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Intoxicated By My Illness
by Anatole Broyard

(Continuing Part I: Intoxicated by My Illness)

While I was talking I wondered, Am I telling Jules the truth? He didn't think so, because he put his head in the oven a week later. As for me, I don't know whether I believed what I said or not, because I just went on behaving like everybody else. But I believe it now. When my wife made me a hamburger the other day I thought it was the most fabulous hamburger in the history of the world.

With this illness one of my recurrent dreams has finally come true. Several times in the past I've dreamed that I had committed a crime – or perhaps I was only accused of a crime, it's not clear. When brought to trial I refused to have a lawyer – I got up instead and made an impassioned speech in my own defense. This speech was so moving that I could feel myself tingling with it. It was inconceivable that the jury would not acquit me – only each time I woke before the verdict. Now cancer is the crime I may or may not have committed, and the eloquence of being alive, the fervor of the survivor, is my best defense.

The way my friends have rallied around me is wonderful. They remind me of a flock of birds rising from a body of water into the sunset. If that image seems a bit extravagant or tinged with satire, it's because I can't help thinking there's something comical about my friends' behavior – all these witty men suddenly saying pious, inspirational things.

They are not intoxicated as I am by my illness, but sobered. Since I refuse to, they've taken on the responsibility of being serious. They appear abashed or chagrined in their sobriety. Stripped of their playfulness these pals of mine seem plainer, homelier – even older. It's as if they had all gone bald overnight.


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