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The loneliest drive. I

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The message was too blunt and direct to mean anything that would be good. “Call A. Urgent”. I had received messages like that before but always with a disclaimer or a little smiling emoji. There was nothing to soften this one.
I called my niece A and got the news. My brother G had been taken to the hospital early in the morning and the initial exams were dire. Cancer. And it had spread considerably.
The initial prognosis sound terrible, which was confirmed a few hours later. Stage 4, metastasized from the chest to the brain. They were taking some scans and were getting ready for more tests. It would only be later in the day when we would really know the extent.
I sat down and contemplated the suddenness of the news. A few days earlier I had asked my younger sister, the doctor in the family, about him. One shared photograph, sent during the Xmas season, had troubled me. My brother looked gaunt and frail, something that made me ask my sister about his health. She dismissed my worries, saying that he had simply been ill lately and was taking a bit longer to recover. Still, that did not sooth me and just a few weeks later my fears were confirmed. There was nothing light about his condition.
Later in the day, the final piece of information came in: Stage 4 indeed. His lungs, thorax, cervical vertebrae and his liver were affected. The end news was definite: two to six months, with proper care.
I sat down and cried for a long time.

My father was a good man who died in 2007, at age 83. I will not call him a great man because I reserve that kind of adjective to men that leave a mark in the world. My father was the same, but with anonymity: he was just a decent man, hard working, dedicated to his family, honest to a fault, but completely a commoner. I always counted on him.
Still, there were some things that my father did not do for me. He left them to my brother, 13 years my elder and a young man willing to put up with the silliness of his little brother. To me, he was the strongest and biggest man in the world, no matter that my father was also the strongest. A young child is able to deal with such illogical realities with ease and I did. But as I grew up, my brother became more and more a focal point of my life. He taught me about electricity, about mechanics. He explained to me the principles of the internal combustion engine, told me the differences between screw drivers (yes, including the alcoholic kind, when the time came) and, perhaps most importantly, gave me the first conversations about women. A fine line was drawn: yes, you could womanize, yes, you could play around, but always to do it with respect. The details are not needed but I believe he taught me well about how to properly be a gentleman. I have failed many times, but I can say I try.
So until very late in life, my brother was both sibling and parent. The lines blurred slowly until we reached equality, especially when I noticed one day that I had actually grown taller than him. And there are two things in my life that he gave me, a gift impossible to repay.
One was my love for music. He introduced me to not only listening to it, but paying attention. To sitting down in the dark and just play a record. Maybe a drink to accessorize the experience, but the simple quiet pleasure of listening to music was something he taught me. We would often do that, just listening to a record at full blast and not saying or doing anything else.
And the second, but actually first, thing that he introduced me to was tennis. Growing up in the 70’s, during the first tennis boom, he gave me a cheap Wilson Match Point aluminum racket and taught me some of the basics. The love I have for the sport stems from him, from a summer in hot Louisiana (he was going to college there) when I practiced and practiced and practiced. It kept us together all our lives and it was interesting how we separated in style and temperament: he was a staunch baseliner, I eventually became a serve and volleyer.

The news of his disease was simple in its terribleness: my brother had just a few weeks to live. I was, just by chance, in the USA when I was contacted so I planned to go by his side immediately. I was told that it would not be necessary: my sister in law preferred for us all to come a bit later, closer to the end. It was clear that there was no therapy or remedy possible, so he wanted his brothers and sisters for a little later on.
But cancer does not work like that. A final set of tests during the weekend brought the reality even more into focus: it was not months, it would be weeks. The same 2-6, but one order of calendar magnitude less. I arranged for my trip, and departed just five days after getting the news.
I hated the trip for too many reasons. Of course I wanted to see him and be with him, but I also knew how it would affect me. That strong man from my past would be gone. As during the final days with my father, I knew that I would find a diminutive man, a small shell of what he used to be. I did not want to witness that. Could we share a beer? Could he stand by his own? Could he crack a joke?
During the last days there were way too many moments during the day in which I would burst crying. I cried in the shower, I cried while cooking. Almost all songs brought him to memory. The tennis on TV was also a reminder, opening a bottle of wine brought memories of better times.
But worst of all were the feelings. There was sadness, of course. A deep, weeping well of sorrow with walls too tall to scale. But most surprisingly, I was angry.

Angry at what? When you deal with cancer, what or who can you be angry at or with?
The first set of illogical reasoning was about how unfair this was. But of course, unfair is a silly way to see things. Cancer is an inanimate and impersonal thing. It knows no fairness. It is not deserved or undeserved. It is not something that you get because of your actions or inactions. Yes, some attitudes put you more at risk but we all know about the chain smoker that lives to 95 and the vegan that croaks at 40. Cancer is democratic to a fault: it cares as little as possible about whom you are. Or can be.
And the second possible anger is religious. But of course, an atheist should be immune to such thoughts. It can’t be possible to be angry at something that you do not believe exists. I thought about it and reached the conclusion that the fact is I would like, now, for a deity to be real. Simply because I would like to throw all that feeling of rage at it.
Religious people usually claim one of the most inane lines of reasoning when things are impossible to explain. The Lord works in mysterious ways. It is simply one of the stupidest claims possible. Why? Why should his ways be impenetrable to reason? Why a mystery?
So in this rage, all I could think was: if he were to exist, he can go and mysteriously **** himself.

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