Jake -- Part 2
October turned into November. The days were short and they flowed so quickly from one to another. Jeff and I were recovering from the now famous tree incident. It happened over the last weekend of October.
Jake saw me that following Wednesday with my right shoulder strapped to my chest and my right leg in a high-tech cast. I was already in my chair, staring at the ceiling, the needle freshly inserted into my hip.
He looked at me when he came in and then did a double take. He rolled his eyes at me. He shook his head and smiled this wicked smile. Why do people always roll their eyes at me? Why do they smile at me and assume they already know what happened? I didn't do anything bad. However, I had to give him grief first, before he unleashed it on me.
"Oh sure, be that way. See if I care," I joked with him.
"Well, you make it so hard for me not to wonder about you, Aaron. Let me guess. You were biking and you went over the handlebars. You went skateboarding and wiped out. Maybe rollerblading, or maybe a scooter. You were playing basketball and you collided with someone twice your size. Car accident, motorcycle collision, or dune buggy racing. I know, you were acting or dancing and you fell off the stage. Am I close?"
"Not even, wise guy. You see, there is this tree . . ."
"It threw you to the ground."
"Shaddup. Will you give me a break?"
"Looks like you have enough breaks. No more breaks for Aaron!"
"Oy, I'm a captive audience to a comedian. Are you done?"
"Not even, wise guy. You see, there is this man named Aaron . . ."
"Jake! Gimme a break!"
"Hey, you're a poet and don't know it. So what did this tree do?"
"I'm not going to tell you. You have your own theories, wrong as they are. You think you know me so well. You figure it out."
"How much time is left on your IV?" he asked.
He sat down and his lady doc started to prep him. She had this smirk on her face. I ignored her.
"About 90 minutes. I've been here 30 minutes already."
"Okay, give me a running start. What's broken?"
"Collarbone and right leg, two places."
"Ouch. How big is the tree?"
"You fell out of a 60-foot tree?!"
"Only thirty feet of it."
"Only? You are way too old to be in a 60-foot tree!"
"Not! Keep going."
"Wait. I have to picture me, in about 25 years, wanting to be in a 60-foot tree."
He paused for a moment, looked blankly at the ceiling, and smirked. He got dreamy-eyed, and then frowned. He looked back at me and shook his head.
"I can't, Aaron. It's too much for my imagination. I wouldn't want to be in a 60-foot tree at 20, never mind 20 or more years from now."
"Geez Jake, and I thought you had some adventure in you. You'd be amazed how clear the view is from up there."
"What can you see from up there? Your head in the clouds? I can already see that from down here. More trees? Bugs, bats, bees, creepy crawlies? Bbrrr. No thanks!"
"Nah. Yourself. You can find yourself up there. No limits. Nothing to tie you down."
"Oh great. I'm a comedian and you're a great philosopher. Aaron, reality says if you climb a 60-foot tree, you will be killed. You're asking for trouble."
"It's not any safer on the ground. I got cancer while on the ground. So did you."
"I'm not the only tree-climber, just in case you haven't thought about that."
"Aaron I don't know anyone crazy enough to be up there with you."
"Sure you do."
He thought for a moment, dismissed the thought, and then thought again.
"Nahhh, you're not serious!"
"Oh I'm way serious."
"Jeff? No way, Jose! The man is too smart to let you do that do him."
"So you think."
"You're full of it!"
"You haven't seen him today. Wait until he comes in."
"Then you messed with his head."
"He did it voluntarily. And why are you blaming me? I got a lot of common sense you know."
"Hell no you don't."
I laughed aloud at him. Here were two guys, 25 years apart in age, taking their chemotherapy session, amazed at each other. I had him pegged for being adventurous and he had me pegged as the old man.
"You gotta live, Jake. Every day. I've told my friends I'm going out kicking and screaming if I'm going to die from this crap."
"But a tree? From the looks of you, you probably did scream."
"You pictured me on a bike, a skateboard, playing ball, or being up on a stage. Why not in a tree?"
"Because I thought you had a brain!"
He laughed. He had no clue how to take me. Everything he thought about me was wrong. I tickled his funny bone. Thank God for small favors. Then Jeff appeared.
"Who had a brain?" he said as he walked in, slipped his jacket off his injured shoulder, and off his good arm.
Jake lost it. He just laughed so hard that tears streamed down his cheeks. He choked, then laughed all the harder.
Jeff looked from him to me, raised his eyes, and back at Jake, thoroughly amused.
"Get him," he said to me, motioning to Jake with his thumb, smiling. "Jake, did your lady doc spike your meds or what?"
He was wiping tears out of his eyes, getting his breath back.
"Ohh, this is too much. He pushed you, right? First he dragged you up there, and then he pushed you. Because if you tell me you were up the tree with him, of your own free will, I'm going to start believing in Santa Claus again."
"Ho ho ho, but I think you'll get a lump of coal this year. Wise guy."
"I already called him that. We're playing 20-Questions so he can find out what happened to me. Uh, us."
"How much does he know?"
"Are you kidding? He's 20. He knows everything. Didn't you when you were 20?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot. Now how much does he THINK he knows?"
"That the tree was a 60-footer, and that we were up 30 feet."
"Not even warm, baby. It gets better."
"I don't think I can stand it. Okay, okay. So, you were 30 feet up, admiring the view. You started dancing, right? Or fooling around. Or decided that you are Superman or Spiderman. Or Batman and Robin?"
"This kid is a real comedian," said Jeff, laughing again.
Jeff liked Jake, and Jake liked Jeff. Jeff went over to the chair Jake was sitting in, moved him over a bit with his butt, sat beside him, and put his good arm around his neck. He looked into his eyes and he gave him a noogie. Or noogy. (Word XP doesn't like either one. Microsoft programmers have no imagination. It's not in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary either. You know, that knuckle rubbing thing on someone's head, irritating, but always done with affection).
"I called him that too. He called me a philosopher. I, on the other hand, see nothing wrong with grown adults climbing trees."
"Me neither. Though `grown adults' stretches even my imagination," said Jeff.
"Shaddup you, Jeff-boy. Okay Kid, next question," I said.
"Hold on. I'm still trying to digest that Jeff was part of this. He drugged you, right? Or he hypnotized you. Spiked your breakfast?"
"None of the above. I was a willing participant. On a clear day, you can see your imagination forever."
"Oh great, another philosopher."
"Hey now! Don't say it like it's a dirty word. We're men of our time."
"Okay you two. I'm running out of drugs here and The Kid still has a ways to go yet."
"I know!" said Jake, snapping his fingers and pointing to Jeff. "He flipped you!"
"Wrong!" said Jeff, snapping his fingers and pointing back at Jake. "That doesn't account for Bozo being hurt, too."
"Bozo? Hmmm. Okay then, he felt remorse and jumped," he said as he shook his finger.
"Not!" Jeff shook his back at him.
I had to laugh at the two of them. Bozo (that would be me) surrounded by his troupe of clowns.
One smartass guess followed another. The three of us laughed harder and harder as each one flew out of Jake's mouth. Jeff countered every `argument' with an equally smartass remark. Jake is an amazing kid, totally lost in 20-Questions and forgetting the fact he was doing chemotherapy at the same time.
Doc came to check me and quickly left. He wanted no part of this. He didn't fool me. He had been sitting in the side room listening to everything. So had Jake's lady doc. She came in, checked the flow and the time to completion, and left quickly, obviously giggling.
"Okay, okay. I give. Here's what I think. Jeff's shoulder is dislocated, right? But Aaron's collarbone is broken, plus his leg in two places. So you didn't fall at the same time?"
"Oooh, Aaron, he's paying attention after all."
"Mind boggling," I said, shaking my head once.
"Well," he said, ignoring our antics, "I think Aaron slipped. But, you must have tried to catch him. You don't have the same type of bandaging that Aaron does. So you have a dislocated shoulder, not a broken collarbone, right?"
"Ouch. So you caught Aaron, but he must have been too heavy, even though a good wind would knock him over. His weight blew out your shoulder, and you let go of him."
"You're a bright boy, Jake. Game over! Name your prize."
"I choose you two, not like I have much choice. God. That must have been a terrible feeling for you both. I really did hear what you said about seeing things up there, but . . ."
"No buts, Jake. Aaron and I didn't even think about falling. Climbing was, and still is, the important thing. We'd do it again."
Jeff looked over at me. I nodded.
"Even after getting hurt like this? I mean we're talking serious broken bones."
He got spacey for a moment, as if he was disoriented.
"Jake? You okay?"
He didn't say anything, like he was in another time. Jeff held him for real. He checked his forehead and his eyes.
"Come on buddy. Do you hear me?" said Jeff, trying to bring Jake back to the present.
"Ummm, I'm okay. Sorry. I got a little dizzy there for a moment. It happens all the time; side effect of my treatment. I'm okay. So why would you go back?"
"I got no real fear of the tree. I love it up there. For me, I got nothing to lose. I'm not going to die from this cancer, or from my kidney malfunctioning, without living first. I do it only one day at a time. You've seen my sense of humor. Actually, it's increased at least three-fold since I met your friend over there. There's room in my day for tears, but there's also room for just being with my friends, laughs if we got `em, work, the boy's wives, Jeff & Kellie's baby arriving this spring -- all that."
"You're having a baby?" Jake asked Jeff.
Jeff just smiled a mile wide.
"Good for you, daddy. Man, you're gonna make an awesome dad."
Jake realized what he had just said. His face changed in a heartbeat. The smile faded quickly and he got quiet. He wasn't disoriented this time, but the look of sadness on his face was profound.
Jeff was looking at me. I motioned my head to Jake. Jeff looked at him.
"Jake? What happened?"
"Nothin'. I'm okay. Tired I guess."
It was obvious Jake was not okay, even 15 feet across the room I could tell something was wrong.
"I still got an hour of chemo. We'll take you home, as usual. You want a blanket?"
Jeff got one from the closet and wrapped Jake up. He sat back down beside him. The chairs were kind of like recliners. They could stretch out. Jeff tucked himself behind Jake, kicked off his sneakers, and held Jake as well as he could with one and a half arms. He kissed him on his neck and told him to sleep for a while. Jake must have liked the comfort because he was asleep in a couple minutes. Jeff looked over at me.
"So how are you doing?"
I put my finger to my lips and shushed him. I motioned back to Jake.
"I'm okay. Don't worry about me. It looks like your buddy there needs his quiet time."
I lay back and watched them. Jeff was being big brother to his needful little brother. He was amazing to watch. He'd known Jake, what, 4 or 5 weeks, but he held on to him as if he'd known him a lifetime. I watched Jake. His face was innocent as he slept, finally a little carefree, probably for the first time that day.
"Hey Aaron?" Jeff said just loud enough for me to hear him.
"I love you."
I smiled at him and nodded. "I love you, too, Jeff."
Jeff closed his eyes too. He was good at power naps. I wasn't, even when someone held me. I had no jealousy of Jake right now. Jeff was so kind to him, but that's Jeff. He was like that with everyone.
Doc came in, checked me, and looked at the two sleeping beauties. He motioned for Jake's doc to come look. She came in.
"Aww, how innocent," she said.
"I think Jeff is better for him than the chemo. Maybe we should hire him for all our patients," said Doc.
"I think he's already hired. I'd pay him whatever he wanted," said lady doc.
Doc sat beside me and kept me company until my chemo was done.
"You look sad. Correction, you look more sad than usual. Chemo bugging you more lately?"
"Nah, the chemo isn't bothering me, if you don't count that I hate you for doing this to me".
"I know. You should hate me. But that's not why you're down."
"My new friend over there; he's like a younger version of me, Doc. You remember, don't you?"
"I do. Strong willed, mindful, stubborn -- I could have used many words to describe you when I met you. They must be good words because I can use them even now, many years later."
"You're the one doctor who felt you could save my life. No one else gave me any hope. Eight or nine months was the longest they told me I'd live. I went from one doctor to another -- hematologist, oncologist, frickin' every `ologist' in the world; you name it. Then you, somewhere within the second dozen I searched for, from Maine to New York. So what within you told you that you could help me?
"It was what I saw within you that said I could help you. Things just told me that you would need what I had, or even what I learned along the way.
Surely, the others would have seen that. They all gave me a death sentence instead. God-players. I told `em so, too. What made you different?
"You hate this, but a question in return for your question. What were your first words to me? In case you don't remember them, I do."
"I remember them well. I asked you if you believed more in your beliefs, or mine."
"And what was my response?"
"You said you believed in mine first, but you also believed in yours, and you would help me live. I told you that if you told me I had 8 or 9 months to live, I would leave you where you stand."
"And here you are today, still fighting so hard, still thumbing your nose at them all. And you made me your friend on top of that. It's not supposed to happen that way."
"I think it IS supposed to happen that way. If you and your peers constantly detach yourselves from those you treat, you're putting no life into what you do. You're only doing it because it's right, not because there is passion. Every doctor will tell me I'm wrong because they'll say they have lives too. In rare cases, no one MADE you be a doctor. You became one to heal -- and I can't see anything wrong with putting some emotion into what you do. You have to feel."
"Bud, you got enough passion for the world. I can't disagree, but you have doctors who have hundreds of patients."
"Then have fewer patients. Make more doctors. It's not rocket science, dammit. I don't know of a kid who didn't want to be a doctor at some point. I did. And then a fireman, and an astronaut. I wanted to save the world."
"You're a dreamer. Aaron's perfect world."
My IV was almost done. Doc waited until the pouch was empty. He removed the needle from my hip, taped it, and helped me stand. I tested him, to see if he'd really been listening. I put my arms around him and hugged him tight. He dropped what was in his hands and hugged me with two strong arms, and then kissed me on my forehead. Too bad Doc was one in a million. I don't want people around me who don't feel.
He was my doc, or I should say my Doc. I could have called him Andy, or Andrew, or Drew -- he answers to all. People say `the doctor' when they talk about him. He is not `the doctor'. He is Doc. That's his name, out of respect for who and what he is.
He went about his business, going into the side office to make final entries in his paperwork for the day. He and lady doc came back to the main treatment room.
I pulled my gym shorts off, turned my back to Doc and lady doc, dropped my Joe Boxers and mooned them both, and then put on my jeans. They did what everyone else does; rolled their eyes and laughed, shaking their heads. Doc came back to put my sneakers on and tied them for me. When he stood, he put his arms around me again, carefully, and hugged me.
"I still believe in you, love. I won't ever stop believing in your power. It is immense. From what I have seen, young Jake needs you. I hope he sees in you what I do."
"We fight a lot."
"You fight only when you believe strongly in something."
"Not always. Sometimes I fight to make him angry so he feels something besides fear. Also, he's hiding something, Doc. I think he's being beaten up, or at least roughed up too much."
"And you want to save the world again."
I didn't say anything. I let my eyes drop to the floor and found a pattern in the tile to concentrate on. Doc didn't say it to be mean. He knew about saving the world, and made it his life's ambition. His peers thought he was Don Quixote. He told them the only windmill he tilted at was me, and that I've lived longer than any damned one of them would have thought. All of his peers said I would not live past the end of the year. I will. I know how to. Doc, too, fights only when he believes strongly in something.
"Doc? When Kathryn was killed, I pulled myself so completely away from everyone, family included, because I didn't want to love any more. They would die and I'd feel repeatedly what I felt when Kathryn died. It was way damned more than enough to feel that just once. I had known that the people I loved were going to be there whether or not I cared. The world is full of people that I don't know. But that just leaves me empty. I can't do it half way, Doc. When I love someone, I want to protect him or her. I think about them to the exclusion of my own pain."
"You're the closest thing I know to an empath, Aaron. You try very hard to take what's bad from someone, pass it through your own soul, give them back pure courage, and discard what's too hard to deal with. Do you know how many people you've left better off in this world?"
"I'm not a god, Doc. You put me up there, but some day I'm going to let you down so hard."
"Not in my lifetime, bud. It's not a crime to care too much."
"But I hurt. It hurts so much to decide you are going to care about someone, especially after convincing yourself you never could again. Go look at Jake. His shirt is open a little. Go see what I've seen."
Doc moved quietly over to Jake. He looked carefully for a long time. He looked at me and walked back over.
"Did you see them?"
"Bruises; like he's been in a fight. They're healing, but . . ."
"But they've been inflicted by someone, not any random something, like a fall. Am I right?"
"So Jake isn't just a fellow cancer patient to me, Doc. Jake is someone who needs help, and not just your help. He won't open up. He got pissed off when I told him what I saw. I told him I know what those types of wounds are from because I've had them."
He raised his palms to me to calm me down.
"So call the cops, or his parents."
"I can't. What would you do if Andy Jr. was getting beaten up?"
"I'd find out who was doing it."
"What if you were the one beating up Andy Jr.?
He threw his head back and ran his fingers through his hair. It was an excruciating thought to Doc. He shuddered, and he looked at me. Doc would not beat his son. As far as I know, and I'm sure of it, Doc has never laid a hand on Andy Jr. or Louisa. My parents never once hit me. However, some fathers, or mothers, would, and do.
"You think his parents? . . ."
"Or brother, kids at school, bullies in the neighborhood -- or maybe he got mixed up with the wrong crowd on the streets. I only know someone beats him. Look at him, Doc. Isn't it enough that he has cancer? Everything else in his life should take a back seat to that."
"I'm not talking about me, Doc. I know I don't practice what I preach, but I've had cancer a lot longer."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Pffft, you think I know?"
"If not right now, then soon. I can't see you standing for this for long."
He was right, of course. I sat down in the lounge chair again and hugged my left leg close to my chest. I looked at Jeff holding on to Jake. They were angels sleeping soundly. Jake must have felt like a different person tonight because someone was caring for him, and pretty much a stranger at that. I hope he knew people could love him. I wanted so desperately to keep him safe. I couldn't help much with the cancer. That was his lady doc's job. I saw him only once a week, but I wanted that to change.
Doc stood across the room watching me. I didn't notice at first. When I did, I gave him a crooked, uncertain smile. He walked over to me and took my hand for a moment.
"I have to get going. I want to tuck Andy Jr. in, now more than ever. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Safe home. Tell the little guy I love him, okay?"
He nodded and left. He looked back at me as he pushed the door open with his shoulder.
Jake's lady doc came to remove his IV. She was quiet and thoughtful. She put a small piece of gauze over the needle hole and then a larger Band-Aid. He didn't stir. She walked quietly over to me.
"I have to leave, too. Will you thank your friend for taking care of Jake?"
"Yeah. Have you ever seen such a thing as that?" I said as I motioned in their direction.
"No, but he's making my job easier. Good night, Aaron."
I smiled and said good night.
It was quiet. Nobody left in the barnyard but us chickens. Actually, there were night duty nurses around throughout the hospital, but nobody was in charge of the treatment room. I sat and watched Jeff hold Jake. It was another 40 minutes before either one woke. Jake was the first. I was glad, since Jeff was still holding him. I always worried about Jake waking up disoriented and frightened.
He looked over at sleeping Jeff, and then at me.
"Should we wake him?" he asked.
I nodded. I got out of my chair and went over. I bent over and kissed Jeff on his forehead, then shook his shoulder lightly. I was surprised he slept as long as he did, even for being out in the field all day. I think that if I had left him alone, he would have slept the rest of the night. It seemed cruel to have to wake him up.
"Hey. What time is it?" he asked, looking at his empty wrist. He had left his watch someplace, again.
"8:30 Sleeping Beauty. We should take our friend home."
When we got out to the truck, I was going to get in the back seat again. Jake protested.
"Your scrawny butt and my scrawny butt will fit in one seat, Aaron. Don't get all cramped up in there."
He was right. Between the two of us I don't think we weighed 150 pounds. I don't know if he'd lost weight like me though. I sat in the seat first and then he sat between my legs. He put the seatbelt around both of us with little effort. We were pulling into his parent's driveway 35 minutes later.
"Are you okay, Jake? Should we go in with you?"
"I'm okay, Aaron. I'm going to bed. My head aches. I'll do homework in the morning."
"Yeah. Don't worry, okay?"
"Can't ask me not to, bud. I do worry. I want you to be okay."
"I know. If I got you to help, then I'm okay, simple as that. Jeff, hey thanks so much for holding on. I really needed that. You hardly know me, and you hold me like we're best friends."
"Pass it on to someone else then, man. I know how good it feels. Someone else in your life will need it eventually, so now you know how."
Jake nodded. He walked up the path to the front door, waved back to us, and went inside.
Since today was my Day 2, I was happy to be heading home. As usual, I had been awake early, worked all day, and then done my two hours of chemo grind. Getting to be with Doc was nice. Getting to see Jeff getting along with Jake was as nice.
So why was I feeling dread now that Jake was not with me?