Finding Laughter…

Over the past few months, I haven’t laughed much. Sure, I have had moments of smiling. I have had moments of joy. I have even had moments of forced laughter. However, for the most part, most of my responses in public setting has been more of act. I have continued to play my part and pretend that everything is fine. Even when asked, I sugar coated how I felt because I have learned that people prefer artificial sugar over the real kind.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t have times of hope. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have times of joy. This doesn’t mean I haven’t laughed. I just felt pressure to pretend. Most of laughing responses were because I knew, or felt, that most people didn’t really care to hear the truth. People didn’t want to see the pain. People just wanted to see Joshua acting okay. So, I did.

Sure, some asked for the truth. For them, I tended to lie. I know I am not supposed to. I know that may discredit me to some people. I just became numb to the rote responses and proverbial antedotes. I got tired of superficial answers. I would also become angry when it was apparent people only asked because they assumed it was their moral, social, or spiritual duty. Recently, I have gotten better. Last week, I laughed, “Greatly.”

Last week I spent a few days with men who do the same thing I do. We are actually a part of a network of connected guys who agree in philosophy and praxis of the church. We meet twice a year and take that time to discuss current issues and encourage one another. I honestly wasn’t excited to go. I haven’t seen these men since my bride was diagnosed, and I feared I would have to relive and retell our whole journey. I expected to talk about my bride. I didn’t expect to sing karaoke.

As we were unpacking our bags in this plush rental home, I suddenly heard blaring music. I came running upstairs to see one of the men holding a mic and singing at the top of his lungs. Instead of joining, I turned to go back downstairs. I made an excuse in my head and just slipped away. A few years ago I would have fought to use the microphone, that day, I just wasn’t in the mood.

Over the next few minutes, there were loud songs being played and bad vocals being projected into the air. In between each song, there was a bellowing call for Broughton to get upstairs. Apparently, everyone was supposed to participate and it was my turn. I resisted as long as I could. Finally, I gave up and sang. I half-heartedly belted out a Nickleback song. By the end, I couldn’t decide if I was more ashamed of how I sang, or the fact that I knew all the words to Rockstar. The answer is still up for debate.

Soon, it was time to leave and I was thankful. I appreciated the guys trying to have a good time and including me, but I just didn’t know how long I could keep up the act. The evening went on in typical fashion. We met up with other guys who were in the area. We ate dinner. We shared stories from the past year. Then we headed back to the house.

As we were driving back I began to get worried. I feared that they would get that dreadful machine out and I would be forced to sing again. A large part of me wanted to just go to bed and call it a night. However, I resisted and stay up with the guys. Then the machine appeared again in the room. This time there was an iPad for people to see the words. I sat by the fireplace and listened. Then they asked me to sing again.

As I walked up to the microphone the guys began to cheer. I smiled as I took the mic and prepared to sing another song. As I began to do my best to imitate the iconic vocals of Matchbox Twenty, I could hear the guys around me begin to sing with me. Before too long we were all belting the song out at the top of our lungs and laughing during instrumental breaks.

We stayed up late singing. We stayed up late laughing. I found myself for the first time in months laughing so hard I doubled over on the floor. I laughed so hard tears ran down my face. I laughed so hard all the pain, anger, frustration, and fear dissipated for a moment between the cool beats of L.L. Cool J and the humorous nonsense of Wierd Al.

By the end of the night, I was dubbed Karaoke King. I am not sure how this happened. To be honest, my competition wasn’t really fierce, but it was a whole lot of fun. It was nice to sincerely laugh again. It was nice to feel pure joy again. It was nice to let down the wall I have built around my heart.

On the last morning as we all packed up the leave and the machine showed up again. This time the soft melody of My Heart Will Go On was echoing throughout the house. I walked into the living room to see two grown men leaning over rails and singing their hearts out. I honestly may like their version better than the original. As I stood there, I smiled and then joined them. In that time and that space, my soul was able to heal a little. Those men gave me a gift. They gave me laughter. Laughter won’t take away the pain of radiation to come. Laughter won’t pay our medical bills. But laughter did give me a moment to feel real joy again. It’s these moments that have gotten us through the battle with Ole Scruffy, and it’s these moments we will share for years to come.

To those men who made me laugh again, Thank You.

 

 

So I got a tattoo…

img_0992I have never been a tattoo guy. I have been asked a lot if I ever wanted one. The answer was always the same, “No, not really.” I always told people If I  got one, I would wake up the next morning,  hate it, and want it changed. However, I always added that I would only get a tattoo if something monumental happened in my life. And then my bride got cancer.

From the very beginning, I knew I was going to get a tattoo. I also knew that some in my life would not understand. I wrestled with this thought over the past few month. There are some people I know who have always spoken of tattoos in a very negative way. I have heard sermons and listened to individuals ramble on about how terrible they were. I have never felt that way. I have never bought into any of the arguments. So, the decision to go get ink was not hard.

For anyone who wants to know my rationale, here it is. My wife’s body has been forever scarred. She will never be the same. I decided, if she was going to be marked by cancer, I would be marked as well. She has also gone through terrible amounts of pain and I wanted to join her in a small way by experiencing some pain myself. Mine would never amount to what she has experienced, but at least it would be a small gesture.

Over the past few months,  I gave a lot of thought to what and where I would get tattooed.  A lot of people figured I would put something religious on my skin. I decided against that. I wanted something that I could use to tell our story. I wanted something that symbolized our journey. At first, I considered doing a small bullet. This was because our surgeon told us the chemo we would be given would act like a silver bullet. At one point I considered something werewolf like in honor of Ole Scruffy, but I decided that was not a good idea. I finally came to the conclusion I wanted a phoenix. I have always been enamored with the mythology behind it, and I figured it would make a really cool tattoo. I also wanted it in a tribal style.

Then came the discussion of where. I joked off and on about putting it on my hind quarters. A nice phoenix right above my crack would make for great conversation at the beach. Seriously, that was a joke. The location actually wasn’t difficult. I wanted it on my right side, because that was the side Ole Scruffy called home, and I wanted it on my lower arm. I didn’t want to hide it. I wanted it to be visible.

So, my plan has always been to get a tattoo soon after the cancer was removed from my wife’s body. I have been talking with friends of mine who have them for months. Being new to all of this, I wanted to know the best place to get one. After consulting with a few people, examining the artwork they got, I decided to go to a shop near my house and let an artist named Megan have the honor.

When I walked into the shop to get a consultation I felt a bit weird. No, I wasn’t feeling guilty, I just felt out of place. If you know me, I don’t look like a tattoo guy and have no experience with how to even get one. However awkward I may have felt, Megan did a great job of making me feel comfortable.

Megan is quite the cool lady. When I met her she had dark hair with blue streaks all throughout. I explained to her what I wanted, but also told her I wanted her to design it. I didn’t want a tattoo off a wall. I wanted something unique. I wanted something personal. Megan took my ideas, we exchanged a few emails about design, and then confirmed the date.

The night I left to get my tattoo my wife gave me some encouraging words. She told me, “Make sure you don’t cry.” Her confidence in my pain management was very sweet. I know she was kidding, but as I left the house I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. I honestly had no idea what it would feel like or if I would cry. I consider myself someone who takes physical pain pretty well, but as I entered the shop to get inked, I was second guessing my ability to be manly.

Megan and I discussed the final design for a bit. I agreed with her that the phoenix needed flames so people wouldn’t think it was just a random bird. I also loved what she did with my concept. I didn’t want a lot of color. I wanted the phoenix to be black with just a little bit of pink to symbolize my bride’s breast cancer. Megan came up with the idea to have one of the tale feathers swoop into the breast cancer awareness symbol. When I saw it, I knew I made the right choice for a tattoo artist.

Once we agreed on a final design, it was time to start the process. Megan had me sit on a table and lay my arm out. She placed a stencil of the design on my arm so we could agree on location. As she pulled away the paper that left an imprint of the phoenix on my arm, I suddenly got really excited. There, on my arm, was something I had imagined for months and it was magnificent.

Then came the actual process of tattooing. Megan told me she would do a practice line to see how I handled it. When she made the statement I almost laughed. I imagine freaking out over the pain and living the rest of my life with a black line on my arm symbolizing my frailty and weakness. That right there would have stripped me of what small amount of a man card I have left.

Megan asked if I was ready.

I told her I was.

As I listened to the sound of the needle and prepared to feel it penetrating my skin, I closed my eyes and saw Andrea laying in the recovery room. I remembered all those days we spent laying around watching movies as she recovered from chemo. I saw her face when she told me she had cancer. In that brief time and space, I whispered in my soul, “I love you Andrea.” Then the needle hit my arm. img_0997

Honestly, it wasn’t bad at all. It felt like getting an i.v. over and over again combined with some light sun burning. The process took about 3 hours. I spent the time talking with Megan and the other artists in the shop. Most of the time I didn’t even notice her tattooing me. In a small way, I now get why people become addicted to it. There is a bit of a rush during it.

When the process was complete I thanked Megan. I don’t think she will ever know how much she helped me. Getting a tattoo was a small way I could walk this journey with my wife. It was a way I could feel her pain.  It allowed me a brief second to imagine how she has felt and join her in the struggle. The same way our stylist helped Andrea wrestle with losing her hair, Megan helped me cope with the pain and suffering we have experienced. For that small token of grace, I am thankful.

So now,img_0999 I have a tattoo. It’s been a few weeks since it was done and it has healed nicely. There is a chance, because of how much black that was used, I will need to go back and get some touch ups. If I do, I look forward to seeing Megan again. If I don’t, I hope she knows what a gift she has given me. She played a small part in our journey and has given me something to help share our story. Cancer has now caused physical pain to both of us, we both have felt it’s intense flames, but like the phoenix will rise anew.