Thursday, July 22, 2010

Driven To Tears

Anyone who has known me for any length of time and in any intimate capacity (even sharing a beer), knows that I am not afraid of my emotions. When I'm mad, I get mad. When I'm happy, I laugh. When I'm contemplative, I withdraw and look inward. And unlike a lot of men who fight to hold it inside, I cry.
I would estimate that I get teary once a week or so. Usually it's because I've been manipulated. Some movies will do that, like Field of Dreams. The scene where Ray calls to his dad to play catch nearly always gets a rise of rage and nostalgia and frustration out of me. I remember playing catch with my dad once, when I was three or four, and never again. He was always too busy or too tired. To have a place like that, where I can play catch with him while he's in his prime, unburdened by responsibility and work, and talk, really talk to him.
I know anything I said to him under those circumstances would be pointless, of course. It wouldn't change who I am, how I was raised, and it would only give me the temporary release of knowing I finally said to this ogre the words I longed to say, the words I graciously left out of his eulogy. But that's the point of that whole scene between Ray and his dad, to make men like me bawl like little babies, to feel a little bit less anger the bastards who raised us.
Sometimes it's joy. In 1994, when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup for the first time in my life and for the first time in 54 years, I started crying the second Mark Messier grinned and bounced like a chimpanzee as the commissioner handed him the Cup. As one sign put it, "Now I can die in peace". A weight, however trivial, was lifted from my shoulders and my tears lubricated its journey.
Oftentimes, it's nostalgia. I know, for instance, that Sunday as the Tour De France winds down in Paris and Lance Armstrong crosses the finish line, tears will line my cheeks like soft spaghetti strands. I'll raise a glass of Veuve Cliquot (a tradition), salute him, and the tears will start. He is one of my heroes, despite the black cloud of performance enhancements, not because he won, but because of what he went through. It's almost cliche to say he came back from testicular cancer with its 30% fatality rate if caught early enough to win seven straight Tours, a feat likely to never be matched again, but look behind the cliche: at his lowest point, that testicular cancer had metastasized to his lungs, his brain and his stomach.
You or I, even with a remission from a brain cancer, might never get on a bike again. He rode nine more Tours, climbing 400,000 feet in each. He won seven.
I'll miss him. I'll miss watching him compete. I'll miss hearing his name when I watch the Tour next year. It's a part of my life that goes away, put into a book and shut.
Last night,  I was watching an episode of House where there was an outbreak of some mysterious disease in the neo-natal ward. There's a scene where these parents of a newborn are forced to "visit" their baby behind a glass wall because the baby is sick and might be contagious. One of the doctors notices this, and asks them to put on some scrubs because they need help while the sheets in the crib are being changed, so for the first time in days, the mother and father get to hold their child.
Of course, I flash back to the first time I cradled my daughter in my arms, how happy I was, how this ugly grey gooey gob of babyslime was my baby, my child, my daughter. It was a joyous moment.
It took on new meaning yesterday. I met with the surgeon who will excise my cancer and she has asked a reconstructive surgeon to stand by next Friday for my surgery.
You see, I may lose a tear duct. I may lose the very thing that makes us human.