In 2013, I was kind of limping through the year. I had surgeries on February 20th, May 20th and May 26th, and by the time I flew back to Minnesota to attend a high school reunion and help my parents with organizing their house, my shunt had already formed a huge bubble in my back when it cracked after only being implanted for a month. I had just seen my neurosurgeon the day before flying out and he had given me the okay to leave Arizona because besides the large collection of CSF under my skin, I seemed to still be functioning.
What is really different about the school that I graduated from is that the majority of us lived on campus in a dorm, much like college. Only juniors and seniors attended, so the people in my graduating class were together for two years, and the class before us and after us were around for half of our tenure there. The advent of Facebook was really a boon in our attempts to stay connected with our classmates; we came from all over the state of Minnesota to attend the “Fame school” and basically felt largely that we were the rejects of our old schools because we were more intense about our art areas than most – and let’s face it, just different in general. So when one classmate organized yearly picnics for the students who graduated between 1991 and 1995 (just so there would be some overlap), we all knew that if we made the effort, there was a pretty good chance that we’d see some good friends.
I took up the task of being the event photographer. If you ever feel guilty about sitting around on your duff at a gathering, it’s a great excuse to talk to every single person who attends.
This one guy, Hot Dog (and you’d laugh if you knew his real nickname!), was in attendance. He was always in my peripheral group of friends, since he was a year younger and dated one of my classmates. He was wild. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that he had a wild mouth. He always looked a little wild, with flyaway frizzy hair, cherub cheeks and tree trunk arms, but his cutting wit was dangerous. I always thought of him as being an obnoxious younger brother while we were in school. If there was a way to make jokes about dead babies and grandmothers, he’d be the one to do it. And it was never at a quiet volume. Never.
True to form, while I was visiting with Hot Dog at a picnic table with a couple of other friends, he lifted a cheek and let out a fart. He did another one when I whipped out my camera, saying, “I was just blowing Brad a kiss.”
Only two days later, when I was back at my parents’ house, my shunt went into total failure and I lost most of my vision. I had to fly back to Phoenix to be operated on again by my neurosurgeon because the neurosurgeons at the Mayo in Rochester turned me down – they didn’t understand my symptoms, so they didn’t want to work on me. Any plans to socialize were impossible.
But after that reunion, Hot Dog stayed in touch with me. I’m not sure if I sent him a message first, or if he initiated contact, but we commiserated over our mutual disgust for my most recent ex-boyfriend (Angry and Stupid? Dumb and Angry? I will have to look back at what I nicknamed him initially.), because we were all classmates together. He actually married (and subsequently divorced) the classmate that he dated through his time at the arts high school; they were together about 13 years before she found Jesus, and I think they were as close to being soul mates as anyone could hope.
After a few months, our messages became more intense. He was always supportive of what I was going through with my brain stuff and tried to understand as much as anyone could who had never had a chronic condition himself. We had some discussions about my difficulty as a bald woman finding any men who were okay with my hair loss. It was immediately easier for me to open up to him because for him, my lack of hair never diminished my femininity in his eyes. Then I found out that some of my kinks were the same as his – not an easy feat, as anyone in the kink world knows. I’m not saying that I am anywhere as unusual as the guy who thought it was hot to have his jaw stomped on and teeth knocked out, but there are certainly more than 50 shades of dirty out there. We had many steamy sessions of sharing our wants and urges. He also talked about how good it felt to start working out again, getting back into the karate he had picked up as a boy, sweating and kicking and punching and trading fat for muscle. We discussed the possibility of coordinating a road trip for him to come down to Arizona.
And then he got sick.
At first he was joking that his intestines exploded. At least, that’s what it felt like to him. But as it turns out, after his doctor insisted multiple times that he suspected the atypical presentation was actually cancer, and his body flying apart was caused by stage III colorectal cancer. He had to go through multiple rounds of chemo to try to keep the cancer that had spread to other parts of his body under control before one big surgery was performed to cut it out. At the same time that he was going through that, I had already had four more surgeries and was waiting on another one, and was in excruciating pain for 10 months because of a leak that could not be fixed until we figured out what I was allergic to. Rather than talking about what we wanted to do to each other, our talks shifted to his fears about never having full functionality or a decent quality of life ever again.
The surgery was extensive. He had a bowel resection and they removed his rectum completely, sentencing him to a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. The surgery was not as bad as it could have been – the doctors had no idea what to plan for, everything would only become apparent after opening him – but it was certainly bad enough.
We traded more messages, but there were a few times when it sounded like he might try to reconcile with his ex-wife. Around the same time, Ping Pong came in for his final round, so I let Hot Dog know that I would no longer be able to talk dirty as we had been, but I didn’t want to lose touch. Our talks were never the same and we went radio silent fairly quickly.
Around the end of March of 2015, I saw an article about a guy who was modeling with his colostomy bag, and I sent it to Hot Dog letting him know that I was thinking of him and hoping that he was getting stronger. I didn’t receive a response. At the end of April, when I figured out that I would have to move back to Minnesota, I sent him another note letting him know I was landing very close to him. Again, there was no response. At that point I figured that he really didn’t want much to do with me after I went back to the ex and he tried to move on.
But then he died.
It was actually just two days ago. I found out because like every other morning, I started by opening my laptop and catching up on the news. That was the first thing that came up on my Facebook. It was like being punched in the stomach. From what I’ve been able to gather, they succeeded in removing all of the cancer, but the surgery was so invasive that the aftereffects were eroding his life on a grand scale. For a short amount of time he allowed pictures to be posted of some events he attended and it seemed he had taken up residence at his favorite coffee shop to sketch, but he did not update Facebook himself.
I was not the only one who was shocked by the news, but towards the end, he kept only his most loyal people close to him. I understand. I came in late and left early. But I still wish we could have had a conversation, and maybe some laughs, all better face-to-face rather than 1600 miles away, before the option was forever off the table.
On Friday we will all have to say goodbye to Hot Dog. He was so many things to so many people, but to me, he was my biggest regret. I didn’t see the diamond that was camouflaged by all of the shit jokes.