taken up residence in the shrubbery. Beavers swam up and down the lake. (I don’t know why – Mascoma has a concrete dam.) There were bird sightings – hawks, turkey vultures, kingfishers, a bald eagle, even an extremely wayward pelican. A hummingbird visited the patio every evening. Water skiers and Jet Ski riders took amusing falls. At a nature reserve across the lake, skinny-dipping sightings were also on display. The weather itself was kind and cool. Greg’s pointer Weezy slept on my bed each night, though this may have had less to do with doggy compassion than the fact that Greg won’t let her sleep on his. Weezy’s dulcet snoring drowned out the chemo fanny pack pump. I’m fine now. Anal cancer can be invasive, but mine seems to have had a wimpy EU-style foreign policy. That summer was not the worst summer of my life – loving family, kind friends, skilled and considerate care, a big warm dog in the bed. In fact, the worst summer of my life was forty years before, when I was young and healthy and didn’t have a care in the world. But there was this girl, and a novel that refused to write itself, and anomie, and angst, and Weltschmerz... Getting sick with a frightening disease is a lousy way to learn life lessons. And, as I mentioned, I hate life lessons. And yet, for me personally... I should have gotten cancer when I was 20.
“I’m not saying you can stay at the cottage while you get treated,” Greg said. “I’m saying I will be deeply offended if you don’t.” Dr. Zaki arranged my radiation treatments for late on Monday afternoons and early on Friday mornings. My wife and children were spared self-pitiful weekday grousings. And I missed them, so I was on good behavior when I went home on weekends. Greg is a splendid Weber grill cook. Charcoal fires produce carcinogens, but the chemotherapy had that covered. Dr. Pipas said I could have one measured Scotch each evening. But he failed to specify the measure. I think the pint is a fine old traditional measure, although the liter is more modern and up-to-date. Another side effect of the radiation and chemo was that I couldn’t tolerate the sun. But Greg’s cottage was on the southwest shore of Mascoma. The patio was in the shade all afternoon. I read a lot, mostly histories of World War II concerning the Russian front. Everyone on the Russian front in World War II was having it worse than I was. While I was being treated, Tony Snow, the former Bush administration press secretary and another old friend, was dying from colon cancer. Tony wrote a wonderful essay about how his sense of mortality promoted “the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing.” Every created thing put on a wonderful show for me at Mascoma Lake. A family of mergansers with six ducklings was living under the dock. A pair of mallards had
68 September 2018
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