This Is The End

Maybe some stories are best left unfinished.

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Augustus Waters did not die 8 days after his pre-funeral. But, he did not go into remission either. He was simply given a few more days to live. He didn’t believe in miracles so he accepted that he was going to die but it was taking longer than anticipated. Isaac and I spent most of each day at his house playing Counterinsurgence 2: Price of Dawn. When Gus fell asleep, after driving Isaac home, I would lie in bed next to him or sit down next to the couch if he fell asleep there. Either way, I always wanted to be next to him. I would hold his hand and just watch him sleep. Too often I would start sobbing and his parents would hear me and come down to offer comfort. I liked his parents and I knew they liked me. It meant we’d have each other if (when) Gus bit it. Lately, I’ve seen more of his parents than my own. His sisters came down often, but not too often. As the cancer got worse, Gus wanted to be more and more alone so his parents did not allow many people to visit him at once. Often it was just me and him, like always. I wanted it to be like that, but as the days passed, the cancer began to take its toll and change him. He wasn’t Gus anymore; he was the cancer.

One evening, after two weeks of successfully not dying, I drove to his house as part of my daily routine. His parents were asleep so I let myself in quietly (they had entrusted me with a key because I used to visit frequently.) I went down to the basement where I always found him and heard a faint sobbing. It was Gus. As soon as he saw me, he said something that I wish he hadn’t because I started crying.

“Hazel Grace. I’m turning in her, aren’t I?”

“Who?”

“Caroline Mathers. I’m turning into-“

I interrupted him because I didn’t want him to talk about her anymore. “No, you’re still Gus. You’re still the Augustus Waters from Support Group that fears oblivion.”

“I can’t do this anymore, Hazel Grace.”

“Yes, yes you can. Okay?” He didn’t say it back so I asked again. “Okay?”

“Okay.” He said. “Will you read to me?”

“What should I read?”

“Anything,” he said, “I just want to hear your voice.” I picked up An Imperial Affliction from his bedside and read to him as he lay with his head on my lap. Somehow, we both fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, Gus was already up playing Counterinsurgence solo. “Good morning, Hazel Grace,” he said as if he wasn’t dying of cancer. “Okay?”

“Okay.” I replied, as I got up and fiddled around with my oxygen tube that had become tangled in my two hour sleep. I wheeled my oxygen cart in his direction and sat down in the gaming chair next to his. He was shooting some terrorists on the screen when I heard him wince in pain. “Oh my god, Gus.”

“It’s okay, Hazel Grace. It’s just my leg.”

“But-“

He interrupted me before I could finish. “I’m on a roller coaster ride that only goes up my friend,” he said as he searched out his box of Marlboro. Placing an unlit cigarette into the corner of his mouth he smiled at me and it was that same crooked smile that I first fell in love with. He still had the cigarette in the corner of his mouth when he mumbled something that I didn’t quite catch. I just smiled at him while he played but I was staring at him for too long and he suspected that something was wrong.

“Hazel Grace?”

“Huh?”

“Okay?”

“Okay.” I replied even though I quite clearly wasn’t. I didn’t want to keep it from him but he was already going through enough hell. He didn’t deserve to die so in the end I gave in and told him. Before he died, I thought he at least deserved to know that I was going to die too.

“I went for a PET scan last week.”

“And you lit up like a Christmas tree?”

“Something like that.”

“Hold on, let me grab a dictionary so that I can define something.” He gave me a smirk which made me smile, not because it was amusing but because I felt like it was him again and that he was fighting the cancer even though the cancer always conquers.

“The good news is the edema has stayed down.”

“And the bad news?”

“Mets.”

“Phalanxifor?”

“It’s stopped working. I’m going to die.”

“Congratulations, Hazel Grace. You are one step closer to biting it. Join the club.” Gus’ humour was never inappropriate even when the matter was so serious so I didn’t let the thought of death bring me down and I certainly wasn’t going to let it come between me and him.

“Let’s play a game.”

“Okay.”

“It’s called ‘Who dies first: Augustus Waters or Hazel Grace Lancaster?’ I’ve heard it’s addictive but not as addictive as Counterinsurgence.”

“Sounds hilarious.”

“No seriously, if we both have a limited number of days to live then we should do something.”

“Do you have any suggestions?”

“Get married.”

“Huh?” He took me by surprise, but he was being completely serious. He couldn’t get down on one knee so it was hardly the proposal I ever imagined I would have. But frankly, I never even imagined that I would still be alive by the time it got to marriage.

“Hazel Grace, will you marry me?”

“Okay.” I said, as we both got up simultaneously and embraced each other. But then he winced in pain and I couldn’t breathe so we sat down again.

“MOM! DAD!” Augustus screamed at the top of his lungs since mine pretty much sucked. They ran downstairs immediately, because like all parents of cancer kids, they were always waiting.

“What’s wrong?” His mom panicked.

“Hazel’s treatment has stopped working which means she’s dying and so am I. We want to get married.”

His parents were as astonished as I was when he suggested it. His mom was about to say something but he continued speaking.

“We are going to get married right now, in the Literal Heart of Jesus. I have a limited number of days left with this incredible girl and I want to be able to call her my wife.”

“But I don’t have a dress.” I said, since no one was saying anything anyway.

“You don’t need a dress Hazel Grace. But if you insist, I’ll give you an hour to find something. Try not to die by then and I promise I won’t either.”

“Okay.” I replied, and kissed his cheek.

I didn’t have enough time to buy a new dress and mom and dad refused to pay for it. “We need to pay for your treatment Hazel,” Mom explained as I searched through my wardrobe over and over and over again. My lungs got tired of me standing for so long so I sat down on the edge of the bed where mom was, just as she stood up. “What about this?” She produced a plastic bag from the bottom of my wardrobe and took out the blue dress that I wore to Oranjee. I assumed that Gus was going to wear his funeral suit (aka his going on dates suit) so I quickly slipped into the dress. This wasn’t going to be the wedding of my dreams, but I had never actually dreamed about getting married. I just wanted the day to be about us, and not the cancer. I needed my oxygen tank but I chose to do most of the walking instead of taking shortcuts like the elevator once we got into the Literal Heart of Jesus. Mom and dad had put on something presentable and drove me there. We picked up Kaitlyn from her house on the way there because mom insisted I needed a bridesmaid and that she couldn’t be one because she was my mom.

Inside the Literal Heart of Jesus, the chairs were arranged in rows rather than a circle so that there was a centre aisle which I would walk down. I recognised everyone who was seated as the Support Group and right at the front sat Gus’ parents and Isaac’s mom and Graham. Gus was standing up, next to Isaac, even though the cancer made it difficult for him to stand, and just as I predicted, he was wearing ‘the suit’. “Just us,” I whispered to myself as I removed my cannula and handed it to mom who then went and sat down next to Graham, waiting for me to at least walk down the aisle without having to worry that my crappy lungs might stop working. Dad took my arm and we walked, at a slow pace, down the aisle to the sound of The Hectic Glow. Even though it was a fairly short distance, with my lungs that sucked at being lungs, it was a lengthy trek. I struggled to breathe but luckily dad sort of carried me all the way to the end where I sat down on the seat next to mom and she put the cannula back in. Once everyone besides Gus and I were seated, Patrick appeared and said a prayer. We kept the ceremony short because neither Gus or I were able to stand for such a long time without feeling that we were going to quite literally die. “Okay?” He asked, once we sat down. “Okay.” I said.

“I hope you like your choices Hazel Grace, because I surely like mine.”

“I do, Augustus, I do.”

“We’re on a rollercoaster ride that only goes up,” He proclaimed as he toasted to us. I hit his glass with mine and drank the bubbly stuff. It didn’t give me the same thrill as Oranjee but it was good enough. We stayed in the church for what felt like forever. We didn’t mind of course. Gus reminded me about our first encounter here, and I reminded him about our time in Amsterdam and how I hijacked his wish because I used mine on Disney World. We spent ages going over every moment we spent together and it felt like we were living them all over again. Gus said he was tired so we went back to his house. He just squeezed my hand as he fell asleep, slowly then all at once.

Augustus Waters died that night. It was horrible. He fell asleep before I did so I was just resting my head on his bare chest listening to his every heart beat until his just heart stopped and it refused to start again. The cancer had won. I never grieved for him because I don’t want anyone to grieve for me when I finally die. I just spent a lot of time with Isaac playing video games and talking about Gus. I didn’t want to talk about him to anyone other than him but I couldn’t talk to him and I didn’t mind talking to Isaac. I started chemo to control the growth of my mets but it was horrible and made me throw up all the time so I begged my parents to stop the treatment. I wanted to die and I wanted my parents to accept the fact that I was going to die and be okay with it.

Cancer never really goes away because it leaves its mark on us. My lungs are weak, Gus lost his leg and there are no I’s in Isaac. Nevertheless, we are survivors on a battlefield with ourselves. It’s all one big fight for control of your own body that you were never destined to win. The lengthier the battle, the more courageous you are, so it goes. Gus’ funeral was a short ceremony held in the same location and attended by the same people who were there on his Last Good Day. He was also wearing the same suit and they played the same song as they carried his coffin out. It felt nice to be reminded of my last moments with him because I was never going to get them again. I spent some time with him, without my oxygen tank, because I just wanted it to be us and not the cancer. He was still wearing his wedding ring and I was still wearing mine. The thing about rings is that they have no end and the sole purpose of them in marriage is to signify that love has no end even though we will all die one day or another. I think that’s beautiful. Gus may not have left a mark on the world, but he left his mark on me and the marks humans leave are too often scars.

As my cancer started to conquer my body, I spent more and more hours in bed reading and rereading An Imperial Affliction. I never saw Van Houten again but he was not the man who wrote this book. He was the man scarred by someone close he lost to cancer after he wrote the book. Gus’ death made me realise that. As I was confined to my house, and mostly my room, Gus’ parents and Isaac came to visit me rather than me going to visit them. Their visiting hours weren’t long as my mom insisted that I needed rest. When they would leave, I’d stay up and read instead of sleeping. A week after Gus’ funeral, his parents came to visit me. I was supposed to be sleeping so I pretended to sleep and Gus’ dad came down and sat with me for a while. Before he left, he kissed my forehead and said “We loved you as much as we loved him.” I fell asleep with his words in my head and woke up early the next morning, before sunrise, with an aching pain in my lungs.

I fell unconscious in my mom’s arms as dad drove to the hospital. When I woke up, I was in ICU again, and I was all alone. I realised what had happened when I saw the brown fluid draining from a tube that disappeared into my chest. My lungs were filling up with water again. I had been through this many, many times before but for some reason I was certain that this was the end. At least, I wanted it to be the end so I could be with Augustus again in that Something that he believed in. I started to believe in it too on his Last Good Day, when he told me that he thought he was going to die that night but I shouldn’t worry because we would meet again. I wanted to be with Gus and if this was the end, maybe I would see him again and it would be just us. No cannula. No oxygen tank. No crappy lungs. No prosthetic leg, and no freaking cancer. Just us. I didn’t want to leave my parents but we had had this conversation the day after Gus died. I had to make sure that they would be okay and they would stay together and they wouldn’t just live the rest of their lives being the parents of a dead girl who had cancer. They said they wouldn’t. I felt better then, knowing that my mom wouldn’t think that she won’t be my mom anymore. That night I fell asleep in between them, in their bed. Dad was making circles with his finger on my palm which slightly tickled and mom was stroking my hair. It was like being a little kid again and as I fell asleep I hoped that I died that night but I didn’t.

I still had a throbbing pain in my chest and I wanted to speak to a Good Nurse so I went to press the little red button they tell you to press but my body refused to let me. I felt paralysed, the pain was getting worse and I could do nothing about it. That’s when I realised this was the end. I closed my eyes and tried to picture Augustus Somewhere with an unlit cigarette in his mouth because he still believed in his god damn metaphors. But in that moment, when I felt my chest tighten and struggled to exhale because my crappy lungs had probably stopped working, I realised why Van Houten had done it.

I’m Hazel. Sixteen. Thyroid with mets in my lungs. I’m doing okay.

But maybe some stories are best left unfinished, right in the middle of a

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