The fault in our stars (Chapter 19)
He came home from the hospital a few days later, finally and irrevocably robbed of his ambitions. It took more medication to remove him from the pain. He moved upstairs permanently, into a hospital bed near the living room window.
These were days of pajamas and beard scruff, of mumblings and requests and him endlessly thanking everyone for all they were doing on his behalf. One afternoon, he pointed vaguely toward a laundry basket in a corner of the room and asked me, “What’s that?”
“That laundry basket?”
“No, next to it.”
“I don’t see anything next to it.”
“It’s my last shred of dignity. It’s very small.”
* * *
The next day, I let myself in. They didn’t like me to ring the doorbell anymore because it might wake him up. His sisters were there with their banker husbands and three kids, all boys, who ran up to me and chanted who are you who are you who are you, running circles around the entryway like lung capacity was a renewable resource. I’d met the sisters before, but never the kids or their dads.
“I’m Hazel,” I said.
“Gus has a girlfriend,” one of the kids said.
“I am aware that Gus has a girlfriend,” I said.
“She’s got boobies,” another said.
“Is that so?”
“Why do you have that?” the first one asked, pointing at my oxygen cart.
“It helps me breathe,” I said. “Is Gus awake?”
“No, he’s sleeping.”
“He’s dying,” said another.
“He’s dying,” the third one confirmed, suddenly serious. It was quiet for a moment, and I wondered what I was supposed to say, but then one of them kicked another and they were off to the races again, falling all over each other in a scrum that migrated toward the kitchen.
I made my way to Gus’s parents in the living room and met his brothers-in-law, Chris and Dave.
I hadn’t gotten to know his half sisters, really, but they both hugged me anyway. Julie was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking to a sleeping Gus in precisely the same voice that one would use to tell an infant he was adorable, saying, “Oh, Gussy Gussy, our little Gussy Gussy.” Our Gussy? Had they acquired him?
“What’s up, Augustus?” I said, trying to model appropriate behavior.
“Our beautiful Gussy,” Martha said, leaning in toward him. I began to wonder if he was actually asleep or if he’d just laid a heavy finger on the pain pump to avoid the Attack of the Well-Meaning Sisters.
He woke up after a while and the first thing he said was, “Hazel,” which I have to admit made me kind of happy, like maybe I was part of his family, too. “Outside,” he said quietly. “Can we go?”
We went, his mom pushing the wheelchair, sisters and brothers-in-law and dad and nephews and me trailing. It was a cloudy day, still and hot as summer settled in. He wore a long-sleeve navy T-shirt and fleece sweatpants. He was cold all the time for some reason. He wanted some water, so his dad went and got some for him.
Martha tried to engage Gus in conversation, kneeling down next to him and saying, “You’ve always had such beautiful eyes.” He nodded a little.
One of the husbands put an arm on Gus’s shoulder and said, “How’s that fresh air feel?” Gus shrugged.
“Do you want meds?” his mom asked, joining the circle kneeling around him. I took a step back, watching as the nephews tore through a flower bed on their way to the little patch of grass in Gus’s backyard. They immediately commenced to play a game that involved throwing one another to the ground.
“Kids!” Julie shouted vaguely.
“I can only hope,” Julie said, turning back to Gus, “they grow into the kind of thoughtful, intelligent young men you’ve become.”
I resisted the urge to audibly gag. “He’s not that smart,” I said to Julie.
“She’s right. It’s just that most really good-looking people are stupid, so I exceed expectations.”
“Right, it’s primarily his hotness,” I said.
“It can be sort of blinding,” he said.
“It actually did blind our friend Isaac,” I said.
“Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?”
“It is my burden, this beautiful face.”
“Not to mention your body.”
“Seriously, don’t even get me started on my hot bod. You don’t want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace’s breath away,” he said, nodding toward the oxygen tank.
“Okay, enough,” Gus’s dad said, and then out of nowhere, his dad put an arm around me and kissed the side of my head and whispered, “I thank God for you every day, kid.”
Anyway, that was the last good day I had with Gus until the Last Good Day.