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The Way of Life
He glanced over at his mother and watched her feeble hand hold the cigarette as she took a long drag. How bad will it get before she realizes she needs to quit he thought to himself. He shivered and shoved his thoughts away jumping up from the old maroon arm chair that came with the house itself; almost tripping up the stairs he went to his room.
His mother now starting to cough on the smoke watched her son leave and could feel the pain and sadness emanating from his body. She sighed and took another long puff closing her eyes and remembering how it was before she got sick.
Spencer flopped down on his unmade bed and lay there with the cushioning being mostly a mix between his clean and dirty laundry. He turned over on his side and glanced out the window; the moon was bright and there were barely any stars visible in the sky. On his desk across the room was a vase. In it was a daisy that his mother had given him from their garden the previous morning. It was still fresh and new. It stood all in its spot absorbing the nutrients it needed to survive. Its radiating white color was striking and pure against the other colors in the room. The flower gave off an essence of simple beauty. He shut his eyes inhaling the surprisingly strong aroma of the plant. He drifted softly into sleep thus forgetting to set his alarm clock for the next day.
After having a dreamless night Spencer awoke to his dog Rufus scratching restlessly at his bedroom door. Knowing that the dog would continue to paw at the door creating more scratch marks than there were already, Spencer rolled out of bed and opened the door to a dog that came bounding in and made himself at home on Spencer's bed.
“You dumb dog,” he said softly speaking to the creature happily resting on his pile of laundry. He glanced over at his clock registering the time. He slapped his head in stupidity.
"Mom!" Spencer yelled breathlessly, "Where are you?!" He'd foolishly overslept, and had realized his mother had already left for her doctor's appointment. He scowled. He hated doctors, but he definitely didn't want her to go alone. The appointment was at 8:30am. It was now an hour later and he sat nervously on the structure they referred to as their couch, which in Spencer's opinion looked a little bit more like a rectangle that had been attacked by a dog.
He sat staring out the bay window into their empty drive way. Cars rushed past and the mail was even delivered, but Spencer was oblivious to all of this. He sat waiting for what seemed like forever; when finally an hour later after the rain had begun, their rusted old Honda coasted into their driveway with the wipers on.
"Mom, how did everything go?" Spencer called to her as she walked into the house. She walked slowly down the hall singing a tune to herself. She loved to sing. Before she had gotten sick, which caused her voice to become raspy, she had sung all the time. He smiled to himself remembering the nights when he was younger that she would sing him to sleep. He also let himself remember when she started to get sick and lose her voice, how she would try and sing to him but in the end it would never work out and she would end up leaving bravely to then sit in her room across the hall and softly weep about what was slowly happening to her body. Spencer cried those nights also wondering why life had to be so cruel. Why had this happened to his mother? Why did cancer even exist in this world, becoming more common every year and killing over thousands of people regardless of age.
"Hey Hun, see that you finally decided to wake up," she eventually replied snapping Spencer back to the present. He looked at her and she had a faint smile whispering in the corners of her mouth.
"I'm so sorry you had to go alone! I overslept; why on earth didn't you wake me up?" His brow crumpled in anger and wonder. "What ever, it doesn't matter. What does matter is what happened? What's the news?" He spoke anxiously awaiting a response. She heaved out a breath of air and slumped down onto the couch next to him.
"There's nothing they can do now." She spoke with an almost steady voice. She avoided his gaze but faced him when she spoke. "I don't want you to be upset---"
"You don't want me to be upset!" He squeaked, his voice cracking due to the awkward age of four-teen. He jumped up off of the rectangle throwing on his beaten up sneakers and a hoodie and running out the door.
Anna, Spencer's mother, was left sitting on her own with nothing to say. It's my fault she thought. It's my fault he is so angry and so stressed. He shouldn't have to deal with this. She hated herself for getting sick. Cancer had caused an enormous weight in their lives and even though Spencer was a young boy he saw and had to handle things he shouldn't have had to. Spencer reacted in rebellious ways because of what the cancer did to her. He couldn't stand to watch her suffer and she knew it. He failed math because of the stress. He’d gotten into a fight at school because he was angry; he has even come home high. She understood how it would relieve stress for him and make him calm after nothing but a hectic day but she knew that it was because of her.
She hated having this effect on her son. She worried about where he had taken off to and what trouble he might get into, but she knew she needed to just let him go and blow off some steam. Anna got up and grabbed a cigarette out of the pack in her pocketbook. She lit it with a match; this probably didn't help much but she figured, what did it matter now?
His feet pounded on the cement as he ran down the street splashing in puddles along the way. Two blocks away he frantically knocked on his best friend Roger's door, which then opened to a soaked Spencer.
"We're going to the hospital." Spencer said with finality in his voice that Roger didn't and wouldn't question. He knew his friend and he knew he needed him to be there for whatever he needed to do. He threw on a coat and shoes and yelled to his dad he would be back later. He joined his friend in the rain and as they half-sprinted half-walked to the hospital Spencer explained the events that had occurred.
He stepped through the automatic doors and walked up to the receptionist’s desk. The smell hit him like a brick. It was the smell of sterilization and latex gloves. The woman looked up from the computer screen and took in the sight. In front of her stood two boys not old enough yet to drive but not still in middle school, soaking wet.
"I need to speak with Doctor Rochetti as soon as possible please." He put on his best "I'm cute and I really need this favor" look awaiting a response.
"What would be your purpose, um, mister..?" She said from behind her desk.
"My name’s Spencer Clawford and my mom is really sick. I just want to talk to the doctor about treatment and how he can help." She looked at him and debated whether or not to question him further. She chose not to and asked him to sit in the waiting room until the doctor called.
The woman sitting at the desk kept an eye on the two boys as they sat in the waiting area across the hall and stared at the TV. She glanced up as the other boy, the one who didn't speak with her, got up and grabbed a cup of water from the bubbler. The other boy sat in the chair with a blank look on his face. She had seen this before, kids who are affected by their parent’s illnesses; she hated it. Maybe she didn't pressure him about why he was here because deep down she had wished she once could have had the courage to do it, to come and confront the doctor personally about what they could do to stop the pain. When her dad passed, it took everything for her to get out of bed. She jolted as the phone rang dissolving all previous thoughts.
"Hello Cara, you sent me an email saying a boy named Spencer Clawford was here to speak with me?" His voice was gruff on the phone, old but wise sounding.
"Yes, he would like to speak to you about what can be done for his mother."
"Ahhh, ok, well send him up then." Before she could respond the line went dead. She rotated on her swivel chair towards the waiting room and said,
"Spencer, you can go see Doctor Rochetti now. Do you know how to get to his office?"
"Yes, thank you." He said with an earnest look in his eyes. He gestured to his friend and they walked down the hall towards the desired answers. Anna turned back to her work on the computer; she respected the boy for his bravery and smiled at him ten minutes later as he walked out of the hospital with an expressionless look on his face. For the rest of the day she couldn't stop thinking about the boy who was strong willed enough to come down here and get answers for himself. She knew that whatever had happened with the doctor, he would heal over time, just like she had.
Nothing. Nada. Zip. His search for answers was over with a big fat nothing to show for it. Doctor Rochetti basically told Spencer that there was nothing they could do for his mother. The cancer had spread to multiple parts of her body and now it just needed to run its course. Spencer had yelled in response about how they were doctors and they were supposed to be able to help. The doctor had just shaken his head solemnly and repeated again the words no person wants to hear. He said he was sorry and that other patients were waiting, that he must go. Angrily Spencer had said,
"You can help others but you can't help my mom?" the doctor glanced back and then left the room. Spencer and Roger had exited the hospital in silence. It was still drizzling out and dark. Trash blew around and the graffiti on the brick walls of the hospital had profanities written on them. On the walk back there was nothing to be said between the two. At their intersection Roger departed leaving Spencer to head back to his house. They had basically accomplished nothing.
Spencer, with a sense of defeat, waved to his friend and continued home. He hated doctors and this just went to show you why. They say they "can’t help”; they have millions of dollars worth of advanced technology and he says they can't help? Maybe Doctor Rochetti just didn't want to help. It could be a list of reasons why, it still didn't change the rage and dislike he had for this man. He would never forgive him for not trying. He opened the door to his house and slammed it shut causing the five picture frames hanging on the walls to jiggle and Rufus to jump up.
"Could you not enter the house in such an unpleasant demeanor?" his mother spoke from around the corner.
"Ya mom, whatever!" he shouted back with disrespect showing clearly in his voice. He rounded the corner and found her sitting at the kitchen table smoking a stub of a cigarette, the usual.
"You know, I'm really sorry." She said this and their eyes met; all of a sudden all of Spencer's anger was gone. There was something in the way his mother had spoken, the way she was looking at him that struck him. He stared at her in confusion urging her with his eyes to go on.
"I feel like because I got sick it had a horrible effect on you. I feel like it’s my fault you can't live your life without having to worry about me. I feel like you're always angry at the world or stressed out. I feel like the roles are reversed that you’re the parent and I'm the child. I feel like even though I am the one with cancer you suffer from it more than I do. I feel horrible about this whole situation." She heaved out one long sigh after getting all of this off her chest. Spencer just stood there and stared at her, and then he gently took her hand and helped her up encasing his mother in a hug. How long had it been since he hugged his mom? He couldn't remember... They stood like that in the kitchen for what seemed like forever when Spencer finally said,
"It's not your fault you got sick; you don't ever have to feel bad about it." He caressed a stray lock of hair that fell out of her scarf behind her ear. "I am the one who should be sorry. I never once stopped to think about how what I was doing was affecting you." He kissed her head and she smiled.
"I love you." She whispered.
"I love you too." He said softly back.
He woke up and knew that he had to change; he had to start to make an effort to spend time with his mom. He knew that instead of being mad about her sickness and the stress that he shouldn't think about it. He knew that he needed to accept and make the most out of the time they had together. He would start by doing things that she wanted to do...whether he liked it or not. He felt a pang of guilt as he thought about how he has affected his mother and he knew he needed to make it up to her.
They ate the breakfast Spencer prepared, even though it was a little crispy and sat on their beat up couch to watch a movie. Rufus was curled up between them serving as a comfort to the both of them. It wasn't Spencer's idea of "fun" but it made his mom happy just being together regardless. The movie started up and it opened with a song. Right when the harmonica came in Rufus jumped up and had started to "sing" along. As soon as that part stopped, he would stop. He seemed to even know when exactly his part would be coming. Spencer and his mom stared in amazement at their pug. They both looked at each other and giggled. Since when could Rufus sing? Anna picked up the dog and gave him a big kiss,
"Since when are you so talented?," she smirked. He hadn't seen his mom so happy in a long time. He watched her intently studying her. Her boney structure sat next to him hardly sinking into the cushion at all; her hair was tied back in a bun and a pink bandana was wrapped around her head. Wisps of hair surrounded her face in random spots; he thought back to her before the radioactive treatments. She was in great shape and her hair had been full and luscious; it was her favorite thing about herself. What a shame it was that the radioactive treatments didn't even work. His blood started to boil at the thought of the doctors and the hospital but he didn't get carried away; he just glanced back at his silly dog and his grinning mom.
Later that day they sat on the front steps gazing up at the Big Dipper. His mom looked amazed as she stared at the stars; it made him wonder why she seemed to enjoy life’s simplest things so much. But then it hit him. It was because she knew that there was always a maybe that she might not wake up and get another chance to see them. He frowned at the thought, but looked up in time to see a tear trickle down her cheek. She looked like an antique doll that was made of glass. She was so fragile but so beautiful at the same time. Was it weird he thought his mom was pretty? He didn't seem to care for the first time in his life; he just felt. He wiped her tear with a gentle brush of his hand and they sat there in silence. They understood each other perfectly without even using words. There seemed to be no need. Spencer marveled at the fact that he and his mother had become so close in so little time. Never did he think it was possible. Now he had memories that were good when she was sick; he had a light shining through the darkness. He felt his whole world open up; he was really enjoying himself for the first time in a year. They sat there for a little while longer finally going to bed. Even though Spencer was pushing fifteen, that night his mother sang him softly into sleep.
She crept quietly out not knowing he was still awake and thinking about many things. Maybe it happened for a reason. Maybe she was supposed to get sick. It brought us closer; it made me open my eyes to the world and the great things you can get out of it. It made me realize that I shouldn't have been mad at the doctor when he said he couldn't help; he was right; they had done everything in their power. He let himself forgive and forget, to move on. Sickness is a horrible thing but if you only look at the negative part of it, you'll have a bad life; if you're grateful for your time and you make the most of it, you'll have a wonderful life. Glancing at the flower that was now wilted in its vase, how could this be the flower that was there only two days ago? The flower had become so decrepit so fast it blew his mind. It made him think of how the daisy and his Mom were very similar; one day standing tall and healthy and the next wilting and dying. The comparison made him understand death in a different perspective.
"Beeeeepppp. It's a long high pitched and painful sound. It's the sound of death. It's what you hear when a loved one has passed. It's a time when all you can do is sit there and blankly watch as the doctors and nurses try and help save their patient, because that's all it is to them, a patient. You hear just this noise of the machine ringing in your ears. You don't hear the multiple sounds of people rushing by you, or the shouts and frantic calls. When you hear this sound you know in your heart that there is nothing they can do. You come to the conclusion that there was nothing left in the patient that was willing to hold on. You accept and know that it’s their time... that everyone has their time, and that it's a part of life. Death is an experience no human being could ever possibly avoid."
Spencer wrote furiously with his pen. He closed his book and processed the words he had just written. As the sun beamed down on him Spencer came to the conclusion that we all one way or another try to avoid the subject of death, but it was something he came to embrace.