It was 52 degrees outside, but it was warm.
It was two weeks into fall that day, but I remember it was warm. There’s a lot of other things I remember about that day, too. Like how nervous I was, and how I shouldn’t have worn such an itchy sweater. But, it was my lucky sweater. I remember finding the right place to sit, because I had planned out the night before which chairs not to sit in. I can remember the girl with the almond brown eyes and big dimples who happened to sit next to me on my right. I can remember the handsome green-eyed guy with curly black hair sitting next to me on my left (but only because he entered the class 15 minutes late). The funniest thing about this whole recollection is I never remember how much hair came out of my hairbrush that morning. Maybe it had been more than usual. Maybe it was the same as always. And maybe, just maybe, I could have saved my life just a little bit quicker.
In total, I had four friends. Two guys, two girls—a perfect mix, if you will. There were Tommy, Andre, Chastity, and Imani. Oh, and me, Ahvi, of course. Tommy was the jokester of the group. He was the one with the green eyes and curly black hair. He had glasses, but almost never used them. I honestly don’t know how he’s going to handle being in court if he takes everything as a joke. Then there’s Andre. He was the serious one out of the group. He would study constantly if we never dragged him to parties. Then, we have Chastity. Chastity was the charming, southern belle. She always had her nails done, always had her notes perfectly organized, and I suppose if we let her, she would dress our whole group in fancy clothes every day. Next up we have Imani. She was the crazy partier. I honestly don’t understand how she manages to pass her tests with hangovers. Like, some people fail even though they’re sober! And last up, there’s me, Ahvi. I was the best in my class and was sure to pass my bar exam with flying colors. I studied hard, but went out to have fun here and there. I was so ready for us all to graduate together. If only Chasity hadn’t noticed.
It was exactly one week before the bar exam. Instead of studying, my friends and I decided to have one last hurrah before we cracked down and started studying the rest of the week. We were going to the club across the street. It was only five minutes away, and such an easy walking distance. Imani was in the bathroom, and I was in front of our mirror while Chastity was brushing my hair. I hadn’t noticed at the time how instead of the usual five minutes it took for her to brush my hair, she kept brushing, brushing, and brushing. It wasn’t until she whispered, “Oh my Lord,” that I looked up. My hair brush was overflowing with curls, and there were a few strands on the floor. I put my hands over my mouth, and it seemed like I couldn’t breathe. My mind was traveling 100 mph, and all I could do was stare at my reflection. In the end, we never went to the club across the street. Instead, we went to our nearest hospital where I feared the worst. My friends tried consoling me, but it was useless. It’s hard to hope for the best for someone who’s always fearing the worst.
The doctor saw me, and after I told the hairbrush story, she decided we should run some tests. Who would have thought that night would have been my last time at home? Who could have known I would never travel again unless that destination was the bathroom or a walk down the halls? Not me, that’s for certain.
I have Stage 4 Mesothelioma. Basically, it’s a type of cancer that exists in the thin tissue layer that surrounds much of the internal organs. However, I have one of the rarest kinds of Mesothelioma. My cancer is around my heart among other places. So far, I do chemotherapy, but there have been no changes. I didn’t think that my tiredness had anything to do with my cancer. I always chalked it up to studying too late. But when you couple that with my shortness of breath, and chest pain, it’s a wonder how I didn’t think it was a problem sooner.
When I told my friends the news, they all broke down crying. You see, when you spend years together with people you see daily, they become your family. Like it or not, they’re your family. I remember being told my diagnosis after the test came back. My friends hugged me and promised they’d never leave my side.
A week later, they took their bar exam. Even in my hospital bed, I helped them study. When their test was over, they would come a few hours every day to update me about what was happening in their life. It hurt to see all the new memories they made without me. It’s hard to laugh at their inside jokes considering I was never there for them.
Soon enough, they started to visit me only once a week. I guess that was enough for them considering they were busy, but I was still lonely. The only person I actually talked to was my nurse, Rosalina. She was my favorite person. We watched all the seasons of Grey’s Anatomy together and cried when—well, I won’t spoil it for you. We shopped online for clothes together, and we even bought matching socks. She was the first one to come up with the idea of shaving my head.
She said, “Don’t let cancer control you. You need to grab it by the hair and call it names and do whatever you have to do, until it no longer controls you.” It’s a shame that when my friends came that day and looked at me, it was as if someone had died. As if I had died.
I’ve never really traveled anywhere. I was born in Egypt, but went to live with my Aunt in New York, when I was 10. My parents realized I had potential and didn’t want me to get stuck in the slums of Egypt. They wanted me to become something prestigious. And so, I did.
My Aunt Ameera was a second mother to me. She raised me well and taught me the ways of Americans. She taught me how to take the subway, and she taught me how to find the Bodega a few blocks from me. It was a devastating blow when she died a few months after I turned 23. It wasn’t even something I saw coming. She had been pushed in front of a subway train by a homeless man. It was horrible. My heart caved in my chest like a bat through a glass window. I couldn’t eat for weeks. I couldn’t sleep for days. I felt like I was dying as I sank to my knees in my old apartment. I wanted to rip everything off the wall and shake the world with my hands. I wanted to smash everything around me, but I also wanted the pain to be felt by me and me only. I couldn’t remember the last words I said to her. I can never take back the silly arguments or the petty things I did. Because she’s dead. One syllable, four letters, endless translations in all languages, but with the same meaning. Dead, as in gone. Why did bad things happen to such good people?
It was a week after they got their results back when it happened. When I first heard how my friends all passed, I was heartbroken. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy for them, but I was jealous. They were going to live out the dream that I never would. I think Chastity told them not to rub it in, but it was still hard. That should’ve been me waving my envelope around. That should’ve been me who got the best results out of the group. That should’ve been me sitting at their dinner table, toasting to ourselves and “our futures that lie ahead.” But it wasn’t me.
For the first week, I smiled and pretended to be ecstatic. But it was when they visited me immediately after a chemo session, when I was the most vulnerable and irritable, that I snapped. They had come after my chemo appointment, and Andrew made a joke.
“Who has two thumbs and is the smartest out of our group?” I just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Shut up,” I whispered.
Chasity looked concerned and asked, “What’d you say?”
My friends all looked at one another and then turned to look at me.
Andrew looked apologetic. He said, “Ahvi, I didn’t mean—”
“Shut up! Shut up! Just shut up! That should’ve been my grade, that should’ve been my future, it all should’ve been mine!” I thrashed against my bed sheets.
Imani looked scared. “Ahvi, just calm—”
“Get out,” I whispered.
“Get out!” I yelled.
From that day forward, I ignored my friends. They got the memo after they tried to visit the next day, but I called the front desk and told them not to let them come up.
The thing is, it’s hard to be happy when you see someone else living out your dreams.
So recently, it’s just been me alone to live out the rest of my death sentence. Correction, me and Rosalina.
For a brief time, I thought I had been saved.
While watching the nightly news, the most astounding headline came up. When I heard it, I couldn’t believe it. I had truly thought for sure that I was beyond saving. But on the television, they said they had more than likely found the cure for cancer.
That night, as I lay in bed listening to the raspy background thrumming of the A.C. unit, I thought about my future for the first time in a while. A future. I thought that word would ever apply to me again. I always thought I would live out the rest of my days in my hospice bed, and never go outside again. But now, it was all going to change, and my thoughts were hopeful.
My first stop will be Hawaii. I’ve always wanted to go to Maui, and maybe I can go to the beach too. I haven’t been to the beach since I went with my aunt when I was 12. Yeah. Definitely the beach. I’ll probably have to go to a beach near a hospital though, just in case I still need chemo after the cure. It might not work right away, and I would rather not be caught by surprise. I think I’ll rent a cabana too. I might as well live it up and make up for the years spent in bed.
My eyes started to get tired, and unconsciously, I started to drift to sleep. Before I entered my deep sleep, I thought I heard the sound of the ocean.
Rosalina visited me like usual the next morning. She found me extremely hyper and excited to tell the news to her.
“Rosalina, you’ll never guess what was on the news last night!”
Rosalina gave me a tight smile. “Really? What?”
“They’ve found a cure for cancer! Rosalina, I’m not doomed!” I yelled excitedly.
Rosalina’s smile faltered. “Wow Ahvi…that’s…wow.”
I knew something was wrong. I’ve been around her long enough to know when something is wrong with Rosalina. When she’s actually happy, she gets these adorable little crinkles by her eyes. Instead, I was met with a forced smile and eyes that shared that smile.
“Rosalina what’s wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong. I’m hap—”
I started to tremble. Rosalina never lied to me. She always told me the truth. That was our thing. The one thing I made her promise me when I first started chemo. She never lied.
“Rosalina, just tell me the truth!”
“I…” Rosalina sat at the end of the bed. She played with the frayed ends of the quilt I bought long ago. She took a deep breath.
“Ahvi…you…well there’s no easy way to say this, but—”
“Rose, just spit it out.”
“The cure won’t work for you,” Rosalina mumbled under her breath.
I strained my ears, trying to catch what she said. “What’d you say?”
In a louder voice, she said, “The cure won’t work for you.”
I shook my head vigorously. “No! You’re wrong. You’re lying. They said they found the cure for cancer. Rose, you don’t understand. It—you’re lying!” I yelled.
“When have I ever lied to you?” Rosalina asked, unfallen tears in her eyes.
“Now. You’re lying right now. Rose, you should be happy for me. I don’t understand.”
Rosalina gripped my forearms. I didn’t realize I was shaking. She said, “Ahvi, the cure won’t work for you because your cancer is too far progressed.”
There was a leak in the ceiling. I looked up, but saw no hole. I was confused for a moment before I realized it was me. I was crying. I didn’t realize I was crying.
“But Rose, we can try anyways. You never kn—”
“Ahvi, no. Listen to me. Even if we tried, it still wouldn’t work. You have one of the worst cancers in the world. Even worse, you have it at stage four. Jesus Christ, Ahvi, it’s around your heart! Don’t you think I would be happy for you if I could? Don’t you understand the minute I heard the news that I celebrated and cried tears of joy, until I found out more? Ahvi, I love you. You’re like the sister I never had. I wouldn’t lie to you. I never lied to you back then and I’m not lying now. But Ahvi I cannot give you false hope. I will not. Believe me when I say I wish I had better news to tell you.” After this last part, she broke down crying. She leaned into me and put her head on my shoulder.
I felt numb. I didn’t comfort her. I couldn’t even comfort myself. No, I wasn’t numb. What I felt was my heart breaking. A glass had been pushed off a counter, shattering into tiny pieces. Each piece was a piece of me that was shattered. It could never be put back together. Each piece was a dream that would forever be just that…a dream.
I always knew I was fragile.
I just never thought that this would be the thing to break me.
I started to get out of bed when Rosalina opened the door.
“Oh. You’re up. Alright, let’s go.”
She left the room briefly to bring my wheelchair. She carefully led me over to the chair, and wheeled me out the room.
I knew the way to the chemo room like the back of my hand. You go down the hallway and take the first right. From there, you go straight until you take the very last left in that hallway. Then the chemo room is the first door to your right.
My favorite, well…only, physician, Sarah, sat behind the machine.
“Morning. You ready Ahvi?” She gave me a weary smile I knew came from working the late shift.
I forced a smile. “Ready like always,” I said.
I settled down on the bed and waited patiently for the IV set up to be completed. Then, I let go.
I thought of the future I’ll never have. I’ll never get to visit Maui. I’ll never go to a beach. I’ll never even get to go outside again. I’ll never become a prestigious lawyer. I’ll never get to come home to a husband who loves me and kiss the face of a baby who looks just like me. I’ll never get to feel the sun’s rays, and I certainly will have few around me when I die. I chased away all those who were important to me. The only person I have left is Rosalina.
I like to think that I’m lying on a beach, and what I’m feeling right now is the sun’s rays. As I lie there, like I will until my life is finally over, I think I even hear an ocean.
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