I've been popping in and out of Second Life to say hi to friends, but I'm pretty consumed these days with the real world and this new PR job, which is paying me nothing while it's kicking my ass. (Alone, I manage 10 clients, y'all. TEN.)
Meanwhile, also in the real world, the 16-year-old kid who lives next door to me is dying. (Yeah, I didn't really have a smooth segue for that part. Sorry.)
I write it here because I want to talk about it, but nobody in our neighborhood is talking about it anymore. It's the big awkward elephant on the street and we are all gingerly stepping around it. His house has become That House With the Kid Who is Dying. It might as well have a giant flag that says "CANCER LIVES HERE" flying in the front yard.
About eight months ago he was diagnosed with tumors in his liver and lungs. And so it began. As if in a Hallmark Channel movie, the neighborhood rallied. One day everyone showed up with rakes and collectively cleaned up the leaves in the front yard. Another day, people gathered in matching T-shirts, cheering, "We're gonna beat this!" before leaving for a fundraiser walk-a-thon. People bustled in and out of the house with food and good wishes. Everyone put up a brave front.
Then gradually the activity tapered off. Reports came back from the hospital of more and more tumors spreading. The chemotherapy wasn't working. The prognosis got bleaker and bleaker. A big truck came and dropped off a hospital bed. He would spend days on end at a prominent pediatric cancer hospital here and then come home, withered and hairless and nothing at all like the kid who only a year ago was out there shooting hoops in the driveway and talking to girls on his cell phone. He helped me chase my dog once when she managed to get off her leash. When we caught her, we were both laughing so hard we were almost doubled over. Now he has to be carried up the stairs into his house.
We've started to get the vibe from his family that they just want to be left alone. The valiant determination has turned to quiet resolution. They come and go in hushed solemnity. Some weeks, the newspapers pile up at the foot of their driveway. They don't want visitors. Our helpless "Is there anything we can do?" is always met with a polite "No thank you." We leave them alone with their grief and hope we're not being assholes by doing it.
My (temporary, while I pay off some of this $35K in debt, don't get me started) room on the second floor of my family's home would be right next to his if we didn't have the outside world separating us. Sometimes I lie in bed and wonder if he's scared over there, lying in his own bed. Or in pain. Or asleep. Or on a laptop playing video games. Sometimes I lie here and think, "Only a couple of walls stand between me and Death," and I'll try to project thoughts over there, to Death, as if it really were a dark, cloaked reaper standing in a corner of the kid's room with a scythe in hand, silently watching a giant ticking clock. I'll think, "TAKE ME INSTEAD. I'VE HAD A GREAT LIFE. HIS IS JUST BEGINNING" as loud and as and hard as I can. Or I'll put my palm against the wall and imagine sending a blast of white, purifying light over there, like a laser. I'll imagine it engulfing his hospital bed and seeping into his body and burning away all the cancer that's eating him alive. I'll start thinking about how all this stuff about God and the miracle of prayer and the power of positive thinking and manifesting your destiny suddenly seems like bullsh*t, and I'll wonder if he's over there thinking the same thing.
His looming death has become interwoven with our lives. We will inevitably mention him during dinner, we will text updates on his health when we get them, we will become suddenly quiet when we pass his house. Often I'll be cleaning or walking the dog or sitting here messing around on my laptop or getting ready for some big stupid thing at work and suddenly I'll stop and think, "The kid next door is dying" and feel, well, guilty I guess. And sad. And helpless. I would like to say something uplifting, like "his oncoming death is making me appreciate my own life more," but I'm embarrassed to say that's not true. I'm old. I'm jaded. I'm tired. I've been through this so many times with so many people. As cold as it sounds, the unspoken thought that often hangs here is more like, "So this is how his story ends." And if I'm lucky, someday someone will be watching my own story end and, in doing so, at least honor the fact that I had one in the first place. I feel like we are all on this journey with him and I hope he at least feels our silent presence, but besides that, if there is some great lesson to be learned here, it's being wasted on me at this point.
I've noticed that even though his name is Maximillian – and he hates it when people call him Max – we always refer to him as "the kid next door," as if by refusing to use his name we are selfishly putting distance between us and the massive waves of grief coming from that house. Or maybe it's because if we refuse to use his name, it keeps its power – it gets to hold on to an identity that doesn't include dying. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I don't know.
So anyway, I logged in today to screw around with my virtual SL house and, as always, out of the blue, I thought, "The kid next door is over there dying." Then I hoped that God or whoever is running the universe would at least accept that acknowledgment as some kind of a prayer. Because you can only get down on your knees and say, "Please God, don't let that kid die" or "Please God, help him not to feel lonely and scared" or "Please God, give his family strength" so many times before you start feeling like a broken record that nobody's listened to for a while.
The kid next door is dying, and I don't really have a way to end this blog post. Sometimes I still cling to a tiny sliver of hope that his story will have a surprise ending. Until then, I take some small comfort in the fact that the cursor has stopped here, still blinking – that I don't have a sentence to write here yet.
Sheezus this blog is becoming a real downer. Sorry 'bout that.