Sunday, November 30, 2008

October 9, 2008

It’s been a while. I’ve been trying to get back to reality little by little. I now wear caps to school, a new one every day of the week, because I counted the other day and found that I have seven.
And all of them are from Phoenix.

So I mix and match a lot, with what I’m wearing because Ellie won’t let me got to school mismatched. I would never think about it, but she catches me whenever I don’t color-coordinate very well.

House life has been okay, I guess. Mom and I have been ignoring each other to some degree, occasionally speaking to say “pass the salt” at the dinner table. Things like that.

Ellie is as happy as ever, almost always at my heels when I do the chores out in the animal’s shack. It’s really cool how she’s rebounded from the time I was sick. Her smile has been never-ending and I much rather prefer the present Ellie than the Ellie that I touched base with the day I told about my cancer. The picture of her in my mind has changed drastically. She is no longer a red, puffy eyed Ellie, but the eternally-full-of-happiness Ellie.

Cam hasn’t changed much at all. I still haven’t seen much of her around the house. And when I do, she ducks into the nearest room. It hurts to think that she might be scared of speaking to me because of the cancer. The times that I’ve tried to talk to her before she has a chance to run away, all I’ve gotten in response is a mumbled, “I’m busy.”

And surprise of all surprise, Jeremy has started to come out of his shell. It’s amazing how my being gone has turned him into someone I feel I can actually have a conversation with.
He doesn’t shut the family out anymore by cranking up his iPod every time two words are said to him. He turns it off now. (And I’d forgotten how deep his voice had gotten before he stopped talking!) He helps me with the animal’s shack sometimes and takes the dogs for walks with me when I ask him to.

And there was a really cool conversation we had yesterday while we were walking the dogs out in the empty field behind the house.

He’d said something like, “You know how you were gone for a month?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Then Jeremy looked out over the field and smiled sadly. “Don’t you be going anywhere else but the hospital.”

I thought it over for a couple minutes, then said, “What do you mean?”

He glanced down at the dogs, then up at me. “We need you here. And you’re still here now, aren’t you? God hasn’t taken you yet.”

I nodded. “But—“

“We all need you, man. You’re not done with this earth yet.”

“And what am I not done with?”

He shrugged. “Your dreams. Life after cancer. Us.”

I stumbled over a crunchy brown, ankle-high corn stalk and stopped suddenly.

“I don’t plan on going anywhere soon,” I told him.

Jeremy stopped beside me and smiled. “I know you don’t. But He knows when that’ll be.” He looked to the sky and said, “And I’m not holding you back. When the time comes, know that I can take it.”

It isn’t like I haven’t thought of death yet. (Of course it isn’t!) It’s just that it never hit me that hard before and to hear the acceptance of death coming from my younger brother’s mouth was the hardest thing ever.

Jeremy seemed perfectly okay with the idea that someday soon, I might die. I’m not sure if I’m hurt by that or not. But, somehow, in that conversation, I know that something was being said underneath the true message.

And while we were talking, something occurred to me.

What if the cancer does come back?
And what if I don’t beat it a second time?

September 30, 2008

I went back to school today. It wasn’t anything big. Some people realized who I was, even without hair. Some asked if I was a new kid. Freshman stared. Sophomores balked. Juniors ignored. Seniors welcomed me back.

Elliot and Brad were the biggest help of all. Neither of them had all their classes with me, but they’d managed to keep a close eye on me anyway. Elliot even skipped his lunch hour to stay in class with me to make sure I was doing okay. And Brad skipped his gym period to sit through
lunch with me.

I thought that was pretty cool. It meant the most, though, when Elliot fended me off against a couple of Juniors. This is how it went.

There were two Juniors sitting at the next table in Art and I could tell right away they were
slackers. The stereotypical “cool guys”, someone might say. And they decided that I was their target of ridicule for the day.

They were goofing around while they were supposed to be working on their projects and one ended up flicking paint at my head. Since I hadn’t had the guts to ask the principle if I was allowed to wear a cap, I had gone bald-headed. (Or however that’s said.) So now I was bald and had gray paint running down the side of my face.

At first, they didn’t do anything else and I swiped the paint away before Elliot could see what had happened. Then the other guy decided that he wanted to join in the fun too.

By the time Elliot found out what they were doing, and since I wasn’t about to say anything about it (hey, who wants to start an unneeded fight?), there were faint streaks of all colors down the side of my face. He was furious when he caught sight of my face.

“Where’d that come from,” he asked through gritted teeth.

I bit my lip and nodded towards the slackers. “Them. But don’t—“

Before I could finish he had stalked over to the first guy and pulled him up from his chair by the collar of his shirt. He was seething by now.

“Elliot, stop—“

“You did that to Jove?” Elliot stabbed the boy in the chest with his index finger, then pointed to me.

The boy pushed Elliot away from him and was about to slug him when Mr. Nelson, the art teacher, stepped between them.

“Office,” he said. “Now.”

They left. So did the second paint-flinger. Then Mr. Nelson told me to wash my face in the restroom.

Okay, so I’m half-ashamed that I didn’t take those guys on myself. But what was I supposed to do? Punch the living daylights out of them? I’m still weak from the chemo treatments and not much exercise.

I hate that I wasn’t able to save my own face from the paint-streaks. But they washed off okay, so I can say that I don’t regret not trying to do anything to the guys.

But I do regret getting Elliot In-School-Suspension for a day for “fighting”. He’s tried to convince me that it isn’t my fault . . . but, really, I’d be the one in suspension, if I’d actually stood up for myself.

Has having cancer reduced my self-esteem? I was never like this before . . . what happened to me at that hospital?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

September 26, 2008

The next day was another rough one for her. So I sat in her room for most of it, making trips to the bathroom quite often because the chemo had really gotten to me.

Most of the time, we sat in silence. She wasn’t up to talking; knitting or crocheting either. It made me want to cry, to think that her treatments (whatever they were) had reduced her to a mere shell of herself.

She no longer attempted to wear her wig, and any caps that she made were sloppy and laced with blacks and grays. White had disappeared from her drawer of yarn altogether along with most of her other colors.

Dark rings circled beneath her eyes and she stared at the ceiling for a lot of the time I was there. Ms. Ryder paced.

So I sat in the desk chair beside her bed and tried to think of something to say to her to bring her back to the present. The only thing that came to mind was the song “Amazing Grace”. For the second time in three days, I sang the words to her.

For a minute after I’d finished singing it, she didn’t respond. Then, she turned her head toward me until she was looking right into my eyes.

And she smiled.

“Middle,” she said. “I’ll see you there someday, Middle.”

“Phoenix, I—“

Ms. Ryder was immediately at her bedside, eyes wide. “Phoebe, stop speaking such nonsense. You’re not going anywhere.”

“Mom.” Phoenix stared at her and sighed. “Maybe you should get the doctor.”

Ms. Ryder’s eye grew even wider. She nearly flew from the room.

Then Phoenix turned back to me. “I have something for you under the couch cushions. You should get it.”

I wasn’t sure if I should turn my back on her for even a minute, but I did as she said anyway. Her eyes had a certain urgency about them that I didn’t understand.

When I pulled out a ball of yarn from under the cushions she said, “Bring it here.”

I handed it to her and she pulled a sting loose on one end. The yarn ball unraveled into a three-foot long scarf. That’s when I realized what it really was. It was the braid I’d helped her make the first day she showed me how to weave her dark yarn into the colors. She had knitted it into a scarf.

There were new white strands that held the braid together and had transformed the twelve-foot long braid into a very thin scarf.

“Phoenix, you—“

She handed the scarf to me and said, “I’ll see you there, Jove No-Middle-Name Caraway.” And she smiled for the second time I’d met her.

“Thank you.” It was all I could say. Because I already knew that she’d made up her mind that she was ready.

She reached for my hand and squeezed it. I told her hand in both of mine. “Thank you, Phoenix.” I managed a smile, but couldn’t hide the shine of coming tears from her.

“You saved me, Jove. Jesus saved me.” Her lip trembled once, but never wavered again as she said,

“He has come to take me home.”

Then she closed her eyes and her hand went limp in mine almost instantly.

I left before Ms. Ryder got back. I couldn’t bear to watch them try to revive her. She was at peace now. No more pain. No more suffering.

I knew I shouldn’t have been sad . . . at the very least, I should have been happy for her. As happy as I’d been when I found out that David had gone into remission.

But I still cried until Ms. Ryder came into my room that night while I was trying to watch the “Iron Man” movie one of the nurses had lent me.

All she could do was smile sadly and try not to cry as she handed me the scarf that I’d forgotten in Phoenix’s room when I left so quickly.

“She wanted you to have this.” She chewed her lip in an attempt to keep from sobbing, and could only say, “She told me that you were her best friend.”

I cried harder after that. But eventually went to sleep and woke in the morning with a horrible, dull ache in my chest.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

September 25, 2008

Two nights later, she snuck into my room between check-ins by the nurses.

It was about two in the morning when I heard the knock on my door, and that wasn’t unusual. But when Phoenix came in and flicked on the lights, I knew something was up.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said, though not apologetically. In her hand, she held a new cap. “And I made you a better one this time.” (And, no, Ellie, she never did stop making her caps.) It was a green, blue, and purpled striped cap this time.

“Phoenix, you need sleep. Not more caps,” I scolded gently. I slipped from bed and took the cap from her. “You can sit on the bed if you want. It’s softer than the couch.” She nodded and pulled her frail self onto the bed and fell back onto the pillows.

I settled on the couch and pulled the window shade up so I could look out at the cars below in the parking lot.

“Did you need something,” I asked as I pulled the old fire-theme cap off and tugged on the new one.
“Thanks for the new colors,” I added.

She nodded. “No problem. Got any of those “Lucy” DVDs you always bug me about?”

“I don’t always bug you about them.”

“Do too,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Don’t,” I muttered and retrieved the DVDs from on top of the desk. “Which one you want?”

She shrugged. “Whichever you want.”

I popped one in the player and rolled my eyes. “Sure, Miss Picky.”

“Who’s being picky?” She glanced at me and pulled the covers over her and turned to sort the pillows out around her head to get comfortable—and to tell me that she was staying the rest of the night without actually saying anything.

After about two episodes, I fell asleep on the couch, but was soon awakened by the nurse who was checking in on me. She smiled and went about her business, clicked her tongue in disapproval at Phoenix, and left without a word. I was glad for that, at least.

After a while, Phoenix fell asleep too, the covers pulled up tight around her chin, the perpetual flat-lined lips still in place. I turned the TV off and was just about to go back to sleep on the couch when she suddenly jerked awake.

“I was watching that!” Her eyes were the widest I’d ever seen them and when she looked to me, all I could see was the fear.

“Phoenix . . . I turned it off—“

Her eyes darted around the room and I guess she must have realized where she was, because she settled back against the pillows and sighed. She didn’t say anything else except “I want to watch ‘Lucy’.” So I turned it back on and we watched the same disk twice over before she fell back to sleep.

I was able to get two hours of sleep that night. The slept through most of the next day, except for chemo and Ms. Ryder’s visit to thank me for taking care of Phoenix the night before. I could only tell her that it was no problem.

Monday, November 24, 2008

September 23, 2008

So the next day, I was sitting beside her in her room again, trying to figure out why she was suddenly so depressed. Before, she had seemed as though she were a little slow, as though she were just tired. But by then, I was beginning to see that it wasn’t just a passing thing.

Her mom stayed with her that night, to make sure she was okay. I talked with her a little while Phoenix was asleep.

“Why does she knit and crochet all the time?”

Ms. Ryder smiled and set her book down on the couch. “You feeling up to a little walk?”

I shrugged. “I’m fine. Whatever you want.”

So we walked to the lobby and back a few times, not speaking most of the time. But what we did say was important enough.

After a few minutes of quiet, Ms. Ryder broke the silence by saying, “her grandmother taught her how to knit. I taught her how to crochet once when she had the chicken pox. She was bored out of her mind . . . and I felt bad for her. That was about a year ago.”

“And she’s done it since then?”

She nodded. “Yes.” Her lips fell into a sad smile she sighed. “She believes that if she does enough “good” things, like make caps for everyone, God will let her into Heaven.”

At this, I almost choked. “What?” I couldn’t believe what she’d just said. “You mean she thinks she’s going to—“

“She says that she wants to do it for the other kids, but that’s really what its all about. I wish she would listen to me when I try to talk to her about . . .” she trailed off as she stared at the floor as we walked. “There isn’t much I can tell her. Is there?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. So I didn’t reply.

The next day, I was pushing Phoenix’s wheelchair down the hall, a brand new cap of a fiery red, orange, and black pulled down over my bald head. She didn’t say much, only sat in the chair and eyed the open doors we passed.

When we reached the elevator, she huffed. “Middle. You know I’ll get sick on that thing,” she said. “It makes me light-headed.”

“You’ll be fine. Just . . . pretend you’re on a . . . um . . .”

“I’m not pretending anything, Middle.”

“Fine. But you’re still going no matter what you say.”

We made it down to the main floor without incident. Then I headed down the hall.

“Where are we going,” she finally asked.

“Somewhere special.”

She didn’t ask again. By the time we got there, her flat-lined lips had turned down in a frown. “Middle.”

“Just wait a second,” I said.

When we got to the double doors with the stained glass, she jerked upright. “No.”

“Yes,” I said, and pushed the chair through the open door. There was no one else there and I pushed the wheelchair to the front of the chapel, positioning it to the right of the wooden cross sitting beneath the spotlight.

Pews lined the room, only one open aisle down the center. The pews were wood too, and I knew they would hurt to sit on. So I sat beneath the cross on the mauve-colored carpet.

Phoenix refused to look at me when I glanced up at her. But I knew I had to say something to her.
But I wasn’t sure what to say.

After sitting beneath the cross for a while, my hands folded and head bowed, I began to sing “Amazing Grace”. I knew it wasn’t the most appropriate song for the moment, but it was the only song I knew by heart.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me . . .
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind, but now, I see.

I didn’t know the next few verses, so I skipped to the end instead.

When we've been here ten thousand years...

bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.

And then I was silent.

After a while, there was a sniff fro
m behind me. “Do you think God would do that for me, Middle?” I turned and she was holding her hand out to me, fingers trembling as her shoulders shook with the effort of holding back tears.

“He would do it for anyone, Phoenix.” She reached towards me and I went to sit in the pew I’d placed her wheelchair by.

“Middle,” she said. I took her hand in mine. “Middle, I need God to do that for me. To save me.” Her voice caught on the word “save” and she paused before going on.

“Do you want Him to right now,” I asked before she could speak again.

She nodded and whispered, “yes.”

Phoenix accepted Christ that day. I wanted to scream to the heavens, but couldn’t, unfortunately. For one, when my heart actually got the feeling that everything was going to be okay, I had just taken Phoenix back to her room. For another, her mom was asleep on the couch.

But that didn’t stop me from waking her up and dancing around the room with Phoenix watching us like we were lunatics.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

September 22, 2008

Mom and I fought again today. This time, it was about how I “mope around the house all day.” And, stupid me, I yelled back, “Maybe if you cared, you’d actually help me find something to do.”

All she did was stare at me, eyes wide as a deer-in-headlights. Then she mumbled something and left the room, her bottom lip quivering on the verge of tears. I felt a little bad after I thought about it later, but I’m not sure if I could have said anything else. Recently, she hasn’t talked to me at all. Or as little as possible, whichever is convenient for her.

I’ve been going to once-a-week check-ups at the doctor’s office to see if the cancer is still in remission. She drives me there and drives me back home without a word.

What kind of mother can watch her own child slip away from the world and actually help with his disappearing act?

So the days went by like that, with Phoenix and I walking our days through the hospital and around it occasionally, or visiting each other when we were to sick to leave our beds. There was one day . . . in mid-August when I went to see if she was doing okay, because she hadn’t come to my door early like she usually did.

When I knocked, there was no answer. “Phoenix?” I reached for the doorknob, but changed my mind.

No . . . she was probably just . . .

Then the door flew open and I came face-to-face with the startled gray eyes of a woman with brunette hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. “Hello—“

I knew it was rude, but I couldn’t stand not knowing. “Is Phoenix okay?”

The woman stared at me for a moment, then realization seemed to click in her eyes. “Phoebe? Yes, she’s fine.” She smiled reassuringly and opened the door a bit further. “Come in, will you?”

“Thanks.” I stepped past her into the room and the first thing I saw was another mound of yarn on the black shag rug. But this time, there were colors no less depressing than gray. No blues, or reds, or yellows. Only black, gray, and white.

“Phoenix . . .” I looked up and saw her propped up in the bed with six or so pillows. Today, she was wearing a white cap with tiny black and gray flowers stitched all along the top edge, as though they were growing from the hem. But there was something different about her.

On the bedside, there was a Styrofoam head with blonde hair that reached to the table-top. A wig. Before now, I didn’t even know that her hair wasn’t real.

Her eyes followed mine and she shrugged. “It gets itchy.”

“I’ll bet.” I grabbed the desk’s chair and pulled it up to sit beside the bed.

Suddenly Phoenix looked up and at the woman who had seated herself on the couch to read a book.

“This is my mom. You can call her Mom if you want. Or Ms. Ryder.”

I smiled. “Ms. Ryder sounds okay to me.”

But then from the couch she said, “you can call me whatever you want, Jove.” At my quizzical expression, she added, “Phoebe has told me a lot about you.”

Phoenix nodded and picked at the little fur her plush cat still had. She sighed and lay back on the pillows. “Something about having to lie still drives me crazy.”

“Me too. Maybe watching a movie will help?”

She shook her head. “Nah. Never does, really.”

“I have 'I Love Lucy' DVDs. Want me to—“


From her abrupt response, I could tell she didn’t want to do much of anything. So all I said was, “I’m still here for you, you know.”

She nodded. “Yes.” Her fingers shifted to the quilt and tapped out an unrecognizable rhythm. We sat for a while and I thought she was asleep after she’d had her eyes closed for ten minutes or so.

But she surprised me and asked, “Can you help me get out of bed?” Her eyes were still closed, but I sat up a little straighter. Whatever I needed to do to help her feel better, I would try it.

“Yeah. What do you want me to do?”

Her eyes came open and she pushed the quilt off. “Help me walk. I . . . my legs are like rubber.”

“Alright.” I wasn’t the strongest in the work myself, but I was able to half-lift her out of bed while Ms. Ryder watched out the corner of her eye, though she tried to not show it.

When Phoenix’s feet were on the ground, she clutched me around the shoulders with one arm and I helped her across the floor to her mound of yarn. When she had settled on the floor and I’d arranged pillows around her in such a way that she was able to lean on them, she began to braid like the first day I’d been in her room.

But this time, there was no beauty in it. Only dark colors. It was depressing to say the least and nothing short of Gothic.


She continued working without looking at me, the tip of her tongue sneaking out of her lips in concentration. But I couldn’t stand to watch her weave those awful colors together. Not Phoenix. It was a though she were admitting defeat. As though someone had knocked the rainbows colors right out of her.

So I stood and went to Ms. Ryder, whispered to her as not to disturb Phoenix, “where is the rest of the yarn?” She motioned to the desk drawers. I hurried to it and riffled through, searching for the brightest color I could find. The brightest it got was a lilac purple with tiny pink and green sparkles that freckled it.

I cut about a twelve foot length out of the ball of yarn and went back to Phoenix. She still hadn’t looked up. I proceeded to slip the purple into the still-large Gothic mound. When I was done and sat back to watch Phoenix, she gave no indication that she had seen me.

And when she caught hold of the purple, it was woven into the braid all the same. Just like the dark had been woven into the rainbow that first day. All I could do was think, “Your ray of sunshine, Phoenix.”

As the braid grew longer, the sparkles began to rub off on the black, gray, and white. At that point, Phoenix stopped and looked it over. She hesitated. “I didn’t put that in . . .”

“Yes you did, Phoenix Sky Ryder.”

“But it wasn’t how I wanted it—“

“It’s your ray of sunshine. You need it.”

She looked me right in the eyes for the longest time, searching for something. “Middle,” she said.

“Middle.” And that was it. Nothing was in her voice, no disappointment, no happiness, no hurt, nothing. All I could hear was my name. And all I could see was that one ray of the dark braid. It was beautiful.

Friday, November 21, 2008

September 18, 2008

I really didn’t expect Phoenix’s story to take up so much space. But I guess it’s a good thing. Maybe.
Now to continue . . .

Phoenix Sky Ryder teetered on the edge of a fountain that stood about waist-high, walking it like a balance beam or a tight rope. Her arms were spread wide, as though she might be able to fly if only she were able to balance for a minute. But she always slipped off the instant I thought she was going to be able to do it.

The fountain sat outside the front entrance to the hospital and it was as far as we were allowed to go. The nurses could keep track of us better that way.

“So, Middle,” she said. For some reason, my name had gone from “Jove No-Middle-Name-Caraway”, to “No-Middle-Name”, to “Middle” in one afternoon. “Where are you from,” she asked.

“Illinois.” I smiled. “And what about Phoenix? Arizona, maybe?”

She rolled her eyes and hopped back on the fountain’s wall. “Very funny. I’m from Ohio.”

“The Phoenix from Ohio. They could write a book.”


“Ah, you know.” But I didn’t know either. What was I talking about? Something to avoid the inevitable that loomed ahead, maybe . . . just maybe.

But then she said it.

“And Middle has what kind of cancer . . .” she suddenly stopped to flail her arms around in an attempt to stay on the wall, but fell back to earth all the same.

“Acute Monocytic Leukemia. And Phoenix from Ohio has . . .” I paused for her answer.

She turned slowly towards me and her eyes met mine. They were the saddest, oldest eyes I’d ever seen, and I’m sure I’ll never see any like them again. There was so much heartbreak there, so much pain, that I thought my own heart may crack right down the middle. But it didn’t and I just ended up with an empty ache in the middle of my chest.

She never did tell me. And I’m not sure if I’d want to after the way she looked at me. But I still wish I’d have learned more about her in the short time we had together. And not only that day. The whole three weeks we had were obscured by insecurities and things we held from each other. Even so . . .

The next day, she led me around the hospital in her wheelchair because she was too weak to walk.

This time, she wore a zigzag-rainbow pattern cap and had her brown/white dirty-patches cat on her
lap the whole time. And that day we pushed past the barrier of small talk.

“What is your family like,” she asked. (It was the only question she had time to ask.) And I told her about how Jeremy was on his search for self-identity, how Cam was a prep in the making, and about what mom and I had fought about most recently. But mostly, I talked about Ellie.

How she was always there or me, how she had cracked the code to a human heart, and how she seemed to be the only one who was with me in the whole cancer thing; but mostly just random things about her. Stories from when she was little and about our animal shelter and Creature came up. The other animals, Brad and Eliot, my youth pastor . . . and everything else that didn’t have to do with her came up too.

And when I realized we had reached Phoenix’s door and I was sitting on the floor leaning on the wall as I talked, Phoenix had started to yawn and try to cover it up. But I knew it was just because she’d been out of bed so long and I’d been jabbering about everything for the past hour and a half, maybe.
I stopped and said, “Sorry, Phoenix. I didn’t mean to make you so tired.”

She waved me off and shrugged. “You don’t need to say sorry to me. What you need right now . . . is a friend.” Then she wheeled herself through the door and paused just before she closed it.

“I’m here for you.” She held out her hand and turned in the chair. “Let me be your friend.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but I knew that what she was doing for me was symbolic. So I took her hand in mine and said, “And I’ll be here for you.”

A smile crossed her eyes, but nothing showed on her flat-lined lips. “Thank you, Middle.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

September 16, 2008

I wasn’t able to finish the last post like I wanted to because Ellie got after me for staying up too late. Ah, well. I like it that someone is actually attempting to take care of me.

I haven’t gone back to school yet. Mom says I’m still too weak and I still throw up every now and them. My body just hasn’t adjusted to being back at home yet. She also said that I’m more likely to get an infection at school than at home in my room. So I’ve been homeschooling with her.

She isn’t really a very good teacher, so most of the time, I teach myself. It works, I guess. Whatever helps me get by.

Now for the story.

So the next day, after I was done with chemo for the day and thought I was feeling okay, I went to Phoenix’s room like she’d told me. The door was open a crack, so I tapped once and pushed it open a bit more. She was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor, staring at a mound of yarn as she pulled some strands from the others.

When she saw the door out the corner of her eyes, she nodded. “You can come in.”

Today, she wasn’t wearing the same black cap. It was a powder blue with two pompons hanging from strands of yarn that were connected to the top of the hat.

“Nice hat,” I said as I eased myself down on the floor beside her on the black shag rug. Her forehead furrowed in concentration and the tip of her tongue stuck from between her lips. The only acknowledgement I was given was a tiny flick of the fingers in my direction.

So I watched her pull the yarn from her mound. She seemed content to do just that. It was only after she had begun to braid three pieces together that I realized why she had a mini-hill of yarn in the middle of the floor. But I didn’t speak so I wouldn’t break her concentration.

Her eyes followed her fingers with great care and the braid grew gradually longer and became a splash of color as she pulled more strands into the braid as the others began to run out of string.

Purple, green, and blue began the braid, then faded into deeper shades, then lightened into red, orange, and yellow and darkened again. When she was about the reach the end (and when the braid was about twelve feet long) she pulled three new pieces from the pile. Black, white, and gray.

Before she began work with these, she stood and went to a desk that stood in one corner of the room next to a pink-flowered couch. She took something from on top of the desk and sat back down with it. It was a little silver hook with an even tinier hook at the end.

With the three new strands and the stick-hook, she began to weave them into the braid—lacing them through each loop and crevice to intertwine the dark with the beautiful colors she’d woven together with her small fingers.

Suddenly, she stopped. She studied her work for a moment. Then she held the braid out to me. “You try.”


“I’ll show you. Here.” She handed me the silver stick-hook and had me hold the braid in one hand.

“This is a crochet hook,” she said as she held up the stick. “You can use it to crochet or . . .” she paused and touched the braid lightly, “do this.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t know. I made it up.” She pulled the black yarn through the tiny crevice the green and purple made and flipped it back around the weave back through the purple and blue. “Like that. But keep the lengths even so you don’t end up with a mess.”

“Umm . . .” I had no idea how to do it, she showed me again. When I actually got around the trying it, it did end up a mess, but as she said, “a very sophisticated mess.”

After I was done weaving the last strand into the braid, she took it from me and got two knitting needles from on the desk, then changed her mind before she sat down again.

“How good are you feeling today?”

“Pretty okay, I guess. Why?”

“Good.” Her eyes shifted to the bed. “I made you a new hat this morning.” She glanced at the one already on my head and sighed. “Do you really like that one?”

I nodded. “You bet.”

“Well . . . okay.” She crossed the room to the bed and pulled the braid after her, laying it out
carefully on the quilt and setting the needles beside it. Then she slipped a navy blue cap from beneath her pillow and tugged off her powder blue one. “Which one?”

I startled when I realized she was asking me which looked better on her. “I like both,” I said because I was uncertain as to what exactly she was asking.

“Just pick one, Jove No-Middle-Name Caraway.” She gave me a look.

“Oh. Well, I guess the navy blue.”

“Thank you.” She pulled it on over her blond hair and tossed the other onto the bed beside the braid.

Then she crossed the room to me and took my hand, tugging it to pull me to my feet. I stood and saw for the first time that I was a whole head taller.

“We’re going for a walk, No-Middle-Name.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

September 15, 2008

I guess I forgot to mention that I went into remission. Well. I did. End of story, I guess. Now I just have to wait until it comes back. Chances are, it will. So I just look at it like, “what’s the harm in betting it’ll be back?”

And, for the first time, mom let me keep Percy in my room. She said it wouldn’t do any harm, but if I get sick, she’s out of the house for good.

Mom never really came to visit much over the last month. She had a bunch of excuses like, “Today is Cam’s volleyball game,” or, “I haven’t been shopping for groceries for two weeks, Jove!” So, finally, after three weeks of excuses, I gave up asking if she’d come.

So instead I made a few new friends. One is David. The second is Phoenix Sky Ryder. (And, no, I’m not making that name up.) I met her in the hospital’s lobby three days after David left.

There she was, sitting alone in a wheelchair, reading a Nick magazine. She wore a black knit cap on her head and her blonde hair fell past her shoulders. On her lap, there was a brown plush cat. (It looked at though it could have been white at one time and as though it had been furry, but there were only a few choppy patches.)

When she felt me looking at her, she looked up. Her eyes drilled me with a gaze that could have shamed a charging rhino. I looked away quickly and found a new Time and settled into a chair.

Since there was no point in me just hanging out in my room all the time and I felt alright that day, I’d decided to walk around a little. And my feet took me to the lobby. Weird place to go, I guess. But I’m glad that’s where I ended up, despite everything.

Next thing I knew, her wheelchair was right next to my chair and she was tugging a cap over my now bald head. All I could do was stare at her, questions caught on my tongue.

All she said was, “It suits you.”

“Thanks,” I said as I reached up and touched it.

“It’s dark green. Sorry. It was the last color of yarn I had. If you want a new one, I can get my mom to—“

“No, it’s perfect.” I smiled. “Did you make it yourself?”

She nodded.

We were silent for a while as I glanced through the magazine, but I couldn’t just ignore her like that.

But I wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t even know me and she’d given me a hat already.

Then she asked, “What’s your name?”

I tossed the magazine onto the table to my other side. “Jove Caraway.”

“Jove.” She tilted her head to one side. “That was what Jupiter was called sometimes. Any middle name?”

“No. You have a name too, cap-girl?”

“Phoenix Sky Ryder.” And she gave me a look. “Cap-girl?”

I gave her a look back. “Phoenix?”

Her eyes softened and I thought I could see the traces of a smile cross over them. “Yeah. My real name is Phoebe Sky Ryder. But that just sounds stupid. So I changed it.”

“Oh. Well. I was never “Jupiter” or anything.”

She poked me. “Who would ever name their kid Jupiter?”

“You don’t know my mom.”

She nodded. “Very true.”

We were quiet again while we watched a young couple leave with a baby.

“So.” She finally said. “Jove. How old are you?”

“Seventeen. You?”

“Thirteen. Not much of a talker, are you?”

“You either,” I smirked.

She shrugged. “Well.”

And that was it. That was all we said to each other before she asked me to take her back to her room.

“My arms get too tired pushing these darn wheels,” she explained. After we got to her room and I was about to open the door, she swatted my hand. “Come tomorrow. What’s your favorite color?”

“Um . . . navy blue.”

“Okay, I’ll have my mom pick up some more yarn.” She opened the door herself and wheeled through. Before she closed the door, she said, “and you’d better come tomorrow, Jove No-Middle-Name Caraway.”

“I will,” I said. “But you really don’t need to make—“

The door shut in my face. “A new hat . . .” I muttered at the wall.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

September 12, 2008

Much to Ellie’s dismay, my hair all fell out. She’s told me so many times that my “pretty auburn hair” brought out the green in my eyes. All I can do is laugh at her.

I came home four days ago and just now I’m starting to get around the house. I lost a lot of weight since I left . . . in July. It seems like such a long time ago. It’s hard to get back into the swing of things.

And when I got home . . . wow. I’m not really sure what I expected, but it was definitely not a party.
That took the energy right out of me. The whole town (or a great majority of it) turned out for it. It seemed like Brad and Eliot had spread the word as quickly as possible.

My church even started a prayer group for me and had a weekly prayer vigil every Saturday.

So much has happened since I left. It’s so different. I have so many new stories to tell. Only one for now, I guess. (Ellie has appointed herself as my personal caretaker. She has given me orders to be in bed at 9 p.m. with lights out at 9:30. Haha, silly girl.)

I met a boy named David. He’s seven-years-old and loves to play with dinosaurs and Spiderman action figures. And he was also diagnosed with AML type M5. He’s had it since he was three.

I only knew him for a few days, though. After I got to the hospital, mom left right after I got settled in my room and Ellie had to go with her. She cried and clung to me like it was the last time she’d see me. I managed to smile for her.

The next day, I woke to find a little boy standing at the foot of my bed, head tilted to one side and a brontosaurus clutched in one fist.


“I am David.”

I sat up and started to get out of bed.

“You don’t have to get up. I needed to say hi.” He paused and held up his dinosaur. “And Bruno wants to know your name.”

“Well, David. You’ll have to tell Bruno that my name is Jove.” I smiled and nodded at Bruno. “You have any other cool dinosaurs?”

A smile tugged at his lips. “Yes. You want to see them?”

I nodded.

So it began. The next few days, I was his buddy. He chattered to me about almost everything. But his favorite thing to talk about was how he loved the Green Goblin. Since I’d never seen the movie or really read any comics about Spiderman, all I could do was nod and act like I knew what he was talking about.

And, always, when he was done talking, he would demand I play Jurassic Park with him and Bruno. What could I do but agree? But it was getting harder to play with him and actually pay attention.

Since the chemo treatments had started the day I’d arrived, the pain and nausea was getting harder to deal with.

So the first day I had to stay in bed, he came in and sat beside my bed in silence, as though he knew what was going on.

“How bad is it,” he finally asked.

“Not very,” I muttered, trying to keep the queasiness in my stomach at bay.

He stuck his tongue out at me. “Bullpoopy.”

I started to laugh, but had to bolt for the bathroom instead. When I got back and fell on top of the covers, he stuck his tongue out again. “See? Bullpoopy.”

All I could do was shake my head in exhaustion. “Hey man . . . I think I just need to sleep.”

The look on his face nearly crushed me.

“Is that okay, David?”

He sighed from the very bottom of his heart. “I guess so.”

The next morning I woke up to find Bruno on my bedside table and thought I’d better return it before a really cranky and tired kid came storming down the hall because he forgot his best friend.

So I went to his room and knocked. There was no answer. I knocked again. Still nothing.

All I could think about was the 31 percent. He’d already lived four years with the same cancer. No way he’d die now!

Just as I was about to fall into an emotional wreck right in the middle of the hall, a nurse came by.

“Jove? What are you doing?”

“Erm. Just trying to give this back to David.” I held up Bruno.

She stared at me for a moment. “He didn’t tell you yesterday?”

“Tell me what . . . ?”

“He was scheduled to go home today. He went into remission a week ago.”

I nearly jumped for joy right in front of her. But I hurried back to my room and threw up before I could do much of anything. Then I opened one of the windows and stuck my head out, yelling,

“Thank you, God!”

Chemo does funny things, I tell ya.

But, really. I was nearly ecstatic when I found out. He was so frail and such a bright little guy. I couldn’t bear to think that a little child had something as horrible as what I have.

That night, I found a large sheet of yellow construction paper with red permanent marker scrawled across the front in the first drawer of the bedside table. In large, carefully printed words was a note.

Thank you, Jove. Bruno said he wanted to stay with you. I hope you love him as much as I love you.

I cried. The nurse told me to sleep.

I couldn’t. So I watched “I Love Lucy” DVDs all night.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

July 28, 2008

Today I told Brad and Eliot that I’d be gone for a few weeks—and why I’d be gone.

We were at the soccer fields (with a ball this time) when Eliot asked me why I seemed really spacey. All I could manage was a mumble about being tired.

At that point, I still wasn’t sure what to tell them. It seemed there was no way to break it to them. But when I ended up getting nailed in the forehead with the soccer ball, I knew I had to tell them sooner or later.

I was lying on the ground after getting smacked in the face with the ball, watching the clouds when they both ran up to me at the same time.

“You okay, man?”

All I could do was shake my head.

Brad glanced away for a moment and bit his lip. “I thought you were open—“

“It isn’t that,” I said as I sat up and tugged nervously at the grass beneath my fingers.

They both stared for a second, and then sat down too. They’re always good at knowing when I really needed to talk about something.

“So what’s up?” Eliot grabbed the ball and balanced it on top of his head while he waited for me to speak. Brad just watched my fingers tug the grass.

“I . . . I’m leaving tomorrow. For chemotherapy.” Right as I said the words, I could have smacked myself. That was no way to say that I had cancer, especially to my friends.

The ball fell from atop Eliot’s head and his mouth fell open. “For what now?”

So I ended up telling them about how I was diagnosed and about mom and I’s fight and all the crazy stuff that’s happened the last few days. All they could do was stare at me like they’d been struck dumb.

After I’d finished telling them everything, I asked, “so?”

Brad was the first to even make a sound. But all it was only a tiny squeak that barely escaped his lips.

Then Eliot said, “You’ve got cancer.”

“Yeah,” I whispered. When I looked at Brad again, he was watching an ant that was crawling around his finger. Then he flicked it away and looked back to me. “31 percent, huh?”

This time, the whisper was even quieter. “Yes.”


And that’s all any of us said for the next ten minutes. Then Eliot said, “I’ll be waiting for you when you get back.” His usual troubled frown was suddenly replaced with a soft smile. And Brad grinned. “Me too, man.”

Their reactions didn’t surprise me. Not really, anyway. It was comforting, to say the least, that they actually listened to me and didn’t say anything stupid to make things worse.

The town I live in isn’t really a “town” at all. It’s hardly big enough to even be listed on the map of Illinois. Population, 276, the sign says when entering “city limits”.

This won’t be only a family, friends, and close relatives matter if I tell others that I’m leaving. This will be big.

The whole town will find out before I even get the chance to tell the Kiddie College or my church.
But I have to tell someone else. If I just leave without telling anyone else besides Brad and Eliot, I’ll go crazy and so will everyone else. No one will know where I went! Then again, if I do, everyone will have their own opinion about what I should do-and most won’t be afraid to say it.

I’m not sure I could deal with that.

No. I’m just being difficult again, like Nikki said. I have to tell someone else.

But who?

(Okay, this is about two hours later. I postponed the posting a bit so I could add what happened.)

I ended up calling my youth pastor and telling him to put me on the prayer list for church. Guess what he said?

“Pray, Jove.”

It was about all he said. But he did say, “I can’t make any promises, but I know that God has more plans in mind for you. All you can do now is pray.”

It’s extremely stupid how I didn’t think of that before. I mean, sure, I asked to be put on the prayer list and all, but I’d never really thought of asking God to help me through this. I had to do a facepalm right there while I was on the phone.

So now, I guess the news is out.

Jove has cancer. Jove is leaving tomorrow for chemo.

And Jove is scared.

I’m not sure if I’ll write again. Maybe, maybe not. It may depend on whether I survive this or not. After chemo, I’m going to try and get my life back together—somewhat normal.

I guess we’ll have to find out if can beat this.

I’m betting on it.