Cancer Saved My Life

I have to say that cancer saved my life. One day in the little cardboard town of Presque Isle, ME, a doctor from the VA clinic in Caribou called and told me where to go for a throat examination, because I might have a tumor. I’d had a sore throat. A sudden feeling came over me. It wasn’t fear, but anticipation. This was it! I was mortal after all. Ha, ha! I didn’t have to do anything but die. It should be easy, like we see the Indians taking it, but I had never been able to bring it about in my three half-hearted attempts at suicide. I was afraid of pain, nervous about oblivion, and still somewhat hopeful about life. But even I know there is no way to evade Death.

No guts to leap into that maw.

My life wasn’t miserable anymore. It was simply a chalky gray blank. I didn’t feel anything except anger at the government and disgust with the lazy-minded American people. I’d been everywhere I could get to and it had all begun to look the same to me. I didn’t want to do anything but sit at the desktop Dell I had expensively shipped from New Orleans to New Jersey and made a round trip with it to the very top of Maine. (They wouldn’t let me in Canada; old DUIs.) I sat there many days typing in my favorite and only chat room (since the mid-90’s folks) under the audacious and presumptive screen name of Dylanisto. I am well-known there. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Going into the rooms of From the Left on AOL is like walking into my own dining room with a 36-seat table and plenty of easy chairs, and running into my old friends and about 20 people that I never met before, some of whom I wouldn’t have had in my home, if I had one. Sometimes I went in to say hello and got enthusiastic greetings, other times I went in because a thought was tormenting me that I had to voice, sometimes to endure my “fair share of abuse,” many times to share something wonderful or awful, which I had read or seen, and to vent my feelings and thoughts; sometimes, to teach, to preach, to condemn (without personal insult,) to indict, to point out, to learn, these are why I keep knocking on the doors of From the Left. I visited for a day in From the Right about 10 years ago and decided I might as well look for company in a mental hospital. Of course, FTL is often full of right wingers and wanna-be-Hitlers screaming at the “lefties” and “dems.”

I left the too-large-but-furnished apartment overlooking the center of town only to visit the wonderful little library in Presque Isle, and to shop. Now and then I ate breakfast in a cafĂ© that was too dear, used a bank’s ATM, and went five days a week to my dull little part-time job at a computer, reviewing tapes of television commercials from places like Omaha and Oklahoma, nailing down ads for the advertisers for billing purposes. I entered time, date, place, and validating code. It was mostly auto commercials.

The throat engineer had me naked beneath a hospital gown. He gave me a shot that put me to sleep. He had a couple of nurses so I wasn’t worried. I woke up in another room and he showed me a photo of a little rosy red sore that was gonna kill me. Ha, ha! But I didn’t laugh then. I wasn’t worried, only interested.

“How long have I got?” I asked calmly.

“That’s in the hands of God!” He said it like he was holding the Tablets. Holy shit, I thought, God gave me the tumor, so I guess it’s a foregone conclusion. The emotion in his voice amused me but I didn’t show it. I took the photo home and examined it with a magnifying glass. I have it still. It’s a little red bump and white around the edges, that’s all. I reflected that my step-grandfather had died of throat cancer. Of course, he did inhale mustard gas in the glorious war to end all wars, and he painted the exhaust stacks of chemical and oil refineries while they fumigated the land with poisons. I hadn’t done that. But I had smoked since before I was born, because my mom and pop did, and took it up publicly myself at 14.

O well, I thought. “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” Then I went into the Room and announced with some glee my imminent demise. Ha, ha! Sometimes they don’t know what to think of Dylanisto, and that’s one of the things I like about them. The older regulars sympathized and some made mild and funny cracks, some of the new people wanted to get into the medical intricacies of cancers and remedies up to the one granting you Eternal Life. A few others hinted I was being punished for left-ism. But I wanted to talk politics. I was gonna die soon. No time for bullshit now.

Clear thinking was the Order of the Day. Don’t mess this one up, Mike, I was thinking. Die right. Die like Allen Ginsburg, unafraid. What do I have to do? First I have to get out of this boring town, get rid of all the junk I’ve accumulated here in nearly a year, get these 17 cartons of books off my back, and move to Augusta for a promised room for the duration of my treatment schedule. I chatted for awhile then split to do it.

I won’t go into the intricacies of getting out a town. You know the routine, if you’ve done it. The whole human world is on the move like molecules in a boiling pot. Sometimes it’s more-complicated than others. I’ve lived in vans off-and-on for years, because I’ve wanted to be able to say, “I don’t have to pack up to move. All I have to do is gas up.” I must have said it a lot, because people would eventually ask why I lived in a van. And I moved a lot. I couldn’t stop moving. As soon as I landed somewhere I began figuring how I could get away from the place. I usually stopped where my diminishing funds made me stop. First thing I would do is get a map, a newspaper and a telephone book. I’d read the ads and take numbers, look in the phone book for the locations of various paint and hardware stores, study the map, learn where to shop, find a relatively safe place to park and sleep unobserved if possible, and find work by talking to just about anybody. Find work. I am not bragging, but I have been looking for jobs since my step dad died in 1957, and I have always managed to find one. Just about anything but telemarketing will do. But I never had a job I didn’t want to quit on the first day.

Oh, I better watch myself, or I’ll get philosophical again. I nearly got into the deeper stuff. My former mother-in-law once accused me of being “self-indulgent,” which, from her viewpoint, I am. She called me “a street corner philosopher.” Ha, ha! What a compliment. Diogenes lived in a hole in the ground and told Alexander the Great to stand aside because he was blocking the sunlight. The world’s bravest warrior saw himself in Diogenes and stood aside.

Sorry. Don’t take it personal. I couldn’t find anyone else to take care of my Self.

I gave the books to the library, and asked them to put my name as donator in a few. They said they would. One was a rare, faded, violet and only edition of Simone de Beauvoir’s Must We Burn De Sade? There were other good ones, no crap: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Dylan, Stendhal, Twain, Gorky, Hemingway, Shakespeare, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Castro, Lenin, Frederick Douglas, Annie Dillard, Faulkner, Villon, Rimbaud, Bertrand Russell, Buckminster Fuller, Violette le Duc, Eisenhower, Skinner, Freud, Jung, Horney, Lang, Janov, Ho Chi Minh, Douglas Pike, Madison, Franklin, Jefferson, John Mc Phee, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch, W.E.B. Du Bois, Wilson, Truman, Lao Tzu, Garcia Marquez, Sandino, Fonseca, Jeff Jones, and Isabel Allende and her murdered uncle. Pablo Neruda, Rueben Diario, Jimmy Carter, and even Reagan, the worst President in my lifetime (worse than Bush,) as well as Oliver North, a great platoon leader who should have remained one. I gave them Richard Wright, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Abbie Hoffman, Betty Friedan, William O. Douglas, a proof-edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, Lorca, Goya, Spinoza, Aristotle, T.C. Boyle, Cormac McCarthy, and fine little books which had never made it to the best-seller list. There was a bunch of good novels. One librarian was very appreciative; and another probably thought I was a commie.

Okay. I would be one, if it worked, but they wouldn’t let me join. You don’t “join” the Communist Party, folks, and surprise. The Party chooses its members. They refuse admittance to obvious anarchists with “an authority problem.” They sit you down in Marxism school for a couple of years before deciding if you can follow orders. You have to understand Marxism-Leninism. It doesn’t matter that you already think you do. I got the hang of it when I read Ho, another dedicated Marxist-Leninist who happened to win an impossible war for independence: secrecy and speed and death to traitors and informers. Make the People look and listen and grow a social conscience by participating and learning through work and criticism and self-criticism, studying history and economic and political and actual conditions around the world and establishing international relationships and celebrating every advance on two fronts, studying every loss, analyzing, give honest disinterested analyses and repairing mistakes; prepare, strike, fall back, strike, fall back, advance. And so on. Believe me, I got the hang of it, but who am I? I can’t change the world and don’t want to hurt any living thing—except those raccoons in the attic in case they attack me for turning on the gas heat. (I have a bayonet duct-taped to a painter’s sliding extension pole.) I’m soft on people but hell on raccoons who think because they’ve been here so long they own the place. Don’t worry, I’ll use live traps.

The American people aren’t ready for revolution. It would be a bloodbath. Everybody’s got a gun or can get one. They want to shoot one another even now, between Civil Wars. Americans live in a violent culture, inherited a violent past, have a violent upbringing, enjoy violent films, worship heroic idols and believe a Galahad with surgical lance will someday appear, slay the dragon, and let them go back to their lazy-minded lives. They have too many violent thoughts and not enough peaceful ones. Plus they drink too much, are addicted to everything they like including drugs, food, alcohol, sex, work, sugar, coffee, cigarettes, television, sex-exploitation of little boys and girls (UGH!) and (UGH!) football. Nope, this isn’t the time or place, folks. We don’t need a revolution, we’re too lazy, ignorant and mean. First, we have to learn something about justice and pay with apologies, promises and money for some of the pain our Nation has caused.

A Revolution is Civil War. The funny thing is that a revolution strictly defined is a complete circle, so most of them end up right where they started, bums and bullies in command, robbing the public purse, war, corruption, oppression, tyranny, official insanity, convoluted notions of justice, and so on. The revolution we need is the cultural one, already underway, more-or-less on course, and often hilarious. The People have to take the retarded Government in hand and lead it away from the corral. Bad boys! The only way the People can do that is for them to change themselves. But they are waiting for Orders. So, as long as they are waiting for them, I don’t mind giving a few. Whether there are brave women and men true and blue that will rally to my cause and make me Emperor, is to be seen.

Good leaders follow the People, but the People must be good themselves to chart the course. We haven't had any good leaders recently, and the attitude and behavior of the People leaves something to be desired. It's the wars, stupid. We have a lot of ignorant, deluded and selfish people here, but our real oppressors are the great authoritarian institutions and organizations, beginning with the Government. The banks, corporations, international combinations of businessmen and traders, politicians and weapons-makers, oil giants, mining and chemical interests, and the private, hidden cartels of wealthy people organized with vast money resources to keep things the way they are. They have legions of politicians and armies of lawyers and public officials on their payrolls. Government is the Oppressor and not the Protector of Civil Society. We have to get rid of the damned thing, but not with guns and violence. We have to, if we ever are to be free.

“Freedom” is a great word but it doesn’t mean license to do whatever we want. We must determine freedom ofto do what, and freedom from what, when defining it. what, freedom These need to be balanced in the interests of justice to the individual and to Civil Society. We need and can still obtain economic and political reform, reform, and peaceful reform. We can recognize and do justice. We can confess and make amends, we can pay reparations, we can send doctors and nurses and medicine like Fidel Castro does. (15,000 Cuban doctors and nurses attending to the poorest in Amazonia; where are ours?) We can lower prices. We can do anything! We can plant Peace Gardens like the one in Salinas. We can laugh in public at the honest audacity of the Dixie Chicks. We can disarm and lead other nations to disarm. We can make communities of tolerance and understanding with wise guidance of local councils of residents and workers. We can abolish the oppressive Government by reforming it out of existence and replacing it with something that wasn’t designed by mental midgets and corrupted by military-minded lunatics.

“Reform” should be our fundamental slogan and purpose. We have the “freedom” even to shout “fire!” in a crowded theater if we are prepared to face the consequences. Freedom without social responsibility is the tyranny of the sociopath. It is anti-social. It is birthed, diapered, disciplined and educated by fear. Fear is at the bottom of it all. And, of course, where there is fear there is no faith.

See, there I go, getting philosophical and grandiose again, still trying to save my poor ignorant country.

Now and then I stopped into the landlord’s shop directly below me, a store and pawn shop where the owner sat and drank beer either alone or with a few cronies all day, then went into his own apartment beside the store at night to do whatever secret things he did with his library of porno movies. Now and then I’d accept a beer and even brought him a six-pack once to replace them. But it wasn’t pleasant conversation, because all that the guy did was brag about how much money he was making in oil futures, while also lewdly describing the sexual adventures he had had and now was having with two sisters.. I had practically sworn off sex years before so it was a relief to get away from him. I spent days inside reading, writing, talking in FTL, and sleeping on the couch, because for some reason the big bed creeped me out. The bedroom was directly over his apartment. He mentioned that usually he rented the place to women only, and I wondered if the bedroom was bugged. I had to sleep on my left side in a half-sitting position away from the haunted bedroom. I was also drinking beer, but moderately. I weighed 220 pounds from a natural weight of 162—58 pounds overweight. I was fat, ugly, getting old fast, and didn’t see a glimmer of hope because I’d never achieved anything, had failed as I saw it in every important endeavor and relationship, and had come to dislike people so much I didn’t want to know any new ones and wished I’d never met most of the others. I knew it was anti-social. I also knew it wasn’t pathological and couldn’t drive me to shooting up a fast-food joint or a school. I knew that it was a reversible condition. But now I was going to croak, so what did it matter anyway? I stayed by myself and toughened my mind to accept death. I talked it out with myself and told the Jesus I’d promised to believe in when He saved my dog that I would go with whatever He had in store. But my faith was weak. And I still couldn’t get used to calling Him Jesus. Too many assholes and hypocrites I had known had called Him that, too. I prefer “God.” It’s a much older name, and it’s been spoken since long before anybody compiled a dictionary. Check the etymology.

I’d visited the VA in Togus (oldest one in the country) and thought I had arranged a room. On the day appointed a blizzard struck. I was packed and loaded and needed only to sell some stereo stuff to the landlord, and get back my deposit. I’d given him about 20 days notice, and there was no lease. He gave me pennies for some good electronics, and refused to return the deposit of $150 I’d been counting on. I had left with him a rented modem to return. He said he saw the guy all the time and would return it. When he refused to give me my money I went off on him and called him a few appropriate names. I went back upstairs for a few last things and hit the door with a box and it came off. It had been off when I moved in. Then I drove off into the blizzard in a little Chevy S-10 pickup I’d bought the previous winter and didn’t like because you can’t sleep in a four-foot bed. It was packed with stuff I still wanted and sat heavily on the road. I was mostly tools I didn’t use much anymore but didn’t want to buy again in case I lived long enough to go back to work. But I had no hope or anticipation of survival. I felt ready to go, and was going through the motions of a treatment I knew wasn’t going to work, only because it was available. Above all, I wanted pain-management.

The driving wheels spun so much on the slippery turnpike that the transmission burned out 165 miles from the hospital. A tow truck took me the rest of the way and took most of my cash. I was cursing the landlord when the truck dropped me at the assigned building. The entrance was locked and had no bell. In the main lobby, the attendant had never heard of me. Great. A security guard eyed me suspiciously and threatened to eject me when my natural sarcasm emerged. I sat in the waiting room for hours before a doctor who knew how to use a computer found me on one of them and said, yes, we have a place for him. The guard escorted me to the building as if I were a dangerous prisoner. I kept my mouth shut and finally found a bed in a semi-private room, and slept an exhausted sleep.

What a boring existence, to live at a hospital for three months while undergoing chemo and radiation therapy. There were three meals a day in the cafeteria that played Santa Claus music for grown men, and a small conversation with another sick inmate now and then about some trivial matter. There is a hospital library which has some good books and a lot of bad ones. The medical texts were mostly off-limits. I found little to interest me there except the old cemetery begun with the bodies of Civil War vets. I’ve always liked walking through cemeteries reading the stones, and wondering about the people who muscled those bones. Augusta--the capital—was like most other American cities and of scant interest to me. It had a good public library, and I amused myself there once by hiding every Ann Coulter book I could find. Too hell with her. She’d have me in line at an oven. At least I saved some people, I imagine, from her poisonously persuasive mind chock-full of venom and shallow analyses. Television sucked, and I had my computer but no internet access. I didn’t feel like writing but I did it half-heartedly anyway. It’s a habit. I cringe, wondering what Annie Dillard would think of it.

When I got a bill of over $300 for the modem the louse hadn’t returned, I called the Presque Isle cops. They knew him as a felon—he was rumored to be a “child molester.” One officer paid him a visit, picked it up while he bowed and scraped, and returned it to the renter. Hooray for the Presque Isle cops! Imagine calling big city police and asking them to do that. See Mike, it isn’t all that bad.

I’ve written before in this blog how I went into the operating room laughing and waving goodbye, of waking in ICU, confused whether to be grateful or sorry, and the slow, two-year recovery that found me in New York State, Arizona, Mexico, Louisiana and Florida, and New Jersey again. I started smoking again after the operation though I had quit for a year. I kept drinking, moderately as I thought, and after a year I was surprised to find that I could actually rake a yard for an hour before sitting down. Every step I took on the journey to bodily recovery was torturous. I still felt and thought about the world pretty much as you see now. I knew I would have to work again or live like a rat on my $780 a month, so I found small jobs now and then and tried to be frugal, which is a losing proposition with me. I spend it on what I need and want until it runs out, and then I bite the bullet and cook rice or eat fruit and stop the van somewhere. Gas is the worst. But it’s still better than paying rent to these exploitative bastards.

I found a part-time job through Experience Works (Labor Dept. program) as a tour guide in the DeLand Naval Air Station Museum and got into it. I learned the history of the military there during WW II, organized the books and made a catalog inventory to keep track of them. I mowed the big yard where a determined crew of experts were rebuilding PTF-3, one of four Vietnam-era PT boats that Kennedy bought from Norway and assigned to CIA. It was the provocateur boat of the “Tonkin Gulf Incident” in 1964, which provided LBJ with a “legal” basis for the illegal war. I scorn the pre-planned “incident,” but I would love to own that big fast boat. Zero to fifty in 11 seconds. By the time I went to New Jersey to help Marc fix up his first house, I had arranged the exhibits to my own satisfaction, everything square and sensibly organized for a tour.

When the Board imploded from personal animosities and selfish ambition, I suddenly and without authority took on the duty of curator. I already provided security for the place for a year by sleeping in my van beside the museum, which was only a small house. I left the place looking like almost every place I ever stayed in, better than it was when I got there. Shortly into this phase, I snapped to the fact that I was driving drunk again. I’d had three DUIs in the nineties in three different states, so the penalties were not as severe as they could or should have been, but three is enough for anybody whose brain isn’t beyond repair. I realized that the only way I would ever avoid another was to go back to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I found a great sponsor in Joe L! He told me some things that really helped. I saw how deep his faith in God was, and loved his giant humorous outlook on life. And then, as slowly as I was ready to receive it, an awareness of God came over me, and resides here still; thank God. I learned that spirituality isn’t necessarily religion. I learned that resentments kill and don’t change a thing. I learned that the only thing I can really change in the world is me. I. I learned to not return insults. I learned to pray by asking God to teach me to pray. I strengthened my faith by asking God to help me strengthen my faith. I learned to accept whatever happens by asking God to help me accept the things I cannot change. I learned that gratitude is the antidote to resentment, and helping others is the key to defeating my own selfishness. I learned that with God’s help I could stop drinking. I haven’t had a drink in 28 months now and don’t want one. I made amends or tried to with various people in my life by simply writing and confessing to my own part in whatever it was that had soured our relations, without expectation of acceptance or approval. As well as I could, I cleaned my own side of the street and left others without accusations or suggestions to clean theirs’ .I started working harder and enjoying it for a change. I even made feeble attempts at frugality. And my life got better and better. The world has not changed; I changed my way of perceiving and dealing with it. Setbacks and frustrations still pave my path, and sometimes I stumble.

Today, I am happier than I have ever been. Outwardly, my circumstances have not changed so much, but inwardly is a whole ‘nother mindscape. I developed a post-operative blood clot in Mexico that might dispatch me in a moment, but I take anti-coagulants and ain’t worried. Nothing is or ever will be as perfect as we want it to be, least of all this human being named Mike Havenar. And I fell into a part in a play and film that’s going to New York and Berlin! Better than all that, I fell in love.

God saved my life with cancer. Ha ha! He helped me kill my old self, allowing a new one to be born. He helped me commit suicide and keep living. But He had to nearly kill me to make me believe in Him.


Anonymous said…
interesting man you are, i thought i moved a lot. but i am hoping to move away from maine someday

Popular Posts