15. The E is for Empathy, and also for Empty...
I used to consider myself a fairly empathetic person.
I don’t like to see people suffer, I hold the door for people even if they’re outside of the traditional ten foot radius that requires you to do so, I’m polite to front line service workers and tip the barista at Starbucks even when it’s an outlet inside a grocery store and they don’t have a tip jar.
I just want people to get along.
But cancer, my wife’s cancer, has changed me. And not for the better.
But it’s not because I’m so all consumed by her health that I don’t have time or the focus to make sure people around me know they are seen.
I still see them. I just don’t care.
My empathy tank is pretty damned low right now, and what is left is all flowing in the direction of the tumor-grower with whom I share my life. It’s all about her, 24/7. (Now she will likely say that it doesn’t feel that way to her, but that’s why we have our own little entries on here.)
I worry. A lot.
It’s a low grade constant worry, but it is there. Did she get to morning classes okay? Is her morning pain more or less than usual? Are we doing enough for the radiation burns on her back? Can I miss one of her Doctor’s appointments, and will she remember to mention issue A, B or C if I’m not there to remind her?
And I’m not bragging here. What I am is terrified of screwing up. And that drains the old “nice” tank real fast.
So idiots driving in front of me in traffic get more of my unheard verbal abuse. Assistants to producers who step out of line - a line I simply invented FYI - are told in no uncertain terms to step back or suffer the consequences.
And I’ve even started taking perverse pleasure in telling Robo-callers that while I’d love to discuss their extended warranty program for my car, as I’m in the middle of doing unspeakable sexual things to their mother at the moment, they may have to call back.
A friend of mine was recently in the hospital, having survived a medical crisis that we all thought was going to kill him. He’s fine, now really. But on a recent visit, he started to cry when talking about all his wife had been through. Now normal me would have choked down the lump in his throat and given the man an awkward hug.
I did not do that. I stood, got him some tissues, and jokingly told him to “man up.” He knew I was joking, and found it funny thank God.
And that’s who I am now. For now. A man who can’t engage.
I know this won’t last. I know normal is coming back soon. I want to be the guy I used to be.
But for now, I just can’t.