Let the City In

May 8, 2011
“But darling, I want us to go on a real date,” he said defiantly. “I feel so unromantic.”

As soon as he said this, I knew I was doomed to an evening of that awful sappy romantic nonsense so many girls drooled over. I probably broke some kind of unwritten rule of being female with my hatred of the typical movie-perfect romance, but I despised the idea of a ‘real date’ nonetheless. I knew my objections would be futile anyway, though. Once Chace made up his mind about something, there was no changing it, and he had certainly already made up his mind about this.

I looked up at him from the glass of lemonade I had been intently focusing on, silently pleading with him to change his mind.

He grinned sarcastically.

“You’re free Saturday night?” he asked. He knew as well as I did what a stupid question this was, because on the infrequent occasions that he was actually spending time in the area I always happened to be free. “Good.” He pushed his chair back, starting as if to leave, but I stopped him.

“Promise me a few things? Don’t buy me anything. Actually, don’t spend any money. Don’t make me wear heels, and promise that you’ll stop this nonsense after Saturday.” I felt like I was stuck in Twilight, annoying Edward to please not make me do anything crazy. A lot of girls might have liked this, but I thought Edward was a stupid character and I despised being Bella.

“Sure, maybe. I’ll pick you up at seven. Wear sandals.”

I helped him up from his chair, careful not to hold his arm too hard so as to not bruise his fragile skin. Sometimes it seemed like he was made of glass, ready to shatter at the slightest jostle. It was strange and horrible, seeing somebody so full of life and fire trapped in such a cold, sad body, like a member of the dead had found his unfortunate way back among the living.

We walked slowly back to his car, parked a few blocks away. He lead me in various wrong directions, insisting that they were all the correct way back, but I think he was really just interested in seeing what those other places held. I could have pointed this out to him and steered him back in the right direction, but I liked this time so much more, watching this dying seventeen year old act like a curious little boy. The farther we walked, the slower we became, and the more heavily he leaned on me. I probably should have taken his wheelchair out of the trunk, but he had insisted he was fine.

When we got back to the car, though, he wasn’t fine at all. I helped him into the driver’s side before I got in, and we just sat for a while. He tried to engage me in conversation about all sorts of interesting things, but I knew that we weren’t just staying here to talk, we were waiting until he felt well enough to drive home.

That Saturday, I spent an abnormal amount of time getting ready. I pretended that I was just killing time before he picked me up, but I tried on at least twelve different outfits and spent an hour checking and re-checking to make sure every hair was in place. I waited for him to come, fidgeting nervously as soon as the clock changed to 7:00. I didn’t know why I was so nervous, because I was more comfortable around him than anyone else, but I had butterflies and couldn’t control my anxious hair-twirling and hand-wringing.

He showed up late, as always, and I ran out to greet him. He smiled when he saw me and told me I looked beautiful, and all of my meticulous beautifying was worth that reaction. He made me close my eyes for the entire car ride, scolding me when I tried to peek through my fingers. I didn’t know why it was such a secret, but it made me nervous. I hated surprises.

When he let me open my eyes, we were at the beach. He went into his trunk and grabbed a blanket, picnic basket, and his guitar case. I tried to take the things from him, worried he would overexert himself before we even got to sit down, but he refused. We walked at the pace of an elderly couple to the beach. In some ways, we were like an elderly couple, I guess. He was already in the twilight of his short life, and I was standing by just trying to help him through it, keeping him as safe as I could without crushing his overflowing dignity.

We finally made it to the actual beach, after what felt like, and may have been, an hour. I helped him lay the blanket down, struggling to get it to lie flat in the breeze. He opened the picnic basket, pulling out all sorts of hilarious attempts at food. He may have been a lot of things, but he certainly wasn’t a cook.

He soon made up for this, though. Just as the sun was setting, he pulled out his guitar and played me a song. It was the cheesiest, most horrifically romantic, and most beautiful thing I had ever heard. The song was called “18th Floor Balcony” by Blue October, and to this day I still get choked up whenever I hear it. He smiled the entire time, and I tried and failed to look pissed at him for this display of affection through all my tears.

Not even two weeks after that beautiful beach date at sunset, he was flying back to London to visit his mother. Everybody knew he was too weak for it, and I’m sure he knew it, too, but he knew that his mom needed him, and to him that meant more than his own physical limitations.

But he wasn’t strong enough, and his physical limitations won. That terrible disease turned his own body against him, a prison for a beautiful soul instead of a tool to share it. He couldn’t fight it anymore, and it was sad to see him try. He kept trying anyway, not wanting to miss a single second of this magical world. But eventually, the cancer won, when he was a few thousand miles away in a hospital bed in London, and he never got to say goodbye.

I discovered something, though, in the months following his death.

There’s a little section tucked away into the first verse of the song he sang me, almost hidden by all of the other beautiful lyrics.

“I’m unaware

That you opened the blinds and let the city in

God, you held my hand

And we stand, just taking in everything”

It’s simple, almost painfully so, but it sums up everything I learned from Chace.

He opened up the blinds around my naïve fifteen year old self, and it let everything in. It let in horrors that I could have never imagined, things that no girl should ever have to see. But the beautiful things were let in, too. I learned to open my eyes to everything, to take that turn in the wrong direction in the middle of Providence when you’re exhausted and weak because it might hold something magical that you could miss if you didn’t. And who knows, that magic could change your life forever. Letting in that skinny, pale boy with the stupid haircut and charming British accent changed mine.

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