Damn you, John Green. Damn you for writing things in such a way that makes me care deeply only to rip it all apart while I'm a helpless bystander, and damn you for triggering the most violent, prolonged crying jag I've had while reading a book since Deathly Hallows.
Forever and Forever Farewell
Sixty-three days AG, Phalanxifor decided that it had borrowed enough time on my behalf.
I became aware of this only gradually, of course. Though my stamina hadn't been remotely enviable for years, I was now always listless to the point where even sitting up for too long left me exhausted. Three square meals a day were only endured because it was a parentally supervised necessity, never because I was actually hungry. My whole body succumbed to an achiness that was like having the flu on steroids.
The day the aches couldn't just be called aches but full-fledged pain, pain which started making my vision go hazy around the edges, I told my mother to make me an appointment for a PET scan. It revealed mets to my liver and pelvic lymph nodes. Both the new tumors and the old were growing again, and with a vengeance, as if to say a real screw you for being suppressed for as long as they were. That is, more than Cancer is usually saying screw you.
When Dr. Maria called my parents and me into her office to tell us the news, Dad started shuddering with these big, gasping sobs that tore through the room until I thought there had never been another sound in the world besides his cries.
"I'm so sorry," Dr. Maria said, looking at each of the three of us in turn. "We're not going to give up, though. Relapses happen, but we'll adapt, try something new. There's an experimental treatment with a new chemo cocktail that has shown shrinkage in some patients' tumors. It has about a twenty-five percent success rate."
My parents agreed then and there for me to begin courses immediately.
The thing was, I couldn't expect to be part of Phalanxifor's Miraculous percentile and this one, and I wasn't. Miracles were statistically improbable and a little fickle that way. The tumors kept growing, aggressively so. I got sicker and sicker, and as the months withered away, so did I. By Halloween, I was too weak to return to the Literal Heart of Jesus and listen to nutless Patrick anymore, even if I took the elevator; there was a strange mixture of relief and misery in that. I was permanently tethered to the BiPAP whether I was sleeping or not because fluid kept refilling my lungs with greater frequency than Peter Van Houten topping up his Scotch glass.
Good days were so few and far between, I thought every time that one came around that it must be my Last Good Day.
But then I would wake up the next morning, generally feeling gutted, utterly incapable of breathing on my own, experiencing pain at horrifyingly new heights and in horrifyingly new ways, but strictly-speaking, alive.
The week after Thanksgiving, I was woken up from a drug-induced nap by a noise I could not identify. (Side note: Whenever Regular Doctor Jim told me that Sleep fights Cancer, the thing I never responded though I had always wanted to was that Sleep had brought a knife to a gunfight.) The noise came again and louder, this clumsy, hesitant tapping outside of my bedroom. I soon found out it was Isaac. Using a white cane, he navigated himself through the doorway, rapping it sharply on either side of the jamb before returning it to the floor.
"As I live and breathe." Both of which are precarious statuses, I thought even as the words crossed my cracked, flaking lips. "Walking about under your own power, Isaac? I'm duly impressed."
"As well you should be. This isn't the easiest thing on carpet, everything's muffled," he said, inching his way toward the armchair by my bed, where he knew it to be. "To be fair, my mother did lead me inside. Your front porch is surely the craftsmanship of Satan. Did you know those stairs are completely disproportionate?"
"I did not." By way of encouragement, I added, "Baby steps."
"I'm pretty sure a baby probably has a better grasp of this particular motor skill than I do," he countered.
Isaac relaxed into the seat and brought his cane to lay across his lap.
We sat there without really saying anything for a while. It's not that we had nothing to say; plenty of things came to mind, it was only that I, at least, was not feeling brave enough to say them.
But finally, Isaac apparently had enough of slighting yet another of his senses, and a perfectly functional one at that. "Hazel, do you think he's happy?"
There was no question of who he was.
"I don't know. I think so. I hope so."
He was just shy of facing me head on, a fraction too far to the right, but I could see his eyebrows moving over the rims of his sunglasses and imagined his sightless eyelids flickering back and forth as if to read my expression. "Do you think we'll get to see him again?"
I thought of Augustus, of his body deep in the earth, but also of his conviction that there had to be more than this, this terrible and magnificent agony-riddled crapshoot of an existence, and that after death there had to be capital-S Something. And I realized that so long as Augustus Waters was a part of that Something, I wouldn't mind dying nearly so much.
"Absolutely," I said with a tone of confidence I was sure Augustus would have been proud of.
The rest of Isaac's visit passed in a flurry of idle chitchat until my mother ducked her head in to remind me that it was time for another dose of medicine. He took his cue to stand, cane once again in hand.
"I'll see you around. Well, figuratively speaking," Isaac amended, his mouth pulling up into a sardonic, crooked grin that reminded me overpoweringly of Augustus's smiles.
"Yeah," I whispered, hating myself for the tear that leaked out of the corner of my eye and slipped down my wasted cheek.
After dinner that evening, I turned on my computer, and after checking my (unsurprisingly empty) inbox, I logged into Facebook. For a long, long time, I scrolled through the comments on my page, scanned over my friends (and I use that term loosely), and looked at my albums. Most of the pictures I had up were pre-Cancer, but there were a couple that were post.
The last one was of Augustus and me, after Amsterdam but before he and Isaac had egged Monica's car. Either his mom or his dad had taken the photo. We were sitting sprawled on the grass in his backyard, chins tilted up to look at the darkening sky. Augustus's arm was raised to point out something above us and out of frame. My head was tucked into the crook between his neck and shoulder, but my eyes were fixed on whatever he was gesturing at. I couldn't really remember anymore what he had been showing me. The truth was, it was too hard being the sole keeper of what were once our memories, and sometimes I think I simply let them slip away to make it easier.
Augustus had commented on the picture.
That is one ridiculously attractive boyfriend you have there, Hazel Grace. I mean, look at that Grecian profile. Adonis didn't have a nose like that!
I snorted into my BiPAP snout, as I had the first time I read it. For a second, I let my cursor hover over his name, watching it get underlined. (The metaphorical resonance of Augustus Waters being underscored for me was not lost on me.) I clicked through.
Augustus's page had become rubble in the explosion of wall posts since he died. The stream had turned into a trickle as the days turned into weeks which turned into months, but they were still coming. The most recent was dated early yesterday afternoon.
RIP man. I'll miss shootin hoops with you.
Hot and inexplicable, the tears came rushing to my eyes and stayed stagnant there. My stomach was roiling, and for a minute, there was the very real possibility that I might throw up. Not that that would be anything new.
I went back to my own profile. Slowly, I scrolled up and selected the account deletion page. When I hit submit, a small window popped up with an alarmed ping and in red bolded font told me, You are about to permanently delete your account. Are you sure? If automated textually-based messages were capable of tonal inflection, I'm pretty sure this particular one would have gone something like, Hey what the hell do you think you're doing, you can't be serious, I'm your freaking FACEBOOK page, you need me!
Are you sure?
Was I sure I didn't want to provide them all with the forum they would swarm to talk about Poor Dead Hazel and her Valiant Battle Against Cancer and how even though she was destined to be worm food she would Live On in their elephant-like cerebral cortexes? It had happened to Caroline Mathers. It had happened to Augustus.
I clicked okay.
Not to me. Not if I had anything to say about it.
We spent the day after Christmas celebrating Boxing Day, because despite the fact that we were neither British nor Canadian, my mother insisted.
In addition to the presents I'd received the day before—including a framed Encouragement (Experience Is Not What Happens To You, It Is What You Do With What Happens To You) from Mr. and Mrs. Waters, who had left it with us wrapped before leaving to spend the holidays with Julie, Martha, their banker husbands, and their boys—my parents had piled onto their own Christmas gifts to me with a bunch more: a new pajama and slipper set, a veritable rainbow of nail polish, and a T-shirt with The Hectic Glow's band logo splashed across the front.
I'd been too drained to really make the effort of traveling the distance between my room and other parts of the house for the festivities, so temporary basecamp had been set up in the living room. The pull-out couch turned into my bed so I could lounge, watch all the Christmas movies I could stand, and direct the trimming of the tree. Bluie had weaseled his way tucked up against my side via my mother. My parents and I hadn't even gone into the kitchen to eat for the past couple of days, opting instead to use tray tables to eat where we were. Every night I had slept out here, Mom and Dad didn't head back to their room; they would just sleep on the loveseat huddled into each other. Anyone might have thought they drifted off there accidentally, but I knew better. They wanted to stay close to where I was.
I woke up around two in the morning, suddenly and eerily wide awake. I blinked as the fog of sleep and meds dissipated and I could focus on the melded, shadowy figures of my parents. In the dark, with the blanket thrown over both of them and each with an arm out poking from opposite sides, they looked like bizarrely lumpy set of conjoined twins.
My eyes strayed over to the tree, lights still twinkling despite the unquestionable fire hazard it posed. Besides a few store-bought decorations scattered throughout, the spindly branches were covered in ornaments that I had made over the years in elementary school, jaggedly cut shapes, blobby glitter speckles, and all. The only truly nice thing about our tree was the star on top. It was beautiful without being ostentatious, with clean lines that contained a lacy, swirling pattern of partially frosted glass which diffused the light coming from inside of it with such a softly pretty glow, you would think it might have actually been a real star once.
I thought about Augustus then, and him telling me that last day in Amsterdam how he lit up like a Christmas tree. I wondered if he were here with me right now, if he would have
End Author's Notes
Oh, and thank you too, John.