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My Art was Wonderful
"How long does she have? Have they given a time? Years, months?"
I laughed. What a dream. A dream to live even another week. But that's all it is: a damn dream. Reality bites.
"Amy? Did you hear me? So how many months does she have?"
My sister turned to the questioner: "What months? What years? You mean the days? Maybe six. There are no months anymore Dave. Only days."
I laughed again. They couldn't hear me. They hadn't heard anything that I had said for about a month because I was unable to verbalize my thoughts. I sure was talking though...gabbing. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I had long, deep, loving conversations with those around me...they just couldn't hear me talking...or laughing. My mind, though, was reeling with laughter. It was also reeling with cancer.
I was seventeen, young, vibrant, and hot. Hot. Yeah, that was me. Head of the school paper, Captain of the Tennis Team and, above all, an artist. It sounds conceited but the first thing I told someone when they asked me about myself was "I am an artist. I paint." If you want the proof, walk into my room back at my old house. I won't be there to disturb you and if you tell my parents that you are there to honor Jackie, they'll understand. So just go through the living room and down the hall to the right. My room was the last door on the left. The bathroom is next door if you need it. Anyway, back to my room. On one wall I painted the ocean. Dolphins dart up and out of the water, their sleek hides gleaming in the sun, sea urchins cling to the ocean floor and fish dart in and out of the coral. Another wall is decorated with a painting of a huge house in the woods. This is where I was born, where my mother was born, and where my grandmother before her was born. It is a cherished remembrance of my genealogy. A third wall is completely covered by slashes of paint. It is a rather disgusting wall if you really look at it and it is where I took out my anger when the need hit me. Say somebody really made me mad or humiliated me, I'd go get my paints, put a sheet over my bed and just take gobs of paint and throw them at the wall. It really cleared my head and the wall is sort of a record of my life. The big red stain in the top left corner is from June 21st. That was the day I found out about the cancer. The fourth and last wall is my favorite. Faces. They are everywhere. Anyone from my little brother, to Audrey Hepburn , to Frida, to my nurse, Wilma. Its everyone and anyone who effected my life, whether negatively or positively. Thank G-d that it is a big wall, though not big enough; I'd started on the ceiling before I was to weak to get up there. Anyway, if you just tell my parents why you are there, they are sure to show you around.
So I found out about my cancer on June 21st, a week after my sixteenth birthday. I hadn't wanted a big party so I had just invited family and a few friends and we had a BBQ in the back yard. It was wonderful. My best friends, Alexa, Megan, Chris and Dave were wonderful and truly made me feel special. They always did. Even when we told everybody about the cancer, Alexa, Megan and Dave were the first to be at my side. It was Chris who was missing. Poor Chris. He always thought that he was to good for anybody else. He and I had actually begun dating that year and we, well, I at least, was so happy with the relationship. I really loved him...he cared about me. He was funny and considerate and doting and was, to me, just the perfect guy. I called him June 21st and told him the news.
"Hey honey, what's up? You okay?"
"Yeah." How do you tell somebody that you are terminally ill?
"No, come on what's the matter? You need me to come over?" He always was great.
"Chris...I don't know how to tell you. I'm sick."
"Sick? Like...the flu?"
"No. Worse. I'm really sick Chris."
"Like pneumonia?" G-d love him. I knew I did.
"No Chris. Like Cancer." Yep, Cancer with a capitol C.
The phone went dead. I called back. No answer. My heart stopped.
So what was with Chris you might ask? Pure assholeism. Immediately after the phone went dead I called Megan and sobbed, telling her how much Chris hated me, how he thought cancer was gross, how I was only good enough for him when there were no problems.
Megan reassured me that the phone probably just went dead and that Chris was really on his way to my house now and that's why he didn't pick up. I waited an hour, then two, but he never showed and I knew my heart was reaching to high.
I saw Chris one more time before I died. It was an accident too. I guess his little sister had broken her hip during a cheerleading event and he had come to the hospital to visit her. How ironic that her room started with the same three characters as mine. He found my room instead of her's.
A knock at the door.
"Hey Lauren I came to-" He stopped dead, his cheeks flushed with color. "I am so sorry miss, I must have the wrong room. I'll just go-"
"Oh my gosh, Chris it's me. Look at me. Chris! It's Jackie!"
He stared. I can't blame him for not recognizing me. I had lost all of my beautiful red hair, my eyes were sunken in their malnourished sockets and I had lost thirty pounds from my already petite frame. But look in my eyes, Chris, my eyes.
"Where? Where have you been? You let me down." I rasped. I could hardly talk and it took me every effort to utter a single syllable.
He stood, looking petrified, his hand on the door knob, tears pouring down his face. His mouth opened but no sound came out. Finally, "Jackie...Jackie wow. Jackie I'm...I'm sorry. I gotta go." He ran.
I went completely downhill from there. Everything started shutting down. I missed my art, I longed for the canvas, for my walls back at home. I cried for my paint. Then one day, Megan and Alexa visited, as always, only this time they were accompanied by three nurses instead of the usual one. One of the nurses pushed a wheel chair and another carried a huge steel contraption. The woman with the contraption set it down and began to unfold it. It was a ramp. I looked at Megan and Alexa.
"Today, you are going to paint." Said Alexa.
"Yep. Which wall looks the best?" Asked Megan, smiling.
I couldn't believe it. With much effort and a lot of help, I clamored into the wheel chair, which one of the nurses pushed up the ramp. From there, we painted. Blues, purples, reds, yellows, gold, greens, grays, blacks, magentas, aquas, EVERY COLOR. A rainbow of vibrant hues depicted the faces of my fellow students, of my family, my nurses, my idols, my heartaches, my enemies and myself. We worked the entire day through and at the end, covered in paint, I collapsed. The nurses, momentarily shocked and worried, lifted me into my bed and did several tests on me. I prayed to G-d that I was going to die. I had painted my last painting and just wanted to sleep, to die, to dream. I would die and sprout wings and glide through the gates of heaven and into the arms of G-d who would tell me that my painting was beautiful. I didn't die though. At least, not yet.
I died a week later. It was the last hour that I remember the most. I couldn't see anything but I heard it all. I remember the voices so clearly. Mother, Amy, my little brother Max, Megan, Alexa, Dave, Wilma, Chris. Yes...Chris. Megan, Alexa and Dave had been coming to my room everyday for at least four hours a day and they were just leaving that day when the door opened. The three had been talking jovially and when the door opened, it all stopped.
"Alexa. Megan. Dave." I heard his voice and almost saw his nod of embarrassment to each as he named them. They were silent with anger and hatred bred over months of bitterness.
"What do you want?" Asked the ever-defensive Dave. Good old Dave. He is in the Army now, away from his two children, Matt and Jacqueline. Matt looks just like him. When he is home, he volunteers for the fire station. He has saved fifteen people to date. "You need to leave before I punch you."
""I just came to...to say goodbye." whimpered Chris.
"Oh?" Megan butted in. "Whose leaving?" Here is the problem with Megan. Up to my last breathe, she was in denial. Dave and Alexa had understood that we were depending on a miracle to save me, and if that miracle didn't come, I was gone forever. Megan, however would not admit that I was in the drastic state that I was. Today she is a teacher, opening up children‘s minds with her wisdom, however little of it she had at the time of my death. She has no children yet but is a newly wed. She was beautiful on her wedding day. "Certainly nobody in this room is leaving. Perhaps you have the wrong room Chris. The psychiatric ward is down the hall. They are waiting for you."
I laughed my inward laugh. Oh, Megan you dimwitted idiot, I love you.
Chris persisted. "Please, I just want a moment."
Dave and Megan began to argue but Alexa, G-d save her, interfered.
"Maybe... lets just let him." She suggested. Today, Alexa is a social worker, fighting the hardest cases in New York. She is amazing at it and loves saving children. Unfortunately, she is unable to have any of her own. She would have been an outstanding mother.
Alexa gently shoved the other two out of the room and the hairs on my arms stood up as Chris approached my bed.
"Oh G-d Jackie. Can you hear me? No? Well, even if you could you probably wouldn't answer me. I understand." He sighed. "Jackie I'm an ass." I laughed my inner laugh. Damn right you are. "I left you. Oh G-d Jackie, I left you and I'll always regret it. You see...well of course you can't see because it was a vile thing but...I was so scared. I couldn't imagine the pressure, the responsibility. I was scared to be tied to somebody who was dying, scared of what I would have to do. Jackie I loved you. I...I'm sorry. It just hurt. I still love you but I...I wasn't brave enough. I was a coward. The day after you told me about your cancer, before anybody else knew, I told everybody that we had broken up so that they wouldn't think your cancer was the reason. I pretended that I visited you everyday. I even used it as an excuse for homework. I..." I heard his sobs, and pity washed over me in waves. I wanted to hold his hand, to comfort him but I couldn't. I opened my eyes. Oh G-d it took such effort but I did it. He looked at me, startled and gasped.
I can't imagine what it must have been like for him. I used to be beautiful. Long, sleek red hair, piercing blue eyes and great bone structure. Now, bald, sunken and dying, my mouth hung open in pain and my eyes screamed. I couldn't speak but wanted him to know I forgave him. My fingers wiggled and he saw. He snatched my hand up and kissed it and wept.
"Jackie I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I deserve hell. I should die, not you. I am so sorry."
My parents, Megan, Alexa and Dave came back in the room and found Chris hugging my still warm hand to his chest, sobbing.
I soared, above the room, above their heads, above the clouds, above my art. Away. I entered the gates of Heaven, of Shmayim, and found G-d. He held me in His lap while I cried. I had never been much of a believer in G-d. It was all fluff to me, something to make living on earth and the theory of dying a bit easier. But He held me while I wept and told me that my art was wonderful. My art was wonderful.