Valar morghulis

Translated: “All men must die,” in High Valyrian from the fantastic book and HBO series, Game of Thrones. The customary response to this greeting is “Valar dohaeris (all men must serve.)” They are two sides of the same coin.

I only think of this because I received my amazon pre-order I placed yonks ago of Game of Thrones Season 5 recently. I’m watching the season that portrays the book I was reading exactly 2 years ago while I was on holiday in Singapore and the Philippines. I still remember not being able to leave my hotel room in Quezon City in Manila because I was trying to finish A Dance with Dragons, despite being in a new city with so much to explore.

On March 13, my cousin Larry was admitted to the hospital for symtpoms that eventually led to a diabetes diagnosis. Just to be safe, as any doctor would have done, they ordered cat scans to rule out what they could. Those brain scans showed multiple tumors on my cousin’s brain, growing at an aggressive rate. On March 22, he had surgery to remove the two largest tumors on his brain forming one large one, basically.

Today, as he has the past couple days, he’s sleeping most of the time. There is a large amount of water in his brain. He’s supposed to be healing and rehabbing to get strong for a course of chemotherapy and radiation 4 weeks after his surgery. We wanted him to be strong to continue the fight, so he could have begun treatment as early as 2 weeks, but the doctors recommended 4 weeks.

Tonight, the outlook that he’ll make it another 2 weeks is bleak. I’ve been prepared by two separate family members that he’s on his way out. My cousin is dying.

Since I came back from Australia, I’ve flown back to Rome, NY, where most of my mom’s side of the family lives twice: once in June of 2014, when I first came back, and again in December 2015, for the holidays. Both times, I hung out with my cousin Larry the most out of anyone, besides my mother with whom I was staying. He made an effort to spend quality time with me, after all, he told me I’m the only cousin he really hung out with. My generation in my mom’s family has 6 kids, so I have 5 cousins. To some that’s a lot; to others, that is so very few. I was only close to Larry and his younger brother in that group of us. They were older than me, but I always hung out with them when I’d go back to New York for family trips. I went back once at 8, and again at 16, then perhaps not again til I was 32. Exponential family time, here…

I remember being 8, in a shed in back of the house where my cousins lived. They were probably 13 and 17. They were playing Dungeons and Dragons with other teenage boys, and my mom had sent me out to go hang out with them in the un-air-conditioned hothouse that was that shed. They were smoking cigarettes, but I didn’t tell. I channel that moment in Donnie Darko where Donnie asks his sister what’ll happen if she tells mom he’s smoking. “You’ll put Ariel in the garbage disposal,” she replies. “Goddamn right, I will…”

Both times I was back in Rome recently, I shared laughs and memories with my cousin. This was one of the best photos I showed him while we were shooting the shit at the dining room table, and he laughed so hard, and still said it nearly everytime I talked to him.

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Here he is, clowning around at the dining room table in a wig I found lying around the house he lived in with his mom and dad, my aunt and uncle.

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The last two times I’ve been back to visit family in 2014 and 2015, we’ve gone to the Outback Steakhouse. Everyone orders prime rib but his daughter (2nd row from the front, to the right of him) and me. He ordered prime rib and crab or lobster. Surf and turf.

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And this is a great photo of my cousin probably making a crass comment, his younger brother Steven laughing, and his father and namesake (my uncle Larry) folding his arms in pretend discontent but real happiness being surrounded by his sons sharing a moment.

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This has all progressed so quickly. The cancer is aggressive, and he may not make it to the 4-week mark for the all-clear post surgery to begin chemo and radiation treatment. He’s fighting for his life right now. I don’t know if he stands a chance or not.

My heart is heavy with the weight of many more memories I haven’t shared here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my family is small, but it is mine. It’s not perfect. And when something happens to someone I’m related to and with whom I’m also close, it penetrates all walls and invades, no matter the armor I wear.

I sit here, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. I feel like so many others, he too will become lost in the chasm of all the other statistics, with words like “Fuck cancer,” and “It’s not fair,” swirling in my head.

I don’t know that he ever boarded a plane and left his hometown. He had a day job, and it was hard work. The pay was crap, but he found meaningful ways to contribute. He lived with his mom and dad, and contributed to this world via a daughter he loved with all his heart. He never asked for much, and he was someone content to be part of the garden, but never the star.

A friend of mine unexpectedly lost her mother on March 25. She’d had some seizures, then the doctors told her it was an infection and it’d gotten too far, and the next thing she knew, her mother was gone. True, that moved a lot quicker than my cousin’s demise, but it still seems so fast. My family is made of people built like brick shithouses. They rarely get sick. Nothing ever happens. We’re as boring and normal as can be. This has thrown everyone for a loop, and we’re all coping the best we can. For some, that’s not very well. Up until today, for me, I was utilizing the pure art of distraction. There is no distracting myself anymore.

Valar morghulis. Valar dohaeris.

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