In the past few years I’ve become a big rereader. Before that, I, like a lot of folks, always felt a little guilty rereading a book when there’s so little time and so many new books to tackle. But I got tired of people asking about my favorite books where I’d tell them the same titles over and over and meanwhile I’d hardly remember what they were about at all. So I started rereading my favorites to see if they held up.

So after rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s canon from his last published titles to his earliest ones, I’m now on his most famous, and one of my faves, Slaughterhouse-Five. Since I started slugging it out with brain cancer I’ve felt very much like the classic anti-hero Billy Pilgrim.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the novel, Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. He flits from place to place and time to time, from his arrival in Germany as a POW, the destrution of Dresden via firebombing, his kidnapping by a flying saucer from the planet Tralfamadore, the death of his wife, his own murder, and so on.

I’ve felt similarly, moving from one memory to another, one short story to the next, cartwheeling and somersaulting through the extent of my own past and career. Facebook and other social networks make it easy to be caught in the tide of reminiscences. Like Vonnegut states in his introduction, he would get lonely at night, drink too much, and call information about his ex-girlfriends and long lost friends. With Facebook, you can just scan photos to see how people are doing, who still looks amazing, who has fallen on hard times, who’s got kids you sort of wish were your own. Anyway, I’ve always lived in my head, no less so now that the removal of a tumor has left me a little more space to move around in.

I bounce from grade school memories to high school to college, from first loves, to first lays to last lays, from New York to Colorado. From my first conventions, meeting my literary heroes, and laughter and beer with buddies. I miss those who are gone, like Dick Laymon and Jack Cady, their voices thrum through my skull on occasion. I’m unstuck in time, as usual.

Latest lab work was good. Meeting with the oncologist is generally a joy. Nice people in the office, sweet generous words to and fro. The neurosurgeon, at first, was a little hard-edged, but I guess you would be after pulling tumors out of people’s heads all day long. When I got out of surgery sixteen months ago I asked him how bad things were. He said, “It’s an uphill battle you’ll be fighting for the rest of your life. This is a terminal disease.”

Now, he’s German, another reason he’s a little tough, I suppose. You throw a word like “terminal” around and chickenshits like me immediately think we’re about to fall down and die on the spot. We don’t think that “terminal” might be the end of the road in ten years. Billy Pilgrim has seen his birth and death many times. Not me. I keep trying to push forward and see when and what the end will be like. Will it really be from brain cancer? Or will I just drive into a ditch thanks to all this fucking ice from the polar vortex?

So where am I now? It’s hard to tell. I think I’m in the house I grew up in, watching The Monkees, arguing with my brother. I’m seven, he’s eighteen. He wants me to change the channel and put on the Beatles cartoon because they’re a real band and the Monkees are fake. I fight like my life counts on it. The Monkees are real. They play at least two songs a show. I like their music. He fights as if his life depends on it.

Fast forward to X‑Mas 2012, a couple months after my surgery. My brother, sister-in-law, cousins, and aunt roll into Colorado for a visit. I mention the Monkees story to him to see if he remembers. It’s not shocking that he doesn’t. It’s only been forty years. Me, I still remember. It’s not a grudge, but it is a diamond shard memory. I dig them up as fast as I’m able.

Speaking of my brother, I recall that he took me to the bookstore to buy this edition of SH‑5, back in 1982. So I suppose I owe him thanks for that. He’s never read it, but he did watch the film version and said, in a dull tone, “Weird.”

So, bouncing back to the present, it’s the day after Valentine’s Day, which is when we lost Dick Laymon thirteen years ago. My wife and I had an early Valentine’s Day present two days ago and went to see Spamalot, the musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at the Boulder Dinner Theater. We’d never gone to dinner theater before and enjoyed it enormously. We sat with a much older couple. They were about the age that Dick would’ve been if he’d lived so long.

Sticking with my brother another minute, I remember that he took me to see Holy Grail when I was eight or nine. I remember walking side by side with him down the sidewalk to the theater, and watching an older couple coming up the walk towards us shouting about how much they hated the movie. “It’s not funny! Save your money!” My brother, who was in his early twenties, just nodded in disgust at them.

Now he’s closing in on sixty. His kids are grown and he’s got four grandkids to make new memories with, and switch the channels on.

About the Author

Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty novels, including The Last Kind Words, which bestselling author Lee Child called “Perfect crime fiction.” Order now! He’s won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. Learn more about Tom at:



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