When I grow up . . . What kid hasn't heard the question, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' And you hear the answers, doctors, mothers, mechanics, whatever my Daddy does. Me, I never give them an answer, because the answer that I would give, is one that they do not want to hear. I don't like to look at the future, because I don't know if I'm going to be there. What do you want to be when you grow up, Matt?
I want to be alive.
It may seem stupid to you, after all, why wouldn't I be alive? Why wouldn't I go to college, why wouldn't I have a girlfriend? Why wouldn't I have to pick out a job someday? Well, cancer doesn't really let you think like that. I've heard all of the nurses going, if you visualize it going away, it will go away. The truth is, I was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, and I'm still in this stupid hospital. And I know that visualizing it going away, does not make it go away. Justin showed me that.
Justin was my roommate.
He, also, became one of my closest friends. We both had leukemia, and we were diagnosed at about the same time. We had some of the same interests too. We both loved to skateboard, but where I loved T.V., Justin obsessed over books. I met Justin the same day I was told I had cancer, truth be told. While my parents talked to the doctor, Doctor Chance, to be exact (how ironic is that, honestly? A guy who works with kids that mostly have no chance) I said I needed to go to the bathroom. I left the room, and went to hide. Justin was already there.
My first impression of Justin?
Easy. NERD! At the time we were both thirteen. Justin was skinny as hell, he had large circle glasses, and retainers. At least his ink black hair didn't have a mushroom cut. The second I looked at him, I thought, this kid and I are polar opposites. My ten year old sister easily towered over him. I'm tall, really tall. It's weird, but when I turned eleven I shot up, it was scary. It was like, I went to bed a normal nine year old and woke up looking like I was just put through a taffy puller. It turned out that I was just under six feet. My hair was blonde, my teeth had no need for retainers, and my eyes no need for glasses.
The kid was crying.
And I mean the tears were absolutely pouring from his brown eyes. I remember saying, "Hey, kid, what's up?"
He looked at me and said, "Usually I would say the sky, but not now."
He didn't say anything more, so I said, "Why are you crying?" I'm not known for sensitivity. I'm rather blunt, truth be told.
"Wouldn't you be crying if you were told you were going to die?" He asked, lifting his head to stare up into my eyes.
I just about choked. This kid didn't look like he was dying. To be honest, he looked like he should be putting on a Star Wars costume or something and going to a convention. "Come on, you can't be dying." I don't know why I insisted that he couldn't be dying, maybe it was because if he wasn't dying then neither was I. Even if the doctor said that I would beat this, I knew there was a chance I wouldn't.
"Then what do you call leukemia?" He asked, sniffling.
This set me back a couple of steps. This kid was in the same place I was. I slung my arm around his thin shoulders like we were old friends. "Welcome to the boat of the damned." I informed him.
He wiggled out from under my arm. "Boat of the damned? You're dying too?"
"Ahh, I love optimists." I told him with a grin. Now that he'd stopped crying, the tension in the room had lightened considerably. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "I saw that."
"I'm Justin." He introduced himself.
"Matt." It was quiet for a few seconds before I asked, "What do you do for fun?"
"Read until four in the morning." Justin said. Nerd, just like I thought. "Of course, I wouldn't have to read at night if there was the slightest possibility I wasn't skateboarding during the day."
Whoa, hold the phone. This kid skate boarded? "What's your park?" I asked.
"Clemens. Although, I heard that Althea, the one just down the road a ways is so much cooler."
"No way, Althea is my park."
"Really? How is it?" Justin asked eagerly.
"To me the same old, same old, but they cleaned it up last year and now it's awesome." I went on to describe exactly what it looked like and where everything was in the park. Justin never interrupted once, just listened with shining eyes.
"Justin!" Came a sharp nasally voice. "Justin, are you in there?"
"Mom," He mouthed to me with a grimace.
"Justin!" She shrieked angrily.
"Yes, Mom?" He finally called back.
"Come on, the doctors want to talk to you."
"Coming!" He called back. "See you later," He mouthed, and passed me his e-mail address. I mouthed back the same thing as he left the bathroom.
It was two weeks before I actually saw Justin again, and by that time we had both managed to land ourselves in the hospital. "I don't want to be here." I complained to Linda, the nurse.
She grinned down at me. "Matt, you'll get better and you will get out of here."
"What if I don't get better? What if the only time I leave this place is in a body bag?" I demanded of her.
"You and your roommate seem to share the same attitude." Linda sighed. "He drew a picture the other day, called, umm, the boat of the damned. Very cheery child." She added with a touch of sarcasm.
"What's his name?" I asked.
"Justin." She said as she wheeled me into my new room. Justin was already there, talking to a male nurse.
"Just one Harry Potter book." He pleaded. "ONE!"
"Give it up Justin, if you want anything smuggled in you have to ask the night nurses." Justin, the male nurse and Linda all swung their heads to stare at me.
"Hi, Matt." Justin said, although I could tell he was already thinking of what he would say to a night nurse to smuggle in a Harry Potter book.
Justin and I spent a lot of days together in the hospital, sometimes talking about things from home, sometimes to sick to care the other was in the room. It was about two years ago, almost a year after I'd met Justin that this particular conversation took place. It was one of our semi-conscious days, the type where you say things to fill the silence, you don't lie, but you talk and talk and talk, half the time you don't even know what you're saying.
"I think," Justin said slowly, "I think Mom is ready for me to die."
Justin's Mom, Sasha O'Connor, not my favourite person. In fact, I pretty much hated her. She was blonde, tall, skinny, she had a bad attitude. With her it was all or nothing, if you weren't with her you were against her, if the spotlight wasn't on her there was no spotlight. But, despite how I felt about her, I knew that she really loved her son. "Justin, no parent wants their kid to die."
"The hospital bills are so bad, Mom can't pay for them. Ever since Dad died we've been walking a thin line anyway. Damn it!" He yelled suddenly, "Why did I have to get sick?" We were quiet, I said nothing about his outburst, though we were both thinking the same thing - if Justin died it would destroy Sasha. I knew her background. An orphan, husband died in a car accident when Justin was five, I felt so bad. "When I was little," Justin breathed, "I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to save people. Now I couldn't stand to be a doctor, I couldn't stand knowing that for every person I saved, there would be someone I wouldn't. I couldn't live with that."
"Justin, I think the trick is to focus on the one that you did save, instead of the one you did."
"Dr. Chance," Justin said, naming our doctor, "Will lose one of us and save the other." He said it like a fact, something that he had known for a long time, something I had known for a long time.
"Or he could lose two people in the next room and save both of us." I corrected, refusing to believe that one of us would die, although it was a reality.
"I hope that it's me."
"I hope it's you that lives too," I told him, feeling as though I might cry.
"No, I hope that I'm the one he loses." Justin corrected.
"What? Why?" I gasped.
"Face it, Matt, you've got more to live for." Justin was silent for a second and I thought he might have fallen asleep until he spoke again. "If one of us dies, I want it to be me, you deserve to live Matt."
"So do you," I whispered, but there was no reply.
The reason that conversation stuck in my mind out of the thousands we must have had was because it was the last one I had with Justin. He died that night. It was one of the worst moments of my life, even worse when I was told I had cancer. Justin, my friend, my confident, that little 'nerd,' had died. I puked when I was told. For the next few weeks I would watch the door, always expecting him to walk in. When he didn't, I got angry, blamed everyone. Even God and I'm not religious! I thought back to our last conversation and thought that if he hadn't talked about his death, about dying in general, maybe he wouldn't have. Maybe he would have lived, maybe we both would have! But it's just me.
Justin died two years ago today. Today I was released from the hospital. Remission, they called it. If I went five years without seeing the stupid place again I'm considered cured. When I got home, I didn't go hide in my room, I went for a walk. Mom didn't want me too, but I did. I even snuck my skateboard out. I went to Althea, my park, the park Justin had dreamed about but had never gotten to see.
As I rolled in, some guys called out to me. I recognized some of them, and it was like they were from another planet. Keagan, Andrew, Kyle. They were my friends, we still talked, but now they found it awkward to be around me after I got sick. I couldn't say I blamed it.
"I don't believe it!" Shouted Kyle. "It's Matt!"
"So you are alive!" Was Keagan's greeting. "Andrew, you owe me five bucks."
"For what?" I asked, lost.
Andrew answered, "We were betting on whether or not you would live to see your sixteenth."
I stumbled away from that. "That's . . . That's," I stuttered. I was horrified. They were gambling on whether or not I would live? "You guys are sick." I finally got out.
"What's wrong?" Kyle asked, concerned.
I took a deep breath, and remembered that to these guys, life was still just a game, and they were still winning. "I just don't find it very funny, because one of my best friend's died in the hospital two years today."
"Jeez, man, we're sorry." Andrew and Keagan apologized together.
"Yeah, well, I gotta go." I turned and went home.
I'm twenty six. I'm officially cured, I made a couple million dollars from my painting 'Boat Of The Damned,' so I'm pretty well financially. Today is the twelfth anniversary of Justin's death and instead of spending it skateboarding like I usually do, I'm in the hospital. Don't worry, I'm not sick, and neither is Jenny, my wife. I know you'll say there's no such thing, but just hold on for a second because this is a happy visit. Jenny is giving birth to our first child. Holding her hand, the doctor says it should take only one more push, with a loud cry, Jenny complies.
A few seconds later, the doctor hands us our beautiful baby boy. His hair is black like Jenny's, and his eyes are brown like mine. "You name him." Jenny insists, staring in awe at our little miracle.
The name breaks through my lips before I can give it a second thought. "Justin."
© Double I 4 My Guyz