolences as if it were. I did lose my very dear Uncle to the terrors of ‘the Big C’ and have nothing but compassion and respect for anyone who has lived through it, or watched someone else die. So I guess you could say – inspired by the surreal nightmares induced by the intimate knowledge of a true story that bears no resemblance to the current work – does that work?

                                A LETTER IN REGRET

A.R. Howerton

Charles Francisco Boyd, first cousin, son of my mother’s oft-errant brother, “died suddenly, after a prolonged illness”. More specifically, Cousin Charlie died of a softball-sized tumor in his scrotum. Subsequent to devouring his balls entirely, the Big C (Cancer, not Charlie), spread its infernal wrath like a biblical plague, mulching the majority of his internal organs inside of eight weeks.

For the majority of his life, from the age of two until shortly before his death, Charlie was the consummate “Black Sheep”. He took his Irish heritage to the worst possible extreme, drinking himself into oblivion and fighting anyone that crossed his path, in a misguided attempt to prove that he owned the name that was the only thing his father ever gave him. He was the definitive example of ‘like father, like son’. He lied, he cheated, he stole from his own family, and he followed his father’s example in trying to involve himself with any illegal scheme that fell into his path. Charlie had been through six serious prison terms, for everything from larceny and possession to general thuggery and assault. Many would have found it a fitting end for Charlie to die under the abuse of his own cells, the way he abused everyone else, heedless and supererogatory. I found his predicament a sad end to a sad life. Who actually deserves to wake up and find a bloated black grapefruit in their shorts in place of the left nut that was there the day before?

Charlie, despite all of his bluster and braggadocio, was a massive coward, and the thought of losing his manhood to the surgeon’s knife was enough to keep him from seeking help until it was too late. When he finally made his way through a succession of doctors to the most eminent oncologist in town. Said professional declared Charlie a miracle of nature.

“I have never seen anyone with a tumor this large survive, let alone function normally! We will, of course, have to remove the tumor post haste. I would imagine both testicles will also have to be removed, along with a certain amount of penile tissue. Following that you will have to go through a battery of tests to determine the extent of the spread and undergo an intensive chemotherapy program.”

Charlie heard as far as the word “testicles” before making the decision to leave the hospital ‘post haste’.

Charlie went home to convalesce and spent the majority of his time waddling between the comfort of his specially ordered double-wide La-Z-Boy and, what one can only imagine was, the screaming discomfort of his very normally proportioned toilet. He stayed shut-in for close to 3 weeks before collapsing on his kitchen floor as the tendrils of his invader found its way into his spinal column and choked out his legs. That seemed to be the first indicator strong enough to get Charlie to weigh the argument of balls vs. death.

He somehow managed to drag his now half-useless body to the phone and dial my number. Sobbing and hysterical, he eventually got the point across and I found myself arriving at his apartment just as the paramedics I had called were loading him down the stairs. This was the first I was privy to his situation, as we hadn’t spoken in years, but when family calls to mention that they’re paralyzed and dying on the kitchen floor, you tend to let bygones be. I was mildly curious as to the nature of the basketball under the sheet in his crotch region, but I assumed it to be some kind of lifesaving device.

In the hospital, after careful examination and many weeks of tests the doctors determined that so much of Charlie had been replaced by the mutant cells that he could not be saved, nor would surgery on any part of him delay his death or improve his comfort. So there he stayed, for a further number of weeks, steadily swelling and stretching against himself. By this time I had seen the meteoric remains of his manhood. I was appalled and intrigued by its spectacle. It was a thing you could only see in context by placing it in an imaginary sideshow, somewhere with hirsute wolf-boys and magnificent 10 foot-tall men. “Come! See the Giant Scrotum that ate a poor mans legs! Witness! The fury of an untamed nad!” Soon his growing stomach rivaled his massive groin and he began to look like some grotesque caricature of himself. He quickly became some sort of sausage puppet, more meat bag than man. His only consolation was the continuous dribble of morphine that numbed his mind and kept him blissfully unaware of his impending mortal release. I was the only person who went to visit.

After the first few days he no longer recognized me, no longer cared that I was there. I kept going, if only to quell my own remorse at having thought so poorly of him and then found him dying through no fault of his own. In the end it would not be justice, the vengeance of his enemies, the reflections of evils he had perpetrated thrown down from on high. It would be a freak of nature, the biological equivalent of a train wreck or an airliner screaming to its doom in a backwoods lagoon. He was ceasing to be Charles Francisco Boyd and becoming a fierce explosion of humanity. Flesh and cartilage set loose on a cannibalistic feast of absolutely no moral or psychological meaning. It was Science trumping Religion absolutely. It was the antithesis of ‘humanity’ and a coda in the symphony of Life. If you need proof of the fallacy of divine right, go to a cancer ward and watch people dying of nothing more than excessive existence.

He died on a Tuesday. I came to the Hospital to watch him die and was told that he had been taken away for study. Research to help solve the riddle of our own mortality. He was gone and I was the only one interested in what had been his life. His parents were gone before him, my parents didn’t care and the rest of our shared relatives thought it beneath them to show compassion for a man who had contributed so little to their lives.

He was cremated and left in my care. Not knowing what to do with him, I have been spending my evenings eating dinner with him staring at me from the center of my table. I cleared out his apartment, keeping only his widescreen TV, which I presume was stolen. I was surprised to find several journals of poetry in his chickenscratch handwriting. His vocabulary was poor and his technique lacking, but I will say that my cousin had a certain way of expressing the fears and fury of a lifelong thug. It has made me closer to him. For the first time since we were seven, I think of him as my friend. And I am sorry I lost him so long ago, instead of keeping him close, as Family should. I am enjoying his company and our shared love of Literature. I’ve been reading him James Joyce.

“And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little”.

And we both wept.

© AR Howerton 2006

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