As published in the West Georgia Living Magazine – May/June 2013 Edition
Wow! I’m familiar with musings, having written a few, and this one was honest, raw and beautiful. My eyes are filled, not with tears of sadness, but of hope.
There’s a lot to be said for a great opening line. Some of the greatest works in literature have memorable starts. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin. “Call me Ishmael,” Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Now I have another opening line that captured my attention. “Noir truth,” Meeting the Black by Tom Piccirilli.
My French may be rusty, but I know my colors very well, and instantly my mind interpreted the opening line of this memoir to say ‘black truth’. This made me instantly go to a dark place and wonder what could possibly be so black, void, or dark. Instantly a mood was set and Piccirilli was faithful to deliver.
The second line proved to be as powerful as the first, straight to the point, no holds bar. “What I know: I’ve got a tumor in my head that’s halfway between the size of a golf-ball and a tennis-ball, according to the neurosurgeon.” Wow. I can’t even imagine what this author is going through, but I’m definitely hooked to find out.
From his presence in the literary world, it seems Mr. Piccirilli has so far enjoyed a very successful writing career, having published over twenty-two (22) novels since 1990, two (2) series, four (4) novellas, more than thirty (30) anthologies, two (2) non-fiction works, and four (4) time winner of the Bram Stroker Award, and two (2) time winner of the International Thriller Writer’s Award, literally a writer’s dream come true. Some in this field would say he was a very lucky man, indeed. But in life, tragedy doesn’t look at a writing resume or care how much success someone might enjoy.
Being a fellow author, his story touches my heart, and many times he echoed some of my own fears in this memoir. One of the most touching paragraphs states: “What I know: Things aren’t right. I’m not myself. I’m often in a fog lately. I can’t see, I can’t think clearly, I haven’t been writing much. And there it is. When everything else runs out on me, I can always count on the writing. It’s always there. And now, it’s slipping through my fingers, too. Jesus, not that, take the rest of it, but not that. What if I can’t write? I’m not me. I’m not the person I’m supposed to be.” Many, many times these are the very same words that I mutter in the middle of my fear. So, I instantly related to Mr. Piccirilli, and he stole my heart.
As his story progresses, Mr. Piccirilli talks about the love between him and his brother, the loss of a mother, father and step father to cancer, and we begin to see a picture of man who has in one way or another fought against cancer his whole life. Now, it is his life he must battle this horrible disease.
I can’t imagine the fear and the struggle this author must go through on a daily basis, but one of the best illustrations of his fight for hope is when he was given the advice to speak to his cells, to encourage them to fight, because he had not the strength to do it on his own.
“What I really want to say to my cells: ‘Look, blame me if you want, okay. I did you wrong. I ate bad shit. I smoked cigars for a while. I’ve never been trim and fit. Hold the grudge, but don’t give up the good fight now. We’re, what, halfway through the race? Come on, you can hold on for longer than that, can’t you? Besides, who are you really hurting, huh? Me? You’re gonna go in the ground with me, f**kers. Lars is going to yank you out of my brain and throw you on the floor. Cells, get in line, get back into formation, hup one, two, all that, start doing your jobs again. Besides, it’s all just energy, there are no coincidences.”
After a successful surgery and a trip to the lab, Mr. Piccirilli receives the bad news; Noir truth …his tumor is cancerous. Anytime anyone is faced with such a stark, bold, and life changing truth, one of the stages of grief, even though still living, is the self blame, self analysis and self reflection. My heart breaks as this talented author goes through this analysis and shares his vulnerable thoughts with us: “Consciously or unconsciously, for the price of a dark dream, you have brought about your own doom. I didn’t go after the wrong woman, I didn’t mouth off to a bad cop, I didn’t push a gun into a the ribs of the mob boss, I didn’t shove the old lady down the stairs in her wheelchair. I’m a lousy noir character.”
Facing a terminal illness changes priorities. This writer of mostly horror and thrillers transforms into a love guru, telling everyone with every chance he gets how much he loves and appreciates them as he ponders his own mortality. He comes to another phase in his journey where his thoughts turn deep in his understanding of noir truths. There are so many quotes that have such a deep meaning that I want to write them all down separately and place throughout my house to remind me of them daily. Words of noir truth such as: “You can lose the fight, but you have to lose it fairly. You can’t cheat in the last reel. You take it on the chin or in the gut or in the back of the head, but you stand tall doing it. No blinking, no last minute wincing. You play your string out to the end.”
We all hold onto hope when we face tragedy. We try to look for the positive amongst the terrible things that come into our lives. I wept when I read the final passage in this short memoir, where Mr. Piccirilli is told that his cancer is aggressive and terminal, as I’m sure some of you will as well. So, I leave you with his words, because he says them better than I ever could.
“Noir truth: I’ll be fighting it for the rest of my life and it’ll probably do me in one of these days. I keep picturing a feathery, fluffy, black growth trying to take over the pure, snowy, gleeful thoughts already there. The pure-driven snow personality is me. The black rot, what is it? The death wish? My noir heart?
“We still rockin’?”
“You keep doing your thing and I’ll keep doing mine.”
“Let’s call it a plan of action.”
So what’s left? Skull bones, titanium steel plates, fruiting bodies of toadstools, and a million more stories?
What I know: I’m scared and will always be scared. I’m still here among the living. I fight because when you get down to it, you have no choice. You suck air, you focus will, you dream, you fight past your demons and shadows and enemy cells. Thanks to all of you –“
Mr. Piccirilli continues to fight his cancer, and my heart and prayers go with him and his family. Crossroads Press, the publisher of Mr. Piccirilli’s work, has designated all proceeds, funds and sales for any and all titles, including this memoir, directly to the him and his family in an effort to help him in his fight against cancer. I’m not only a huge fan of this author’s work, but I’m now a huge admirer of his heart.
This is the hardest review I’ve had to give to date, but it’s also the one I believe in most. So, if you get a chance, please pick up one of Tom Piccirilli’s titles today, send him a note of encouragement on his Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tompiccirilli) page, or say a prayer for him and his family.
Latest update: March 29, 2013: “Hello everyone, this is Michelle. Tom had his MRI on Monday this week and today we had appointments at two different doctor’s offices and he had blood test done. His MRI came back clean with no sign of cancer. This is the forth MRI in a row since his surgery and radiation that has come back clean. Tom’s oncologist told us that he is now in REMISSION.”
Till next time,