The fault in our stars (Chapter 20)
One of the less bullshitty conventions of the cancer kid genre is the Last Good Day convention, wherein the victim of cancer finds herself with some unexpected hours when it seems like the inexorable decline has suddenly plateaued, when the pain is for a moment bearable. The problem, of course, is that there’s no way of knowing that your last good day is your Last Good Day. At the time, it is just another good day.
I’d taken a day off from visiting Augustus because I was feeling a bit unwell myself: nothing specific, just tired. It had been a lazy day, and when Augustus called just after five P.M., I was already attached to the BiPAP, which we’d dragged out to the living room so I could watch TV with Mom and Dad.
“Hi, Augustus,” I said.
He answered in the voice I’d fallen for. “Good evening, Hazel Grace. Do you suppose you could find your way to the Literal Heart of Jesus around eight P.M.?”
“Excellent. Also, if it’s not too much trouble, please prepare a eulogy.”
“Um,” I said.
“I love you,” he said.
“And I you,” I answered. Then the phone clicked off.
“Um,” I said. “I have to go to Support Group at eight tonight. Emergency session.”
My mom muted the TV. “Is everything okay?”
I looked at her for a second, my eyebrows raised. “I assume that’s a rhetorical question.”
“But why would there—”
“Because Gus needs me for some reason. It’s fine. I can drive.” I fiddled with the BiPAP so Mom would help me take it off, but she didn’t. “Hazel,” she said, “your dad and I feel like we hardly even see you anymore.”
“Particularly those of us who work all week,” Dad said.
“He needs me,” I said, finally unfastening the BiPAP myself.
“We need you, too, kiddo,” my dad said. He took hold of my wrist, like I was a two-year-old about to dart out into the street, and gripped it.
“Well, get a terminal disease, Dad, and then I’ll stay home more.”
“Hazel,” my mom said.
“You were the one who didn’t want me to be a homebody,” I said to her. Dad was still clutching my arm. “And now you want him to go ahead and die so I’ll be back here chained to this place, letting you take care of me like I always used to. But I don’t need it, Mom. I don’t need you like I used to. You’re the one who needs to get a life.”
“Hazel!” Dad said, squeezing harder. “Apologize to your mother.”
I was tugging at my arm but he wouldn’t let go, and I couldn’t get my cannula on with only one hand. It was infuriating. All I wanted was an old-fashioned Teenager Walkout, wherein I stomp out of the room and slam the door to my bedroom and turn up The Hectic Glow and furiously write a eulogy. But I couldn’t because I couldn’t freaking breathe. “The cannula,” I whined. “I need it.”
My dad immediately let go and rushed to connect me to the oxygen. I could see the guilt in his eyes, but he was still angry. “Hazel, apologize to your mother.”
“Fine, I’m sorry, just please let me do this.”
They didn’t say anything. Mom just sat there with her arms folded, not even looking at me. After a while, I got up and went to my room to write about Augustus.
Both Mom and Dad tried a few times to knock on the door or whatever, but I just told them I was doing something important. It took me forever to figure out what I wanted to say, and even then I wasn’t very happy with it. Before I’d technically finished, I noticed it was 7:40, which meant that I would be late even if I didn’t change, so in the end I wore baby blue cotton pajama pants, flip-flops, and Gus’s Butler shirt.
I walked out of the room and tried to go right past them, but my dad said, “You can’t leave the house without permission.”
“Oh, my God, Dad. He wanted me to write him a eulogy, okay? I’ll be home every. Freaking. Night. Starting any day now, okay?” That finally shut them up.
It took the entire drive to calm down about my parents. I pulled up around the back of the church and parked in the semicircular driveway behind Augustus’s car. The back door to the church was held open by a fist-size rock. Inside, I contemplated taking the stairs but decided to wait for the ancient creaking elevator.
When the elevator doors unscrolled, I was in the Support Group room, the chairs arranged in the same circle. But now I saw only Gus in a wheelchair, ghoulishly thin. He was facing me from the center of the circle. He’d been waiting for the elevator doors to open.
“Hazel Grace,” he said, “you look ravishing.”
“I know, right?”
I heard a shuffling in a dark corner of the room. Isaac stood behind a little wooden lectern, clinging to it. “You want to sit?” I asked him.
“No, I’m about to eulogize. You’re late.”
“You’re… I’m… what?”
Gus gestured for me to sit. I pulled a chair into the center of the circle with him as he spun the chair to face Isaac. “I want to attend my funeral,” Gus said. “By the way, will you speak at my funeral?”
“Um, of course, yeah,” I said, letting my head fall onto his shoulder. I reached across his back and hugged both him and the wheelchair. He winced. I let go.
“Awesome,” he said. “I’m hopeful I’ll get to attend as a ghost, but just to make sure, I thought I’d—well, not to put you on the spot, but I just this afternoon thought I could arrange a prefuneral, and I figured since I’m in reasonably good spirits, there’s no time like the present.”
“How did you even get in here?” I asked him.
“Would you believe they leave the door open all night?” Gus asked.
“Um, no,” I said.
“As well you shouldn’t.” Gus smiled. “Anyway, I know it’s a bit self-aggrandizing.”
“Hey, you’re stealing my eulogy,” Isaac said. “My first bit is about how you were a self-aggrandizing bastard.”
“Okay, okay,” Gus said. “At your leisure.”
Isaac cleared his throat. “Augustus Waters was a self-aggrandizing bastard. But we forgive him. We forgive him not because he had a heart as figuratively good as his literal one sucked, or because he knew more about how to hold a cigarette than any nonsmoker in history, or because he got eighteen years when he should have gotten more.”
“Seventeen,” Gus corrected.
“I’m assuming you’ve got some time, you interrupting bastard.
“I’m telling you,” Isaac continued, “Augustus Waters talked so much that he’d interrupt you at his own funeral. And he was pretentious: Sweet Jesus Christ, that kid never took a piss without pondering the abundant metaphorical resonances of human waste production. And he was vain: I do not believe I have ever met a more physically attractive person who was more acutely aware of his own physical attractiveness.
“But I will say this: When the scientists of the future show up at my house with robot eyes and they tell me to try them on, I will tell the scientists to screw off, because I do not want to see a world without him.”
I was kind of crying by then.
“And then, having made my rhetorical point, I will put my robot eyes on, because I mean, with robot eyes you can probably see through girls’ shirts and stuff. Augustus, my friend, Godspeed.”
Augustus nodded for a while, his lips pursed, and then gave Isaac a thumbs-up. After he’d recovered his composure, he added, “I would cut the bit about seeing through girls’ shirts.”
Isaac was still clinging to the lectern. He started to cry. He pressed his forehead down to the podium and I watched his shoulders shake, and then finally, he said, “Goddamn it, Augustus, editing your own eulogy.”
“Don’t swear in the Literal Heart of Jesus,” Gus said.
“Goddamn it,” Isaac said again. He raised his head and swallowed. “Hazel, can I get a hand here?”
I’d forgotten he couldn’t make his own way back to the circle. I got up, placed his hand on my arm, and walked him slowly back to the chair next to Gus where I’d been sitting. Then I walked up to the podium and unfolded the piece of paper on which I’d printed my eulogy.
“My name is Hazel. Augustus Waters was the great star-crossed love of my life. Ours was an epic love story, and I won’t be able to get more than a sentence into it without disappearing into a puddle of tears. Gus knew. Gus knows. I will not tell you our love story, because—like all real love stories—it will die with us, as it should. I’d hoped that he’d be eulogizing me, because there’s no one I’d rather have…” I started crying. “Okay, how not to cry. How am I—okay. Okay.”
I took a few breaths and went back to the page. “I can’t talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s.1 and.12 and.112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”