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“So,” Dean says, his voice having an element of nervousness I've never heard in him before, “I was – uh – well I got – um – I got fired. . .”
Hearing Dean say this startles me to death. If he doesn't have his job anymore, if he isn't getting us the extra money we need, everything will fall apart. We'll be back to barely having enough money to put food on the table, we may even be evicted from our house, and there's no way we'll have enough money to continue my chemo therapy. . .
But I'm tired of holding everyone back, keeping my family from being their own people, all because of my selfish cancer. Maybe this is what Dean needs – a chance to start all over again.
Even though I'm lying on the couch, crumpled, broken, barely gathering enough energy to breathe, I have to hear where this conversation is going. I sit up slowly, wincing when pain pierces my stomach and chest again. Someone is inside of me, stabbing me with a sharp, deadly sword, cutting deeper, deeper, deeper, relentless to stop until I'm nothing. Taking a slow, shaky breath, I swing my legs around the side of the couch, everything aching me, hurting me. Killing me.
Slow and steady wins the race, I think as I stumble toward the kitchen counter, bending forward and clutching my stomach, trying to halt the tearing sensation, the horrible pain – to no avail. Peeking over the window cut out separating the kitchen from the living room, I inhale a sharp breath when I see my father.
Tears are streaming down his face, leaving ugly red streaks where they traveled. His brown, usually lively eyes are hollow, drained of emotion, drained of everything, and the whites of his eyes a dark, irritated red.
He looks completely terrifying.
But what scares me the most, is that he looks a whole lot like me.
It's like looking in a mirror – I see the same confused, discouraged, lost expression staring back at me. He looks, just, done. Done with everything.
“You're not serious,” he says dryly, his voice scratchy and depressing, missing that up-beat rhythm that it always has to it, “Dean,” he sighs, as if he's trying to explain something to a child over and over again, but they just aren't getting it. “Your sister still needs her medication,” he says, “if she has any chance of surviving. And without you giving us the extra income, we won't be able to pay for her chemo treatment.”
Dean groans, sitting on the couch and running his fingers through his hair irritatedly.
“I know, I know,” he says softly, rubbing his eyes, looking deeply disappointed in himself.
“You have to get another job, Dean,” my dad demands, his voice hardening, sounding like steel.
“Yeah, dad, I've been looking but –,”
“Well if you care about your sister,” dad says, his voice getting louder, angrier, “You'll look harder.”
“I will – I'll do anything I can to help her,” Dean explains, nodding, “I'm so sorry for getting fired. I got in a fight with one of the other guys and –,”
“I don't care, Dean,” dad says tiredly, and Dean looks slightly offended, but he brushes it off.
“Just do whatever you can, because if you don't find another job – fast – the family is never going to be able to forgive you,” he sneers, sounding so harsh, so mean, so unlike himself.
“Okay,” he whispers, looking like he has been broken, like he doesn't recognize the man standing in front of him anymore. And I don't either.
But I guess no one is the same anymore.
I don't understand why he's laying all of the blame on Dean. All he's been doing is trying to help. He dropped out of college, just to help us, to make sure the family didn't collapse, and my father can't even be grateful for that? Dean threw away all of his hopes and dreams – basically his whole life – to take care of us. He could be in college right now, thousands and thousands of miles away from us, enjoying and loving life – but now I think he's doing just the opposite. Stuck here with me, under so much pressure to be the perfect oldest brother the family needs – and it's all because of me. All because of my stupid cancer.
All because I'm dying as they speak.
Dean looks shocked; he looks like trying so desperately not to cry, and I can feel my heart being ripped out of me, the whole scene so depressing.
“But dad,” he says, trying to gain courage, “maybe that's not what she wants.”
“What do you mean?” my dad asks angrily, his voice hard and solid, “What else would she want?” he yells, looking confused, bewildered.
“I don't know, dad,” Dean says calmly, his gaze flickering back to the floor nervously, “You never ask her.”
“I don't need to ask her!” my dad bellows, trying to convince himself that he knows best for me, “I'm her father! I know what she wants!”
“Dad,” Dean says, his voice getting louder, firmer, “I know you want that to be true,” he says, “But we all know it's not. You're not in her body,” Dean goes on, “You don't know how much pain she's in – not that I do, either – but no one but her can be the judge of what she really wants to do. Because if she's hurting so much then –,”
“No!” my dad screams, shaking his head violently, “You sister's not well enough to decide anything on her own! She's not better yet, Dean!”
“You're not hearing me, dad,” he says softly, but firmly, looking up into my father’s eyes. There's a sadness in Dean's dark brown eyes that I've never seen before.
He looks as if he's about to break, about to shatter into a million pieces.
“You think I don't know that, dad? You think I don't see that she's not getting better?” Dean asks, his voice raising an octave.
Tears start leaking their way out from his eyes unwillingly, flowing down his face, and then suddenly he is sobbing and yelling at the same time.
“You think I don't see her in so much pain, every single day? You think I don't see her dying?” he shouts, shaking his head.
His voice drops to a hoarse whisper.
“You think I don't see how much she wishes it would all just end?”
My breath catches, and, even though I don't want to accept it – I really don't want to accept it – I know it's true.
I'm getting weaker day by day, losing more life by the second. Last week I could make it down the stairs okay – I'd be winded, as tired as a normal person would be if they had to run a mile – but now? Now I could barely sit up without gasping for air, choking, struggling to breath, just missing death by an inch. But I'm getting closer and closer to not missing, each time coming less far from landing spot on, and being gone forever.
And maybe it's not the worst thing.
My father strides toward Dean and is right in his face before he can take another breath.
“Your sister is not dying!” he snarls, his face red, the meanness to his voice scaring me.
“Dad,” Dean pleads, looking so desperate. “You have eyes,” he begs, “Just please – please, for me, for Faith – just. . .open them.”
Dad takes in a shaky breath and Dean goes on.
“She's coming closer every minute, dad,” he says, choking on every word, not wanting to face the truth, but knowing he has to.
And I do, too.
“She's dying right in front of your eyes!” he screams, dissolving in tears of pain, cries of torture, “I know you see it, dad. I know you do. And ignoring it isn't going to make it go away.”
The harsh reality that everyone has been thinking, but has been too afraid to say, has finally been spoken.
“She hasn't got a lot of time,” he says, gulping loudly and putting on a brave face, licking his lips.
“She hasn't got long before she leaves us.”
My dad is silent now, just the steady rhythm of each of them breathing heavily – something I'm not even capable of doing anymore.
Dean is right, only I know what is best for me. And all I know is that I'm sick and tired of keeping my family from moving on, all stuck on something so unlikely, so doubtful.
That I'll live.
So, taking the biggest breath I can manage – which isn't very big at all – and gathering all the courage I have left in me, I stand up so they can see me.
They both whip their heads around, and dad looks surprised and regretful, not knowing I was listening. But Dean, his face remains the same – as if he knew I was there all along.
“Dean,” I say, ignoring dad completely – just me and him in the room, “It's not your fault. None of this is your fault. It is wrong of dad to blame it on you,” I tell him, not even bothering to notice dad's reaction out of the corner of my eye.
My raspy, barely-there voice fills the air, the only thing stopping the silence.
“You've done everything right,” I say, smiling at him, “You've done all you can. But you can't cure me. I don't think anything can.”
“But I want you to go back to college; I want you to be free to live your own life – without me in the way.”
“Faith, you could never –,”
“Just listen, please?” I ask, stepping closer to him and gathering him into a hug, “I want you to go. Please. Go for me.
Silence penetrates the air once again, and I look deep into his eyes, pooled with tears, matching my own.
“Faith,” he sighs, averting his eyes, “I can't. I can't leave you. Not like this.”
“Dean,” I beg, “I feel so bad for keeping you here. It's like your held hostage, forced to stick around and watch your little sister die,” I say, choking at the end of the sentence.
More tears are falling as he gathers my frail body in a fierce hug, careful not to break me.
“No one's forcing me to do anything,” he mumbles into my hair, rubbing my back gently, “Your my family, I love you so much – how can I not stay?”
“But, Dean,” I still protest, pulling away, “You're throwing away the rest of your life –,”
“Faith,” he says firmly, “I'm not leaving. I'm staying right here. Nothing can make me go. I'll be standing right by your side until. . .”
I figure we all know what he was going to say, so I fill in the blank for him.
“Until I die.”
The concept is not new to me anymore, and I realize that sometimes thing in life, they just happen. And no matter how hard you try to stop them, no matter how hard you try to turn them around, there's nothing you can do to prevent them from happening. They just . . . are.
And maybe this is one of those things.