Friday, October 8, 2010

Liver

I hated liver until I got much older; late thirties, when a cushy job made gourmet cooks take over my menu, and Ma’s hash grinder showed up in an antique show, not a kitchen drawer.

(There’s not enough ketchup in the world to erase the memory of that godawful instrument.).

By then, liver had become a discovery. A bartender at Runyon’s introduced it to me, Linda. I knew her by her maiden name and by her first two married names, but I lost track after that.

This was under her first married name. I quickly declined the offer of the dinner special—liver and onions; she insisted I try it. I declined; she insisted, coquettishly. I declined. She said I liked steak, right? I was about to decline, again, but noticed we had attracted some attention, so I relented.

She was right, of course. It was wonderful. Thick, tender, juicy; it bore no resemblance to anything in my history named, “liver,” or anything of the liver family, or anything near the liver, like the spleen, the bile duct, the…I don’t know, the small intestine.

My knowledge of and familiarity with things liver-ish might have stopped there, but I knew I had a liver; I knew there was cirrhosis of the liver, which mysteriously had decimated many of the Lowe’s and their in-law’s, their neighbors and their good friends; and I knew that certain people in my life who cared very deeply about me half-expected me to trip over my liver one night on my way to the bathroom.

I never thought much about liver cancer, though.

Now, I do.

It seems I have liver cancer. I found out two-and-a-half-years after a massive stroke failed for some reason to kill me. And, my liver cancer appears to have nothing to do with my old habits, chief among which was the volume consumption of beer.

I have liver cancer the way a non-smoker has lung cancer. I have liver cancer because itinerant cancer cells roaming the planet happened upon a warm, cozy, hospitable, safe place in my liver to settle down, grow old and be happy.

Well, maybe not so safe. Warm, hospitable and cozy.

I’ve decided (with the consulting help of a surgeon, a few doctors, a bevy of nurses and one pending granddaughter due next month) to make it not so safe for a tumor.

“What the hell, I just busted my butt learning to say, ‘February,’ and, ‘Real Estate Agency,’ and to type, ‘alliteration,’ and, ‘communication.’ You think I’d lay down for a liver cancer that doesn’t have anything to do with my beer-drinking, which I don’t do any more, anyway?”

That’s the attitude I wish I could have, anyway—bold, defiant, devil-may-care, I guess, heroic.

My actual initial reaction, being brought up Irish Catholic, was, “Wow, whoever you are, I must have really pissed you off. You let me have two-and-a-half-years to sort of patch things up after the stroke—which I admit I fundamentally caused—and then you hand me this? A tumor? In my liver? What are you, a Sadist? Nurturing some kind of God complex, are we?

“Okay, withdraw that last remark.”

I talk to myself a lot, and play back the tapes, as if I were thinking.

When I first realized the stroke had not killed me, I was puzzled. Figure: I lived a great life, fruitful, useful, even entertaining. I left a lot of smiles in my wake, precious few frowns. I was ready. Sixty-two years was all right, 20 more than some: 20 less than others. I was never going to see Hobart, Tasmania, anyway.

The puzzlement, though, morphed into anger, when I realized what—well, I had more or less abdicated, really, but I didn’t see that right away—I had given up, in exchange for just living.

I could see not being able to walk, that was a fair trade. But not being able to speak? Me? Are you kidding? All right, the guitar goes. But, the writing? Are you crazy. Me? Why? I’ve been writing since before I knew what the scribbles actually were.

Then, about a year-and-half in, the Worm turned. It was amazing. By that time, I had walked. I knew the rudiments of pronunciation (though, I couldn’t apply them yet). I had re-learned the language enough to write letters.

I was having one of those conversations with myself, where every word is clear, at least in your head.

“You know, if you were anyone else, you would have given ten of your years to be Ed Lowe for just one. Just one. And, you had sixty-two. Sixty-two years as Ed Lowe.”

Yeah. I know. It’s hard to believe.

“And now, you have Ed Lowe’s girlfriend (thanks to the liver tumor, his wife, cagey bastard.)”

Yeah. I know that, too. Hard to believe.

“You have Ed Lowe’s memory. You have Ed Lowe’s children, and Ed Lowe even paid their tuition.”

True.

“So, what’s the problem?”

I guess there is no problem.

“Damned straight, there’s no problem.”

13 comments:

  1. This runs in The Neighbor next Tuesday. Surgery is scheduled for that day. In the unlikely event I don't make it, I want you to know that I enjoyed my relationship with you more than you can know, each and every one of you. See ya all of a sudden.

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  2. I'll be praying for you and pulling for you. I've had many a conversation with the big guy, when he gave me more "blessings" than my narrow shoulders could carry. He's been there for me only because I screamed at Him for blessing me with so many "burdens", more than I could carry even with the defiance of a Catholic school girl grown up in a secular world. Those burdens actually got lighter. When I discovered I had breast cancer in 1997 I told Him, enough already.....you worry about it, I've got work to do as I proceeded to get second opinions etc. Thins turned out good after five surgeries, but he left me a reminder in the form of Lymphedema, which has been with me since the day I first got home from the hospital. Just his way of saying, I carried you through so now you must pay the price for all that calmness.

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  3. Dear Ed,
    Wish it came true that healing comes with hope and prayers. For what I'm feeling for you, you'd be well tomorrow. Better days ahead. Dora.

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  4. Ed...waiting till we hear from you again! I need my weekly Ed Lowe fix!!! My prayers are with you and thinking only good things...

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  5. Ive been down with the flu.. well.. since youve been out with YOUR condition..
    Can scarcely even believe.. that a STRANGER could bring me to so many tears.. but you DO, and often.. How weird you pique such feelings in one..
    NO one does it like YOU, edlowe.
    We need to "catch up" again.. when this is all over.
    Love to "Herself".. praying hard here for you all..
    Love, Finn :*( <3

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  6. Thinking of you...possible for a family member to provide an update?

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  7. Edward, Edward, Edward...My mother has been keeping me up to date with your progress. I know it is critical, but then guys who grew up on Hamilton Street laughed at critical. I am still trying to decide why we shrug off critical and keep it moving. Must have been the water.

    I want to let you in on my thoughts, Ed. You have made being Irish American an institution; you have harnessed irony; you have celebrated being small in stark contrast to those who were so grand they became insufferable. Like Joyce you have questioned Catholicism severely, and like Shaw you have celebrated the ungracious downfall of the mighty. With your words you have made me mad, but in the same moment, made me think.

    Yes, Edward, to quote a dear friend who did it all and went to the reward he worked so hard for here, "It is all a crap shoot." Now that's perspective, and I think a perspective you embrace.

    My poor prayers and wishes for recovery and triumph are part of my routine. I wish you well, my brother.

    John Murphy (another Amityville escapee)

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  8. The essay just preceding mine is a testament to the legacy and love a true Long Island treasure in you, edlowe*
    A tip of me own Irish tam o' shanter to you John Murphy, for speaking so eloquently of a man who has touched our lives in the most exquisite of ways..
    I love and miss you, edlowe* :*(

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  9. Ed Lowe, you brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart during the darkest times of my life...and helped me keep going with dignity and, yes, at times, humor.... I want you to know that. I sincerely thank you.

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  10. I thank you, too, for the years of humor and kind spirit in your writing and in the way you touched so many lives. When times are tough, you have proved that humor can help to get us through. You were one of a kind and will be missed by so many. Cheers to you, Ed Lowe.

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  11. Ed Lowe died today..way too young with way too many more stories to tell. Thank you Ed for sharing your life with us and for introducing us to so many wonderful Long Islanders over the years. I loved this blog just as I loved your columns over the years. I am sad that these are the last Ed Lowe words I will read. God Speed Ed...

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  12. I will love you, forever.. and beyond, edlowe.. If not for you that night in November of 2001, that voice in the darkness.. there would be no ME, today.. I will not rest until I write YOUR story.. You will be truly missed* <3 love, finn :*(

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