The fault in our stars (Chapter 18)
I woke up to my phone singing a song by The Hectic Glow. Gus’s favorite. That meant he was calling—or someone was calling from his phone. I glanced at the alarm clock: 2:35 A.M. He’s gone, I thought as everything inside of me collapsed into a singularity.
I could barely creak out a “Hello?”
I waited for the sound of a parent’s annihilated voice.
“Hazel Grace,” Augustus said weakly.
“Oh, thank God it’s you. Hi. Hi, I love you.”
“Hazel Grace, I’m at the gas station. Something’s wrong. You gotta help me.”
“What? Where are you?”
“The Speedway at Eighty-sixth and Ditch. I did something wrong with the G-tube and I can’t figure it out and—”
“I’m calling nine-one-one,” I said.
“No no no no no, they’ll take me to a hospital. Hazel, listen to me. Do not call nine-one-one or my parents I will never forgive you don’t please just come please just come and fix my goddamned G-tube. I’m just, God, this is the stupidest thing. I don’t want my parents to know I’m gone. Please. I have the medicine with me; I just can’t get it in. Please.” He was crying. I’d never heard him sob like this except from outside his house before Amsterdam.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m leaving now.”
I took the BiPAP off and connected myself to an oxygen tank, lifted the tank into my cart, and put on sneakers to go with my pink cotton pajama pants and a Butler basketball T-shirt, which had originally been Gus’s. I grabbed the keys from the kitchen drawer where Mom kept them and wrote a note in case they woke up while I was gone.
Went to check on Gus. It’s important. Sorry.
As I drove the couple miles to the gas station, I woke up enough to wonder why Gus had left the house in the middle of the night. Maybe he’d been hallucinating, or his martyrdom fantasies had gotten the better of him.
I sped up Ditch Road past flashing yellow lights, going too fast partly to reach him and partly in the hopes a cop would pull me over and give me an excuse to tell someone that my dying boyfriend was stuck outside of a gas station with a malfunctioning G-tube. But no cop showed up to make my decision for me.
There were only two cars in the lot. I pulled up next to his. I opened the door. The interior lights came on. Augustus sat in the driver’s seat, covered in his own vomit, his hands pressed to his belly where the G-tube went in. “Hi,” he mumbled.
“Oh, God, Augustus, we have to get you to a hospital.”
“Please just look at it.” I gagged from the smell but bent forward to inspect the place above his belly button where they’d surgically installed the tube. The skin of his abdomen was warm and bright red.
“Gus, I think something’s infected. I can’t fix this. Why are you here? Why aren’t you at home?” He puked, without even the energy to turn his mouth away from his lap. “Oh, sweetie,” I said.
“I wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes,” he mumbled. “I lost my pack. Or they took it away from me. I don’t know. They said they’d get me another one, but I wanted… to do it myself. Do one little thing myself.”
He was staring straight ahead. Quietly, I pulled out my phone and glanced down to dial 911.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. Nine-one-one, what is your emergency? “Hi, I’m at the Speedway at Eighty-sixth and Ditch, and I need an ambulance. The great love of my life has a malfunctioning G-tube.”
He looked up at me. It was horrible. I could hardly look at him. The Augustus Waters of the crooked smiles and unsmoked cigarettes was gone, replaced by this desperate humiliated creature sitting there beneath me.
“This is it. I can’t even not smoke anymore.”
“Gus, I love you.”
“Where is my chance to be somebody’s Peter Van Houten?” He hit the steering wheel weakly, the car honking as he cried. He leaned his head back, looking up. “I hate myself I hate myself I hate this I hate this I disgust myself I hate it I hate it I hate it just let me fucking die.”
According to the conventions of the genre, Augustus Waters kept his sense of humor till the end, did not for a moment waiver in his courage, and his spirit soared like an indomitable eagle until the world itself could not contain his joyous soul.
But this was the truth, a pitiful boy who desperately wanted not to be pitiful, screaming and crying, poisoned by an infected G-tube that kept him alive, but not alive enough.
I wiped his chin and grabbed his face in my hands and knelt down close to him so that I could see his eyes, which still lived. “I’m sorry. I wish it was like that movie, with the Persians and the Spartans.”
“Me too,” he said.
“But it isn’t,” I said.
“I know,” he said.
“There are no bad guys.”
“Even cancer isn’t a bad guy really: Cancer just wants to be alive.”
“You’re okay,” I told him. I could hear the sirens.
“Okay,” he said. He was losing consciousness.
“Gus, you have to promise not to try this again. I’ll get you cigarettes, okay?” He looked at me. His eyes swam in their sockets. “You have to promise.”
He nodded a little and then his eyes closed, his head swiveling on his neck.
“Gus,” I said. “Stay with me.”
“Read me something,” he said as the goddamned ambulance roared right past us. So while I waited for them to turn around and find us, I recited the only poem I could bring to mind, “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams.
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Williams was a doctor. It seemed to me like a doctor’s poem. The poem was over, but the ambulance was still driving away from us, so I kept writing it.
* * *
And so much depends, I told Augustus, upon a blue sky cut open by the branches of the trees above. So much depends upon the transparent G-tube erupting from the gut of the blue-lipped boy. So much depends upon this observer of the universe.
Half conscious, he glanced over at me and mumbled, “And you say you don’t write poetry.”