Ten years ago
Seventeen years old
Every grand story began with a once upon a time. It didn’t even have to be a grand story. The mediocre ones began the same way, too. At least that was how mine began.
Once upon a time, a young boy was scared shitless about losing the person he cared about most.
I once had a teacher who taught me that there are two things in life a person can never prepare for, no matter how hard they try. Those two things are love and death.
I’d never been in a romantic type of love, but I knew the love between a kid and his parent. It was due to that love that I’d experienced the fear of death. It seemed as if for the past few years, I’d been swimming in a pool of sorrow that’d appeared out of nowhere. I wasn’t prepared for it at all. The past few years of my life, my search engine was filled with thoughts no kid should ever have to consider.
What happens if your only parent passes away?
What is the likelihood of a person surviving stage three cancer?
How much money do you need to make to pay for experimental treatment?
Why don’t all people get the same treatment for cancer?
Not to mention the number of jobs I tried to apply for to help my mom with the bills. I even started up a few of my own companies just to help make ends meet. Mom hated that I worked so much. I hated that she had cancer. We’d call that an even deal of hatred.
I put on a brave face for the rest of the world, being the charmer I’d always been. Everyone in my small town knew if they needed a decent laugh, a good friend, or a great worker, they could come to me. I took pride in being the hardworking class clown of sorts. Hell, I needed it, because if I wasn’t being goofy or a workaholic, I was overthinking. And if I overthought, I’d drown.
I never revealed my pain to anyone. I figured if they knew how bad I hurt, they’d worry about me. I didn’t need anyone worrying about me at all—especially my mother. She had enough on her plate as it was, and the last thing she needed was to be concerned about me being concerned about her. Still, that didn’t keep her from worrying about me. That’s what mothers do when it comes to their children, I supposed. They worry.
Our relationship was a forever loop of us checking in on one another. Mom was my partner in crime in that way—we worried about each other’s worries. Wash, rinse, repeat.
“You can come in with me,” Mom said as we waited in the lobby of the doctor’s office. “You’ve been with me through every step of this, both times, so I want you in the office with me, no matter what.”
I swallowed hard and nodded my head. Even if I didn’t want to go in, I’d never leave her alone.
I hated how the waiting area smelled, like mothballs and peppermint patty candies. Years back when Mom was first diagnosed with cancer, I’d stuff my pockets with those candies when I came with her to the doctor’s office. Now, just the smell of them made me want to heave.
We were waiting to see Dr. Bern to get the results of Mom’s last round of testing to see if the chemotherapy had worked, or if the cancer had spread throughout her body. Needless to say, my stress level was through the roof.
“Mrs. Roe? You can come back now,” a nurse said, smiling toward us. Even though my mom had divorced my lowlife father years before, she’d held on to his last name. I’d told her to change it, but she told me she had received the best thing from having that last name—me. Plus, she loved how we were still tied together with our last names matching.
Mom was a softy like that.
As we walked into the office, I hated how familiar everything felt to me. No one should ever have to become familiar with a doctor’s office. I hated how I’d sat in that waiting room when I was ten, eleven, and twelve. I hated how I was forced to do the same thing again when I was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen.
I called ages thirteen and fourteen the wonder years, when my happy was really happy and my sad hardly visited me at night. All I wanted for my future, for Mom’s future, was more wonder years.
I hated the nerves that built up within me from the memories that led us to that office. I hated everything about that building, from the crappy chairs to the harsh lighting. The carpet had stains that had probably been put there in the nineties, and there was a good chance Dr. Bern was over two hundred years old. Dude didn’t look a day over one hundred, though. I had to give him props for that.
Mom never complained about it, though. She never complained about anything really. She was just thankful she had a doctor who looked out for her, even when the insurance companies didn’t. I wondered what it was like for rich people. Did their hospital waiting rooms have cappuccino machines? Were there mini fridges with chilled drinks? Did they get asked for their insurance card before they received treatment?
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