Everyone attending our party seemed to be drunk, or well on the way, as the music blared and the lights blinked. I looked up at the clock near the chauffer, figuring we were getting close to our destination. I nervously rifled through the duffel bag under my seat to ensure the tubes inside hadn’t tangled. The doctor was riding on the bus, and, after watching her down a couple beers, I worried she wouldn’t deal well with bungled tubes.
Andrew stopped talking to his friends and sat down next to me with a grin on his unshaven face. I’d only met him because we’d been forced into the same room several times during the past few months, but I guess he turned out to be nice enough. Now that we were both desperately going through the same procedure, he was the only other person who understood.
Unlike me, though, Andrew didn’t ooze anxiety. He chatted with his friends, laughed with his family, and relished this party.
I wished that I could partake in the party my friends had planned for me and forget about everything else, but Andrew and I weren’t allowed to have any alcohol in our systems. Sweet forgetfulness, just a bottle away, could not be touched.
“We’re almost there.” Andrew rubbed his hands together and clapped his thighs. “You ready?”
I gritted my teeth and tried not to sound weak when I replied, “No.”
Andrew lifted an eyebrow and tapped me curiously. “I saw you going through your bag. What’re you missing? You’ve signed all the legal forms and had the list for over a month.”
I turned my face away from Andrew and let my forehead rest on the window. Niggling thoughts slipped into my brain, telling me to back out. As I watched my college friends take shots, I clenched my fists and clamped my jaw tight, jealous and lonely. Though this trip was planned to be about me and Andrew, it was really for everyone else. No one wanted to talk to the sober guy who was coughing and hacking on his way to his last cancer treatment. I didn’t want to remain sober and be reminded that I wasn’t like them anymore, that I’d become fragile and helpless.
The bus stopped, spewing out its drunken passengers. Lars, my best friend from high school, balanced himself by leaning on the seats as he scooted by me. “Gonna miss you, man. Wish you could come to the wedding, but at least this way you’ll be around for the divorce in a year or two!” He nearly fell as he laughed, grinning before following the line out.
My mother and sister came next, champagne glasses in their hands as they bustled forward, arms locked. Mom patted me and smiled, a bit tearfully, while my sister said, “See you in a couple of years!”
If they saw me ever again, they forgot to say. I coughed, struggled with my bag, held my gown prudishly, and walked out of the bus with Andrew. Though his face was pale, he was far stronger than me, making me wonder why he had decided to go through this. He could have staved it off for a couple of months.
I looked over the field, stationary machines littering the manicured grass. A lovely creek babbled nearby, but it wasn’t there for me. I wouldn’t notice it while I was here. Since I wasn’t allowed shoes, I’d gone barefoot, which I promptly regretted as I walked through the field, morning dew wetting my feet. I could only console myself by believing mold wouldn’t grow as long as I dried them off well.
The drunken partiers all crowded around two clear, plastic boxes suspended by straps over two freshly dug holes in the ground.
I took out a towel from my bag and dried off my feet before stepping into my box, wrapping the hospital gown tight to hide my backside. The fermented smell of beer on the doctor’s breath made me uneasy as she stuck me with an IV taken from my bag. I drew the breathing mask out and over my face, then spent a moment despising the catheter that made me so uncomfortable. I slowly reclined my painful, beleaguered body onto the foam pad in the bottom of the box.
“I don’t want to do this,” I said to Andrew as he reclined in his own box.
“Why not? Medical science is advancing rapidly. They may come up with a cure while we’re put under, and if not, medical expenses become painless burial expenses. What’s not to love?”
Andrew lay down in the box as the straps lowered him to the bottom of his hole.
I coughed, blood hitting my mask, and sunk into a concrete liner within the hole. I felt my heart beat hard and fast as the walls rose beside me, the box hitting the concrete beneath. I looked up at the people who’d attended my wake, celebrating that I’d arise after the doctors discovered a cure for my cancer.
Waking up hadn’t happened often for others who’d chosen this route.
I tried to claw out as the doctor screwed the clear lid over me, my friends and family waving goodbye in return. My eyelids felt heavier, my hands weaker, my attempts at escape useless.
“See you in a few years!” my mom’s drawling voice slurred out. “I’ll miss you!”
I coughed, unable to respond, as a shovel full of dirt covered my box.