Stations of the Tommy

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I walk slow as a man because as a kid, I always slowed down for my Uncle Tommy.
Tommy had a cane, and was tender, so he moved at a slow shuffle.  His blood didn’t clot well, so at the age of seven I knew how to spell his disease: “hemophilia.”  His blood poured into the spaces in his joints, ate his cartilage, so by the time he was thirty, if you put your ear to his shoulder, you could hear his bones rubbing directly against each other.  They sounded like crackers being crumbled.
So Tommy, near-crippled with arthritis, walked slow.  Never weakly – the man had an unstoppable willpower, when he aimed it – but slow.  So even as a young kid, I matched his pace.  Why would I want to go anywhere and not have Tommy with me?  Tommy, with his cool music and his love of videogames and his sense of style?
Tommy never let it stop him, but he was in constant anguish.  You could tell by his grunts when he got up.  By the sea of amber pill bottles by his couch.  By the way he pursed his lips whenever he changed direction.  He moved slow because moving fast would have been unbearable, yet staying still would have been unacceptable.  He found time to smile between flashes of pain.
Now I’m walking slow for a different reason.  My breastbone was cut in two, split like a chicken breast.  My lungs are still re-inflating from the surgery.  I can manage a slow shuffle, occasionally speeding up to a brisk walk for about twenty feet, and then I’m in agony.
It comforts me to know that I’m walking in Tommy’s shoes.
I never got that whole Catholic thing of taking comfort in Christ’s suffering; not that I don’t admire Christ, for I do deeply, but the man was hurt because of idiots and I could never really get behind that.  Christ’s wounds seemed extravagant, a hot patch for a human flaw, and being glad that he was hurt seemed petty to me.
But Tommy is gone now, taken by pancreatic cancer.  (Not the HIV he lived with for twenty years, not the hepatitis he also caught from his thousands of blood transfusions, but cancer.  It took three layered diseases to take my Tommy out, I think proudly.)
He’s dead.  But I’m walking his path.  This painful shuffle, this balancing of walking to the bathroom versus using the urine container, this constant reminder of smallness…. Tommy did that.  Yet through all of that, he was kind to me, understanding, found the time to counsel me through some pretty fucked-up teenaged years, to play Centipede down at the arcade, to crack beers and share terrible jokes.
I wear my Tommy-ness like a cloak, now.  He’s gone, but somehow I understand him more, deepening my knowledge of what he was like, and that is a payment that’s almost worth the effort.  With every step, I know Tommy was there before me.  With every pill, I know Tommy felt this weariness.  With every frustration, I know Tommy felt it and more, and so I too can bear it.
I’m not a cripple when I walk with Tommy, for Tommy was not a cripple.  He was a strong man carrying some heavy burdens.
And so am I.

1 Comment

  1. Heidi Chandler
    Feb 6, 2013

    That was beautiful. Keep healing, writing and shuffling to the bathroom. Spring will bring amazing newness for you.

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