When Not Writing my Next in the Sterling Novels, I Blog to Amuse...

When Not Writing my Next in the Sterling Novels, I Blog to Amuse...

January 18, 2013

When I'm Sorry isn't Good Enough


When “I’m sorry” isn’t Good Enough

Prologue

William Shakespeare wrote in his treatise on the human soul, The Tempest, that: what’s past is prologue.

History influences the present. 

That’s what it means.

This begins with the present.

She is dead.  Her body interred.  No longer will she walk.  No longer will she love.  No longer will she be present.

Dead from cancer.

There will be no happy ending here.  Cancer consumed her; it took her spirit, her vitality, her love; her motherhood.  It took her life.  Nothing good has come from her death.  Parents torn.  Father gone.  A child without guidance.  Friends scattered.  A sister in pain. 

She is dead.

Chapter One

Lance rides in his saddle, rocking back and forth, rhythmically; his movements are hypnotic like staring at a metronome, he doesn’t stop.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  He pushes with the thickness of his legs.  Tree trunks.  Well-shaped pistons.  Up and down.  He gasps over and over again.  He is sore, but doesn’t complain.   His lungs struggle to breath.  A side effect from his long day.  His master screams, he responds.  Up.  Up.  Up.  The mountain rises even higher. 

He can’t finish.

Cancer.

In the lungs. 

In the brain. 

Everywhere.

You will die.  You are more than half-dead.  Sixty percent chance.

Chapter Two.

Her body is withered, but her smile is ubiquitous.

Head bald, spirit bare.

Yellowed skin, shallow eyes.  I’m in pain seeing her.  But I smile.  I hope for her.  I know she will die.

We have dinner, but her husband is absent even though he sits by my side.  Her daughter is four, and every bit a young girl.  She squeals.  Her father scolds.  She giggles.  Her mother applauds.  The apposition of attitude is obvious: the father is tired, the mother absorbing every moment.

I can see death around her, surrounding every inch of her frame.  I can smell it.  I can taste it.  It makes me afraid.  It makes me feel small.

She rides like Lance.  She never misses a day when able.  Her time on the bike measured with each beat of her heart.  It pounds.  She rides.  Each revolution of the crank is one completion to her last. 

The Tour of Hope.

At Lance’s side she rides, a moment where death doesn’t hover.  A moment pure.

The chance for a picture with Lance.  Skin on skin.  She absorbs him.  Together they ride, she forgets about cancer.  Life is what she sees; life is what he has.

The miles were painful, the best she had ever felt. 

That’s what I tell myself.

Chapter Two

Chemotherapy.  BEP.

Lance said “no.”

Instead, he chose a second path, a second opinion.  How many get that option?  Dr. Lawrence Einhorn filled his veins with Cisplatin, a procedure that he pioneered.  Few get the sought-after hands of the famed healer.  Lance did.

“Save my lungs.”

“Save my life.”

Dr. Einhorn did both.

“Keep Rooting for Lance Armstrong!” was written in October of 2012 (Robert Lipsyte).  Lance was cured and Robert went out and bought his “first good bike” after Lance had won his first Tour de France.

His celebrity was like the baize canopy of the Amazon’s forest: it was thick; it was everywhere, spreading from one coast to the other.  Untouchable.  Strong.  Impenetrable.

Mr. Lipsyte chanted “LanceArmstong, LanceArmstrong,” as he pushed himself up the hills.  Kinship.  A shared cancer.  Chemotherapy: “LanceArmstrong” continued to spill over his lips.

What did my friend chant?  It torments me as I wonder.  I will never know.

Chapter Three

My wife walks to her door, wondering where she’s been.  Calls go unanswered, emails ignored.  A missed get-together that went unexplained.

She brings a gift to her door.  The husband answers.  His eyes are cast downward; his words are weak.  “It hasn’t been good lately.  She’s taken a turn for the worse.  We are going to need a lot of luck.”

The door closes.

My wife is confused.

"We are going to need a lot of luck."

My wife is haunted still by those words.

Another surgery failed.  This one was the last.  Moments in her husband’s arms as he carries her from the bed to the bathroom and back again.  There is no sleep.  Eyes gaze distant.  Breaths that tell of the last.  A daughter unsure if the woman in her mother’s bed is the same that she knows.  Parents hovering; squeezing each other in one last bit of desperation.  A sister shaking her head not yet ready to believe.

Dead.

Her family is ripped apart.  Her husband is gone.

The pain was so fierce, her death so quick.

He failed to attend her memorial.  I’ll never know why.

The wails of her mother and father.  The absence of her beloved daughter, their grandchild.

The whimpers as her sister eulogized.

Friends in disbelief.

Your lies.  At least she didn’t know, Lance.  At least she didn't know.

Chapter Four

Celebrity.

Status.

Money.

Wealth.

Fame.

We gave it all to you: a life billions will never have.  My last visit to India, a boy, crippled from disease, held his hand upward for a few rupees.  His home was the pavement, his future measured in months.  Another man made his home underneath a sliver of blue plastic held up by four sticks.  A rock was where he laid his head.  Children in the streets.  Screaming for coins.  Scars.  Tears.  Nothing.

You have it all, a life blessed.

The world gave to you much that nearly most will never see.

You stole from us.

You gave back false hope.

The best medicine at your fingertips; the chance afforded to few.  Your doctor pioneered your treatment; he saved your life.

You live because of your celebrity.

You live because of your fraud.

In your veins a needle is thrust.  It saves your life.  It helps you cross the line.  The drug flows inward and brings with it a cure.  The drug flows inward it brings with it your victories.

You smiled.

You scolded.

You defended.

You cheated.

You lied.

My friend is dead.

She believed in living strong; she believed in you.

Stephanie.  That was her name.

Stephanie.

Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t good enough.

Epilogue

Lance: how do we punish a man like you?

A question that cannot be answered.

You are a man of ego, unquenchable solipsism.  That’s what drove you.  We believed it was your cancer, your insatiable appetite to win.  No.  Definitively, no.  It was your ego.  As simple as that.  You beat cancer because of your celebrity.  Your celebrity is because of your cheating.

Stare at the face of your children; tell them you are good.  They won’t believe you – not always, anyway.  One day, the truth of your deceit will mold their image of you.  Their father a lie.

You have been given more than most men will ever receive in their entire lives.  You have been afforded status, unspeakable wealth, honor and prestige.  Men and women step aside as you walk forward.  A king among kings.  Untouchable.

No longer.

If it were left to me, men like you would be stripped of your wealth – every dollar down to the last penny.  You would be left with no status.  A Scarlet Letter, I suppose.  I wouldn’t allow you the life that comes from carrying your name.

Shamed forever is how it should be.

No profit should come from your name, from your image, from your words.

A life forged like the average man, with average skills. 

Sit alongside me.  Be like me.  Fight traffic.  Be anonymous.  Struggle for tomorrow.  Worry about the future.  Work for every dollar.  Work for every opportunity.  Live from week to week.  Start your life like the rest of us: with nothing.

What’s past is prologue.  History influences the present.  A man who cheated in life should not be cheated from a life ordinary.

Made to be average.

That’s how you should be punished.

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