The one year anniversary of Augustus Water’s death occurred two days after another of my infamous cancer episodes. I had felt a stabbing pain at two in the morning in my shit lungs, per usual, but this would have fallen under the rating of nine on the pain scale, a pain I’d only felt once before on the night of my should’ve-been death. I sat up and let out a shrieking cry, which I assume was not pleasant to the ears. Lucky for me I couldn’t exactly focus on hearing, but rather the torment my body was being overrun by. My mother rushed into my room with a familiar terror written across her face. I don’t remember much after that, just little snippets of the world around me as I dipped in and out of consciousness: my mother and father running behind the stretcher as it rolled me into the ICU, the doors closing behind me with my parents trapped behind them, sobbing and throwing themselves into each other’s arms. I remember wondering what they were thinking: Was this it? Will I ever see my daughter’s eyes open again? I wondered how many times they’d asked themselves if this was the end. Fortunately and unfortunately, it never seemed to be.
Well, my eyes didn’t open for the three days. After transitioning in and out of consciousness I eventually ended up in a mini coma. I missed the anniversary of Gus’ death, which I was okay with. It’s not exactly something to celebrate anyway. I would rather have spent it unconscious than sitting in my room crying and grieving about what had once been. Not like it would make much of a difference anyway, considering that had been my life since the day he died. I’d graduated from daily sobbing into my pillow to just a constant emptiness. Not really sure which I prefer. If I had a choice, of course, I would pick neither. But the world is not a wish granting factory. I’ve come to terms with that, at least.
When I did wake up, I wasn’t surprised to see my parents sitting at my bedside, streaks of wetness falling down their faces. They were each holding my same hand, and when they saw my eyes flicker opened they squeezed it, so tightly it made me wince. Beside my father, the avid cryer, was a pile of tissues the size of a small child.
“Hi, baby” my mother said softly, gently caressing my face.
I just smiled, not sure if my lungs would allow for words to escape my mouth.
“We love you so much, Hazel Grace,” my father told me.I could feel tears welling up. Only Gus called me that. What I wouldn’t give to hear him say it one more time.
I decided speaking at this point was necessary, in case they never got to hear me say the words again. I managed a sincere “I love you too.”
Though I had lost someone who I loved much more than any words in existence can express, I had not lost my parents. They needed to know I loved them, despite what a road block and a pain in the ass I’d been to them over my 17 years of life. It occurred to me how terrible I was to them at a time when they’d given me everything they had. I shut them out, and I yelled at them when all they were trying to do was love me. One conversation in particular I remember very well. A few months after Gus’ death, my mother was trying to comfort me, an attempt that seemed to fail time and time again. “Can’t a girl just have some time alone?” I yelled. “I’m going to be dead before you know it, so you might as well get used to not hovering around me like a fly to a pile of shit! Please just go away!” Then I slammed the door in her face and spent the entire rest of my day locked in my room. I felt terrible. I still do. But my mom, as always, was hurt for a few minutes and then swept it off her shoulder. Anger, after all, is another side effect of dying. She didn’t blame me so much as she blamed my circumstances.
I looked back at my mother, remembering that day and many others. “I’m sorry…” I said, “for everything.”
My mother managed a smile. “You don’t have to apologize for anything, sweetheart. We love you, every bit of you.”
Even the cancer that is slowly eating away my last shreds of life.
“We know we won’t have you forever, but we want to spend the time that we do have to let you know how much you mean to us. I know you’re concerned about us getting hurt, and we appreciate the thought, but honey, we’re not leaving. It’s not going to happen. No amount of pain can scare me away from loving my little girl.” And then we hugged, the three of us, for what felt like forever. One long, warm, family embrace. And for the first time in forever I felt content, if only for a little while.
They insisted that I get some rest, but stayed there just in case. I was tired, despite three whole days of doing nothing. As I began to fall asleep, it occurred to me that neither my parents nor my doctor ever told me exactly what had happened that caused me to end up here again. Just me having cancer, I assume. Nothing out of the ordinary.
It felt like it had only been a few minutes since I shut my eyes when I started to feel like I was drowning. It hurt, but not too bad, seeing as I was already on countless painkillers. I couldn’t catch my breath, and my heart pounded against my chest. I started asking myself the same questions that I have many times before, about whether this was it, if I was about to take my last breath or if I would see my parents faces for the last time. My cardiac monitor began violently beeping. I started thinking about capital S Something that Gus had believed in and wondered if he was there, wondered if I was going there.
Everything happened so quickly. My mother rose from her chair and held my hand while my dad ran out of the room to get a doctor. The background noise was a collection of yelling, heavy breathing, sobbing, and my monitor going beep, beep, beep…
And then that one last, long beep, followed by complete silence and loss of vision.
But then a light emerges in the distance, revealing a figure making his way towards me. I notice that, for the first time in years, I can breathe freely. The figure approaches me, wearing a glowing white suit and walking as if there isn’t a prosthetic leg weighing him down. He is flashing that crooked smile I fell in love with, an unlit cigarette dangling from his fingers.
“C’mon Hazel Grace, it’s time to go now,” he says, offering his hand to me.
“Okay,” I say, smiling, and take it.
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