It’s late at night, at the start of the Labor Day Holiday, when a sister calls me.
Our youngest brother, Arthur, is in the emergency room at the hospital down the mountain. The situation appears grim.
It will be a week before we get a real diagnosis. The diagnosis is acute leukemia.
Our brother is dying.
My brother, Jim, drives my mother to the hospital. My mother tells me later that Jim cries all the way down the mountain and that he says “I love Arthur! I love my brother! Arthur is my favorite brother!”
Mother tells us she reaches her hand to Jim, touches his arm and says, “Jim. Arthur is your only brother.”
We all think this is hysterically funny. When I tell Art about it a day or so later, he too laughs heartily.
A few days later, we get the final, final diagnosis. It’s a leukemia that is actually better then some; more amenable to a possible remission or cure.
Our brother begins chemo. If he hadn’t he would have died, most likely within the week.
Art is my dear brother; a man with a sweet soul.
This is the brother that could have been a major movie star, but turned the offer down because he wanted a normal life with his wife and two boys.
After Art grew up, became a jeweler, married and had two children, he changed from the little boy I had known.
That little kid walked miles over the fields every day collecting arrowheads.
He ate my father’s fishing worms and enjoyed them.
He attracted money. He would find it, everywhere.
He ate our blue glass Christmas tree balls when my mother walked down the lane to get the mail.
My sister Candy almost killed him one day.
The two of them had dragged a mattress off somebody’s bed and put it on the hard ground, below a two story window in our house.
They took turns jumping out the window and onto the mattress.
Before Art made his last jump, Candy waited on the ground below as Art faced away from her and the mattress, leaned back and dropped through the air.
Candy, quick, snatched the mattress away.
Art landed with a great Fwampt! and Splat, on his back on the hard dirt.
Candy always says, “I don’t know why I did that.”
One day when we were kids, Art and I were biking down the paved road that ran into the fields and mountains across from our home.
We were still rather close to our house, chugging and puffing our small legs on old clunky bikes; the kind of old bikes that used to build muscle.
I hit a little bump in the road and flew off my bike, rolling on my side on the pavement. I lay there and screamed, “I’m hurt! I’m hurt! Run home and tell Mother and Daddy!”
Art took off running, his little legs going whippity, whippity.
I lay on the road and waited. And waited. Stared up at the sky and waited. I sat up and assessed my knees and lay down, again. And waited.
Eventually I heard, “Whippity, whippity.”
I closed my eyes and waited for my folks to save me. My rescue and sympathy was at hand.
“Here,” I heard my brother say. I opened my eyes. Art was gently placing a bed pillow under my head!”
This is my brother who now lies in a hospital bed. He’s covered with bruises and red spots. His color is a mix of gray, green and yellow.
He pees blood. Blood runs down his throat. He hurts all over. With the chemo, he can’t stop peeing and that hurts. He can’t sleep. He’s horribly nauseous. He doesn’t complain, but he worries that his predicament is upsetting us!
He looks at me and says as he has said the day before, “Are you alright, Venus? Do you feel OK?”
Well, I am as OK as a sister can be, I suppose, when their brother is deathly ill and is being tortured.
My sister Polly looks over at me, grabs my arm and says, “What’s that red spot on your arm!?”
It’s a bug bite, but I know what she’s thinking. We’re all of us getting strange; looking for our brother’s symptoms in ourselves and in and on each other.
A few days ago we were laughing because Art was having an odd spell.
He said, “I dreamed that I had sex with our sixty year old, lesbian cousin who looks like a man! What is wrong with me? Why would I dream that?”
He asks everyone. He asks us, he asks our mother, he asks the nurses.
He tells us the nurses look really good to him, “even the really old ones!” and that when the TV showed nursing mothers he got excited about that! He wants to know what the heck is going on.
I think, “This man is dying? Maybe not.”
Most likely it is something in his treatment that brought this on.
Art tells me about four days into his hospital stay and before the chemo starts, “You know Venus, I wasn’t taking all of this seriously. Then, one night I woke up and I thought, ‘I’m dying. I could lose everyone I love. I have to change my life.'”
Art went from his perfectly attuned childhood, from his mystical connections with the earth, to laboring for years in the back of his jewelry shop, hunched over a small work table, fixing and designing jewelry. He was out of the beneficent sun and away from the earth and its rich dirt, it’s hearty trees and variable winds.
As he tells me now, “I missed every Holiday. I worked every day, trying to support my family. I didn’t eat right, or sleep right, or live in balance. I worried all the time. I let things from years ago eat at me.”
Being desperately ill gives a person a lot of time to think.
It gives his family a lot of time to think, too.
I think of Art all day long. Before I sleep he’s in my mind. He’s there when I wake in the night, and again when I wake in the morning.
I look around me and I think, “Am I living my life the way I want to be living it? Am I taking good care of myself?”
Death or the possibility of death can snatch you up at any time. The coffee is left un-drunk on the table, the cut grapefruit sits on the plate.
And, then there is love.
A few days ago while his sisters, his mother and his wife were all gathered around his bedside, Art looked at his wife, MaryEllen and said, “I can feel her with me. When I go to sleep at night, I can feel her in my arms. During the day, I feel her in the bed with me and I hug her. When I go off on trips without her, I take her with me. We’re attached. Wherever we are, we’re attached.”
Art tells us all the time now, that he loves us. We tell him the same. And, we tell each other.
But, you say, you don’t have love in your life like Arthur has?
If you only had love like Art has, (you say,) or the money you want, or the career or the friends or the good health, well, then you could be happy?
Don’t whine about what you don’t have. Embrace what you do have.
There’s always somebody who dearly wishes they had what you dismiss as not enough.
And, remember…no matter how long a life may be, life is always shorter then you think.
*WINNER OF A FREE 15 MINUTE PHONE SESSION WITH VENUS: *karol chernich
Offer good through Sept. 12th, 2008. Null and void after that.