Sample of ghostwriting project Streetchild by Justin Early
The specialist brought the three of us to the back office. He wanted to show us copies of the MRI that was done before I had arrived. There were so many slides. Each millimeter represented another internal view of his organs. With a press of a button on the keyboard, the doctor was able to show the insides of an entire human entity – more specifically, my father’s. We were shown grotesque images of his liver, pancreas, heart, and finally his lungs. Then I saw something I knew was abnormal – and it was huge.
He had tumors on both sides of his lungs. The doctor was the first to break the silence. He spoke with sensitivity as though his words were hurtful. If only he knew.
I felt numb, comfortably numb.
“Surgery is not an option. Not when there is cancer involved in both lungs.” His voice was soft, compassionate.
I kept my eyes on the thick growth while the doctor continued, “The tumor on the upper part of the lung is pressing up against an artery. If we do not treat it immediately, there is a significant chance the artery will rupture.”
“What about chemo?” I asked, more for my mother than myself.
“NO. I don’t want no goddamn chemo!” my dad snapped. I was surprised — not because he was cranky, he was always cranky – but no chemo?
“No. I don’t want it and I’m not doing it.” His mind was made up. He was giving up. I had a sick sense of relief. I didn’t want him to live.
Dad was never one to mince words. Every time he spoke, you could be sure that it would be sharp. Once a handsome, even stunning, man, his looks now matched his attitude and hatred for life – and me. His face was wrinkling up with large rosacea lumps on his nose. He resembled the cartoon character I remembered growing up – Mr. McGoo. He had the same disgusting nose. My father’s body was deteriorating, but not from the cancer. His fall was alcohol, and at seventy-six years of age, over sixty years of daily drinking, it was taking its toll on his health. Cancer just might be his savior. It was definitely going to be mine.
The ride home was somehow more silent. Cramped, too. I don’t know how it got there, but the elephant that resided in the living room their entire marriage made its way into the rental car. Nobody seemed to notice it but me, even though none of us could breathe.
A few days later I was sitting out on the back patio having a talk and a cigarette with my mom when my dad came strolling out with his wine. It was 7:00AM. He glanced at me with that possessed look he’d get when he was about to explode, and started speaking in his fatherly way, “What the hell are you smoking for, you idiot! You are one fucking idiot! Jesus Christ, you asshole. You just don’t learn anything do you? You’re still a goddamn loser!”
I remained silent.
I looked at my mother who had on her “I wish I had attended Al-Anon when I had a chance” face. As usual, she was hoping the familiar invitation to fight would simply go away. Disturbed at the behavior of her husband and used to it at the same time, she lit another cigarette.
My throat was expanding – swollen with things I needed to say for a very long time. Now was not the time, I knew that.
Buzzed, he continued, “Hey, idiot. I’m talking to YOU.” Never mind that my mom was smoking, too. “Are you listening to me, you dumb shit?”
I was fighting myself; I really wanted to stay quiet.
“Well, Dad,” cringing that I had to actually say the word dad, “it’s not like I had any good role models growing up.”
Then, without planning on it, I headed for his jugular, “It would have been worse if I had been raised by you.” That one had to hurt. I was staring at his glazed eyes, thinking, why are we still hurting each other at a time like this?
I turned to my mother who was staring at the ground. With my back to my father, I noticed Mom flinch at the shadow moving swiftly toward us.
My father, drink still in hand, gave me an angry punch to the face. Amazingly, only a little wine spilled out – but we’ve always known what his priorities were. My mother jumped back and began to scream, “No, Lloyd! No! What are you doing? Please Lloyd! No!”
Truth be told, the physical aspect of his punch was nothing – it didn’t hurt me or even mark my face, for that matter. But, by this time my heart had been so scarred, and the emotional pain and anger enveloped my thoughts and pierced through my body like a shock of electricity. As I tried to compose myself, he came at me again and I grabbed his fist to stop him from hitting me again. His other hand rose, still holding on to his damn drink, and I grabbed it as well. With both of his arms in my hands, protecting myself from any additional blow, I looked him straight in the face.
I had to fight the temptation to cut loose and pay him back for all the rage he so easily dumped on me. So, with a still, calm voice, I spoke slowly and clearly, “You will not put your hands on me. Do you understand? I am a grown man and you will not ever put your hands on me again.” I paused to keep myself in control. He looked away. “Lloyd, do you hear me?” I continued to stare in his clouded eyes, forcing him to look at me.
Although my voice may have sounded calm, my hands began to tremble and tighten around his forearms. He tried to pull away from my grip as wine dripped off both of our arms.
I had finally taken control and he squirmed like a trapped rat. Struggling, he groaned, “You’re just a loser. Get the hell out of my house”.
I put my face closer to his, “Go to hell, you son of a bitch.” Pent up rage was taking over. I wanted to hit him below the belt. So I did. “You just killed your third son,” came through my gritted teeth and I threw him back. A mixture of hate and distress registered on his face as he went down. My look mirrored his. He hit the cement patio with a thud and when he finally released his trusty wine glass, it shattered.
He struggled to get up as I walked in the house to pack my suitcase. I was surprised that my mother followed me instead of helping her husband.
“Justin, please don’t leave. He is dying. The cancer is in his brain now,” she begged, trying to get me to excuse him.
“Mom, c’mon – he’s had brain cancer his whole fucking life. His life is cancer. He is cancerous and contagious.” I was on a roll. “You always act as if it’s nothing. You and I both know how bad he gets. Why else would I have left when I was a little kid?”
My mother began to weep softly. “I know. I know.”
He strolled back into the house then darted toward me like he was going to ambush again. “Get out of my house!” he screamed the familiar words; he did not have a very large repertoire. I pushed my suitcase into him.
I saw blood dripping down his arm – minor cuts from the broken glass – and began to feel bad for the miserable old goat.
As I walked to the front door with my suitcase, my mother touched my arm and cooed, “Are you hungry, honey?” A tear was still sitting in her eye.
What the hell is she thinking?
The old man turned on his heels and retreated to his office. He always ran and hid until things calmed down, knowing soon everyone will act as if nothing had happened. Not me. Not this time. I was at my total limit. I was going back to California, most likely not to see them again before he died of his cancer – my blessing.
When he figured out that I was really going, he walked to the front door and said with tears that I had never before witnessed, “I did not kill your brothers. Don’t ever say that. I did not kill your brothers.” He turned away to hide his distraught face, and I left.
Something I said must have gotten to him.
It was about time.
I’m talking to you; it’s your son,
Father I can’t believe all the things we have done,
To each other…
KEM – “Each Other”