It was a terminal illness. Constant unbearable pain and completely incurable. How can one deal with constant suffering? So much so, that they are slowly rotting away? Watching the world, their family, their friends, continue their lives. Reach new hieghts of excitment, enjoy the outdoors whenever they please....
How can one watch constant suffering?
Perhaps what happened, in the end, to Maxwell was for the better.
Maxwell was a bright boy, this was evident even at a young age. He was fascinated with the outdoors more than his peers and preferred a good book over a night at the movies. Although on the outside he may have seemed like a loner, he truly loved spending time with his friends at school and playing in the park with his dog Rockie. He loved his parents and told them this everyday. He admired his teachers which showed through his well thought out work and notes. He had his flaws just as anybody else did, he was clumsy at times and a bit awkward, he liked the smell of gasoline and always had scratches on his legs from nights of wondering around the woods in the dark. He was an odd but likeable boy, he was unique, yet completely ordinary. In the end though, while some boys were planning their freshman years in college, Maxwell was planning for cancer treatment.
It was pancreatic cancer. A cancer that hits the pancreas, which is located in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach. Maxwell and his family were stunned at this development. He was diagnosed during his third marking period as a junior at the local public school. He had so much going for him. Good grades, good friends, and good family. Petrified and confused at the diagnosis his family tried to come up with a reasonable conclusion. Was it because Maxwell liked the smell of gasoline so much? Perhaps he attracted it from the time he smoked weed once in the eighth grade? Maybe it was due to the little sip of wine his mother had when he was still growing in her stomach? Regardless of what it may have or have not been, it was there and Maxwell had to live with it, or at least die with it.
Impending pain already began to seep in Maxwell’s pancreas, he began staying at home, wrapped in comforters and fuzzy blankets, Maxwell spent his days reading and texting friends. People often came to visit him. They’d wish him well, tell him he’d look good, they’d say they missed him and add an anecdote about how their day was, “Yea Mr. Fisher was really angry today.” “It rained during lunch and everyone played outside,” “we had a fire alarm drill during sixth period math today.” Careful to include the details Maxwell had missed out on, carefully picking and choosing specific stories for Maxwell to hear. Maxwell was touched at his friend’s thoughtfulness. He would thank them, and would tell them how much he missed them, how much he wished he could go back to school, how thankful he was for their friendship, but as each visit came and went Maxwell’s words started growing less and less meaningful. His caramel toned skin began growing paler and paler. Fewer friends visited and their visits dwindled down from hours to minutes. They’d say their traditional “we miss you” phrases but leave in a matter of moments. Maxwell would watch them slip away from his gray sickly home to the fresh colorful world outside. Maxwell envied this of course, but with the constant pain and throwing up, there wasn’t much he could do outside anyway.
Maxwell’s mother and father were stricken with misery. As if life couldn’t go on. Being a strict christian, Maxwell’s mother often spent time at the local church, soon it got to the point where she was spending more time at the church then she was spending at home. She’d go to Maxwell’s bedroom early in the morning and leave him breakfast and a letter. She’d drive to the local church and pray with the priest, go to work for the rest of the day, then return again to the church. She’d pray, go home and clean whatever leftovers there was from dinner. Then she’d collect Maxwell’s uneaten breakfast and leave a dinner plate piled high with food. She didn’t touch him though. Not anymore. He was too cold, like touching a snowflake, she was afraid she would melt him away.
Maxwell’s father, despite his wife’s constant persuasions, refused to go anywhere. He spent his time at home now, moved to in home working. He dealt with his clients at home and whenever someone asked him why he had moved his work space he’d simply say, “just needed a change of scenery.” In the morning he’d watch his wife drive off to the church, he’d work his day away, while watching old home videos between pizza orders and emails. Before dinner he’d always go into Maxwell’s room and tell him about his day. Maxwell, half there, half not, would murmur and cough under his breath. Sometimes he’d throw up over the side of the bed. Half of it would spill over in the the red rottened bucket, half on his face and sometimes it would get on the wall. His father would simply wet a rag and clean off his son’s face. He’d lay Maxwell’s face to the side, and clean the wall. Then he dump out the throw up and return again to the chair next to Maxwell’s bed. Sometimes it’d happen again and again and he continued to follow the same procedure, sometimes he wouldn’t.
The chair next to Maxwell’s bed was painted light blue with bursts of white puffy clouds. Maxwell had painted the chair back in his middle school years, claiming the chair was the sky and the seat was a giant cloud. Removed from the basement of things-forgotten-but-still-remembered, it now took it’s place as a guest chair beside Maxwell’s bed.
Sometimes, but on rare occasion, teachers would come and visit Maxwell on their off days. They’d tell him what a wonderful student he was. They’d wish him well and try their best to ignore the persistent smell of rotten food and stomach acid. They’d ask him how he was doing, not really expecting an answer. They’d leave his parents with work they had done in school, “Once he’s feeling better I took some extra notes so he can catch up in his free time.” His parents would smile and thank them for coming. The teachers, feeling as though they had done a good deed by visiting this poor and sick boy would smile and later, treat themselves to ice cream and go home and tell their family about the good thing that had happened that day. The moment the teacher left, Maxwell’s parents would dump the hand written notes and extra credit into the trash. Maxwell didn’t have any free time to work on extra credit and school lessons, having cancer was a full time job.
It was around mid October when the cancer began to worsen. Between doctor visits and loving cards, something in Maxwell snapped. Perhaps it was because his friends had stopped visiting him. Or maybe it was because he couldn’t eat without throwing up anymore, or maybe it was because his mother slept over at the church one night and came home drunk, or because the pain was so unbearable to the point of crying, in his sleep. Or maybe because Rockie became malnourished and died in her sleep one night. Perhaps it was one of these things that had driven him over the edge, perhaps it was a mixture of all these thing, or perhaps it was none of them at all. Maybe he was just tired of being lonely, and sick, and tired.
So he started saving up his pills.
One by one, the small pills left his breakfast tray and slipped under his pillow. It started out small, but by the end of the week he had collected dozens of colorful gel pills with plastic coverings. The pain he felt without the medication was almost unbearable, almost. Maxwell knew it would all come to an end soon. All he had to do was hang in there just a little bit more.
So one night, when his mother left dinner and another daily dose Maxwell slipped his stash of colorful pills down his throat. He sucked the water glass until it was dry and lay back in his bed relaxed for the first time since he was diagnosed. It will all end now, he thought to himself quietly.
It was around three in the morning when the storm of vomiting began. His stomach, turning itself over and inside out, tried to dispel all of the pills Maxwell had taken. It was too much for him and he soon fell unconscious. His parents, hearing the sputtering and coughs from his room much louder and more violent than usually called for 911. Medics hurried and carried his limp body out with a stretcher. His mother in tears had called the priests at the local church and kneeled before the ambulance praying. His father went back to the house, made a cup of coffee and followed the ambulance as it veered through the streets of their small town.
Maxwell woke up in a haze, he was use to the fogginess of it all, being drugged up all the time, life had become heavy and damp, like a wet blanket. But this was a different kind of fogginess, like there was something after him, life was heavy but it was as if he were being held down by a five ton boulder. Doctors crowded around his body, white blurs of nothing seemed to move at the speed of light. His parents sat on a couch small black couch. His mother a dark figure of what she once was and his father, his father nothing more but a father. An emotionless hand rubbing his wife's back, but nothing more. The doctors spoke in deep voices. “Suicide possibly”. Maxwell’s mother’s face was stricken with grief as she stood and walked out the one room door. His father stayed, a little shocked looking, a little sad looking, a little bewildered looking, but still, stayed. Arms crossed, eyes forward. Maxwell looked up at the blurs, their faces coming into focus, old, gray, wrinkled. Nothing but a look of pity on their faces as they leaned forward and asked him questions. “Maxwell, can you hear me? I’m your doctor? You remember me right?”
The doctors had worked with cases of cancer before, yes, but pancreatic cancer, had, has been incurable. So the doctors continued with what they had done before. They drugged him, numbed the pain, dulled the senses. Maxwell's world seemed to come to a standstill. Without eough strength to speak, or even open his eyes, Maxwell was like a living corpse. There was nothing more the doctors could do for him. Besides it’s not like they had another other choices. This was Flordia. Physician assisted suicide was illegal.
It was summer, and despite the fresh air and open windows in the one room hospital, Maxwell, was having trouble breathing. Yes the hospital room was admittedly a bit better then his bedroom. Old friends came to visit him now that he smelled of clorox wipes and sanitizer instead of death and puke, and Maxwell had the luxury of sponge baths and 24/7 access to doctors. However, he felt suffocated in the starched, stiff environment. He missed his old blankets. Sure, they were molding and smelled rotten, but they reminded him of the times he built forts with them out in the backyard. He missed the cool blue color of his walls, the hostpital walls were a stiff white color and hurt his eyes if he stared at them for too long. But most of all, he missed his old books. It's true he couldn’t focus enough to read anymore and even though the nurses had brought him books they were all too new. They didn’t smell of the library, they smelled of ebay. They were all plastic coverings with font too big. They felt too orderly, no ripped pages, no dog ears, no words written between the stories. These books had never felt love before. Maxwell's books at home, now those were books that had been loved. Even with the tears and rips, they were books cared for since he was a baby. The hospital couldn't ever provide books as loved as his own.
Maxwell’s mother was always a free spirit with a motherly nature. She loved experimenting with cooking and reading romance novels and sci fi mysteries. She had a weird taste in fashion and loved wearing over sized jackets and old floral dresses. She spent most of her time outdoors and in the woods. When Maxwell was young she’s take him and his father to go camping every summer. She said it was a traditional thing to do when it was summer. She loved stargazing and photography. She preferred horror movies over romantic movies because the romantic movies seemed too unrealistic to her. She loved dancing, but it was more like jumping and moving around. Not really planned or organized, but free formed and fun. She loved her family, she adored her kind spoken husband and brilliant son. She loved her life. She loved, it all.
Maxwell’s father was always a rough around the edges kind of guy. He was truly full of life, funny and easy to talk to. He liked Shakespeare plays and Elton John’s voice. But was not really the outdoors type. He had a few work friends but hadn’t talked to any of his schoolmates since back at his old college. He hated pop music and the color red. He loved the sound of violins in the morning, which is what he set his morning alarm to. He loved his family, he adored his beautiful wife and his brilliant son. He loved his life. He loved, it all.
It was winter when it had happened. Cold, misty and gray. Foggy and dark. The sun hadn’t even come up when it began. Maxwell was crying out in pain again. His nurses rushing to his side, nothing much to do but pop a couple of pills, pump a little drug and soothe his tiring screams. His father, watching on the side of the couch emotionless. As the cries of pain dwindled little by little and the nurses headed out one by one, until Maxwell and his father were left alone. Maxwell didn’t say much, just stared at his father, emptiness reflected in his eyes of years lost. People he never got to meet, experiences he would never get to experience, emotions he’d never be able to feel.
It was around six in the morning when it all came to an end. Sun was breaking through the clouds and a purple red sunrise glowed from the sky. Maxwell’s father had slipped a pistol into the sleeve of his jacket. He walked through the hospital halls as he normally did. People said hello, they waved, they smiled.
He entered the room. Alone. Afraid of what would happen next. It's not like he wanted to do this. Who would want to? He loved Maxwell, he loved him more than anything. But this was it, he knew how much Maxwell was suffering. Maxwell would live the rest of his short life in pain. He would no longer experience the bliss of the great outdoors, nor would he ever read a book again. He would never get to graduate high school, or go to college. He would never fall in love, he'd never get married. Maxwell's father's eyes were red and angered. It wasn't fair. It's never been fair. But he knew that he could help Maxwell. He knew that Maxwell desperately needed help. He wasn’t trying to say ‘stop’, 'stop living' 'stop breathing' he was trying to say ‘go’, 'go explore' 'go live'. Maxwell’s father closed his eyes, and let the pistol shot ring out.
It was around six thirty in the morning when Maxwell’s father was charged with murder.