My father has a pain in the neck, and this time I'm not talking about my mother. He goes in on Wednesday for a biopsy on the tumor in his throat.
There has been a constant stream of nicotine in his system, with no exaggeration whatsoever, since childhood. First, it took the form of Marlboro Reds. About fourteen years ago, after the birth of my younger sister coupled with a stern warning from his doctor that an emphysema diagnosis was immiment, he switched to Kodiak chewing tobacco.
My father is not a weak person. He has kicked numerous addictions with not the slightest trace of relapse. If he knew something he was doing--something over which he had control--was hurting someone, he would stop it.
My mother told me recently that he confided to her he doesn't think he will live five more years. Furthermore, he doesn't care. This is interesting on many levels, not the least of which is this: I am shocked he and my mother actually talk to each other. Theirs has always been a marriage of my mother's monologues and my father's "yeah, yeah's." The very presence of such open communication is proof itself that something is up.
I will admit I took a strange comfort in the fact that he is not afraid of dying. But, as mom said to dad, "what about us?" What about the wife of 29 years? What about the daughter who is not yet fifteen years old? What about the grandchildren?
Questions. Right now they're all we have. Maybe we only ever have questions. Living is the big unknowable, and even more than dying, it's the thing we must truly seek to understand.