For nineteen years of my life, I lived it the way I wanted, simple and quietly. My idea of a good time was staying cooped up in my bedroom reading books and scrolling through Facebook, scowling at all the drama and nonsense. Sure, I could have gone out to parties and drink and have fun, but I chose to be the way I was.
My mum used to say, “Carrie, you have to get out of this house. You can’t spend your whole life doing nothing. Go out, make memories! Live life to the fullest! One day you’re gonna look back on your youth and regret not doing more with it.”
I never understood that. How could I ever regret something I once wanted? Sure, my life was no Ferrari in the fast lane, but it was more than a station wagon going twenty miles an hour. I had a few friends, two actually. Erica and Malerie. They were always there for me when I needed them, even though I was completely opposite of them. Malerie was the party animal, Erica was the athlete, and me…I guess you could call me the nerd.
After we graduated, nothing really changed. Mal went to her parties, Erica and I went to university, her on a soccer scholarship and me with my academics, and everything else just kind of fell together.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the social scene, and it doesn’t matter if you do. What truly counts is that you’re alive, you’re healthy, and you’re living the way you want to live. Like they say, life’s what you make it, so make it count. And if sitting all bundled up in your bedroom reading Stephen King is what counts to you, go for it. I did.
But then it happened, the thing I always referred to as the tragedy. I wasn’t the first, and I definitely wouldn’t be the last, but I never imagined something like that could happen to me. Yet there I was waiting patiently in that tiny, cold white room for what seemed like hours on end, dangling my feet from the table.
Erica stood by my side, refusing to let go of my hand, and to be honest I didn’t want her to. I needed her, she knew that, and she wasn’t about to let me face this alone. After so many visits and so many tests, I would receive the answers I wasn’t quite sure I needed to hear.
After that, I understood why my mum used to tell me to go out and enjoy the things life had to offer. Maybe I should have gone to that party and got drunk and slept with that guy Malerie told me about. Maybe I should have run for homecoming and prom queen. Maybe I should have gone to one of them. I should have done a lot of things, like tell my mother I was sorry that I was always a recluse, and adopt that puppy I saw in that window a few weeks before. I should have taken chances and made mistakes and fallen in love. But I didn’t do any of those things. I didn’t go on vacation with my family, and I didn’t go on our senior trip to Spain and Italy. I never did anything worth talking about.
“I’m so sorry, Carrie,” Erica said sympathetically, a tear falling down her face.
“So that’s it. That’s my life story in a nutshell, isn’t it?”
“Don’t,” she replied sternly. “Don’t you dare act like this is the end for you.”
I laughed, holding back tears of my own. “Well it is, right? I can’t do anything about this, Erica. I’m not like you and Malerie. If something bad happens, I let it overtake me because I can’t fight.”
“Yes you can, and you will.”
But when you’re diagnosed with brain cancer, it doesn’t seem that simple. It feels like your life has been handed to you on a silver platter, and right when you reach for it, it gets yanked away by some force or object that wants you dead. In my case, my life had barely even begun, and if it weren’t for the cancer, it might not have started at all. Something inside me ticked, and my thought process changed. I hadn’t done anything I could be proud of, other than be smart only because I read constantly. But now, I had to do those things because I knew I had a time limit.
“You can undergo chemotherapy, radiation, surgery. It’s all up to you.”
“I want none of it,” I told the doctor. “Let a miracle happen.”
“Carrie, please!” Erica interrupted. “Why are you doing this? They can cure this! That’s what the treatments are for!”
I scowled at her. “NO! I will not live my remaining months in a damn hospital like my mum did, and if you think I will you’re mad. If my body created it on its own, it can get rid of it on its own.”
“It’s called faith, Erica. Have some.”
They caught it early, stage one to be exact. They said it shouldn’t cause any sort of damage for at least a few months. Tumors are vicious but they’re slow to develop, and if I’m lucky, I could wake up one day and it could be completely gone. I listened to their words but I couldn’t help but think of all the things I wanted to do. And I knew what would come first.
Erica and I left the hospital around eleven in the morning. “So, where to?” she asked, pulling out her car keys. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go as long as it’s in this country.”
“How about the children’s home?”
“You really want to tell him?”
“Of course. He needs to know.”
Since my mum didn’t have godparents for me and my younger brother when she died, Jonah, who was eight at the time, got sent to the children’s home in London. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster for him, but he understood that child services wouldn’t allow me to care for him. They did, however, agree not to foster him out, which I was grateful for. Luckily, he loved the children’s home and the other kids there, so I was happy that he was happy.
We exited the car and walked up the pathway to the front door. The children’s home was a big and white, three-story house with blue shutters and flowerbeds around the porch. Two girls sat on the front steps with a couple of barbies while a huddle of boy grouped over at the side with their nerf guns. One of them happened to be my brother.
“Carrie!” he said excitedly. “Look what we got! All new toys from the guys!”
“The guys?” Erica asked.
“Yeah we had special guests today and they brought all the boys nerf guns and the girls got dolls. Well, except for Molly, she got a nerf gun too. She think I’m her boyfriend I think.”
I laughed at his innocence like I almost missed being that age. “Where’s your instructor?”
“She’s in her office. Hey, why do you look so pale?”
“Never mind, come with me, okay?”
He nodded and followed me to Helen’s office where we would have the discussion that would leave him with devastation. But he looked so happy with his new gift that I wasn’t sure I wanted to rain on his parade with depressing news. I couldn’t do that to his poor ten-year-old heart.
“Nice to see you again, Carrie,” Helen said as we entered her office. “How are you?”
“I’m okay,” I responded, swallowing the lie down my dry throat. My nerves set in and my hands shook as Jonah and I took the seats in front of her desk and Erica took a seat on the sofa.
“Can I get you something to eat? Drink?”
“I’ll have water, please,” I said and she tossed me one from the mini fridge behind her, and a juice box and for Jonah. And as always, a diet coke to Erica. “Thank you. Um, I wanted to talk to you about Jonah.”
“Oh, he’s doing so well!”
“Not about how he’s doing, uh…he’s supposed to be released to my custody in three weeks, right?”
She flips over to Jonah’s profile in her large database and nods. “Yes, that is correct.”
“Well, um, I think it best that he remains at the home until further notice.”
“NO!” Jonah yelled. “I like it here but I want to be with you!”
“Why?” she asked, clearly considered. It may have been the look on my face or the way I stuttered my words, but she knew something was wrong. “Carrie, two weeks ago you couldn’t wait to have him with you. What’s happened?”
I told her everything, with Jonah sitting there hearing the whole thing. It wouldn’t be right to keep it from him. “I’m not going through treatment, and I don’t know how rough of a journey it’s going to be.” Jonah sniffled and I glanced over to see a tear falling down his cheek. “Please don’t cry, Jo, I’ll be fine.”
“Hey,” I said, taking his hand. “Everything’s going to be okay. Just give me a couple of more months and it will all be back to normal. I promise.”
He smiled. Jonah and I had this thing where we only promised something if we definitely intended to follow through with it. I knew my situation wasn’t definite, but I had to give him some form of hope, and I knew that would do the trick.
There was a small knock on Helen’s door and an older boy, maybe a little older than me, poked his head around the door. “Um, Helen,” he said. “There’s a small commotion out back. A couple of boys took the nerfing a little too seriously and well, I think one has a broken arm.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” she said, running her hand through her graying hair. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
“Who’s that?” I asked after he closed the door.
“My nephew. Come out back, the show should start soon.”
She stood and motioned us out the door and led us down the long hallway out to the back yard. A small stage was set up at the back of the privacy fence and the banner looked like was made by five year olds, somewhat reading “One Direction.”
“Told you we had guests today,” Jonah said with a smile. “The girls love them. Oh god, there’s Molly. I have to go…”
Jonah ran away and Erica and I laughed as Helen went to tend to the broken arm. “Aren’t you two a little old to be living here?” said a voice behind us. We turned, facing a black haired guy with mysterious eyes and gorgeous tanned skin. Erica instantly went flirty.
She giggled. “No, we’re just here visiting her brother.”
“Jonah?” he said. “I saw him here a second ago. He’s a good kid, told me all about his girlfriend Molly. Or, what he hates about her at least. I didn’t catch your names.”
“This is Carrie,” she said, still grinning from ear to ear. “And I’m Erica.”
“That’s a pretty name. I’m Zayn. The rest of the guys should be out in a second and you can meet them as well, maybe sign some autographs for you or something. And you should stay for the show.”
Erica sighed. “Sorry, we can’t. We have class at one.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
Two other boys came out behind him, one with wildly curly hair and dimples, and the other Helen’s nephew. “You ready, mate?” said the nephew. “Those little girls in there are getting anxious.”
“I swear every time we come here it gets worse and worse,” the curly-headed guy said with a dimpled snicker, and then he noticed us. “My, oh my, who do we have here?”
“This is Erica, and…”
“Carrie,” I added for him, since he seemingly forgotten whilst flirting with Erica.
The boy smiled and stuck his hand out for me which I took graciously. “I’m Harry, and this is Louis.” Harry was handsome, but Louis caught my attention. His blue eyes were like crystals in the sunlight, glimmering at me like diamonds.
“Hi,” I said, directing it toward Louis.
“Hi, nice to meet you. Are you staying for the show?”
“Unfortunately we have to be going,” I told him. “Maybe next time.”
“Of course, yeah,” he said, “we visit here quite a bit, mainly just to see my aunt and give the kids toys. This is just a special occasion. The home is being renovated to house more orphan children.”
I rolled my eyes, trying not to be rude, but surely it came out that way. “Don’t call them orphans. They’re just parentless. Some of them have other relatives that would love to care for them, but can’t.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Sure.” I pulled out my phone and checked the clock. Almost time to go.
“Here, let me give you my number,” he said, taking my phone from my hand. I almost objected, but I figured it wouldn’t matter. Just another number to sit in my lonely phone collecting dust because I would never text or call him. “Text or call me sometime so I can make it up to you for being rude.”
I laughed and took my phone back after he finished. “I’ll be sure to do that.”
“He totally thought you were hot,” Erica said the second we got into the car.
“Who? Louis? I highly doubt that.”
“Oh come on, Carrie! He was checking you out from the start. Why don’t you ever give guys a chance? I don’t get it. You only have one life to live and…” her voice trailed off for a moment. “…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound that way. I’m just saying you should text him.”
“It’s okay, and no, I won’t. This whole cancer thing…I just…the less people that care about me, the less people that suffer if I were to, ya know.”
“Don’t even go there.”
“But it is possible, Erica. It could happen.”
She didn’t say anything else the rest of the way to school. Neither of us wanted to think about what might or might not happen, but it was still there stirring in our minds, haunting us like a plague. The truth about cancer is, it doesn’t discriminate, or care if you’re just nineteen years old with the rest of your life left to live. It’s ruthless and it’s inevitable, but it’s not ever predictable.