Living Out Loud: : Suffering

Me and Luke


If suffering equals growth of the soul, I must surely be a spiritual giant. But, of course, this is not true. Yes, I'm spiritual, but I'm merely a struggling soul searching for answers to life's most difficult questions.

The Buddhist concept of karma is easily westernized and boiled down to "as you sow, so shall you reap". If this is true, then in a previous life, I was likely a Nazi prison guard who tortured Jews for fun.

See, for the past three years I've battled a rare sarcoma in my right leg. After the two initial surgeries and 25 radiation treatments, the cancer came back exactly one year later.

This time I actually got to see the cancer as it proceeded to grow out the little hole made by the punch biopsy. I could supply some really awful details, but I'll spare you. Leave it suffice to say that cancer is not pretty, and it quite literally stinks.

The next round of surgeries was much more intense. They involved removing much of the tissue in my lower right leg and replacing that with muscle and veins from my back and skin from my other leg. I had temporary radiation rods implanted and — well, you get the picture. Lots of pain and no fun at all.

After all this, three months later I lost my right leg to bone infection. Now I'm a right, below-knee amputee. What a club, very exclusive.

As I write this, I'm awaiting yet another biopsy report. There are enlarged nodules behind my right knee. Has the cancer invaded my lymphatic system? We'll know shortly.

Why do I tell you all of this misery? To elicit sympathy? To show you what a strong survivor I am?

No, I write this to rage against the heavens and all the powers that be. See, none of this was unbearable. I bore up well and with a good dose of dignity. But how could I know that the greatest suffering was yet to come? The ultimate pain.

Cancer and loss of a limb? A cakewalk.

On August 8, 2006, I got the phone call.

My beloved son, Luke, had taken himself to Pompano Beach and ended his life with a single gunshot to the head.

Luke was truly a golden boy. There is no one who met him who didn't love his boyish charm, his love of fun, his blindingly brilliant intellect, and his blonde, 6'4" tall, beautiful self.

He was a computer geek who worked as a LAN administrator. He was a sensitive artist and guitarist who wrote music and lyrics. He even wrote a screenplay. He was 26 years old.

I smile really big as I remember an incident not long after Luke graduated high school. He was working and bought a car. Like many kids his age, he got a very expensive car stereo that boomed and thumped out music so loud it would rattle the windows in the house when he pulled in the drive. But Luke, being so Luke, went a step further. At Christmastime, he somehow rigged Christmas lights to the outside of his car that flashed in time with the blaring music.

His sister Niki and I missed him terribly when he packed up and moved to Fort Lauderdale in May 2001. We talked of him constantly. We knew that you can't "own" a person, but he was ours and we loved him unconditionally.

Niki and I reveled in the fact that Luke would call us from a dance floor of some club in South Beach. He'd be drinking Skyy Vodka, a bit buzzed, and share his fun with us through his cell phone.

He called me once in the midst of a hurricane. He was on the beach, and I could barely hear him for the wind howling in the cell phone speaker. He yelled something to someone, and I asked Luke who he was talking to. His answer? "Oh, that cop is trying to evict me from the beach. I guess we're not allowed to be on the beach in a hurricane, but I don't know why."

That was Luke. He wanted to experience all that life had to offer. And he wanted to share his experiences with those he loved.

So why did he choose to check out? His suicide note left more questions than answers.

Do you believe in coincidences? I don't, not really. Luke had an MP3 player that he'd been listening to immediately prior to his death. The album, August and Everything After by the Counting Crows, was on that player. In a song from the album, "Perfect Blue Buildings," are the lyrics, "It's 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, and it doesn't get much worse than this." See, it was August, and it was a Tuesday and it was after 4:30 a.m. when Luke chose to leave this world.

I think too much, and I think he just couldn't understand a world that didn't hold the pure intentions he did. Injustices — he couldn't understand. He was perhaps too golden for this darker world.

I suppose Niki and I are blessed because we see the world for what it is. We harbor no illusions, yet we'll fight against injustices in any way we can. My daughter wears a button that proclaims, "Fuck racism." God, I love her.

I was filled with anger for weeks at the loss of Luke. Frightening, red-colored rage, like nothing I'd ever experienced. The rage has thankfully faded, and my sorrow remains. It's a deep well that will never be filled.

I await biopsy results. I have no fear. I know that whatever comes, I'm doing my job. I'm trying to learn these lessons, both great and awful, to take away with me. I know there is a place beyond where everything is golden. Just like Luke.

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