I was awoken by the sensation of coughing up blood. It was my third week of chemo in Colorado and the pain was once again becoming unbearable. I used to wonder why people, when diagnosed with a terminal illness, would often skip treatment and simply try to make the most of what time they had left. That felt like such a cowardly way to die. But now, in that moment, I could see the appeal. Chemo was not medicine. it was killing my cancer at the same rate that my cancer was killing me.
I pressed the nurse call button. “Hello, is anyone there?”
I could hear a static reply on the other end. The high-pitched sound sent a wave of pain down my body. Oh, fuck me.
I knew the room was constantly monitored, even when I was the only patient scheduled that hour. “Can I please have some water,” I asked with desperation. I needed something more than water. Please I need someone, anyone.
“Hey, Adam,” whispered the small, red-haired nurse. She was on the younger side, not much older than Cece.
“Um, I don’t think we’ve met.” I attempted to extend my hand to her but I could barely lift its weight.
“Oh, sorry! It’s my first week. I’m Lia.” She looked and acted like a stereotypical preschool teacher, like the type of person who grew up with horses and always wanted to be a veterinarian. She placed her soft hand to my face, tracing a finger down my jaw. “Poor, baby you’re running a very high fever,” she said in a manner of utmost sincerity. “I’m going to pause the chemo to start you on some fluids and then ask the floor doctor what she wants to do.”
“Thank you.” The very idea caused a wave of peace.
“Thank me when I make you all better,” she said before kissing my forehead.
There was something about her, and I could only smile.
In a matter of minutes, the nurse returned to start a course of saline into my PICC line. As Lia finished, she pressed her lips to my ear. “All done. You’ve been such a good boy.”
As I felt the cool liquid, a beautiful, sensual calmness washed over my very soul. Or maybe it was the fact that I was sporting a noticeable erection. “Is my wife here?”
“Yes, your wife and daughter are in the waiting room with your son. Your little boy is so precious.”
I felt her hold my hand, lacing her fingers through mine. Her hands were so small, soft, and gentle. Oh God. Her hands felt like Cece’s.
I closed my eyes, hoping to will the situation away. It worked.
When I awoke, the light in the room was different. I could see a female doctor speaking to Marni. They’re standing at the foot of my bed, speaking as if I wasn’t even present. “Mrs. Severgine, your husband is displaying symptoms of infection, it may be best for him to take a break from chemo for a while.”
“How long is a while?” Marni asked. She briefly glanced in my direction, without turning her head.
The doctor cleared her throat, as if trying to assert dominance. “Long enough for his body to recover, and regain some strength.”
I knew she was full of shit. My throat and lungs were on fire, my mind was slowing going to shit, and whenever I tried to sit up, I felt like my stomach was going to rupture in all possible directions. There would be no regaining strength. I already knew the game plan; there would be no more government-sponsored chemo, and I would be moved to a hospice ward to die. “Marni, please.”
My wife nodded. But there was a lump in her throat. “The chemo has been helping with the discomfort. He’s been able to sleep through the night.” She covered his mouth, as the fear in her eyes shone through. No matter how much she believed in me, I was going sleep for a long, long time. “Can you at least give him something for the pain.”
“I’m going to prescribe some Fentanyl.”
“No!” I shouted with what little strength I had. I knew what Fentanyl meant; I would lose consciousness; I would lose time.
The doctor sighed. “Another option would be cannabis to treat your nausea and muscle pain, but we’d first have to get your fever under control while monitoring your heart. unfortunately, your liver and kidney function will continue to deteriorate.”
I knew what she meant. I couldn’t hold down solid food; all my internal shit was shutting down. But there was one thought that forced its way to the front of my brain. “W-What about…”
“About what? Mr. Severgine?” she asked in an almost mocking tone.
“My eyes,” I regretted the question the moment the words exited my mouth.
The doctor looked at her chart. “Um, there is nothing in your chart that would indicate that as a concern.”
If she was going to treat me like a mentally handicapped freak, I had to go all in. “AM- I- going- to- go- blind?”
“At this moment in time, I have no reason to believe the cancer will effect your vision.”
You believe that the cancer which started in my brain will not affect my eyes? “Can I still attend physical therapy for my leg?” You fucking sorry excuse for a human being.
“I would recommend a home care nurse.”
“That won’t be necessary. Our daughter is well versed in pain therapy,” Marni said as calmly as she could muster.
“I’ll send the nurse in with something to help calm the fever.”
Checkmate; I was fucked. No sooner had she spoke, when a sharp pain struck my chest causing my lungs to slam shut.
“He’s Code blue!” shouted everyone and no one.
Alarms blared as the world went dark.
I awoke in the intensive care unit. Every muscle in my chest was burning, until my body remembered that was on a steady flow of oxygen. Breathe, just breathe. My efforts were made easier when I saw my daughter by my side.
“Hi, Dad,” Cece said in an emotional whisper. “Mom’s outside with the baby.”
I tried to speak but no words came out. Upon swallowing I could feel the reason why; there was a breathing tube down my throat. It was all I could do not to cry.
“You coded three times,” she said, blinking tears from her eyes. “I was so afraid. I just can’t imagine a world with you.”
Well, you’re going to have to kiddo.
“But I know I’m going to have to.”
I could feel my daughter massaging my leg with gentle pressure.
“Mom says you ask about blindness?”
I reached for my daughter’s hand. “I-“ I started to draw the letter on her palm. “I w-a-s a-f-r-a-i-d.”
“You were afraid?”
I spelled out ‘D-A-N-C-E’, while twirling my fingers. I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see you dance one last time.
Cece cupped her hand over her mouth. She took a few breaths, to calm her mind and heart, before returning her hand to mine. “In heaven, we’ll all have perfect wings and I’ll dance with you every day.”
Over the next few days, I became strong enough to go home. By that I mean I could make it twenty-four hours without going into cardiac arrest. I was assigned a hospice care nurse who would check in once a day, while I spent my waking hours in a wheelchair. I would never walk again. Not that I could even if wanted to.
The pain in my back was intense. It came in two forms; the agonizing spasms in my remaining leg and violent, stabbing migraines. On one of my worse days, Cece stayed by my side.
Her massages were the only thing keeping me sane.
“I’m skipping the pageant,” Cece said as she adjusted my leg.
“You can’t,” I said with a comical groan.
“And why is that?” she asked with a sweet smile.
“Because I really want to go to Denver. and you can’t deny a dying man’s last wish.”
“Ok.” Cece kissed my cheek. “For you.”
It wasn’t a hard decision; everything was all paid for, from travel costs to gowns and costumes. But, unfortunately, the pageant directors saw an opportunity and Cece became known as the military princess with the dying father. She was one of the few contestants interviewed on the local news.
The media was sent to our hotel room. For a painfully-awkward two hours I sat in bed, as Cece administered pain therapy to my leg. Off-camera, I consumed excessive amounts of cannabis in the form of surgery fruit-flavored candies. I’m sure I looked half dead in most of the footage.
“How’s the cyst on your leg?” Cece asked, sitting by my side in her pageant dress. It was a short, but conservative tank-dress intended for the preliminary competition.
“Please let your mother take care of it.” We were staying at a hotel room paid for by Cece’s sponsors. Ideally, she was supposed to stay in a different hotel, rooming with a fellow contestant, but that wasn’t part of the deal. She refused to leave my side, much to the cringe of the pageant directors.
“Yeah, well Mom’s taking forever. The store is just down the street. In the time it’s taken her to find a first aid kit, I could have made a knife out of a shaving razor.”
“You are not cutting my leg with a prison shank.” I knew she crafty, so I wouldn’t have put it past her to simply wait until I fell unconscious to do the deed.
The open sore was in a most awkward place. On my upper thigh, there was a brand. A scar from a lifetime ago, or at least that’s what I like to I tell myself. It was the mark of my sexual submission, my loyalty to the people who filled my mind body and soul with free drugs. The symbol had been lost to time. I think it was a shield or some twisted reimagining of military stripes. It was not for my benefit; it was to prove my worth. All I knew was I now had a festering sore cutting through the damaged flesh and scar tissue.
The door opened and Marni returned. “I bought a craft knife and bandages.” She dumped out a plastic bag containing an Exacto knife, rubbing alcohol and at least five rolls of bandages.
I politely asked Cece to leave the room. She knew I was bleeding, and from where I was bleeding, but thankfully she had the kind heart and social intelligence to spare me a moment of humiliation. But I still didn’t want to be fully conscious when she saw my naked cock and slave-brand. Reclined on the bed, with my dick out, I made myself as mentally ready as I could. best case scenario; it would bleed out enough to relive the pain. I leaned my head back, not wanting to look at what she was about to do. I felt a cut. There was a great deal of moisture. I could feel my muscle throbbing, burning. I didn’t think the situation could get any worse, and then I heard a knock at the door.
“Hi, Cece!” shouted a male voice.
My daughter looked through the door. “Get the fuck away from me!”
“Cece, please just open the door!” the voice asked frantically.
Cece looked at me with a questioning glance. “What do I do?”
“Is that Jason?”
“Open the door.”
She nodded with a sense of confidence. My daughter knew why I said what I did— we could trap him.
“Cece, please hear me out,” said the male voice, he seemed on the verge of tears.
“Fine Jason, I’ll hear you out.” Cece opened the door to the sight of a tall, muscular teen. “Why are you not in prison?”
“I left. I found God and I left.”
What the fuck kind of answer was that? I couldn’t see his face, but judging by his build, I figured I could take him.
Cece seemed more annoyed than frightened. “And you came here?”
“Yes, I came to you. I was meant to come back for you. I never meant to hurt you. we’re the same, you and me.”
Cece scoffed and turned away, “How?”
I knew what he meant; Jason was Hispanic, and that couldn’t have been easy to live with, in Mississippi. Still, I gripped the knife by the blade. The craft-knife was in my wife’s hand, still cutting into my bleeding thigh. “What do I do?” I asked out loud.
“What?” Marni gave me a look. I knew, if it was up to her we would have called the police before doing anything stupid.
The world froze, as the color from the scene slipped away like a photo. “Jamie stood over Cece, placing his hand upon her shoulder.
All while Leo stood at my side. “I can’t tell you what to do. I can only tell you what I would do.”
“Dear Lord, guide my hand, guide my soul.” I would like to say I didn’t remember what happened next but Jamie would not let me forget.
“I can’t believe you did that! You stabbed that kid with the same knife your wife used to cut open your balls!”
I apparently used my tiny weapon to cut open Jason’s neck, a fact that Jamie found hysterical. I awoke in a hospital bed, my body secured in what could only be described as a straightjacket. “All this for stabbing a kid with an exacto blade?”
“And your dick was just hanging out when the cops got there, omg! It was hilarious!”
In the bed next to mine was Jason. The kid had a trac in his neck, and his eye was swollen shut. Seeing the damage to his prefect face, I kind of hoped the mutilation was my doing. But knowing Marni I wouldn’t put it past her to get a swing in. He started to cough, and wheeze, struggling for breath as he spoke, “A-Are you awake, sir?”
What the fuck? “What’s it to you?”
“I know your heart is too weak for chemo.”
I couldn’t tell if that was a question or a statement. “What?”
“My dad,” Jason said in a breath, it was clearly painful, forcing the words to form. Although I could not fully see his neck injury, I could hear the blood bubbling in his wound. “It was the same for him before he passed.”
“I was nine when he passed of bone cancer. It was one of the reasons why Cece and I became best friends.” His voice was cracking at the word, ‘friends’, making him sound younger than his nineteen years.
I wasn’t buying it. “What kind of person gang rapes his best friend?”
“Can I tell you the truth? Not even my lawyer wanted to know the truth.”
“I’ll take a summery.” I wasn’t about to let him plead for forgiveness if he was not even willing to take blame. I held my dying daughter in my arms; I had no pity to give or tears to cry. But even I had to admit, his answer was surprising.
“I sold my girlfriend’s virginity for a couple grams of meth.” He was not proud not was he ashamed.
“Ok,” I said with a sigh. “You have my attention.”
“I’m a piece of shit with a reserved seat next to Satan.” In a raspy whisper, Jason told the story of how he had gotten drunk, high and attempted to barter with the only thing of value he had in his possession; his girlfriend. “My hot, Asian, cheerleader girlfriend…”
“That’s my daughter!”
“My beautiful angel of a girlfriend, who I knew would do anything to save my worthless ass.”
That sounded like Cece. but the fact remained; all three attackers left behind DNA. “She told me what you and your friends did to her.”
“Not my friends…”
“Fine, the people who apparently had your balls in a vice; would have let them kill my daughter?”
“No, sir, I swear.” Jason started to sob. “I have told you nothing but the truth so I’ll tell you the truth of why my DNA was found in the rape kit.” He paused to gather breath. “They had me go last; to tie her hands and feet while I hurt her. I raped her while one of the other guys was choking her. I made sure to leave her hands free. I knew she had the ability to break out of a car trunk. I figured if she could escape on the way to the dumpsite, she could make a run for it.”
“Dumpsite? You were going to leave her for dead?”
“If she was dead when we arrived, I would have killed myself, to be with her.” Jason sounded sincere. “I love her, this was all an epic fuck up.”
“What happened when you made it to the dumpsite with an empty trunk?”
Jason held up his left hand, something I had not noticed before; he was missing three fingers. “One for each payment owed, plus a few more things I gave up voluntarily.”
“Wow.” I had to admit that gained him a few points in my book.
“Yeah, I wanted her to get as far away as possible.” Jason went quiet. “A lot of what happened, what I did, my grandparents and my lawyers told me to just stay silent, so it wouldn’t have to go on record.”
That made sense; all the pieces were coming together. He came from an honorable family.
“I fucked up really bad. But I’m clean now. I got the help I needed, made my peace with God. I just wanted to see her. I never got to say I was sorry.”
Leo stood at my side. He was stroking my arm. He placed his lips to my ear, “Ask the kid how he knew Cece could break out of a trunk?” With each touch, I felt the restraints loosen.
I needed to have faith in Leo’s plan. “How did you know she could free herself?”
“She told me you taught her,” Jason said with a nod. “You took her camping, hunting, fishing- when you were in-state, and when you were on deployment you would give her projects.”
I hadn’t gone on vacation with Cece for years. The thought of it warmed my heart. She loved to talk, learn, just discover the world around her.
“I bet someone like you never fucked up.”
I looked to Leo who had now freed my right arm. If I could get out of this bed, I could kill Jason. I still wanted to kill him for what he did. But the fact remained, he was someone’s child. “Your father had a port in his chest?”
“During his last few months of treatment, the doctors said the chemo would kill him but he wanted to keep fighting.”
I sat up in bed, enough to turn my body to the side. I needed to get a good look at him, face to face, man to man. At that moment Jason looked genuinely pathetic. He was in fact, just a kid. I wished I could remember what Cece would have wanted. Would she want me to forgive him? Did she forgive him? “So, what now, Son? You’re going to get sent back to Mississippi where you’re going to do some hard time.”
Jason nodded. “I know. I could have gone to Mexico. I was actually supposed to meet up with some guy that my grandparents hired to sneak me out of the country by way of Cuba or Canada. I don’t even know. I never planned on going through with it. This was my plan all along. I wanted to see her one last time.”
I didn’t know if that was romantic or creepy. I felt my other arm release. I could now get off the bed. I had a choice to make so I was going to make it.
“Can you please take me to see her dance? After that you can do whatever you want to me. I know you’re sick, you have nothing to lose. You can send me straight to hell.”
“How polite of you to assume I’m going to kill you,” I said with my southern charm. “Now I don’t have to feel bad about it.”
The boy gave a sad chuckle. “You never did. I don’t deserve to be alive.”
“Yeah, you don’t. But you are.”
Jason was sobbing.
Oh, my fucking God. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
I had no idea how I would even accomplish such a task. “I want you to apologize. That’s what your best friend, my daughter, deserves.” In truth, what Cece deserved was the chance to be the hero of her own life.