Paul Has Chemo

I didn’t know the word at the time, but the boys in our first-grade class shaved our heads in “solidarity” with Paul. He was my best friend, so my mom took me to the hospital to visit. When I entered the room, I became upset because it wasn’t him- his black hair was really gone in a way mine wasn’t- black shadows surrounded his eyes- he was the most tired person I’d ever seen- his voice was different because he had to whisper.

My mom sat me down at the table next to his bed and left the room. I put together the plastic pieces of Connect-Four and split the chips into two piles, red and black. Paul coughed and something inside of him rattled like a can of spray paint. I told him about school and our field trips to the pond and post office. I told him about my last hockey game, how I scored two goals and two assists, not enough for a hat trick but that’s four points, I said. I became angry with him because he wasn’t paying good attention.

After a few moves, Paul said it would be better if I put in his pieces for him. He handed me a black chip and pointed to the third column from the right. I dropped his chip for him; it fell with a click. Then I sat on the edge of my seat and shot my own red chip down the center column and told Paul about the ride I took on a tractor pulling a wagon full of hay and big orange pumpkins you could sit on. I made it clear to him how Fall is the best season, because my birthday’s November 11th. He kept falling back onto his pillow.

Eventually, I had it so no matter where he went I’d win. I told him so. He chewed this over and said nothing. He stared at the game. Then he stared through it, through me, like he saw something far away. I peered behind me, twirled back to Paul and repeated myself- he could go anywhere… I’d still win. He shut his eyes, so I went ahead and chose his move for him, to block my three-in-a-row, but it didn’t matter because I could put my chip on top of that and connect-four, anyway. I felt happy when I won. But right after, I considered Paul boring because he wasn’t competitive.

The next game, when he handed me his chips, I was afraid to touch his hand because I thought I’d hurt him. I didn’t try as hard as before and kept looking to the door. Every move, he seemed to make a life-or-death decision yet didn’t care. I got real nervous and didn’t like visiting Paul. My mom came in, I put the game in its box, and Paul fell asleep. I said bye to Paul and his eyes opened but I don’t think he was awake.

  1. #1 by kdgallagher on August 12, 2012 - 1:55 am

    I empathize with your guilt, but then think of how life-filled your instincts were.

    I remember this one night, on the otherside, when some substance associates and I were waiting for the bus. When it came, I discovered I didn’t have the means to get on. I guess their was a lack of tangible current because they all went ahead, saying they were sorry, that they’d see me there. Being late at night, the next bus was going to take long enough for a few drinks at the bar. For a moment, I was angry. Then I realized how I would have felt guilty delaying their evening, how I would have been forced to force small talk to mask the boredom; how even saying thank you would have made it more awkward. Instead, they were riding away on the bus, feeling guilty themselves. I don’t think I even met up with them, though, at this point, this memory is bordering on allegory.

    When an animal knows its going to die, it prefers to be alone. I’m not sure a rabbit prefers to drown over freezing, though.

  2. #2 by kdgallagher on August 12, 2012 - 2:07 am

    and then I realize you never said you felt guilty. that was me.

  3. #3 by Gopher Padfoot on August 13, 2012 - 1:05 am

    No you were right- I felt guilt. And Nietzsche was right- pity opposes vitality. The middle way is empathy- to identify with the other but not negate yourself in the process.

    By the way, isn’t all memory allegory?

    Thanks for sharing your story.

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