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.

 

 

The War on Scruffy pt3. Scars

Right before we got married I asked a man who mentored me in college if he still found his wife beautiful. I didn’t understand his response. He told me that his wife’s body was different from the day they met. It had scars and wounds from the life they had lived together. However, when he laid his head down on the pillow at night and ran his hand over her body, he knew the story behind every scar. He knew by the scars it was his wife and those scars made her beautiful. I get that now.

I didn’t see Andrea’s scars until the second day in the hospital. The night before was what one would expect from a hospital stay. I slept on what someone labeled a “bed.” It was really an uncomfortable couch that morphed into something that looked bed-ish. Earlier in the night, the nurse brought me some sheets. I carefully had laid them out and did my best to work with what they gave me. Throughout the evening I laid there tucked loosely in an array of thinly woven cotton called sheets. I struggled all night long to keep the cloth on my body and even then they barely kept me warm.

Periodically, a nurse would come in and wake Andrea up. She would administer pain pills and sometimes help her to the bathroom. Every time the nurse came in it woke me up. I could hear my bride talking in a soft whisper. I could hear her being helped across the floor. I felt a bit guilty for just laying there but I knew she would be upset if she thought she woke me up, so I pretended to sleep. I won’t lie, for the most part, I slept well considering the circumstances. The Ambien helped.

The night wore on and finally it was time to get up. As I got out of my fake bed I took a moment to look at my bride. She looked comfortable. Her eyes were closed and her breathing looked natural. I walked up to her, looked down, and allowed a lone tear to fall. Wiping it away, I pulled a curtain that could separate our two sections of the room and decided to shower.

It  was refreshing. So refreshing, I would end up leaving the brand new bottle of body wash Andrea packed. We wouldn’t realize it was left until a few days later. Your welcome to whoever got to take it home. I hope it brings you body joy and keeps you smelling delightful.

I spent most of the day driving back and forth from home. Andrea spent most of it sleeping. She would wake up from time to time, take some pain medication, and then recede into slumber. She didn’t like sleeping so much but it was healthy for her.

It was late afternoon before our surgeon was able to see us. She entered the room with a couple of residents and took some time to talk to us. She explained again all the ends and outs of the surgery. I was glad she took the time to talk to us. I was fairly sure I didn’t explain everything well to my wife. I was right.

One thing I have always appreciated about our surgeon is her confidence and grace. She has always been confident in her ability to excommunicate Ole Scruffy. She has also handled my wife with great care. I never felt like Andrea was a product to her. She wasn’t just a pair of boobs with a disease.  My wife had a name. My wife was a person.

The grace she extended to my bride throughout this process brought me peace.  I  knew she would always handle my wife gently. This was displayed as she did her examination. I watched as the doctor carefully began to pull away the medical tape.  She slowly and tenderly removed the bandages. Then, for the first time, I saw my wife post surgery.

There in front of me was the woman to whom I pledged my life. The women I promised to be with through sickness and health. The woman who I have spent my adult life learning how to love more and more each day. The woman who to this day is the very definition of beauty to me. As I looked at her, all I could think was, “Wow, nothing has changed, that’s still Drea. That’s still my bride.” Her war wounds didn’t strip her of anything. I would gladly take her this way the rest of my life. She is still beautiful. She is still glorious to behold.

On her body, where she used to have breast, were thin lines of stitching. I had prepared myself to see bruised skin and disfigured spots. They simply were no there. The doctors had done such a good job. I was simply amazed at their work. Sure, she has war wounds. She will bear them for the rest of her life, but who cares. They don’t disfigure her. No, they make her beautiful.

Those wounds are our wounds. They will be worn with pride. The lines across her chest are a proclamation that the rascal Scruffy picked a fight he could not win. Scruffy tried will all his might to destroy my wife’s body and strip her of her womanhood. The vile beast did everything he could to take her from me, but he did not win. Instead, he made her something more wonderful to behold.

The truth is, I’ve always been attracted to my wife. One look at her and many people would be perplexed as to why she chose to date me. It’s almost comical that she agreed to marry me. She doesn’t look the same today as she did on our honeymoon. Her body has now been changed forever. However, I agree with my mentor. When I lay my head down on the pillow at night I can feel those scars. It is by those scars I know that’s my bride, and they have made her beautiful.