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Today was the day.
As she wraps a discolored smock that smelled of pesticide around my shoulders, I take one last look at myself in the giant mirror I face. My once dark blue eyes were now a dull grey, sunken into my head, surrounded by bags of skin bruised from sickness. I no longer had a plump face that of a child’s, but a malnourished face of someone who cant keep her food down. My once pink lips were now white. Averting my eyes to my head, I watch as my once long, thick hair is stringy and thin from too many sessions of chemotherapy.
As the nurse takes the scissors and starts applying them to my head, I close my eyes, and imagine myself on the beach. Where cancer doesn’t exist, and boyfriends don’t leave you for something you didn’t do for ex-best friends who have long, full hair, red lips, and doe eyes. When I could feel the razor buzzing on my scalp as it smooth’s out my army cut, I feel my mom grab my hand and squeeze, trying to let me know I’m not alone, even though her strong grip compared to my weak one only reminds me more of why I am alone. When the nurse said she was done, I keep my eyes closed as my mom helps me up into my wheelchair, and pushes me back to my, once in while/now permanent, room. Her and the doctor lift me up onto the bed that used to hold scratchy, off-white sheets until my mom brought my black silk ones in; and they tell me its time for me to go to sleep, even though its still bright outside. As my eyes drift close, I have the dream I’ve had for the last two years , seven months, and three days I’ve been in here.
It was the day I found out I had cancer.
Holding hands with my boyfriend, Erik, he walks me home like he does everyday. But, turning onto my block, and seeing my mom on the porch, crying, both me and Erik run up to my house at this point; and while I’m shaking my mom, trying to get something out of her, I pick up the phone that’s in her hand, and hear a voice calling for Ms. Peterson. Asking what happened, they tell me that they’ll need me in for a follow up exam. I ask for what, and they tell me. To believe three words ruined my dreams of becoming a journalist for the New Yorker. Three words that changed the course of not only my, but my single mom who depended on me ever since dad left, life. Three words that made the one person who I thought I was in love with leave me. Three words, two one syllable words, the last with two syllables.
“You have cancer.”
Dropping the phone on the floor, I stared at my mom. Now, Erik’s shaking my shoulders, begging me to tell him what’s happening. But I couldn’t open my mouth. I could barely get breath into my lungs. I seemed to block everything out of my mind, and I could only think about the last doctors appointment I had. They said I was clean. That nothing was wrong. That I was healthy, and could rejoin the track team now that I had my medical papers.
The first few months of chemo, my mom stayed every night with me, and Erik visited every other day after school. I remember telling myself that they were going to find it, remove it, and I will go home. I was happy then when my hospital room was covered in colorful cards from all my friends and teachers and families, telling me it would get better; writing how I’m a strong girl, and will pull through. But, weeks later, and the doctors only said that I was worsening, I knew it was all lies. So, tearing down the cards from the walls, violently ripping them and throwing them in the trash, feeling my own heart ripping in the process, I froze when I heard the door open. Turning, I saw Erik walk in, and ran into his arms. But, the amount of hope and love I felt when I looked at him evaporated when he told me he found someone else, and can no longer put up with having a girlfriend who’s sick. I begged him not to leave me; but looking back on it now, I feel embarrassed. Why should I want somebody who has to ‘put up’ with me. They should love me, and hold my hand. Not look me in the eyes, tell me they love me, but not mean a single word of it. I then knew that I didn’t need him.
I love you.
Three more words.
But I still loved him, and that’s what hurt the most.
The following year, the amount of visitors and cards I were receiving were becoming less and less.
Until none came at all.
The only visitor I got was my mom. She now only sleeps over on the weekends, but that was because I forced her out. I didn’t want her to watch me slowly die. Why put someone else in pain, meanwhile I was suffering enough for the both of us?
The dream always ended different, however. Sometimes, it would be me dropping, disappearing in a dark abyss. Which is how I now describe as my life. Others, it was the one time I went to the beach with my fifth grade class a few years ago. That was how I met Erik. But, I would still wake up in a clammy sweat, tears streaking my face, my hands would be shaking, and my vision would be blurry. And yet again, I woke up three in the morning like this, and having to buzz the nurse in to give me my pills, water, and to call my mom. It was our routine. She once drove the ten and a half miles at four in the morning to make sure I was okay because I didn’t call her like I usually did. It used to be funny, now its sad.
That morning, it was time to go socialize with the other cancer patients.
I hated this.
Three more words.
Why should I have to try and laugh with the other ones, meanwhile more than half of us isn’t going to make it. Behind the watery coffee and stale muffins, its pretty depressing. But, this is the first time their going to see me with a handkerchief over my head instead of the usual thin ponytail I have at every meeting. Wheeling me into the room, the nurse asked if I was okay before heading out. Looking around, I was surprised to see the usual five people now added up to six.
There was a boy here. Around my age, with dark green eyes, and black hair, even though it was buzzed like mine. He had on a Yankees jersey, and was texting on his phone. He must have been the transfer I heard my doctor talk about; the one with the a sense of humor. Wheeling over to my spot by the window, I saw through my peripherals him watching me. I felt like I was under a spot light, but managed to get myself to the window without giving in to the temptation of looking back at him.
Gazing out of the window, at the beach that was asking for us to go to, but the hospital says its forbidden, I wonder why they put a hospital here if their patients cant even walk on its warm sands, or take a swim. Hearing the slide of someone coming over, I turn my head to see it was the new kid. Stopping next to me, he gave me a smile before averting his eyes to the beach outside too.
And even though a million thoughts were running through my mind, all I could think about was how cute his smile was, and how his eyes reminded me of the forest, especially since green is my favorite color.
“What’s your name?”, I heard myself asking.
Turning his wheelchair toward me, instead of answering me, he made movements with his hand, and I realized he was signing me his name instead of speaking it. My cousin being deaf, I knew sign language, and read that his name was Adrian. Signing my name back, I told him mine was Grace.
“So, you can sign. Cool.” Shocked that he could speak, I laughed, which was weird coming out of my mouth since I hadn’t much as giggled in a long time.
“Cute smile. You’re the first person to even show a bit of emotion since I got here.”
“Well, hate to break it to you, but not a lot of people here smile when they have cancer. The most you get is a fake chuckle here and there, but even those are gloomy.”
“Well, hopefully I could lighten things up in here with my witty humor.”
“You could try, but I highly doubt you’ll succeed.” Looking around, I could see what he was talking about. Besides the patients, who were staring off in space with clueless expressions, the room with its not quite white, not quite yellow walls and baby food green peas floor seemed depressing. Both of us looked at each other simultaneously, and then just started laughing out loud at the same time.
The next few weeks were the best time I ever had in a long time. Each day at eleven, Adrian would come to my room, and we would eat breakfast together. Then, we would go to the little garden they had in the middle of the hospital, and talk about our old lives. I would lean my head on his shoulder while he would tell me all of the fun times he had with his dad.
“What about girlfriends?” I asked one day. I was afraid he’d say that she visits him, and their trying to work it out even in the situations he’s in.
“Well, my girlfriends right here”, he said while leaning down and kissing me. I didn’t expect that, nor the fact that when we were done, I said my boyfriend should start kissing me more often. The fact that I not only had my mom, but Adrian with me to help me through this, and for me to help him through it, I no longer felt alone, and abandoned.
I felt hope.
Three more words.
Things were especially looking up since I gained another three pounds in the last two weeks, and my tests were coming out with positive results. But, the following day, I got that abandoned feeling again when I was passing by Adrian’s room, and saw it filled with family. I was stopping by to drop off his birthday present, but I knew my wheelchair wouldn’t fit with the amount of space that wasn’t occupied by his relatives.
I was about to go back to my room, when I heard my name. It seemed the entire hall was quiet when he spoke it. Even though the room he was in was filled with laughter and talking, everyone quieted when he spoke. Turning back around, I saw that their was a little pass, where I can see Adrian on his bed from the doorway.
“Please come in.” I could see how badly he wanted me in there with his eyes, so, for the first time in months, I stood up. Yes, I was struggling, and one of his uncles came to my side and helped me walk to his bed, but once I was sitting beside Adrian, I didn’t feel weak, but powerful.
“Who’s your little friend, Adrian?” asked a woman I could only think of as his mother with the similarities of the two.
“Mom, and family, this is my girlfriend, Grace. Grace, this is my family.” I could feel myself blush under the shocked looks of his relatives, but that quickly faded when all of them rushed over to me and hugged me with genuine care. I hadn’t felt so loved in such a long time, that I felt tears spring into my eyes, and had to fight for them not to pool over.
After what seemed like hours, even though I wished it could have lasted longer, his family had to go, but all of them promised to visit both of us very soon.
When his mom said she was going to get something to eat, and his dad had to take the night shift, I gave Adrian his present once we were alone. Opening it, I could feel my heart pounding so fast, knowing he must hear it. What if he doesn’t like it? It would be so embarrassing if he thought it was corny. Should I have gotten him something else?
But, when he unwrapped the plastic, the look of shock on his face made my heart swell. He grabbed me and kissed me from my hairless head, to my colorless lips.
“When did you get these? I heard they were sold out.”
“Well, I had to pay double the price for each of the tickets, and my mom pitched in for the backstage passes.”
“Wow! I’m just…whoa….” he trailed off, staring at the concert tickets. But, almost immediately his face fell, and his eyes changed from the twinkling I saw in them before, to dark and sad.
“What’s wrong?” I asked anxiously. “Your scaring me.”
Looking up at me, I could see that his eyes began to water, his bottom lip quivering. Immediately putting my arms around him, I cradled him as he cried. I knew what was making him cry, and now made me cry with him. But when he started explaining, I put my finger to his lips and smiled through my tears. It felt like, if he said it, it would become true. And I didn’t want my hope to die away, because Adrian is my hope, happiness, and love. And even if he didn’t tell me, I could see. As I got stronger, he became weaker.
He was dying, and I couldn’t stop it.
He was dying.
Three more words.
He has three months to live.
Three more months.
Another three words.
Watching the skin on his body start to mold around his bones, taking a skeletal shape, frightened me more then when I was diagnosed with cancer. His once bright, green eyes now became dull gemstones, when they once were dazzling emeralds. His skin now stretched across his face, and his once bronze skin tone turned sandpaper tan. He was getting so bad, to the point where he couldn’t push me on my wheelchair anymore in the garden, racing me past the nurses who yelled at us to stop, and the doctors who laughed when they saw our bond. Now, I’m the one pushing his wheelchair to every examination he had to go to. Every surgery he had to face.
But I was there the entire time holding his hand.
And I knew, no matter what happened, he couldn’t die. Even if my own life was to expire, Adrian has to live.
He just has to.
I believe in god as I believe in giant squids swimming in the darkest depths of the ocean. Even though I’ve never seen it, I believe it exists. Yeah, I don’t agree with all the scriptures in the bible, and all the bologna they fill in children’s heads in bible school, but I prayed. Prayed until I fell asleep on the floor with my hands clasped in a vice like grip within each other. Prayed until I was forced to bed rest from over exerting myself. Prayed until I cried, and cried, to the point where all my tears were washed out of me, and all I was left was moaning in emotional pain.
Will whoever I pray to answer them?
Or do I have to do this on my own?
When the doctors said he had less than a month left, I stayed by his side the whole time; ordering the nurses to switch rooms with his roommate and I so I can be with him every night.
One night, right before I was falling asleep, Adrian resting his head on my newly grown hair that reached my shoulders, he whispered to me.
“What was that again?” I mumbled, my eyelids not strong enough to keep my eyes open.
“I don’t want to die here.”
He made me promise. Said he doesn’t want the last thing he sees to be machines that beeps his last heart beat. Wanted to see my face in the real world, he told me. Not in a land of people forever saying goodbye.
He wanted to go to the beach.
To the beach.
Three more words.
Sneaking him past all the nurses and doctors and security was easy. It was around midnight, and all I did was wheel him with his IV through the back exit door that was propped open with a broken beer bottle so the doctors could have easy access outside when needing to take a break from all the death; or just have a quick drag on cancer sticks (Cigarettes. Patient Lingo.)
The wheelchair wouldn’t go in the sand, so I had to first carry all of our stuff a few miles away from the hospital, set it up, then walk all the way back to carry Adrian a few miles back to where I had our camp out ready. Around four in the morning, when I finally settled Adrian on the blanket I set up on the sand next to the tent, I could see little slivers of red and orange on the horizon.
But, instead of watching the sun come up, he stared at me, and I at him. Told me he liked me better bald, which got us both cracking up. We were having such a great time. I was never more happy. Before the cancer, when I had a boyfriend I thought I loved, friends I believed to be there for me, but wasn’t, I wasn’t as genuinely happy as I am now.
And, while I was watching Adrian slowly die in my arms, I knew he couldn’t leave me. If he did, I wouldn’t be able to live. For the past year we’ve been together, he was all that made me go through. The day I got my head shaven, the day I first met him, I was going to sign a DNR; you know, one of those Do Not Resuscitate contracts. You could say, Adrian was my savior, and now I was going to be his.
While he was in a deep sleep, I picked him up in my arms, making sure to carry his head properly, and started racing back towards the hospital. I’ve never run so fast before, and I used to be on the track team. Nor did I loose any breath. It was like, I was given wings, and instead of running to the hospital, I was flying towards it. One moment, the hospital was a tiny dot in the distance, and the next, I was right next to it, putting Adrian in the wheelchair we left there and racing towards the door that was propped open with a beer bottle.
I cant really explain what happened next. I was screaming, my throat horse from crying on my way there. People with white lab coats surrounded me, pulling at my life I had dying in my arms. He was on a bed, his body stiff, limp, then stiff again. Breath shallow with the struggle. The next moment, however, he was gone in a wave of plastic gloves and yelling. But, even though the exhaustion of carrying him while running all the way over here, I still managed to follow them. I watched as their frantic calls of get this get that hummed down when they realize they couldn’t do anything. And a few minutes later, as each one of the doctors and their interns stalked out of the room where Adrian was dying, and I felt like I was dying with him, I held his hand throughout it all.
As he was fluttering his eyes open, I heard the long beep. It happens just like in all those tacky doctor shows they play once a week on ABC or CW11. While the machine told me his heart stopped, and I saw our life together flash in front of his eyes before they became glassy, I cried the hardest I’ve ever cried before. The interns had to call security because I wouldn’t leave the room, and me screaming at the tops of my lungs was upsetting the other patients. Yet, right when they were pulling me out of the room, my hands held behind my back, being shoved out the door, I heard a beep.
Two years later.
While reading the third book of my recently favorite author, Jane Austen, I stare out into the sunset, watching as the waves lapped at the shore, the sky dissolving in beautiful colors of blood reds and daisy yellows. Getting up, I had the sudden urge to go into the ocean, and let the water swallow me whole, but was beat to it.
As Adrian ran into the water, calling for me to join him, I thank god that my prayers were answered. Not only did I not die, but I was able to save my hope. My heart. My husband. And as I put my wedding ring down besides my clothes, I rush into the water.
I love you.
My last three words.