"I was born in Turlock California in 1960 and pretty much lived my entire life in the Central Valley. I think I got married in ‘85, had a couple of kids. I never felt that we were poor, never felt that we were rich, just average middle class folks, you know? I drove a truck for about 25 years, and I ended up with this cancer in 2008. You go through the ups and downs of “why me?” and then you come to a point where you get over all that and just accept it. And I've accepted it by “that's the cards I was dealt”. My window here stays open 24/7. I do not close it. I watch the sunrise every morning. And when I can see the sunrise, I know I've made it another day. I live by a day to day basis. You know, sometimes when I get out on the scooter I'll go way out and about and sit under the trees and sit in the shade and you listen to the wind rustle through the trees and stuff. It's also a good time to reflect.
It took getting cancer to kind of see some of the bad choices you make in your life. I was always trying to make an extra buck. Worked a lot of overtime, took a lot of extra loads. She wanted me to be there beside her and I do miss that. I miss just laying with someone at night. When you've had someone with you for so long, I mean they become part of you and then when you can't have them, it's almost like losing a part of my body. If I had it all over to do again, I wouldn’t work as much as I did because, in the end, the money really wasn’t worth it. I could have spent more time with my family.
When my dad passed away, he was in the hospital and I was under the assumption that he was going to come home the next day. Well I went home, because I was going to go to work the next day, I got a phone call about 11.45 at night, my wife told me my dad has passed away. And that irritated me to the point because there were questions I was going to ask him. My son, he’s only called me once since I’ve been up here and I think if my son doesn’t talk to me, I think he’s going to end up feeling the same way I did. I tended to show little emotion up until the time to when I got cancer, but then I changed. I don’t have time for the small stuff. I’m not going to argue and bicker over some minor BS you know? I hope I have time to say some of the things or ask some of the questions I want to ask before it’s too late."
When I met Harlan, he had been a resident at the VA Medical Center in Livermore for more than three years. Harlan grew up on a farm in Central California where he learned to hot-rod cars and fix up motorcycles. The tumors consuming his left arm were thought to be the consequence of decades of driving a truck in the California sun. No longer able to drive fast cars, Harlan taught himself to build and paint model vehicles with his non-writing hand. As the boundaries of his world closed in on him, Harlan continually found new ways to create meaning in his life. Once a self-proclaimed unemotional man, Harlan opened up his life to me and shared his deepest regrets and fears. Harlan died on November 2, 2014.