It's Patrick Swayze. And although I'm very sad about Patrick Swayze, it's not because I know him, but because I know his disease. I know that disease that takes a hunk of a man in his middle years and starves him beyond recognition. The disease that takes months to diagnose and less months to kill....
Because of him....
Paul Timothy Green
Paul and his family lived with my paternal grandmother for most of his childhood. We were only 6 months apart and inseparable whenever together. When my family went to visit my grandmother, I went to visit Paul. I made a bee-line for him as soon as we arrived and never left his side for the entire visit. Paul and I were the end of the line of the grandchildren on my father's side. There were 12 grandchildren in all spread out over about 15 years. My grandmother was most likely "over it" by the time I came along. ( I say this because I really don't remember being loved on by her but I do remember her yelling at us for running and slamming doors....not that I blame her.) But because Paul lived with her, he was her "favorite" of the younger ones.
When the visits occurred during the Christmas holidays, the air was filled with the yummy, goodness of Juicy Fruit gum.....because Paul's stocking was always full of dozens of packages of it and he was able to keep a least 3 or 4 pieces in his mouth at all times, as well as share some with all of his visiting cousins. He and I played endless hours of cops and secretaries out to arrest the criminals. Endless hours. He was better than the brother I didn't have. He was my cousin and we never fought. Never. It was a love that I can't really explain. I certainly didn't feel this love for my other cousins. Not that I didn't adore them or look up to them. But the bond wasn't there like it was with Paul.
Here we are setting up the scene for the next "action shot" where we will chase the criminals, arrest them, then go upstairs to the typewriter so I can "type" the police report as he dictates it to me. Paul impressed me with his knowledge of police terms and I impressed him with my imitation of typing fast.
Paul, Catha (my sister), Carolyn (cousin), and me.....taking a moment out of playing in our grandmother's backyard for the camera. This was actually a still shot taken from a film...the old kind on reels which has been converted to a dvd....right before this, Carolyn had pulled Paul's thumb out of his mouth. He was a thumb sucker...I was too, but by this time, I had given it up.
When I was in first grade and my family moved to the Bryan/College Station area, the visits to my grandmother became few and far between. Mostly because of distance and finances, as my father had returned to graduate school and my parents were both working hard to put food on the table. A long drive to west Texas just wasn't an option. So there were a lot of years when I didn't get to see Paul much.
When Paul was in upper elementary, he moved to Dallas with his parents. I did get to spend a week or so with him in the summer when we were in junior high. We picked up right where we left off. Although, we were very aware that "playing" was nerdy by then.......we still played. But we also hung out at a bowling alley......which was way more appropriate for our age.
The summer we were both 19, Paul and his parents took a trip to California and I was invited to come along. We went to L.A., took the Hwy. 1 up to San Francisco, then the train to Reno, Nevada. It was a great trip.....one that I probably didn't appreciate enough at the time. Most 19 year olds don't really appreciate the value of a dollar. What I remember most about this trip was that I convinced Paul....a most picky eater.....to try scrambled eggs from the buffet in one of the casinos in Reno. He tried them.......he liked them. His parents could have saved alot of money on me.......they could have just taken me and Paul to a local Denny's....for all I remember about trips.
Oh, 1977......Dorothy Hamill haircuts...on both of us, it appears.
Fast forward through our 20's and 30's........he was single and climbing the ladder of success at his job, I was single, then married, then raising kids. We probably only saw each other 4 times...mostly at funerals. Funny how people will drop what they're doing, take a few days off of work and make it to a funeral. But just can't seem to find the time for a good visit. I'm guilty, too........just saying.
The summer before 9-11.....that's how I will always remember this trip......my family and Catha's family went to Washington, D.C. and Paul met us up there. His older brother (also my cousin, but 14 years older and not close at all) lived in the D.C. area and we all met up for a day or two of touristing. It was so good to see him, but our lives were so different by then. I loved that he got to be around my kids and that they got to be around him.
Paul never married and I was up to my eyeballs in domesticity. There wasn't a lot to say, but just sitting by him still felt right. I am going out on a limb here to say that he was a soul mate of sorts. Not the kind you fall in romantic love with and become intimate with in the usual "soul mate" way. But the kind that feels like you/your inner most being has always known this person........and will always know this person. I just cannot find the words to describe this love.
Anyway, I hosted a family reunion Labor Day weekend, 2001, for my paternal side of the family. Paul was there as well as about 25 other family members. It was a great weekend.........one full of reminiscing and partying and laughing and tears. By 2001, my father and 2 of his 3 siblings had passed away. Only one aunt remains......and it was in honor of her that we hosted this gathering. Little did we know that the youngest of this line would be the next to leave us.
After that wonderful weekend, Tuesday morning changed us all. Tuesday morning, 9-11-01. I saw Paul that fall when I was in the Dallas area for Jordan's drill team competition...and he was ready to kick some a$$......some terrorists' A$$....he had been a Marine and his Marine self was in overdrive. He honestly talked about re-enlisting....and I, being the most confident chicken shit you will ever meet, just could not believe anyone would enlist or re-enlist to go to active duty. (I change the channel when those war scenes come on) So we definitely had our differences.
......That's the last time I saw him healthy.
Fast forward to September of 2003......I got a phone call from Paul's oldest brother telling me that Paul was very ill. I called Paul immediately and told him that I was there for him in any way he needed me. He was being tested for Pancreatic Cancer and he was trying to make a decision if he would go to Johns-Hopkins in the Baltimore area, where his brother lived......or M.D. Anderson. I assured him that if he came to Houston, he would stay with me and I would get him to every doctor's appointment necessary.
He did come to Houston in early October and by the beginning of November he was hospitalized until he returned to Dallas, to his apartment with hospice care, in December. His older brother was also here and took care of Paul's finances and medical decisions. I spent that Christmas and New Year's with Paul and then returned to my family at the beginning of January '04....because Paul's father, step-mother and brother were there for him....and his 1 bedroom apartment was getting smaller by the day. I went back to Dallas when I received a call from Paul's brother that hospice thought Paul wouldn't make it the next 24 hours. I left immediately........got there.......and he lived another 2 weeks. Two " horrible to watch" weeks. Two of the longest weeks in my life. Two weeks that I have spent the last 5 years trying to forget. Two weeks in which I have never felt so close to God.
I will not bore you with the details of those last 4 months or the horrible details of Paul's last 2 weeks, but I will tell you that it was an honor to be with Paul in the last 4 months of his life. I did what I could for him.......and most of the time, all I could do for him was hold his hand. Or take his laundry home and return it clean to the hospital the next day. Or crawl in the hospital bed with him and hold him (the him that was left....). Or deflect the tension between his brother and father. (Another story....one that I will never tell because I couldn't even begin to make it sound as ridiculous and dysfunctional as it really was. And if I ever told you some of the stuff that I saw his brother do, I would probably be sued by this brother for some sort of slander even though every bit of it would be true.....yep, he's an attorney.)
Chuck was supportive of my time with Paul, my mother didn't really understand it, and there were times even I felt like I should step aside. But once I was in......I was in it until the end.
Once he was back at his apartment, I cleaned for him, cooked for him, sat with him, talked to him. Told him a million times how much I loved him. And we both agreed we had never been mad at each other. Ever.
The last few days, I did things for Paul that no one should ever have to do for another person. Things that would take your dignity away. Things that I did because I loved him.........but I was secretly glad that he was too ill to know I was having to do these things. Let's just say, the circle of life isn't just a cliche......we do return to infancy........if we live long enough.
So I have been down a little........because when I saw that photo of Patrick Swayze, I saw Paul. But Paul after that wretched disease stole his muscle mass and his laughter and his sweet smile and his career and at least another good 40 years on this side of the bridge.
One day in the hospital, when Paul was very, very scared of dying.....I asked him if he would save me a place up there. And send me a sign. He asked me if I really believed that.......and of course, I said, "How could I not?" And he asked me what kind of sign.......and I said, "You pick."
I look every day for his sign. I pray: he's there, he's okay, he's out of pain, he knows how much I loved him, he's saving me a place.
Cancer........the long good-bye.