“Here, Dad,” I said, holding out the nausea pills and water. “This would help.”
“Get the fuck outta here,” he muttered, waving me away.
“The doctor said they will help with the upset stomach. Here.” I held it toward him.
“I don’t want that,” he sneered.
“It’s for the nausea, Da—”
“I said I don’t fucking want it!” he screamed, taking the glass from my hand and throwing it against the bathroom wall, making it shatter to the ground. “Get the fuck out of here.”
I stepped out of the bathroom and paused. My fingers formed fists, and I slammed them against my sides. “I’m trying!” I hollered, turning back to face dad. “I’m trying to help. To make this easier on you. To build some kind of relationship with you!” I knew I was taking my anger off on him. My anger with Mom. My anger with cancer. My anger with life. I tossed the pills at him. “Take the pills or don’t, but when you go in for chemo tomorrow, you’ll wish you’d taken them.”
“I ain’t doing that shit.”
“Chemo, I’m done.”
“Done? What do you mean done? There are four more appointments on the calendar.”
“I’m not going.”
“Dad,” I said, my anger shifting to concern. “Don’t be stupid, you need the chemotherapy to get better.”
He reached his foot out toward the bathroom door and closed himself inside.
I headed to my bedroom and reached for my shoebox filled with the past that Dad and I had used to share together. All of the Christmas cards, all of the Post-it notes, all of the small things I’d held on to that he somehow chose to forget.
I should’ve stopped looking at the stuff. I should’ve closed the box, headed to the woods, and played the violin, but I didn’t. I kept flipping through the notes and cards, hoping that in that moment I was just having a bad nightmare, and that when I woke up, Dad would love me again—or at least like me.
We were running out of time.
Merry Christmas, Lee. I love ya, son.
Happy 7th birthday, my boy. We’ll celebrate this summer.
Missin’ you on the old creek.
Maybe next year we’ll spend Christmas together.
Love you, Levi.
We’ll feed a few deer in the woods again when you come for a visit.
Love you, son.
I sat up all night, pinching myself, trying to wake up from this nightmare. I was tired of everything. I didn’t think it was normal to be a seventeen-year-old and feel this tired. I was tired of faking that I was happy at school. I was tired of worrying about if Mom was going to hurt herself because I left her. I was tired of wondering if I would wake up one day and Dad wouldn’t be here anymore.
I was tired of my nightmare of a life, and I just wanted to wake up from it all.
* * *
The next morning at 5:58 A.M., Aria showed up in the woods. I was pissed off and tired from the night before with Mom and Dad. My body ached and slumped. I hadn’t slept at all.
Aria stayed at a distance, frozen still.
Her brows lowered.
“You okay?” she mouthed.
I tried to give her a smile, but I couldn’t. Anyone else would’ve received the biggest grin and a lie, but with her it didn’t seem necessary. With her it felt okay to be broken. I shook my head. “No,” I mouthed back, leaning against a tree.
With a nod of understanding, she walked toward me. She leaned against the closest tree and faced me. I stuffed my hands into my sweatpants, and we stared at one another, completely silent, but saying so much.
For the first time, I showed Aria the real me. I showed her my truth.
She saw the seclusion in my eyes that I never shared. She saw the pain in my soul that I hid behind smiles and lies.
“You can talk to me,” she said. “If you want.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, debating if I wanted to talk about it. Talking made things real. But maybe realness was what I needed most.
“My mom’s not doing too well. I wanted to get as far away from her as possible—which meant coming to stay with my Dad. I thought it would be easier up here, ya know? But now my dad’s refusing to continue his chemotherapy, and I’m not sure how to deal with that.”
“Geez, Levi. I’m so sorry. That’s a lot,” she whispered. “That’s too much.”
I agreed. “What am I supposed to do about him not wanting chemo? How can I convince someone that their life is worth saving if they don’t have any desire to save themselves?”
“You can’t,” she said with a sad smile. Sad smile—so nonsensical. “That’s the thing about lives. We’re all so tangled up with one another, but at the same time, we’re very much alone.”
“Being alone is pretty lonely.”
She nodded. “Yes. But sometimes being together and lonely is even worse.”
“Not right now, though.”
“No. Right now is okay. Right now is good.”
We didn’t speak anymore.
She wasn’t trying to make me happy. I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to be happy, and Aria understood that. All she was doing was leaning up against the tree, looking at me with sympathy.
A look of complete understanding.
It was as if she were saying, “I see you, Levi Myers. And I’m lonely, too.”
* * *
She stood closer to me at the bus stop that morning, our shoulders almost brushing against one another. I imagined what it would be like grazing her arm, holding her hand, or heck, just holding her pinkie. I wondered if she was cold or hot. Soft. Comforting. Who made you untouchable?