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The Kid With Cancer
“Emersyn, get away from that window! Close those curtains right this minute!” a woman shouts in my direction. I’m standing by a large window, overlooking the bright world outside, wishing I was anywhere but here. I slowly close the curtains and turn around. Walking over to the edge of the bed, I glare resentfully at her. This woman, in her mid-forties, and aging quickly, is my mother. Her light blonde-gray hair bounces atop her head as she swiftly walks over and closes the curtains even more. “God forbid I leave a crack in the curtains,” I mutter to myself and roll my eyes.
“You see these gray hairs?” my mother asks me.
I begin to open my mouth to throw a sarcastic comment at her, but she continues her rant without any input from me.
“They are from you! All your crazy antics, you drive me up and down the walls. Goodness child, why can’t you be like your older sister? If you wouldn’t have went to that party and gotten dragged home by the police, then maybe you could be going to Paris with your sister. But instead, you’re to stay here until we get back.” she demands.
I sit down on the bed and hold my tongue. I look towards the T.V. in silence. I see my father had been watching Sports Center before escaping into the bathroom, taking a magazine with him. I realize there would be no help from him; he would certainly be in there for a while.
My sister, the Ivy League school graduate, was the “perfect daughter”. In my mother’s terms of course. My sister, Kayla, was four years older than me. Her long blonde hair was the same colors as my mothers. Kayla wasn’t able to go on the family vacation with us because my parents were sending her off to Paris for the summer. “Like we have the money for that,” I remember screaming at my mother when she told me the “good news”. “God knows Kayla gets everything she wants. She’s a spoiled brat! She got to go to an Ivy League college, isn’t that enough?” The memory of that day fades in and out quickly. I know I shouldn’t yell at my mother, but I can’t help it. Our personalities just don’t click. They never have, and they never will.
Kayla has always been my mother’s favorite, ever since we were kids. I think it’s a “first child” thing. That’s why I’ve always stuck by my father’s side; he’s never treated me like my mother does. I remember my father always tried to explain to me that she just wants what’s best for me; she doesn’t want me to do what she did when she was a teenager. I threw that idea out the window long ago. That’s why, about a year-and-a-half ago, I started going to parties. And drinking, staying out late, getting in trouble, letting my grades drop and going against every word my mom said. On the nights I didn’t come home, I always texted my father to tell him I was okay, but not once my mother.
My gaze leaves the T.V. when my father opens the bathroom door. He walks out and stretches, his knees cracking while he extends his arms far over his head. His cheesy Hawaiian, button-up shirt comes up over his large belly and he reaches down to fix it. He walks over to the bed I’m sitting on, and plumps down next to me.
“We’re going for a yacht ride today darling. You know, with some of my old business colleges. I wish you could come but it’s only for adults, kinda like a Sandals vacation,” he says, patting my shoulder and chuckling to himself. “But tomorrow I promise we’ll take you shopping downtown. We know how you love those vintage stores and—“
“As long as she doesn’t leave the hotel room Roger, you didn’t include that part!” my mother squawks, and giving my father a disapproving look.
He sighs and gives me a small nod, telling me that my mother is right, even though his eyes beg to differ. I clenched my jaw, knowing that if I don’t, I’ll say something that will get me in more trouble.
As father shuts the door he turns around to say,
“Please darling, just stay inside and don’t get into any trouble. We’ll be back sooner than you think. Your mom is already on edge.”
I fall backwards onto the bed. Taking a deep breath, I stare up at the ceiling.
“This isn’t even fair!” I yell, throwing my fist into the sea-foam-green pillow.
I’m done,” I think to myself. I’m tired of being treated like I’m a child and can’t make my own decisions.
“Not anymore. I’m almost an adult,” I say aloud.
I crawl off the bed and walk over to the curtains. Opening them all the way, the light illuminates the dark room. Smiling, I turn around and head for my lime-green suitcase. I shuffle around inside until I find my favorite turquoise and canary yellow swimsuit, jean shorts and a black tank top. I scramble to the bathroom to change, anxious to get out of here. I slip my feet into the simple black flip-flops lying on the floor.
Walking towards the door, I reach for my phone. I hesitate and decide not to take it. “My mom can go ahead and wonder where I am.” Instead, I grab the spare hotel room key and open the door. Without hesitation, I walk down the hallway to the elevator. I can almost feel a spring in my step. A grin spreads as I step into the elevator. I press the button for the main lobby and it shoots down.
For a moment, I think maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. I could easily just go back up the elevator, into the room, and pretend this never happened. I wouldn’t get in more trouble then. When the elevator doors open, the warm Australian sun shines through the window on me. I forget all my cares and walk into the lobby.
My flip-flops slap against my feet as I walk across the marble floor. I make it outside and the warm sun begins beating down on my skin. I smile to myself, knowing this was the right thing to do. Not knowing where I’m going, I start exploring the resort.
I find myself just about to turn around the corner behind the Snack Shack by the pool when something rushes into me. I realize it’s a guy. He must have been running and turned around the corner the same time as me. Our bodies collide and I can feel my face pressed against his chest. I gasp, taken aback by the power of him coming around the corner. Getting ready to apologize, I open my mouth. He quickly puts his hand over my mouth and grabs my shoulder. Throwing his body against the door to the right of us, it gets pushed open. We fall into a dark closet and he kicks the door closed with his foot. I’m about to start screaming when he whispers,
“Please, please be quiet. I’m trying to not get caught. If you would be so kind as to not scream, that would help.”
I blink my eyes, trying to get adjusted to the darkness. I hear several pairs of footsteps stomp by the door. The guy releases his grip and I scramble away. Rolling across the cold concrete, I don’t know where I’m going. It’s still pitch black in the small closet. Somehow, I manage to find the doorknob, with my head.
“Ouch!” I mutter, reaching up to rub the sore spot.
“Are you okay?” I hear the guy say from across the dark.
I fumble my eyebrows in confusion. This guy who pulled me into the dark closet and threw me onto the ground is genuinely wondering if I’m okay or not. Trying not to sound too rude I say to him,
“Okay? You’re asking if I’m okay? I just got dragged into a dark closet by a complete stranger and was told to be quiet. Usually that’s not okay for someone!”
“I’m sorry; I just didn’t want to get caught. I’m not supposed to be here, but I don’t have anywhere else to go. I-I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
I could hear him standing up and shuffling to the door.
“Hey, wait!” I shouted in his direction.
The lights flick on and I half-close my eyes, blinded. Slowly opening them and blinking, I get a change to look at this kid. He’s not much older than me, probably seventeen or eighteen. His dirty brown hair is buzzed off, only fuzz on the top of his head. I look at his eyes and from what I can see; they’re a plain brown. He’s wearing a black cutoff t-shirt and white swimming trunks. His skin, slightly tanned, is covered with filth from the floor of the closet. Glancing down at my body, I find I’m the same way too. I try to wipe some of it off with no success.
“I figure now would be the best time to introduce myself. My name’s Tommy,” he says to me, sticking his hand out in my direction.
Not knowing exactly how to respond, I carefully reach for his hand. When our hands touch, we both get shocked. Automatically, my hand retracts and I chuckle.
“I guess that’s what I get for throwing us into a linen closet,” he says, grinning.
“Hmm... I guess he’s kinda cute,” I think to myself.
“I’m Emersyn. Other than the eventful way of meeting you, it is nice to meet you.”
I reach for his hand to shake it and this time, there is no static electricity to get in the way. Gripping my hand tightly and flashing a big smile at me, he says,
“Well, if we didn’t meet in a crazy way, how else would I know that you’re always going to remember me?”
Smiling back, I slowly let go of his hand.
“God knows I could use something exciting in my life once in a while.”
Opening the door, he turns to look at me,
“Well, I have a proposition for you. How about we get out of this closet, go grab something to eat, and relax on the beach and talk about it? Way do you say?”
I looked at him for a moment. “What could possibly go wrong? It’s not like my mom cares if I come back or not,” I think to myself.
“Why not?” I say pulling myself up off the floor.
Finally getting out of that cramped closet, we make our way to the Snack Shack. We’re about to head over to the counter to order when he tells me not to. Instead, he walks past a table where a couple is sitting. They’re both turned around and talking to someone. Tommy creeps up to the table and gently picks up a plate full of tacos and burritos. He turns around and starts walking towards the boardwalk. I laugh and shake my head. Catching up to him, I say,
“They’re going to be so confused. It’s brilliant.”
“What can I say, I’m a pro.” He smiles.
I grab one of the tacos from the tray and munch on it. We find a shady spot under a palm tree on the edge of the beach to sit down. Surprisingly, I find it easy to talk to him. It’s like he’s been my best friend for years. I tell him all about my life, my sister, my mom, my dad, everything. He sits there patiently waiting for his turn to talk, listening to my every rant and complaint. I start talking about how I hate my life and I can tell he’s getting uncomfortable. I stop when he interrupts me.
“I have cancer. Beat that.” I hear him say quietly.
Turning to look at him, I can tell he’s not joking.
“Sorry, that was probably out of line,” he says looking off into the distance.
“What… like, wait. What?” I stutter, trying to assess the situation.
“I have leukemia,” he begins, turning to look at me. “I’ve had it for about a year now. My father killed himself when I was thirteen. And not to mention my mom hates me, she won’t let me live with her. I’m all on my own; I basically got no one left. I could go on it you’d like.”
“Tommy, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what else to say. While I’ve been sitting here complaining about my pathetic excuses for problems, you’ve had real troubles in your life. I had no idea,” I say. Not knowing what else to do, I look down at my hands and play with my fingers.
“Don’t sympathize for me,” he says, “I just live one day at a time, trying to be happy in this pitiful place we live in. Just take it one day at a time. Now, come on, let’s cheer up. I know a place that will turn that frown upside down.”
Standing up, we walk into town together. Passing the farmers market, I see a stall with homemade jewelry on it. I make him stop and I laugh as I put a shark tooth necklace around his neck.
“Oh no, not them again,” I hear Tommy mumble.
I look up and see two men in black suits, headed in our direction. Tommy grabs my hand and starts running. Dashing through the busy street, we weave our way through the crowd. Just when I think we’ve made it through the sea of people, we emerge in a big plaza. Everywhere I look, there are people dancing. Trying to watch them while Tommy’s dragging me, it looks like they people are dancing a mix between the salsa and the waltz. I want so badly to join them.
Taking a swift change in direction, Tommy guides me into the dancers. Grabbing a hat off of a bystander, he sticks it on his head. We move towards the more congested part of the crowd. Suddenly, he turns around and puts one hand around my waist and his other hand in mine.
“Who are those people that we’re running from? And why are they chasing you?” I shout at him over the mix of loud music and people singing.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’m pretty sure they’re some guys my mom hired to find me, she’s been looking for me for a few months. But don’t worry about it. Dance with me, chica!” He laughs, and begins twirling us in circles.
We continued to dance for a few more songs and we were heading back to the resort. The string of colored lights above us flick on as the sun sinks below the ocean. Walking back through the crowd, I grab his hand. We make it to the hotel and I look at the clock tower. Eleven. I tell him I should probably go, before I get in even more trouble. He offers to walk me up, but I tell him not to, in fear that my parents are waiting to yell at whoever is keeping me out.
We stand at the elevator doors, waiting for them to open. We make plans to see each other tomorrow, to meet outside the linen closet. I give him an awkward hug and tell him I had such a good day. The doors slide open and I walk inside. Turning around I smile again and wave. The doors are just about to shut when he slides his hand in between them, forcing them open again. He reaches for my cheek and presses his lips against mine.
“See you tomorrow Emersyn,” he says softly, then lets the doors close.
“Best day of my life,” I say as I lean against the cold reflective surface of the elevator walls. I sneak into the hotel room unnoticed by my parents and quickly jump into bed, falling asleep fast.
I wake up the next morning and stretch, my arms bumping into the soft silk pillowcase above my head. Looking at the nightstand, I see my parents left a note. Reaching for it, it reads, “You are in BIG trouble young lady. If we find that you are gone again when we get back, you’re screwed. LOVE YOU!” Rolling my eyes and crumpling it into a ball, I throw the paper onto the floor.
I crawl out of bed and jump into the shower, trying to hurry so I could go find Tommy. I throw a pair of jean shorts and a V-neck t-shirt on and run down to the Snack Shack, hoping to see his face.
I plant my butt next to the door beside the linen closet and wait. Minutes go by, then hours. Tommy still never showed up. I get up, thinking maybe I could go find him. I walk around the corner and check in the linen closet. He isn’t there so I decide to check the beach, the farmers market, and even the plaza where we danced the night before. I can’t find him anywhere. Becoming discouraged, I trudge back towards the resort. Looking at the stores I pass, I notice a small picture in one of the shop’s windows. It was Tommy. He was on the beach holding a lobster and smiling. My mouth fell open slightly in disbelief. I quickly run into the shop and rip the picture off the glass, the tape coming with it.
“Can I help you miss?” the young store clerk said in a thick Australian accent.
“Uhm,” I begin, “Do you know the guy in this picture?”
I held it up for him to get a good look at Tommy. He slightly cocks his head and laughs.
“Oh yeah, I know that boy there! He caught that lobster with his bare hands a few weeks back. It was amazing! If I remember right, his name was Tommy. Tommy Mishka… Mishko, maybe. Pretty sure it was Mishko.”
Smiling, I think maybe I have a chance of finding him.
“Do you know where he lives, or anything about him? At all,” I ask, becoming desperate to find him.
“Sorry miss, I don’t know anything ‘bout him except his name,” the guy said.
I can feel my shoulders drop and the smile on my face fade.
“Oh. Alright. Thanks for helping me,” I mutter, looking down at the ground.
I turn around and head back towards the window to put the picture back, but instead I turn around and ask him if I can keep it. He says I can and I make my way back to the resort. Slowly but surely I make it there before my parents come back.
After two more weeks, we pack our bags and leave. My hopes become more and more distant as reality hits me. This kid I had spent only one day with, had impacted me so much. And I couldn’t figure out why. But one thing was for sure, I would never see him again.
On the flight back to America, all I could think about was Tommy. I kicked myself in the head for not saying a proper goodbye to him. After a while, I figured I would just go on with my life, he would be only but a memory. And that’s exactly what happened.
After we got back, I remember Tommy telling me that I needed to sit down with my mom and just talk, get some things out. He thought it would help our relationship, and it did. My mom and I worked things out between us, she stopped being so harsh and I stopped partying, drinking and getting in trouble. I started hanging out with better kids, and stopped being stupid. When school came around, I even got my grades high enough to make the honor roll. Things were good in life, all thanks to that kid in Australia. For the rest of my life, he would always be known as Tommy, the kid with cancer.