Cobalt: (n) the chemical element of atomic number 27, a hard silvery-white magnetic metal.
My dad decided to die when I was sixteen years old.
He had planned it for nearly thirty years.
As a cigarette smoker who actually bought tobacco in the can and “rolled his own,” he had pretty well determined the end of his story long before he’d lived out all the plot lines.
I was one of the plot lines.
Before I found out that he had terminal lung cancer which had spread to his brain, there was a brief, three-month period when he became warmer, more tender–wanting some closeness with me.
Unfortunately, by that time I had created so much distance there was no way for me to transport myself to his side–even when I discovered he was dying.
They sat down and explained it to me, pointing out that he would be going through radiation treatments, which involved cobalt. He did.
Yet he barely survived the only cure they had available. When he returned home, he could barely walk and had trouble breathing. His skin was red like he had a deep sunburn, and he smelled like the trash we burned in the back yard.
Being around him just scared the hell out of me.
Everyone wanted me to turn into the devoted son who held the hand of his ailing father up to death’s door.
I just couldn’t do it.
Even when his breathing became so heavy that I could hear it through the walls while sitting on our porch stoop, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I loved him or even be present when the last gasp escaped his being.
This is my memory of cobalt.
It was used in the early years of radiation treatment, and left the patient nearly vacant of the resources to think and move.
As I sit here today, I can wish that I had been a better son and he a better father.
But that is because I have an older mind, and sometimes find it difficult to regain the fury involved in being sixteen.