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Thanks For That
Last year, my best friend didn’t have cancer. Last month, my best didn’t have cancer. Last week, my best friend didn’t have cancer. Yesterday, my best friend didn’t have cancer. Today is different. Today my best friend has cancer.
It took him a while to say it. Finally, I made him spit it out.
“Come on, Nick. Just tell me.”
He couldn’t meet my eyes.
“I’m sick. Really sick.”
This is the part when my hands start to sweat and my heart starts to tremble.
“Will you be okay?” I ask.
He shakes his head slowly. “I have leukemia. Cancer.”
The world doesn’t just stop, it‘s silenced. There is no sound to be heard. Nick and I just sit there in his room. I have no idea what to say to him. Is there anything to say? Anything worth saying?
“You could still be okay,” I try.
“The doctors said I’ll probably die by September.”
“But they’re not always right,” I insist. “Miracles can happen.”
For the first time since he sat on his bed, Nick looks at me. Really looks me in the eyes and says, “In fairy tales, maybe.”
Nick decides he’s not going to try to fight it, or pretend like he’s not sick. He tries to live as much as he can every day. This includes asking me weird questions. It seems like as the days go by, the stranger he becomes.
Today, he asks, “Have you ever felt like your life is just a futile road?”
“It’s just that for almost everything we do, there’s no real point. There’s no real reason we do anything we do. It never amounts to anything. There is no purpose. We’re just walking along this road because it’s the only thing we know how to do.”
“Just think about it for a second. What is the purpose of something we use everyday? Like why do we learn math in school? Teachers and parents tell us we’ll use it in our future, but when will we, really? When will I ever need geometry in life? Because I want to go to college? What is the purpose of college? To be qualified for jobs? So I can earn money? So I can buy a house and get married and have kids and die? What’s the purpose of that?”
I try to guide him away from these bizarre thoughts, try to bring him back to reality, try to make him normal again. It never works. I can’t influence him anymore. He has too much time to think, and too much to think about.
“You know what? I think it would be better to be poor. When you get older, be poor. You’ll appreciate life more, learn to cherish the important things.”
“I’ll make that my number one goal. Be poor.”
Nick doesn’t laugh. “Good.” He’s serious.
He’s slowing down. He sleeps more, eats less. His body is diminishing, and his skin is paler, almost translucent. When I come over to visit, I sit for hours, waiting for him to wake up. His mom says I can go up and wake him if I want, but I never do. I think every extra minute of sleep he gets is more strength he’ll have to fight off the cancer.
But my theory doesn’t seem to be working. It seems the more he sleeps, the sicker he gets. Or vice versa.
“Nick,” I tell him one day, when he finally comes outside and we sit in the sun. He still has his pajamas on. “Do you remember that one day we bought ice cream cones, and I dropped mine? And they wouldn’t give me a free ice cream, and I didn’t have any money left, so you bought me one? With the money you were going to use to buy that game you wanted?”
“Thanks for that.”
“Your happiness is way more important than a game.”
Suddenly, for no reason at all, tears spring to my eyes. I try to hold them back, but one trickles down my cheek. Nick puts his arm around me and I cry into his shoulder.
“Why am I the emotional one?” I ask when I can finally speak a little.
Nick laughs. The greatest laugh in the world.
“Because I’m your favorite person ever.”
“Do you remember when we met? In sixth grade?”
“When we both took that self-defense class? Even though it was only meant for girls.”
“Yeah, and I told them I wanted to defend myself from the bullies, but I actually just wanted to show off in front of my friends.”
“And then I kicked your butt.”
“Then when all the guys made fun of me, you stood up for me. And kicked all their butts.”
“I had your back from the beginning,” I say.
“Thanks for that.”
It’s September 20th when Nick’s mom calls me. He’s not feeling well, she says. At all. I know this is easier for her to say then, “My son is dying.”
I understand. It’s impossible for me to say my best friend is dying.
I get to his house and run straight for his room. No one asks any questions. His dad is in the living room, and stands when he hears me come in. I pass by him on the way to the stairs. He doesn’t say anything, just gives me a weak smile. His eyes are red with grief.
Since that day I helped pick Nick off the ground after some kid pushed him, I hold his hand. He is lying in bed, where he’s been for days now. With his free hand, Nick reaches behind his pillow, pulls out a folded up paper, and hands it to me.
“Don’t read it just yet,” he says. His voice is low and hoarse. “Save it. For later.”
“I’ll miss you, Nick.”
“I’ll miss you more,” he says. “If I could come back to life after I die, I’d tell you what happens. But I think that’s against the rules.”
“I don’t think I want to know.”
“I’m about to find out.”
I cry. He wipes a tear from my face. “By the way, you were right. Miracles can happen,” he says. “You became my best friend.”
“I am your favorite person ever.”
Nick dies that night. I miss him more than anything in the world. I watch him take his last breath.
When I’m alone, I read his note.
You had my back from the beginning. Thanks for that, best friend.