Chapter Twenty Four

Someone once said, “Expect nothing. You’ll never be disappointed.”

It was the leukemia again. I should have suspected it right away.

The symptoms came from lack of oxygen to the red cells caused by the increase in cancerous white cells.

I was back in the hospital in a week.

Emotionally I was in limbo. Part of me felt like Melanie. It’s no use, you can’t beat it. It’s too strong, too aggressive. I was only eight years old, I was no match for this monster inside me.

Another part of me hopefully remembered Courtney Flood. There were people who had beaten the disease. It was possible to survive.

But so many of my friends had died. Why waste energy on false hopes?

I lay listlessly in my bed, watching TV. I was too tired to think.

When the nurses came in to take my blood pressure or my temperature, they saw my depression. Their brisk mannerisms were hollow. Maybe, I thought, they knew something I didn’t. Maybe they knew this was the end.

I tried to find some positive thought I could hang onto. I thought of Sherry, of Nancy. I thought of life before the leukemia, life before Bethany died, before my autism was diagnosed. There had been good times. I had laughed my head off with Bethany. I had thought I had a good life. Like any three-year-old, I was full of energy, I explored, I got into mischief.

Life had seemed like a sunlit playground spread out before me like the meadow in Alice in Wonderland, just waiting for my adventures. Completely benevolent, like a mother.

Now I thought, privately, that death might be the same way. People spoke of death as a release, a sudden beautiful freedom from care and pain. With loved ones to welcome you, people who had died before you.

Maybe Bethany was laughing behind that screen, beckoning to me. “Come on, Max, what the hell are you waiting for? Get out of that shitty world and have some fun for a change!”

I smiled. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe fighting it the way I been doing was the wrong thing to do. Maybe I should go with the flow and just relax.

My parents came in, their faces pale with worry. I thought I saw something else, too, that drawn, wrinkled look of grief. I knew that look well. I had seen it on the faces of lots of parents in Arkansas.

Suddenly it seemed to me that it would be easier for them, too, with me out of the way. They would probably get their divorce, Dad would probably marry Nancy and maybe have children with her. Everyone would start over. Bethany and I would be gone, but history would turn a new page.

My only regret was that Sherry would grow up and marry someone else. I had really wanted to marry her and have children. But, I thought, maybe she would be happier too, without me. Maybe all the pieces of the puzzle would fall quietly into place with me gone.

And I would still have Bethany, and Melanie, and Elin. And Bart.

I didn’t exactly look forward to this, but I sort of relaxed. I stopped fighting. You can’t argue with fate.

And I started writing this diary.