January 07, 2003

"Deadly Conversations," c. Ryan Rhodes,

"Deadly Conversations," c. Ryan Rhodes, Jan. 2, 2002

Consider, if you will, the following scenario.

A young man, perhaps 27-years old, who some would argue is a smoking hot specimen of male hunkiness, invites his girlfriend to Christmas dinner with his parents.

It's a relaxing atmosphere consisting of just four people, although there is the slight anxiety on the part of the young man ("do they like her"), and on the part of the girlfriend ("do they like me"), and on the part of the mother ("do they like my cooking"), and on the part of the father ("I wonder if I could get away with flatulence right now").

As the turkey makes its rounds and the wine is sipped, the parents start light conversation. This is expected, because light conversation is a good complement to turkey and wine. Eventually, however, the conversation spirals deeper and deeper, until finally the mother speaks.

"You remember Mildred Asner? Well, she had some pain in her neck so she went to the doctor. Turns out she had neck cancer. Entire neck, ridden with cancer. First known case ever. Doctors gave her five months. Three weeks later, she was dead."

"Well, don't forget Guy Richardson," says the father. "He was out one morning, getting the newspaper, when he stubbed his toe on the way back inside. He didn't want to take any chances with a stubbed toe, you know, so he went to the doctor. Doctor told him he had an advanced case of toe cancer. Gave him 12 hours to live. Poor Guy just rolled over dead right there in the doctor's office."

The conversation proceeds like this for the remainder of the dinner. As the turkey disappears, the tales of death and dying continue to roll forth in a torrent of Grim Reaper delight. The smoking hot young man notices his girlfriend turning pale, but smiling bravely. By this time, her thoughts of joyful Christmas delight are no doubt lost amidst a swirl of premonitions of her own ghastly demise, probably due to an obscure illness like belly button cancer.

Now, this was entirely a hypothetical scenario. It certainly had nothing to do with me, or my girlfriend, or my family. This was just a Joe Everybody tale, a common Christmas experience, a . . . okay, okay, it was about me, and about my girlfriend, and about my family.

I'm not sure when the evolution took place exactly, but at some point in their life my parents decided that the tales of death and woe of their friends and acquaintances somehow constitutes good, lively conversation.

Fun stories about parties and gatherings and life's little foibles are gradually being replaced by dark recollections of how people succumbed to illness or how they had to be amputated at the torso to stop the spread of leg hair cancer.

It's not so much the stories, as bleak as they are, that bother me. What bothers me is that I've heard all these stories before, many years before, coming from the mouths of my grandparents and the older relatives gathered around the dinner table.

I remember thinking, even then, that the discussions disturbed me for some reason. Perhaps it was the thirsty interest they seemed to share when talking about how Great Uncle Patterson died that summer after a freak shuffleboard accident, or how a third cousin, Hester, was bit by a rabid tree squirrel and died six weeks later after biting three neighbor girls who all, likewise, died (the Great Rabid Girl Plague of 1978). I'm exaggerating, of course (no, really, I am), but you get the idea.

Granted, the names have now changed, and the methods of demise reflect modern medicine's ability to stave off the deadlier diseases of yore, but the preoccupation with death and illness now seems to be overtaking my parents, and it's a nerve-wracking transformation to witness, particularly over Christmas dinner, with my girlfriend sitting across from me wondering if I was spawned by the Addams Family or the Munsters.

Great, now I have this vision of my father, dressed as Gomez, kissing his way up my mother's arm, draped in flowing black, saying, "Oh, my wife, *smooch* *smooch* *smooch* In this light, you remind me of Mildred Asner shortly before the neck cancer took her away."

Ba da da dum. Click, click. Ba da da dum. Snap, snap. Ba da da dum, ba da da dum, ba da da dum.

Posted by Ryan at January 7, 2003 04:40 PM
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