I remember the darkness of my room at eight in the morning, two days before I turned 16. The gentle taps on the door, the click of the knob opening and then closing, quiet footsteps retreating from my bedroom. I remember walking downstairs at eight-thirty, still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and finding both of my parents sitting at the kitchen table with worried looks on their faces. I remember them explaining to me that you were in a hospital, probably with appendicitis, and getting ready for “an exploratory surgery.” I remember thinking to myself that appendicitis is incredibly normal. So many people have their appendices removed in their lifetimes. You’re going to be just fine. I remember going to the middle school for my brother’s orientation day and seeing the father of one of our friends. He smiled and waved at me, and I wondered if he knew where you were. I remember going to Costco with my mom, just trying to keep myself busy, I remember going to the mall after that even though I did not want to be there. I just needed something to do to keep myself from worrying about you, making myself sick. I remember walking around in a daze, my mom asking where we should go and me shrugging my shoulders. We went to a Vans store, and I remember passing a group of girls I knew laughing with each other, and thinking about how they had no idea what was happening. I remember the pack of socks I had in my hands in line when my mom’s phone buzzed. I remember her hand clamping over her mouth and her quick Google Search. I remember the second buzz, and I watched her face crumple. I still remember the pattern on those socks: checkers, polka dots, red hearts. I remember throwing them down onto a display table and telling myself to breathe as my crying mom and I walked out of the mall. I remember she told me “It’s cancer,” behind the Macy’s, and practically running to the car before I completely lost it. I remember the exact parking spot: one of only six in the middle of a roundabout for valet parking, somewhere we had never parked before. I remember the close up of my jean-shorts while I sat folded up crying, until we decided to go. I remember trying to jump out of the car when we got to the hospital before it stopped moving, and my mom scolding me, though she understood. I remember the woman in the elevator smiling at me, trying to encourage me and urge me to reciprocate it, and me trying and trying and trying to stop crying. I remember the receptionist with distaste, her too-high voice mispronouncing your name. I remember she told us your room number, and the white hallways I ran down in circles trying to find you. I remember picking out a card at the gift shop and writing in it at the cafeteria, listening in on a conversation between some doctors a few tables away, imagining them talking about you, and wondering what you must be feeling right now, if you were even awake, if you even knew yet. We could not find your parents, but if we had I wouldn’t have been able to control myself. I remember we left without seeing you, and we drove to Edmonds beach nearby in case you woke up soon. I remember sitting on driftwood with my toes in the hot sand, wiping my eyes on my sweatshirt sleeve, watching the ferry boats drift out on the water, and thinking how nice it would be to just walk into the sea. I remember going home – you didn’t wake up until late that night – and hugging my dad, and going for a walk with my dog just to try to clear my head. I remember the shower running over me and that sleepless night, waking up every hour, exhaling every time, believing that I had dreamed the whole thing only to realize that it was all real, every time I woke. I remember you texting me that night, and telling me not to worry, and that you were okay. I remember feeling so relieved, still wishing I could hold you in my arms but grateful that I could speak to you for now. I told you that I would come to see you as soon as I could the next morning.
I don’t remember what pajamas I was wearing that morning, or what I ate for breakfast, or even if I ate breakfast at all. I don’t remember who my brother was talking to at the school or who I saw there aside from our friend’s dad. Did I talk to him, or did we just wave? I don’t remember the in betweens, when we came home from the school, and Costco, or what information we got from your mom in those few moments. I don’t remember what I said to my mom in the car until after we found out what was wrong. I don’t remember what time it was when we got the text, or what other places we had drifted past in the mall. I do remember seeing Alyson, but what other friends were with her? All I can see now are their white smiles. I don’t remember how long I sat in the car crying, or whether my mom tried to speak to me as we sat there. I don’t remember the drive to the hospital at all. Not what we passed, not how fast we were going, nothing. I just remember hitting the asphalt hard and wanting to run. I remember that moment, the momentary hesitation of deciding to either run towards the hospital or away. I also remember that the thought stayed for about one second as I started running to the front doors. I don’t remember the first receptionist, or what the woman in the elevator said to me. I don’t remember how we got to the second receptionist, or what color her hair was, or whether or not she smiled. I don’t remember how we got to the gift shop, or what the card I picked for you looked like, or what I even wrote in it, though I know what I felt, and what I wanted you to know. I don’t remember leaving the hospital, just ending up on the beach. How long did we sit there? How long was the drive home? I don’t remember if I ate dinner, or if I dried my hair after the shower, or even if I did anything besides stand under the water. I don’t remember optimism on that first day, but once I finally saw you, I know there was nothing but hope and love afterwards.
I am so thankful that today is not a sad day. I am so thankful that I can turn to my boyfriend today and give him a hug, and tell him that I love him, and tell him how proud I am of this incredible journey he has overcome. I can tell him how excited I am about what lies in our futures together.
Today marks three years since the day he was diagnosed with cancer, and two and a half years since he beat it. “Lymphoma” was not a word that I had ever remembered hearing before that day, but we learned it – and so many more medical vocabulary words – very well over the succeeding six months.
My boyfriend, Chris, is hands down one of the strongest, most amazing people I have ever come across in my life (and I’m not just saying that because I love him so much!). He handled such a life changing experience with so much poise and grace and strength at only sixteen – something that some adults can’t do. In his mind, this was “just a speed-bump” that he would eventually get over. He wasn’t sad, or angry, or upset. He just knew it was something he had to get through. And having him lead me and his family and our friends through this with that mindset made all the difference.
I wish he wouldn’t have had to go through it, wouldn’t have had to experience the intense effects of chemo-therapy, or had to spend most of his time in a hospital room. But I am thankful for the positive things that came from the whole thing. There is always a positive side for everything, a reason, even if it seems like there cannot possibly be one from where you are standing. Sometimes it takes a while to realize what has changed for the better, maybe even a few years. But if you look hard enough, you can always find something.
I am so thankful that our families grew closer together, that even Chris and I grew closer together, supporting each other when we needed it most. I am thankful that we both came out of it stronger than we had ever been, and I am thankful that I get to celebrate spending five years of my life with him this coming October.
I am thankful for what we have gained from those six months, and I no longer worry about what we missed, or what we lost, or how difficult it was, because he made it through – we all did. I am so thankful to have such a strong and positive person by my side, and for the words he has given me to think about whenever things get tough – some of the first words he said when he heard his diagnosis: I got this!