By Jason Jordan
I knew what was going to happen, but before I could do anything about it, the first drop of blood hit the milk and ruined my cereal. As usual, what I then had to do was get something—a Kleenex, a paper towel, whatever—to soak up the blood while I applied pressure to the inside of my nose. After grabbing a wad of tissues from the box by the sink, I sat back down on the couch, hoping I wouldn’t faint again. Everything was going too quickly, and there was no way to slow it down—no way to stop it.
The first time it happened I just thought it was a fluke and just brushed it off as one of those strange, unexplainable occurrences. There’s no point in worrying about it, I thought, and no point in seeing a doctor if it’s only happened once. Thankfully the first time I fainted I was in my bathroom, and since I lived alone back then, there was no one to witness it. I was glad—it was pretty embarrassing. I was looking in the mirror and all of a sudden it felt like the room was spinning, so I tried to grab onto the doorjamb but my legs weren’t having it. They went out from under me, and a few moments later, I found myself on the floor next to the toilet, sweating profusely and listening to my heartbeat, which was as loud as a bass drum. I was lucky not to have hit my head and knocked myself out.
The second time I wasn’t as fortunate. I remember standing in line to make a deposit at the bank, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor and my head hurt pretty bad from being slammed into the tiles beneath me. Then I felt the blood trickle down the back of my throat, but the people standing over me wouldn’t let me get up.
Don’t get up, one lady said. Stay there until the ambulance comes.
I don’t need an ambulance, I uttered as best I could, still somewhat discombobulated. I’ll be okay.
Just stay there for now, another lady said. Here’s a jacket for your head. At first I thought she wanted me to put the jacket on my head and wear it like a hat, which was kind of funny to think about, but then I realized she wanted me to put it under my head as a makeshift pillow. Since the tiles were hard and uncomfortable, I was happy to comply.
After a couple minutes I said, Really, I’m fine to get up now. I’m all right.
You just lay right there, said a lady who I suspected was the manager. We need to wait until the ambulance gets here, and then you’ll need to fill out an accident form.
I won’t sue, if that’s what you’re afraid of, I told her.
We just want to make sure you’re okay, she said before walking briskly to the front door to watch for the ambulance. Her assistant stood beside me to prevent me from getting up, though if I had really wanted to, she wouldn’t have been able to stop me. Even in my state, I could’ve overpowered her easily.
I’m fine, I continued to tell anyone who asked me. I must’ve fainted, I said in an attempt to explain what had happened. I acted like it’d never happened before. The paramedics checked my vitals, and once the bank got their stupid form completed and signed, I was free to leave, and so I did.
It’s happened a lot since then—too many times to count. I went to my doctor soon afterwards and told him what was going on with me. He was, or is, I guess, Arabian, but I can’t even begin to guess which country he’s from, though there’s a good chance, I’ve always thought, that it ends in “stan.” He wanted to run some tests—blood-work, X-rays, etc. A couple days later, after the tests had time to come back, he told me what was wrong and what was going to happen to me.
Ian, he said, I’ll be honest with you. He crossed his arms and then shifted his weight. His countenance was serious and unflinching, as if in deep contemplation, and I knew he was struggling. You have a tumor, he said, a brain tumor. It’s inoperable. I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do for you.
So, I said, that would explain the headaches and nosebleeds and fainting and all that stuff, right? I comprehended what he was saying, but was kind of beside myself with disbelief—maybe even denial.
Yes. We’ll try to make you as comfortable as possible during the next few months. Normally I’d suggest surgery, but the tumor is located deep in the brain, and would jeopardize your life far too much. The chances of success, he paused, are virtually zero. We can try, if you want, but I doubt I could find a surgeon willing to step in since the procedure would be so risky….
How much longer do I have?
You’re probably looking at six months, if the growth continues at the same rate. I felt like saying, Give it to me straight doc, because I didn’t think I actually had that long to live. Then I momentarilythought of saying, Give it to me gay doc, ’cuz you’re sure fucking me up the ass here. But then I remembered it wasn’t his fault, and that something else was to blame. He apologized and then jotted down a handful of prescriptions – different types of pain pills, most likely—and told me to see him regularly. I considered asking what regularly meant, but decided against as he was leaving the room and I was still sitting there, looking like I’d been given the worst news in the world.
After I returned from the doctor’s office, I phoned my mom and told her I was coming home to move back in with her. I didn’t really give a shit about the lease on the apartment since I was moving back home to Chicago, and because I was renting on a monthly basis anyhow. Silver Hills, my apartment complex, didn’t make renters sign one-year leases like most others did, which I was thankful for. I guess in the long run it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
What’d the doctor say? my mom asked as soon as she answered the phone.
Oh, you know, I said, I’ve got six months to live and all that. He said it’s an inoperable brain tumor.
Oh, she said. There was a pause. Just like your dad, she said a little quieter.
Well yeah, but this is different. Dad died of cancer…under much different circumstances. Can you come and get me? I asked, not wanting to talk about it anymore.
Yeah. I’ll be there tonight, she said. Hours later, she was standing in the doorway looking as if she had been crying the whole way to my place. Since it was just us two, with no room in the car for anything big, we decided to leave the heavy, bulky stuff like my bed, desk, and bookshelves. Mom told me she’d send a few movers to get my furniture later on, and bring it up to our house in Chicago. We packed some boxes filled with toiletries, clothes, and other essentials, and then turned off the lights to head home.
Things went downhill health-wise. I began to feel lethargic most of the time, and weak, but some of it was probably attributable to the depression I was experiencing. Other than going out occasionally to look in CD stores, I rarely left the house. Instead, I watched TV and movies, played videogames, and read. I spent most of my time alone.
One day, about three months after I’d been diagnosed, I overheard my mom on the phone with my brother, who was in college in Alabama. It was May and he’d just finished up his spring semester, I figured, but was evidently planning on staying in Birmingham, taking classes, and working over the summer.
You should come home for the summer, my mom said into the phone. I was down the hall, standing as still as a statue, but she didn’t know I was there. I don’t think he has that much longer, she said to him. Okay, I’ll see you this weekend. When she said that, I knew he’d be home for the summer and I would be glad to see him, glad to have more company.
The night before my brother was supposed to come home, I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling for the longest time. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I surveyed my room, thinking about whom I was going to give all my stuff to. I could come up with a list of what goes to whom, I thought, but decided against it. It was too depressing to think about really. I’d let them decide how to divvy up my possessions. I wouldn’t need them where I was going anyway, which led me to fling my prayers to God as if using a slingshot. The prayers were simple: I pray for the forgiveness of my sins. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and I ask You to come into my heart, live inside me, and save me. It didn’t feel like anyone was listening, though. The ceiling blocked my prayers, knocking them to the carpet below. From there they would wither and die—never to be heard by anyone other than myself. I then remembered that I was buying into the bargaining stage of grief, but was too desperate to resist.
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw my brother for the first time in months, and he smiled too, even though I was more pale and thin than I’d ever been—gaunt even. When he got to the house, mom must’ve told him I was down at the dock. He made his way down there and sat next to me, while our feet dangled over the edge. It was sunny, and the lake, which looked cloudy and dirty, was still inviting in its coolness.
There wasn’t anything quite like jumping in a body of water.
You seen the movie Pi? he asked me after a brief period of silence. My family and friends had stopped asking me how I was doing—I told them to stop because I didn’t want to answer those questions.
Wasn’t it obvious?
Yeah, I said, it’s really good. I like the directing. The acting’s good, too. Don’t think I’m gonna go and drill a hole in my head or anything, though. He smiled. It’s funny, I continued, one of the things I remember most, which I can’t stop thinking about for some reason, is September 11th. It’s like, everyone said you’d remember the day—you’d be able to recall what you were doing when the Towers fell.
What were you doing? he asked.
I got up to go to my sociology class, fixed a bowl of cereal, and turned on the TV. I didn’t want to leave to go to class, but I eventually did. When I got there, it seemed to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Like, no one wasn’t talking about it. Wherever there was a TV, there was a crowd of people almost glued to it. I went to class and my sociology professor—I forget his name—brought a TV up and we watched the footage over and over despite there being no new developments since earlier that morning. It was 11 o’clock when the class started. When it ended, a little over an hour later, everyone left the room to watch TV elsewhere.
I didn’t have any other classes that day, so I was walking back to my car to leave when I overheard this fat guy, who waddled when he walked, which looked really funny, ask some other guy how his day was going, aside from the tragedies. I just thought, people die every fuckin’ day. What’s the difference? This is more shocking and hits closer to home than kids starving to death in Africa, I thought, but people are gonna die one way or another. Are we making too big a deal of this?
I’ll be people soon, I told my brother in an attempt to finish my story. I looked out over the lake. Months before, prior to the geese flying south for the winter, my brother had tried to catch a goose that had caught one of its legs in fishing line. That leg was broken, and it was hopping on its other leg to get around, but it could still fly. When my brother got a few feet away, the goose flew to the other side of the lake. That same day, I found a dead mouse on one of our deck steps.
You know how I know we won’t survive? I asked my brother.
You mean, like, us? Or humans in general?
Well yeah, but I mean humans in general. One day I was driving home and saw a McDonald’s bag, which looked like it was full of junk, on the side of the road. Obviously someone had thrown it out the window and littered, you know? Well does it really even matter? It ends up in the ground anyway, so what’s it matter if it ends up here or in some garbage dump? We just take what we want out of the ground, and put the stuff we don’t want back into it. Eventually it all goes back into the ground anyway. He pointed to the other side of the lake. Near the shore was a Steak ‘n Shake cup surfing the miniature waves, effortlessly staying afloat.
See? I said, and then we both laughed.
Jason Jordan is is from Louisville, Kentucky and teaches college. He's also Assistant Editor of the online literary magazine decomP, and his fiction has appeared in The2ndHand, Pindeldyboz, and others. "Powering the Devil's Circus"—a collection—is available via his official website, poweringthedevilscircus.com.
Photo "Flying South For the Winter" [cropped] courtesy of Benjamin Earwicker, Boise, Idaho.
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