My father died screaming. It took him 6 years to die.
For the last 3 years of his death, I watched him melt. His body seemed to sag and drip. Pieces of him came off, one by one.
The first to go was his hair. My father’s hair had always looked healthy. It had been shiny and brown. Unlike my brown hair, his was straight. A part on one side allowed a broad splay of it to recline across his forehead. It was the most calm thing there was about him.
During chemotherapy, it all fell off. The doctors said he was a good fighter, and his physical size was an asset. I watched him fight.
His muscles left him. He dropped from 285 pounds to 150 pounds. That took 6 months.
After that happened, some of him remained. He would still have stood 6-foot 4-inches. But he could not hold his head up straight.
Everything slumped and caved in. His body seemed to hang off of him like a cheap coat on a metal hanger.
He had been a firefighter. He would no longer be the one chosen to break down doors.
He had a bone-marrow transplant from his sister. Tests showed she was a perfect match. The idea was to take non-cancerous tissue out of a donor, and put it in him.
The first step of the process was for doctors to completely destroy my father’s immune system. They attacked it with radiation and poisonous chemicals.
They cut open his bones, and transplanted marrow into him. After this process was completed, he woke up. He tried to smile at me.
I will never forget that smile. He looked up at me from the hospital bed, and his lips pulled back.
His teeth were black.
His mouth glistened with obsidian jewels. I tried not to make a sound.
I found out later: layers and layers of blood, pouring from his gums, had dried over his teeth.
His body was supposed to work with the new tissue and fight the cancer. His body and the new tissue did not get along.
They began to fight each other.
His skin became thin. The color of his face shifted from the warm hues of frequent rage, to a spectrum that was drained and cool. Standing in the sun, he was pasty and blue.
Soon, he could no longer stand in the sun. His skin made irregular, rough patches wherever the sun touched it. When the sun hit him, his skin fought.
After his hair and his muscles and his skin, came his eyes.
He could not focus to read. White blood cells attacked his retinas. He squinted at the TV that was just beyond his feet.
He had goggles that looked like the protective eyewear he wore when using a table saw. The ones my father wore outside were black. They covered most of his face.
He could no longer hear much of what happened around him. He asked people to repeat what they said. He was 42 years old. He sometimes gave a small smile as if he had understood.
My father could not lay down. His bones hurt.
He did not sleep. He sat up in a recliner and sometimes closed his eyes. He drifted off in an opiate haze. Sometimes, he was quiet for an hour before you could hear him groan. He heard the groans too, and his eyelids would flutter and part and he would look toward the television.
When he attempted to eat, he suffered. The foods he had always loved, his body pushed up and out and into the toilet. He could not keep calories down. His stomach pushed acid into his throat and burned it.
His body fought everything calorically-dense except peanut butter. My father hated peanut butter. He would not eat it.
His massive recliner had once cushioned his bulk. It engulfed his bones. When it was dark outside he was in his recliner. The TV blared in the night.
My father was diagnosed with cancer before his 40th birthday.
Out of everyone who is diagnosed with cancer, 1% of people have the form of cancer that killed him.
My father had first seen a man with that form of cancer in the 1970s. He was 25 years old when he met that man. He told me about that melting man when I was young. The two of them had talked about cancer. They talked about why the man had started melting.
In the 1980s, my father saw another man with the same form of cancer. My father watched his father-in-law die. I remember looking at my grandfather’s casket.
For the last 6 years of his death, as my father melted away, he fought.
I watched him fight from the time I was 12 years old, until I turned 18.
He was diagnosed at the age I am now.
I watched as his body fought against cancer. I watched as his body fought with healthy cells. I watched him fight against food. Against the sun.
The doctors said he was a good fighter.
I do not believe fighting is always effective, even if you are a good fighter.
I do not believe hate is effective.
When is a groan a scream? When the door of the hospital room is closed, and you can stand at the other end of the building and hear it.