Monday, December 13, 2010

The Whole Truth

By the second semester of my senior year in college, I had completed all of my educational requirements for graduation. That's just the way I am; I busted my ass and did what I had to do early on so that I could take it easy and enjoy my last few months as a collegiate undergrad.

To complement my coursework in what one would generally call "real subjects," I decided to take a badminton class. It was fun, stress-free, and just what I was looking for. And, though I had never truly studied or trained in the sport, my relative coordination and athleticism, paired with the, call it "studious," nature of most of my peers, immediately made me one of the most competitive players in the class.

There was one guy who had been ranked something like #7 in the state of California as a high school player, and few of us could give him a workout. Personally, I had no idea that badminton was even a high school sport anywhere in the country. Furthermore, I made the decision that it was entirely unnecessary for anyone to ever be that good at badminton, so this guy really did nothing but piss me off. I mean, he'd come to class in jeans, sweat profusely through his white tee-shirt, and smash the little birdie down little girls' throats.

"Play me in anything with a ball," I'd say, "and I'll put you in your place."

I can remember swinging that racquet and feeling this sharp pain in my shoulder; a pain that had never been there before. I stretched, warmed up, and passed it off as some tear somewhere in there that I'd play through, just like every other nagging injury I'd overcome in my athletic career.

I realize now what that pain really was, and that if I'd done something about it then, some seventeen or so months before diagnosis, the entire trajectory of my cancer-consumed life might have been different. Still, there's no guarantee of that, and talking about it is neither useful nor the reason why I'm telling this story.

"So what are you going to do after you graduate?" a girl asked me one day as we were sitting next to a court, resting after a game.

"I'm going to be a rockstar," I said, having no interest in small talk.

She laughed. "No, seriously, do you have any plans?"

I looked her straight in the eye, and I said, "Seriously, I'm going to be a rockstar."

She shook her head and looked at me as if I were a crazy person. I didn't expect her to react otherwise; this girl hardly knew me. But the thing was, I meant it.

Music has been ingrained in my soul since before I could speak; lyrics have become my religion, and the breadth of emotions music can make me feel has helped carry me through some of the most hopeless of times and most desperate of days.

At the time, my band, Almost 6'6", had been together for about 3 or 4 years. I played basketball in college with our piano player, and the other singer has been my best friend my entire life. We started writing music together in college, and when we graduated, we knew it was the time to follow our dreams.

Months went by, and we met different people who promised us different things and offered us different opportunities, most of whom were full of it. Nevertheless, the commonality amongst all of them was their love for our music. It was clear to us that the sound we were creating could really reach people.

It took until May, almost a year after graduation, but good fortune and coincidence landed us a manager who loved and was passionate about our music. I'm not talking just any manager, either; I'm talking decades of success with high-profile talents and a significant amount of respect in the industry.

He brought us right to a producer; a legendary drummer by trade, whose name has become universal and whose craft is synonymous with greatness (both manager and producer will remain nameless prior to my receiving their express permission to release identities).

Inevitably, our new drummer/producer loved us, too. He filled the band with his own musicians, and after a few rehearsals, we were ready to start recording.

May, June, and the beginning of July were spent perfecting three master tracks, with the intention of handing them to our manager and allowing him to work his magic.

June had brought with it mysterious back pain, which, like everything else, I thought I could just push through. By July, recording sessions had become only bearable if I popped Percocet like tic-tacs. Blood tests yielded no answers; chiropractors the same.

Initial responses from label execs were more than we could ask for. Meetings, showcases, negotiations were soon to follow. We were right there; where every band, every kid with a dream wants to be. Every time we were together, the excitement was tangible. We had momentum, we had the right people with us, and we were getting to do it with our best friends.

The day after my last vocal recording session was the first free evening I had in weeks, so I finally went for an MRI. The following work day barely had time to start before my doctor's office called me to come in and speak about the results.

"It's going to have to wait until the afternoon," I said. "I'm at work right now."

"No, sir," came the response. "You need to come here right now."

So began weeks of hospitalization, tests, bone marrow biopsies, pain pumps, fear, confusion, and the beginning of this hell I've learned to call reality.

I've talked about the pain. I've talked about the sadness. I've talked about how hard and how frustrating it is to wake up every day and feel like I'm in somebody else's body, and how badly I just want to feel like myself again. I've talked about it all, I think.

I've done my best and tried my hardest with every single procedure, every single day of my treatment, gearing myself towards recovery. That way, when it's all said and done, I won't have any regrets.

But it hurts to think of where we were when all of this happened. It hurts that we were closer than so many people ever get to be, and that we may never get back there again. It hurts that it's because of me that we had to cancel the meetings, put everything on hold, and lose all of our momentum. Sure, maybe we can get back to where we were, and we're trying. Our talent is still there; our potential, too, and maybe now our story is more touching. But if I and my best friends never get to sign that deal, record that album, hear that first single on the radio, I can't help but wonder if things might have been different had I never gotten sick.

I try to leave these stories with a positive message; a sense of hope. There's always hope. Without it, we're lost. But the truth is, I'm carrying a lot of pain. Sometimes I can keep myself from feeling it; distract myself, I guess. But it's always there. Knowing my potential and wondering if I'll ever get to reach it or see it fulfilled...that hurts.

I guess I just thought it was time to tell a little bit about who I really am.