The Woman As Temptress
Whatever ails you
Piano don’t fail me now
Time spent alone – It’s good
but this house is not a home
I think it’s time we got to know each other
I think we got to get to know each other
- Turn Yourself In
(For Whatever Ails You – The Department of Foreign Affairs, 2004)
The regular wing nights were almost the only “fun” I had during this period. Video games weren’t fun they were pointless. Music wasn’t fun any more. I barely played guitar and I had lost the three notes that I could sing before (anyone who saw my old band “Bluster” live can attest, I could never really sing). Design was definitely not fun, it was completely impossible for me in my current state. I could barely hold any clear thoughts let alone all the things needed to do good design. (It’s not art, it’s science and technique).
When I went out with “the guys” (a revolving band of friends, co-workers and acquaintances), I could just relax and do what guys do best: Drink, consume questionable quantities of meat, and admire the female form. Sometimes sports entered the conversation, but I rarely had anything to contribute. I could occasionally recall some score or trade I heard on the radio to sound like one of the crew. I was never part of any boys’ clubs, ever (just ask my four closest friends before Alissa: Mariel, Ange, Adrian, Stina, and Andrea).
Most of the girls at Hooters were very friendly, and very good looking. As we sat in between rounds of beer and plates of wings, the evaluations would pass the time. Some were ridiculously good looking, but some with a critical flaw that would make her less attractive. I usually didn’t find the same waitresses attractive as the group. I apparently have a very peculiar way of deciding whether or not I find a girl “hot” or not. I think it’s mostly just the energy and personality, but there are certain physical qualities that can benefit a nice cheerful disposition.
Ultimately every once in a while my Cancer came out during our wing sessions. Sometimes the guys would use it to get the waitresses to hug me. I kind of liked to see the variety of reactions from different girls. Most were sympathetic and were very nice about it, others’ eyes went wide with horror. Cancer, was that contagious? If that’s not what they were thinking, why did they stay away from my side of the table for the rest of the night?
It was just any other day for the rest of them. They probably had way more interesting lives to go back to. I had to go back to that apartment. I had to try to talk to that person I loved. The pills, the TV, and the bed. If I wasn’t to drunk I would be able to probably run around Final Fantasy Online for a bit. I was staying up pretty late at this point, reverting to my natural night-owl hours of sleeping from 3am until at least Noon, but more like 2pm on a good day and 5pm on a bad day. But from about 5pm until Midnight, I had the will and the energy to do just about anything.
Right now, it was just me and a group of guys drinking and chatting. At midnight I would turn back into Travis Gobeil: Cancer Patient. Treatment #7 was just around the corner, and after that there was just one more round. Just thinking about the chemo started to make my stomach churn. Or was that the beer? Sweet, delicious beer. Who knew beer was super amazing? Now…I couldn’t really “taste” at this point, but when I was super parched on those Summer days, that amber mana really hit the spot like no other beverage had ever before.
I never ate quite as many plates as the other guys, or drank as much beer. But I always left the Hooters with a full stomach and a swimming head. I was just not an experienced drinker, especially with beer. I usually left earlier, too, and no one lived in my direction. Wanting to keep some of my manhood intact, I would stumble out onto Dalhousie and meander up the sidewalks to the bus stop.
My ride was only four stops, and most times it was just a quick 5-minute run without incident. Other times—I’m loath to admit—were not so successful. A few times the bus jerked awkwardly up the street through traffic, and it was hot and packed with drunken youths. By the time we got to my stop I usually got off just in time to throw up in the trash bin. Once I ended up throwing up in my hands and shirt, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. The 5-minute walk home was awesome.
It was worth it, all things considered. Being able to get out and get drunk like a regular 20-year old made me feel normal for a few hours. Despite the sometimes violent repercussions, I made sure to get out at least once the week before each treatment. It was my weekend pass until I had to get back to my “regular” schedule.
I crawled into bed and waited for Alyssa to come out of the bathroom. It was only 10:30pm and she wouldn’t be out for at least another half-hour. I had no intentions of peeing in the sink (there were dirty dishes in there anyway), so as long as she came out within 30 minutes we could avoid talking. I tried to clear my head but my thoughts inevitably turned to the list of procedures I was going to get. My breathing increased and my head started to wobble. Here we go again.
Panic attacks are hard to identify if you’ve never had one. I was completely frozen in place but sweating and racing heartbeat like I was fleeing for my life. I couldn’t breathe all I could do was let my mind swirl and my blood race. I soaked my half of the bed before Alissa came to sleep. I took two Ativan and tried to calm down. They were getting stronger, and harder to calm down. I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take.
I wanted to distract myself. I wanted to feel normal. I was a 23-year old married man who likes designing and playing video games. As a married man there was one distraction that was quite good, and also kind of the worst thing ever. Yes, it’s time to talk about how my sex life was going.
Graphic Content Warning: Please skip to the next series of *** if you just don’t want to possibly be scarred for life (but it’s more pathetic and sad, than graphic)
Alissa and I were basically virgins when we met five years earlier. We were each other’s first sexual partner, and over the course of our relationship, our sex life had gone from great to almost non-existent. The first few years of our relationship were filled with sweaty afternoons and lazy mornings. Then things cooled off, and then froze over almost completely. For the first six months of marriage—the so called “honeymoon” period—we had sex only a handful of awkward, uncomfortable times. I thought that planning pregnancies would re-ignite some fire in the bedroom. The wood was very dry, and there was no spark.
Having Cancer certainly was not the libido booster you’d expect. The uncertainty of our future and the physical stresses on my body were basically enough to make sexual relations an afterthought. But the longer we went without having sex, the louder that thought became. After a while, it started shouting from behind the cloud of drugs.
For the first week after each chemo treatment, I was not allowed to have unprotected sex because of the toxins in my system. Not that it was ever an issue; during that “drugged out” week I couldn’t even get an erection. It was like a damned Ken doll down there until the middle of the second week at least. By the third week, I was well enough mentally and physically to not only want sex, I down right needed it.
You know that part of “Fight Club” where he’s listening to the woman speak at the Cancer group. She’s so close to the end and all she wants is to get laid. That’s exactly how I felt, and it didn’t make the slightest difference to how my wife treated me in the bedroom. If she was in the mood, she would allow me to have sex with her. Otherwise it was useless to even bring it up; it would just start a fight. The rejection and the added tension weren’t worth the risk most nights.
Some nights I would push my luck. She wouldn’t be in a bad mood, and with some coaxing she would agree to some kind of sexual foray. Always the same sequence of operations, though, and always making sure she was enjoying herself. It wasn’t like I wasn’t enjoying myself, but the lack of variety started to bother me more and more the sicker I got. It actually occurred to me that I might to die without ever getting to enjoy any sexual positions other than our “usual” two.
I wanted a “sexual” partner. Or, I guess I just wanted my partner to be more sexual. She was when she wanted to be, but never when I wanted her to be. I got to bask in her sexuality as long as I didn’t “demand”anything of her. I might have been able to put up with that for a long time, but what did a dying man have to do to get some doggy style once in a blue moon? Never. Ever. Ever. Don’t even ask.
It was sort of like the lottery, only with admittedly far better odds. Every day was a new opportunity for her to be “the day” where she’s in the mood an instigates sex. On any given evening, after however long the bathroom, she would emerge from her readings wearing nothing but her finest birthday garments. She would come into the doorway of the room I was in and lean against it seductively for a few seconds and smile at me. Then she would go into the bedroom. If I was in the bedroom I would get a nice sultry walk-in entrance.
Having sex was the only time I felt “normal” during this period. For the half-hour or so between arousal and climax I got to be a regular 20-something guy doing what us regular 20-something guys do best: Poorly servicing young 20-something girls.
Afterwards, we were a young couple, embracing in the heat of battle against something that could quite possibly actually lead to the “’til death” part of our vows. I wasn’t “dying” yet. She was barely holding on ignoring the problem and acting like I wasn’t as bald as an eight-year old from head to toe. Would she leave her shift early to see me off at some hospice centre? Would she even acknowledge that I was dying if she couldn’t acknowledge my illness?
“My thoughts were so loud” would echo Modest Mouse in my head as I tried to drift off to sleep with Alissa in my arms. Tomorrow was another day of Cancer, but right now was just another night with my wife in bed.
My treatments were affecting me more and more, and that was coming out in different ways. I was always bored, and looking for something to do, but could never focus on anything. Puzzles that seemed to delight the seniors at the hospital confused and confounded me now. Television was just a blur of images and sounds. I couldn’t handle a complex game like Final Fantasy, even. Timing and numbers just didn’t stay in my brain.
The one game I could play—and played relentlessly—was an obscure Japanese game called “Katamari Damacy”. You were a tiny prince, and all you had to do was roll a ball around an environment and gather up stuff to make a bigger ball. That was the objective of every level. You started gathering pins and buttons off a floor, and by the end you were rolling up people, cows, cars, and even buildings. I don’t think I have ever played a simpler and more hilarious game before or since.
(If you have played the game, you are now hearing the theme music. You’re welcome.)
Playing the game gave me some sense of accomplishment and joy in a time that seemed to be devoid of such things. If I couldn’t have a career, or a happy marriage—or even sex—I could still roll up things into a ball like a boss. It was colourful and musical and happy. It felt good to have some effect on the cosmos, even if it was just contained inside my television. My little prince could do great things, and make awesome balls of stuff. A small bright star of joy in a universe of unease and discomfort.
Whether it was sex or video games, I needed distractions. My treatments horrified me now. The three days of anti-nauseant pills were basically enough to get me over the worst of it, but the dizziness and fatigue persisted for well into the second week. I was weak, and sore, and my joints made it feel like I was walking in sand with weights. My chest ached constantly—evidence that the chemo was working—or so they told me. I thought at some points I could factually feel the tumour in my chest breaking up, but that was probably just gas.
More than I needed sex, I really needed my wife to come to my treatments. I needed to hold her hand. I needed her to tell me everything was going to be all right. On the surface she was the devoted wife, taking care of her ailing husband. Just below that thin crust of marital complacency I saw nothing but a void of emptiness. We didn’t talk about it, and we didn’t talk about the Future anymore, either. Our entire relationship seemed to be on hold while we waited to see if I was going to be alive to continue with our master plan.
That was the reason why I was fighting. I was fighting to be able to fulfill the promises I had made to Alissa—to hold up my end of the bargain. I wanted all of those same things: the car, the house, the dog, the kids. I certainly didn’t want to die. It just wasn’t part of the plan. I went to school. I worked hard. I got a job. I got married. I did all the things they told me to do. I was going to beat this thing, simply so I would be able to have what I had the success and happiness I had rightly earned.
Right? Didn’t it work that way? I certainly felt that from Alissa. Her resentment started to come out in the latter part of the Summer. It was my fault I got Cancer, after all. She married this guy in a city she didn’t even like living in. It was too far from her family. But she agreed that once he had a successful career she could have babies. She had earned it, hadn’t she?
I tried to see it from both sides whenever we fought about money, the apartment, the dishes, the laundry, the bathroom, the cats, her smoking, my hair on the bed, living in Ottawa, not living somewhere else, not having kids, her job, sex, not having sex, not talking about sex, not desiring the other person in any way whatsoever or else you won’t see what’s under these pyjamas for a month…. You know, normal couple stuff.
We were both trapped in this situation. Stuck in this apartment with a dwindling bank account balance and nothing to do but sit here and try to get along until we figure out whether or not I was going to be alive to continue to play. Fun, right? No, not fun. Not any kind of fun.
It was the idea of the family I wanted that was most important. I wanted to build a family with her, and all of that was pretty much fucked now. I had made a lot of promises and worked very hard to get where I was, but it wasn’t good enough. It certainly wasn’t good enough for Alissa. Was she really only with me for the practical, physical outcomes? The house where she wanted, the kids she wanted to name, the car she wanted painted pink. Where did I figure in to her plans?