This isn’t going to be the generic TFIOS post where I tell you all the heartbreaking cancer story of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, because by now I think everyone knows their tale of torment.
Instead, this is a post about my (borrowed) cancer story. This is about Adam.
I met him about three years ago on Rottingdean beach near to Brighton, and in the least cheesy way he saved my life. I won’t give the whole long story because I don’t think anyone really wants to hear it, but mostly because it’s the first thing I have about him and I want to keep that to myself, if that’s okay.
Anyway, he saved me from drowning and after that we spent the next three days hanging out, being stupid on the beach and just talking. When it was time to go home, we left unexpectedly so I didn’t manage to say a proper goodbye to him. Over time, obviously, Adam became just a fond memory but one that I didn’t spend too much time dwelling upon.
Nearly a year passed and I was walking through my town’s town centre. It was raining so my hood was up, and my hands were seized into place by the hefty shopping bags I was carrying. I don’t know about you, but when someone calls my name while I’m out in my town I generally get a bit twitchy, I mean my home-town isn’t really known for its lovely townsfolk.
So, when I heard someone shouting my name, the twitchiness began. I peaked round the edge of my hood but couldn’t see anyone I recognised, so I kept walking.
Again, someone called my name and finally I recognised its source. I walked over to him, his hood covering his head but his smile still just visible. Adam.
It was weird, obviously, because there was no real reason for him to be here, particularly not on a rainy January morning.
But there he was, standing exactly a head taller than me with dark eyes and a bright grin splitting his face. We talked, asking the normal questions and giving the predictable answers, until I asked him how everything had been since last we’d met.
His expression faultered and he slowly reached up to tug back his hood. ‘I have leukemia,’ he said, ‘I’m so sorry.’
I remember staring at him, shocked, because it was so unexpected and just so, so awful. We weren’t even particularly close friends, I mean we’d hung out for a few days the previous summer but really that was all – there was no reason for either of us to properly remember each other, and yet we did.
He pulled me in and hugged me, and I remember the rain. It’s a strange thing to remember so clearly, but it’s possibly the clearest of my memories from that day.
He gave me his email address before he left. I didn’t even wait a day before sending him something, and for the next nine months we talked everyday. We met up a few times, but we both agreed that forming a physically, and therefore stronger emotional, friendship would hurt more when it inevitably came to its end.
It turned out that when we met, he was in remission and had been for a few years. The cancer was gone, and it wouldn’t come back, and yet there it was, back.
He spent that year travelling, visiting everywhere he could in such a small space of time. It was only after six months that he told me why: he’d been given a time limit.
Towards the end he spent more and more time in hospital, and I began to converse more with his cousin than with him because he couldn’t. Finally, after far too few months, the last three days of which had been utter radio silence, his cousin emailed me explaining that the absolute worst had happened. To say that I was heartbroken would be such an understatement.
Suddenly I didn’t have the constant correspondence or the comfort of one of my closest friends, and that’s really all we were – the closest of friends, nothing more or less than that.
Why is this post headed with the name of a book? Because I watched the film of it last night with two friends and ended up bawling as I always do as it finished. Perhaps one friend understood why, but the other definitely didn’t. I might show him this at some point to explain, partly because I never (openly) cry and partly because he’s one of my best friends and I think I want him to know this, but I’m not sure…
I miss Adam, but in a less painful way than I once did because I shoved that grief down until I felt I’d bottled it enough to keep going.
I guess Gus was right, though – that’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.