The fault in our stars (Chapter 24)
Three days later, on the eleventh day AG, Gus’s father called me in the morning. I was still hooked to the BiPAP, so I didn’t answer, but I listened to his message the moment it beeped through to my phone. “Hazel, hi, it’s Gus’s dad. I found a, uh, black Moleskine notebook in the magazine rack that was near his hospital bed, I think near enough that he could have reached it. Unfortunately there’s no writing in the notebook. All the pages are blank. But the first—I think three or four—the first few pages are torn out of the notebook. We looked through the house but couldn’t find the pages. So I don’t know what to make of that. But maybe those pages are what Isaac was referring to? Anyway, I hope that you are doing okay. You’re in our prayers every day, Hazel. Okay, bye.”
Three or four pages ripped from a Moleskine notebook no longer in Augustus Waters’s house. Where would he leave them for me? Taped to Funky Bones? No, he wasn’t well enough to get there.
The Literal Heart of Jesus. Maybe he’d left it there for me on his Last Good Day.
So I left twenty minutes early for Support Group the next day. I drove over to Isaac’s house, picked him up, and then we drove down to the Literal Heart of Jesus with the windows of the minivan down, listening to The Hectic Glow’s leaked new album, which Gus would never hear.
We took the elevator. I walked Isaac to a seat in the Circle of Trust then slowly worked my way around the Literal Heart. I checked everywhere: under the chairs, around the lectern I’d stood behind while delivering my eulogy, under the treat table, on the bulletin board packed with Sunday school kids’ drawings of God’s love. Nothing. It was the only place we’d been together in those last days besides his house, and it either wasn’t here or I was missing something. Perhaps he’d left it for me in the hospital, but if so, it had almost certainly been thrown away after his death.
I was really out of breath by the time I settled into a chair next to Isaac, and I devoted the entirety of Patrick’s nutless testimonial to telling my lungs they were okay, that they could breathe, that there was enough oxygen. They’d been drained only a week before Gus died—I watched the amber cancer water dribble out of me through the tube—and yet already they felt full again. I was so focused on telling myself to breathe that I didn’t notice Patrick saying my name at first.
I snapped to attention. “Yeah?” I asked.
“How are you?”
“I’m okay, Patrick. I’m a little out of breath.”
“Would you like to share a memory of Augustus with the group?”
“I wish I would just die, Patrick. Do you ever wish you would just die?”
“Yes,” Patrick said, without his usual pause. “Yes, of course. So why don’t you?”
I thought about it. My old stock answer was that I wanted to stay alive for my parents, because they would be all gutted and childless in the wake of me, and that was still true kind of, but that wasn’t it, exactly. “I don’t know.”
“In the hopes that you’ll get better?”
“No,” I said. “No, it’s not that. I really don’t know. Isaac?” I asked. I was tired of talking.
Isaac started talking about true love. I couldn’t tell them what I was thinking because it seemed cheesy to me, but I was thinking about the universe wanting to be noticed, and how I had to notice it as best I could. I felt that I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay, and also that I owed a debt to everybody who didn’t get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn’t gotten to be a person yet. What my dad had told me, basically.
I stayed quiet for the rest of Support Group, and Patrick said a special prayer for me, and Gus’s name was tacked onto the long list of the dead—fourteen of them for every one of us—and we promised to live our best life today, and then I took Isaac to the car.
When I got home, Mom and Dad were at the dining room table on their separate laptops, and the moment I walked in the door, Mom slammed her laptop shut. “What’s on the computer?”
“Just some antioxidant recipes. Ready for BiPAP and America’s Next Top Model?” she asked.
“I’m just going to lie down for a minute.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just tired.”
“Well, you’ve gotta eat before you—”
“Mom, I am aggressively unhungry.” I took a step toward the door but she cut me off.
“Hazel, you have to eat. Just some ch—”
“No. I’m going to bed.”
“No,” Mom said. “You’re not.” I glanced at my dad, who shrugged.
“It’s my life,” I said.
“You’re not going to starve yourself to death just because Augustus died. You’re going to eat dinner.”
I was really pissed off for some reason. “I can’t eat, Mom. I can’t. Okay?”
I tried to push past her but she grabbed both my shoulders and said, “Hazel, you’re eating dinner. You need to stay healthy.”
“NO!” I shouted. “I’m not eating dinner, and I can’t stay healthy, because I’m not healthy. I am dying, Mom. I am going to die and leave you here alone and you won’t have a me to hover around and you won’t be a mother anymore, and I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about it, okay?!”
I regretted it as soon as I said it.
“You heard me.”
“Did you hear me say that to your father?” Her eyes welled up. “Did you?” I nodded. “Oh, God, Hazel. I’m sorry. I was wrong, sweetie. That wasn’t true. I said that in a desperate moment. It’s not something I believe.” She sat down, and I sat down with her. I was thinking that I should have just puked up some pasta for her instead of getting pissed off.
“What do you believe, then?” I asked.
“As long as either of us is alive, I will be your mother,” she said. “Even if you die, I—”
“When,” I said.
She nodded. “Even when you die, I will still be your mom, Hazel. I won’t stop being your mom. Have you stopped loving Gus?” I shook my head. “Well, then how could I stop loving you?”
“Okay,” I said. My dad was crying now.
“I want you guys to have a life,” I said. “I worry that you won’t have a life, that you’ll sit around here all day with no me to look after and stare at the walls and want to off yourselves.”
After a minute, Mom said, “I’m taking some classes. Online, through IU. To get my master’s in social work. In fact, I wasn’t looking at antioxidant recipes; I was writing a paper.”
“I don’t want you to think I’m imagining a world without you. But if I get my MSW, I can counsel families in crisis or lead groups dealing with illness in their families or—”
“Wait, you’re going to become a Patrick?”
“Well, not exactly. There are all kinds of social work jobs.”
Dad said, “We’ve both been worried that you’ll feel abandoned. It’s important for you to know that we will always be here for you, Hazel. Your mom isn’t going anywhere.”
“No, this is great. This is fantastic!” I was really smiling. “Mom is going to become a Patrick. She’ll be a great Patrick! She’ll be so much better at it than Patrick is.”
“Thank you, Hazel. That means everything to me.”
I nodded. I was crying. I couldn’t get over how happy I was, crying genuine tears of actual happiness for the first time in maybe forever, imagining my mom as a Patrick. It made me think of Anna’s mom. She would’ve been a good social worker, too.
After a while we turned on the TV and watched ANTM. But I paused it after five seconds because I had all these questions for Mom. “So how close are you to finishing?”
“If I go up to Bloomington for a week this summer, I should be able to finish by December.”
“How long have you been keeping this from me, exactly?”
“I didn’t want to hurt you, Hazel.”
Amazing. “So when you’re waiting for me outside of MCC or Support Group or whatever, you’re always—”
“Yes, working or reading.”
“This is so great. If I’m dead, I want you to know I will be sighing at you from heaven every time you ask someone to share their feelings.”
My dad laughed. “I’ll be right there with ya, kiddo,” he assured me.
Finally, we watched ANTM. Dad tried really hard not to die of boredom, and he kept messing up which girl was which, saying, “We like her?”
“No, no. We revile Anastasia. We like Antonia, the other blonde,” Mom explained.
“They’re all tall and horrible,” Dad responded. “Forgive me for failing to tell the difference.” Dad reached across me for Mom’s hand.
“Do you think you guys will stay together if I die?” I asked.
“Hazel, what? Sweetie.” She fumbled for the remote control and paused the TV again. “What’s wrong?”
“Just, do you think you would?”
“Yes, of course. Of course,” Dad said. “Your mom and I love each other, and if we lose you, we’ll go through it together.”
“Swear to God,” I said.
“I swear to God,” he said.
I looked back at Mom. “Swear to God,” she agreed. “Why are you even worrying about this?”
“I just don’t want to ruin your life or anything.”
Mom leaned forward and pressed her face into my messy puff of hair and kissed me at the very top of my head. I said to Dad, “I don’t want you to become like a miserable unemployed alcoholic or whatever.”
My mom smiled. “Your father isn’t Peter Van Houten, Hazel. You of all people know it is possible to live with pain.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. Mom hugged me and I let her even though I didn’t really want to be hugged. “Okay, you can unpause it,” I said. Anastasia got kicked off. She threw a fit. It was awesome.
I ate a few bites of dinner—bow-tie pasta with pesto—and managed to keep it down.