Chapter Twenty Seven

About a month after Hannah left they let me out for a two-week supervised vacation. I had to have blood tests taken every day, and my environment had to be as sterile as possible.

My Dad suggested we go to the Grand Canyon.

“I only saw it once,” he said, “when I was about your age. I’ve always wanted to see it again.”

My mother would stay home and keep in touch with the doctors. My father and I set out in the car. It was 1500 miles, so we were on the road a long time. He took my blood every day and FedEx’d it to the doctors.

We stayed in motels, watched movies, ate popcorn. I had a guarded feeling of returning health, along with the permanent dread of the cancer patient. I suspected he might be doing this as a last fling for me before my death. But I loved him, I wanted to be with him, no matter what the circumstances.

We talked — that is, he talked and I listened — a lot. In the car, in the motels. He told me things about his early life I had never known.

“There was a girl in our seventh-grade class,” he said, “named Kathleen Blair. I had a huge crush on her. But she wouldn’t look at me because she was one of the cool kids and I wasn’t.”

There was also a girl in college who broke my Dad’s heart.

“She was in the music school,” he told me. “She was a violinist. She was beautiful, a blonde with blue eyes. I went out with her for about six months. I was thinking of asking her to marry me. Then, one night, she just called me up and dumped me.”

He sighed. “She said our interests were too different. She said we didn’t have enough in common. But the next week I saw her on campus with another guy, so I knew the real reason. She liked him better.”

“Life is long, Max,” he said, immediately regretting his turn of phrase. “We can make many mistakes on the way to our true path.”

I had to take this with a grain of salt, because I knew my mother hadn’t turned out to be Dad’s “true path.” His marriage hadn’t been that happy.

“You may have trouble believing this,” he told me, “but I still have hopes and dreams. There are things in me that have never been able to come out, and I hope they do come out some day. There’s still a lot to live for.”

Again he winced, having touched on the topic of longevity. He knew I was probably going to die young. But I was impressed by what he said. Kids think of adults as people who have stopped growing, people who are what they are. The idea that my Dad thought he still could develop as a human being touched me. It was a bond between him and me.

“But my biggest dream already came true,” he said. “It’s you. And Bethany, of course.”

I enjoyed listening to him unburden himself. I had only seen one side of him all these years. Now I was getting to know the real individual underneath his adult surface.

The road from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is only two lanes wide. We got to it after dark, so we went a long way through what seemed a scary wasteland. Dad kept stopping to look at the map and see where we were. There were very few landmarks.

“Don’t worry, son,” he said. “We’ll get there.”

I took a nap in the back seat. When I woke up he said, “We’re almost there.”

The hotels and campgrounds emerged like ghosts from the fog we had been driving through. Again we had to stop to find the way to our hotel. “Ah — I see it,” he said.

We crawled along gravel paths until we reached the hotel. Dad went inside and spoke to the desk clerk. He came back with our room key.

“All set, Max,” he said.

When the door of the room opened I saw that Nancy was waiting for us.

“Max!” she cried, taking me in her arms. “I was so worried about you.”

I was thrilled. Not only was I on an adventure, but it included Nancy.

However, five minutes later I crashed and had to go to bed. The room had two double beds, so I had one to myself. I heard the murmur of Dad talking to Nancy outside as I drifted off.

The three of us had breakfast together the next morning. Nancy’s eyes kept misting every time she looked at me. “Max, I can’t believe you’re really here. I missed you so much…”

An immediate harmony established itself among the three of us as it had before. Both of them talked to me, but I could also listen to their adult talk without being bored.

“I have something for you, Max,” my father said. He handed me a letter.

I recognized the address. It was Hannah’s home address. The sight of it terrified me. I opened it quickly, my fingers shaking.

They’re trying to kill me, Max, but they haven’t succeeded yet. As a matter of fact, my numbers are way down. They’re letting me out next week. I told you I was smarter than these doctors.

Remember our secret plan, Sweetie. We’re gonna make it happen.

Take care of yourself.

Love ya,


I showed the letter to Dad and Nancy.

“She’s a brave girl,” Nancy said. “I think she might beat it after all. Max, do you love her enough to marry her?”

I smiled and nodded, impressed by Nancy’s intuition.

“I could feel her love in the letter,” she said. “Hannah must be a very special person.”

The next morning we walked to the canyon. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen anything that huge before. We saw a helicopter fly into the canyon and disappear from sight.

“It’s as big as I remembered,” Dad said. “Bigger, in fact, Max, because the river goes on eroding the soil as the years pass. Deeper and deeper.”

This idea struck me. I had thought a lot about rivers. They stayed the same, but they went somewhere because their current took things away. They were permanent, but they signified impermanence. The Colorado River went even further. It changed the land, it sculpted the land. It had a legendary quality. It would go on forever, changing the things around it, completely oblivious to the human changes going on on the planet. If a nuclear war obliterated the human race, the river would still be there, moving toward a future we humans couldn’t imagine.

As I was thinking this, I heard a girl’s voice behind me.

“Put that down, you little shit.”

I didn’t turn to see her.

“Come on, sweetie, put it down and let’s look at the canyon.”

I heard a small boy’s voice answering her.

A tour bus came down the driveway with a loud roar. Tourists dressed in garish clothes poured out of it like bees from a hive.

“Look at that,” the girl’s voice said. “Isn’t that the stupidest thing you ever saw?”

The boy began arguing with her. “Hey, we don’t have to see it right now. Let’s go get a hamburger.”

“Not now.”

“Come on, a hamburger with ketchup and mustard. We’ll enjoy the canyon more after ward.”

“No. Not yet.”

“You look like you could use a coke. Let’s go get a snack. I’ll treat you. Come on, it won’t take long…”

I sensed her hesitation. He was winning her over.

“Well, only if we come right back,” she said. “Mom will be furious.”

“I’ll take care of Mom, don’t worry about that. I know what to say to her. She can’t say no to me. Let’s go, huh? It’s not far away. I’ll take a picture of you in front of the canyon when we get back.”

The boy’s voice seemed as familiar as the girl’s. I turned to look at them. She was about twelve, a bit overweight, and the boy was very small but full of energy.

We moved to another vantage point, where strange outcroppings from inside the canyon thrust themselves up.

“Did you ever read “The Crack-up” by F. Scott Fitzgerald?” I heard a girl say. “This is the same thing, on a huge level. The crack that makes the whole.”

“How come you’re always so literary?” came another girl’s voice.

“Because I have a brain, silly. You should try it sometime. Thinking is actually very stimulating.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“Same thing with Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. The volcano thrusts out of a huge crack in the earth. Like earthquakes, too. The surface splits…”

“I don’t see any splitting…”

“Are you kidding? Look around you. The whole earth got split by that river.”

“You’re always seeing things no one else sees. You’re annoying.”

“So are you. Go away. But you can come back later.”

But you can come back later. The face of Melanie rose up before my mind’s eye. So did that of Hannah.

“There’s more to life than ice cream cones and candied apples, you know.”

As I turned to look at these two children I noticed a huge fallen tree that some kids were climbing on. The trunk must have been ten feet high.

“It’s a sequoia,” Nancy said. “The tallest trees in the world…”

There was a hole in the tree so large that the children were running back and forth through it.

I took Nancy’s hand and tried to tell her what was in my mind.

“Is it dead?” she asked. “Yes, it’s dead, Max. But the seeds from it will grow more and more trees. Where one dies, many others are born.”

The tree was seething with children, all of them more mortal than the tree itself, all of them full of curiosity and joy.

I squeezed Nancy’s hand. I tried to make her see what I was feeling.

“What are you thinking, sweetie?”

I listened to the voices, smelled the pine-covered earth, felt the cold breeze on my cheeks from the canyon.

“Everything,” I said.

Nancy’s eyes lit up in surprise. She crouched before me, holding both my arms. “What did you say?”


It was all here. Everything I had thought, everyone I had known. Every voice, every tear, every laugh. I could feel Hannah’s hand in mine, hear Bethany’s husky voice, feel Melanie’s sadness. It had all come together.

Nancy ran to get my father. They hurried back together.

“Say it for your Dad, sweetie,” Nancy said.

My father knelt before me and put his hands on my shoulders.

“Can you say it again, son?”

I couldn’t do it though. All of a sudden I felt very tired. I motioned toward the hotel.

“Sure, my love, we can go back,” Nancy said. “You can take a nice long rest.”

She took my left hand, Dad took my right, and we went back.

I slept for what seemed a long time. I had dreams about Bethany, Melanie, Bart, Sherry, all coming toward me, going someplace with me, going away from me. It was like a kaleidoscope, everything happening over and over again in a different form. I was high above the earth with Melanie, deep down in the earth with Sherry. I flew across vast stretches of land with Bart talking into my ear a mile a minute.

When I woke up Nancy was smiling and stroking my hair.

“Good boy, she said. “You needed a nice rest.”

My father was standing across the room. “Give him time to wake up,” he said.

“Would you like a coke, sweetie? A glass of milk?”

I squeezed her hands tightly. I felt something inside me, a nameless twisting increase, but I couldn’t get it out.

She sat there smiling patiently, watching me.

“Take your time, sweetheart,” she said. “There’s all the time in the world.”