Man on Pause

Man on Pause

When you bleed from your ass, you worry, look online for what it could be from, hope it’s H. pylori, and buy cabbage, cut good hunks off the head mornings to puree with water. It’s what you drink first thing to start your day, a pulpy green chug-a-lug of raw earth. By now you’ve quit caffeine, quit beer. Can’t handle those hard drugs. You’re a water-n-veggie guy, try aloe vera juice and search out dandelion root, and the roots of licorice, of marshmallow, stuff you’ve read of that’s supposed to stop your ass from bleeding. You try it all, but your ass keeps on a-bleedin’. Your ass bleeds as if it’ll go on bleeding, straight into the sunset.

And when you bleed from the ass, if you’re a dude, your thoughts may stray off course. You might find yourself empathizing with women who, though they don’t bleed from the ass unless something has gone wrong, have been known to bleed from the adjacent orifice until their time known as menopause comes. That’s when they put men on pause. You might wonder as well why their monthly bleeding sessions are called “menstruation” when they are not men. The word should be womenstruation, right? When a man bleeds from his ass, that’s menstruation. One’s gotta wonder at the etymology!

But enough on blood already! So far the side-effects from the chemo have been a bout of diarrhea, and slight tingling and dryness in my hands. Otherwise I feel pretty good.

But my ass is bleeding, yo? I wonder how long it’ll take the Capecitabine to stop my ass from bleeding. I look forward to it. I’m looking forward to like, looking down into the commode one morning after defecating and seeing no blood. Or maybe it’s the radiation that’ll stop my ass from bleeding, but my radiation treatments don’t start ’til Thursday. My docs maintain that the chemo/radio combo’ll do the trick. My intuitive guess is my ass’ll stop bleeding by the end of next week.


Still, can you knock a guy for crossing fingers? For jumping the gun? For wishing upon a star that his ass’ll stop bleeding straightaway? Such was my hope—nay, excitement I would even go so far as to say—this morning when I peered down into the bowl half-expecting to see results. You can imagine my surprise upon seeing an increase in blood. Or maybe it was only a change in brightness in the blood, which gave the appearance of more blood.

Yeah, the stool was a lighter brown than normal, harder, and the blood much brighter, which caused for contrast. Blood just clung all over that poop. I’m hopeful though, because any change must be good. This is the beginning, the first stage my bleeding ass must go through before the tumor dries up and begins to shrink.

The first time I saw blood in my poop may have been several years ago, but I ignored it. I’m an impressionable guy, and an argument with my girlfriend about colonoscopies may have conditioned me to look the other way. How much easier to pretend nothing could be wrong. After noticing such a thing, you’ll probably be less inclined to examine your poop. Having seen something suspicious did not make me take a closer look at my poop.

Then in June I drove to Maine with my lil’ bro for my half-sister’s wedding. He and I shared a room, and I was kind of impressed and appalled at the same time by the way he rolled out of bed and took a healthy dump then left the bathroom, all in the space of a minute, wiped and everything. My own body didn’t work that way. I usually did my business hours after waking, after drinking coffee and what not. It struck me as vulgar, getting up then shitting that way. On that particular morning, when I went, I saw streaks of blood in my poop. I ignored it. What was I to do? Make an issue, either to myself or anybody else, when we were getting ready for a goddamned wedding?

The summer passed by quick. A new semester started. I taught two classes, took long walks, ate lots of pineapple, swallowed proteolytic enzymes over that a YouTube doc recommended it for cervical degenerative disk disease, which I have a severe case of. When of a sudden my bowel habits changed, when I was getting up and crapping in the manner I’d seen my brother do in Maine, I imagined it was the pineapple and enzymes. People grow older, their bodies change, right? But I was like shitting quite a bit, like six or seven times a day, and it always felt like more poop was left inside me. As a result of my new shittings I was forced to take a closer look at my poopamoly.

Yeah, there was blood in there all right, dark maroon streaks all along it, on top of the poop, and blood-clotty things stuck in the grooves along the poop. I figured, as many in my situation would figure, that I must be got hemorrhoids. I was pleased to read online that not all hemorrhoids itch. Because my ass didn’t itch! Hallelujah! I bought Preparation H. It seemed to help, but my ass still bled after two weeks of using it. My bod needed something stronger, so I got the suppositories, shoved those babies up my ass before sleeping and in the morning. They worked better, but no cookie.

One day in Manhattan, as I walked to the Korean Society on 6th Ave. to attend a language class, I suddenly had to go, which had been happening a lot of late. You eat a sandwich, you gotta go. You eat a peanut, you gotta go. You drink a cup of milk, you gotta go. Seemed I always had to go, and I was doing the safety measure thing, where you go ahead of time so you don’t find yourself in a situation where you gotta go when you are busy with something important, like teaching a class, or walking along a city sidewalk. As a result of having to suddenly go, I ducked into my favorite Panera Bread at 32nd and 5th. Down in the bathroom, in the private stall, I saw how the bowl was like splattered with bright red blood. Gave me a scare. Wow, I’m glad that’s not me, I thought, but had the nagging sensation that it was gonna be me in no time at all—yikes! Shit seemed like an omen.

Somewhere along the way I started examining my shit in detail. I’d put my wipes on the tank of the commode then kneel over the bowl, holding a toothbrush by the bristles. The toothbrush was my prod. I dissected my turds with it. I was a poop scientist, yo? Thing was, my fatigue was way intense. I could barely get to work, barely grade papers. Somehow I hung on. My girlfriend suspected something wrong. When she asked, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m dying of cancer,” and she laughed uproariously. What else was she to do? Then she would ask, “Are you okay?” and I would say, “I hope so.” I could tell she was worried. But I didn’t say anything. We’d had those talks about colonoscopies, and I didn’t want to rehash the whole thing and feel lousy about it all over again. Finally I told her I was bleeding.


I used to tell people, when asked why I didn’t have health insurance, that I couldn’t afford it because I was saving money for my chemo treatments. I did not say that as a joke, but as a way of bypassing descriptions of my dreams. I was putting away money for a move overseas. I was trying, anyway, but with a piddly income like mine, good luck. What I wanted was to live in Korea, speak the language, be as Korean a guy as I could be. I’d even fantasized about getting surgery to make me look Asian. When the cancer entered my life, my dreams were disrupted. They were put on pause.


About the Author

John Oliver Hodges lives in New Jersey. His three books of fiction are War of the Crazies, The Love Box, and Quizzleboon. Look for his new short story, "Hollow Body," appearing in Red Dirt Forum this summer.

Photo by Burst from Pexels