Some people have gravity and other bodies are pulled toward them magnetically. If my best friend, Larry were a planet, he would be Jupiter, the planet which the moons revolve around the most. Along with moons, comets, and other great celestial bodies in the galaxy, a titanic gravity will also attract unwanted and undesirable space junk as well. So it was with the genuine shock when I received the news of Larry’s malignant brain tumor. Though certainly not the same as an asteroid in terms of mass, it is similar in other aspects: jagged, aggressive, and perfectly poised to do the most destruction.
They call it a Glioblastoma: a word I would not be surprised to find in any astrophysics textbook. It seems to have appeared suddenly, although it’s hard to say since no one was watching for it. In the vast universe of possible medical calamities, friends and family that surround this man might speculate about heart problems or complications from diabetes. Sharper at 77 than most 24-year-old Yale graduates, it would never occur to me or anyone else that somewhere in the deepest space of his brain, a sinister and determined foreign body was stretching feathery appendages across his frontal lobe.
In hindsight, it may have been mildly disconcerting to see him put the milk in the bread box, but he realized his mistake quickly and we laughed, making jokes about the frailty of memory in old age. Maybe watching him at his last ridiculously well-attended pool party gave me pause, as he wandered around the grounds looking as though he had been left in a stranger’s yard by accident. At the time, I worried more about the remote but possible chance of dementia—but that was more a personal concern that I tended to project onto everyone over the age of 55. While I did not dismiss my concerns, I filed them away, confident that if there was any validity to my troublesome observations, someone else would surely make the same discoveries.
Eventually, they did.
It seems that medical technology, advanced prolifically due in no small part to space travel, has perfected its surgical techniques so that a tumor the size of a grapefruit can be removed in a matter of a few hours. The scar, stretching from behind Larry’s ear to the top of his head, and held together with what look like staples from a professional carpenter’s staple gun, is not as alarming as one would think. He has always been a healthy man, a fast healer. Aside from the oxycodone daze, he looked completely himself when I saw him 3 days post brain surgery; and as always, he was pronouncing his gratitude for the family, the friends, the doctors, the wine, the food, the air we breathe. Always quick to count blessings, Larry has never, in the 25 years of our friendship, uttered a whisper or hint of resentment or cynicism. Impossible to imagine, for someone with my tendencies toward acerbity and regret, that any human being can travel through life’s heartbreaks and joys with the same core response and innate equanimity. In our countless provocative conversations, both drunken and sober, I have never succeeded in unearthing a root of bitterness or ingratitude in this man. Admittedly, at times, it has been mildly annoying.
Now, with this menace given a 99 percent chance of returning, and probably with an axe to grind, I believe his unwavering support for life will be his greatest offense. Maybe people with gravity draw energy from what they hold in their orbit. It’s always felt to me like we, the objects, drew heat from him. In all of my life, no one has ever poured as much unconditional love into my empty spaces. If given the chance to interview the multitudes of family and friends who surround him, I am 100 percent certain they would all concur.
The day his daughters brought him home from the appointment with the neurologist, his friends and family had gathered outside the house like a throng at a rock concert pressing against the stage. He was tired, introspective and probably more than a little frightened; but people had come for him, and so the party commenced. There would have been a party without the cancer diagnosis: there shall be a party with one too.
Larry is my greatest fan. I don’t have many so he is precious for that, among a thousand other reasons. He has reveled in my writing, even when it was so ill conceived and poorly executed that I would question his ability to love me and remain unbiased with his criticisms. In the span of decades, he has never NOT thought of me as a writer. When I was every other thing BUT that, he was always there to pull me back to my core. As recently as 2 months ago, he asked me if I was working on anything. I had to admit that the number of pieces being worked on far exceeded the number completed and that while I had made a few promising attempts, I wasn’t exercising the necessary discipline to finish anything.
I know the statistics of Glioblastoma. I know what the doctors have said. My best friend could have anywhere from a few months to a few years. If it is the former, then at least I have completed something in his honor. If the latter, I have a lot more work to do.
It’s pretty much impossible to imagine a universe without him. I believe that he won’t die, but explode, like a star and create a beautiful black hole, within which many questions might find answers. All the bodies in his orbit will be drawn into his gravity but each in their own time. We have all tried to follow his lead in life: what better star to lead us into the next.
Written by Trisha Kostis – Seattle, Washington