The Price of Winning

We stood around the kitchen island, toasting our victory in this year’s budget battle.

It had been hard fought.  We’d had two elections where the votes came within several hundred votes, but we still had been unable to convince voters that a small tax increase was better than the cuts that were inevitable if the budget was kept flat.  Our friend Tom, the first selectman of our little town, had made a sizable cut and put the budget back out to the voters for time number there.  The small group of us that had been working actively to get the voters to pass the vote had assembled late the night of the second vote at his home, drinking with each other and bonding over our mutual loss.  Tom, who had lost a teenage son once upon a time, had reminded us that in the scope of losses, this was not a tragic one.

And so the night of the third vote, we were optimistic that it would pass but still nervous.  When the numbers were tallied, the budget showed a passage by three votes.  Such a small margin was subject to a recount, which had happened that morning.  During the recount, it was discovered that several absentee votes had been miscounted, and the margin increased to ten.  Our side of the room leapt up in relief while the other side of the room demanded to see every ballot that had been classified as miscounted.  It was a tense, nasty, and contentious scene that culminated in some very angry words from some and total jubilation from others.

We’d decided to get together that night at a friend’s house to celebrate.  Which was how we were all standing around her island as our first selectman and now friend poured shots of Petron Tequila for all of us.  I’d never been much of a shot person, but I was grateful for the day’s events and decided to indulge.

“I have something to tell you all,” Tom started as we put our glasses down and he began to pour a second round.  “I’m going in for surgery soon.  I’ve been waiting for the budget to pass before I did.”

Surgery.  It was widely known now that our friend Tom was a bone cancer survivor.  He’d had it twenty years ago, and undergone treatment.  He’d been monitored carefully and was in remission for years until another spot of cancer showed up on his lung.  He’d had that removed, knowing that it would likely return.  “Is it…??” I couldn’t even say the word.

“Yes, it’s a recurrence,” he said, holding the second shot in his hand.  “I had a feeling for a while, but with everything going on with the budget, I couldn’t get into the doctor as quickly as I probably should have.  But I finally went last week and it turns out that it is a recurrence, in my lung like last time.  Drink,” he commanded, and swallowed his shot.

We all looked around at each other, stunned and bewildered.  Drink to his cancer?  Was he crazy?  “So what does that mean, exactly?” I asked, the only person to find their voice.

“I said drink,” he answered, and we dutifully all downed our shots.  “It means I go and get it cut out again.  This is how this cancer works.  It always comes back in the lungs, so they know right where to look.  It doesn’t seem to metastasize, so once they cut it out, I’m good for a while until it comes back again.”

Another friend, Alan, spoke finally.  “So you’re not worried that since you waited it might have spread at all?”

I couldn’t believe we were having this discussion on the night of our celebration.  But he’d been clearly waiting, holding onto this, not telling a soul.  He likely was just so relieved that it was over so he could stop holding the secret.  “No, it’s never been like that before.  Remember I’ve been living with this for twenty years.  I plan on living a good twenty more.  I didn’t tell you all this to bring you down.  I told you this to thank you all for allowing me to get this done sooner rather than later.  Without all of you and your work getting out the voters, it’s clear that this budget never would have passed this week.  And I’d be waiting even longer to get this done, which who knows how that would have gone.  So what I’m saying is thank you.  Salut!”  he’d poured a third shot for us all, and held his glass in the air.

I raised mine as well, but could not feel the easy warmth and reassurance that should have come with the third shot of tequila and Tom’s reassurances.  Instead I felt a cold chill as the alcohol burned its way down my throat.  I hoped he was right.



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