Important Note To Reader: If you are just tuning in, this is the final section of the Pick-A-Path Project. You’ll want to click HERE to read sections 1, 2, 3, and 4.
And the readers say… Path ‘A’! Enjoy!
“What is this?” his voice cracked as he spoke.
Her mouth opened but nothing came out.
“Lori” he said with more weight behind it. “What the hell is this?”
She stood immobilized by the thickness that hung in the air and then it was as though she was watching from above.
“Lori?” he said desperate to understand and terrified to know. “Is this mine? I mean is this me?” He was pleading and his voice had begun to shake.
She watched as the version of her that remained in the room with Jimmy shook and then nodded her head lost in where she was and where they were.
“How long have you had this?” he said dropping his eyes back to the paper.
She took a step backwards and felt the cool hardware of her dresser press into her. “Tuesday,” she said. Her words touched the air and space between them and dissolved.
“So this is what I have? Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia?” he said pronouncing each syllable separately like it was a foreign language.
She continued to stand without words and frozen in place.
He locked his eyes onto hers trying to draw her back from where ever it was that she’d gone. “Lori, talk to me! Fuckin’ A! Lori, please talk to me!” When there was still silence, he shook his head and balled the paper in his fist.
“Daddy” J.J.’s tiny voice broke through the thickness. He came to him and Jimmy pulled him into his arms.
“What buddy” he said.
“Uh Daddy,” he said lowering his voice to a whisper. “You need a put a money into the jar for the ‘F’ word” he said pointing his little index finger into Jimmy’s chest.
“Right,” he said nodding his head and picking J.J. up as he stood. With their son still in arms he crossed the room to the dresser where she stood. He leaned past her close enough to smell the sweet smell of her hair and gathered a hand full of loose change.
On his way out of the room he stopped at the door and turned to her, still frozen where she stood. “Call your sister. Have her come get J.J.” He turned to leave, but on second thought turned to her again. “Please don’t say anything about this,” he said gesturing with the fist that had the balled up paper crushed inside.
“Shit,” he said when he saw her face fall. “She already knows, doesn’t she?”
Lori nodded. “I had to tell someone” she said, her voice on the edge of tears.
He stared at her dumb founded and hurt. “And it never crossed your mind to tell me? What the hell’s up with that?” He turned and walked the short hall to the kitchen.
“Daddy” J.J. said when they reached the counter that held the large pickle jar with a slot cut in the top. “Umm Daddy” he repeated.
“Yes buddy” he said dropping a quarter into the half full jar.
“You need two for the ‘H’ word and one for the ‘S’ word too.” His voice was so soft now as though he understood the magnitude of the situation but also understood the importance of the rules.
Jimmy set him down on a kitchen chair so that he stood, head even with Jimmy’s shoulders. He opened his hand and watched as his son picked three quarters from his palm and deposited them in the jar.
Lori appeared in the door. “Lauren’s on her way.”
Jimmy nodded unable to take his eyes off the woman that stood before him, usually full of life and laughter, now quiet and afraid. “What happened?” he asked still searching her for answers.
“There wasn’t ever the right time” she said knowing it wasn’t the truth
“Bull shit,” he said and looked down to see J.J., hand out stretched.
He plucked out another quarter and they all stood in silence as it clinked into the jar.
“You’d better just take the rest” he said pulling J.J.’s hands together to make a small cup and gently pouring the remaining change from his hand.
By the time Lauren arrived there was no change left and a five dollar bill rested inside the jar, split evenly between Jimmy and Lori as payment for their emotions.
Lauren took a moment to look at both her sister and Jimmy then brought her eyes to rest on the jar in the center of the kitchen table.
“Okay,” she said reaching to gather J.J, still in pajamas and bare feet. ”Lets get you some clothes.”
On the way out of the room they could hear him whisper “They been cussing”.
Out of sight now they both heard Lauren laugh in spite of the situation and say “I know”.
“Well, how bad is it” Jimmy said not really knowing where to start. “I mean I’m guessing since you kept it from me, it’s gotta be pretty bad.”
He ran his hand through his hair pulling at the ends and balling a handful into his fist. He softened as she met his gaze for the first time. He was hardly able to find his next words, “Granger,” his voice almost disappearing under what came next. “Am I going to die?”
She nodded as tears ran freely down her cheeks. “Dr. Walters said six weeks, but he also said there’s no way to know for sure.”
He pushed his palms against his eyes and held them there for a moment. “What about treatment?” he said looking up at her. “I mean can’t we fight it?”
She shook her head, “I don’t know. He didn’t say anything specific except that it was really advanced and that limited our options. He said that he’d know more when he met with you next.”
“When’s that?” Jimmy asked.
“Tuesday”,” she said.
They sat for a long time listening to J.J. and Lauren. When they reappeared in the kitchen J.J. announced “We’re goin’ to Aunt L’s house to play with Mark and Matthew but not Eve cause she’s too little and she cries too much”.
“Okay,” Jimmy said ruffling J.J.’s hair. “Have fun.”
He went to Lori and she kissed the top of his head. “Be good.”
“I will,” he said and took Lauren’s hand and practically drug her to the kitchen door.
“Just call when you want me to bring him back, alright?” she said.
They both nodded and she let J.J. pull her outside.
They could hear the car door shut and Lauren’s engine come to life. They heard it back out the driveway and when its sound had faded Jimmy pushed himself back from the table and said “I don’t wanna wait till Tuesday”.
He pulled the prescription paper from the table and smoothed it so he could read the phone number and dialed Dr. Walter’s office.
After what felt like an eternity, but was actually three or four rings someone on the other end picked up.
“Yes, good morning. This is Jimmy Moore, I need to speak with Dr. Walters. There was a pause as he listened. “Oh he’s not, well…” Another pause. “No, well yeah, I have an appointment next Tuesday, but I can’t wait for Tuesday… Yeah… I can hold…”
As he listened Lori eased across the kitchen to stand in front of him. Before she had a chance to rest her back against the refrigerator he reached out for her. First at the sleeve of her fitted button down with the tips of his fingers. Then she was close enough that he could cup his hand around her elbow then his arm around her waste.
She let him draw her in like a length of ribbon and she rested her forehead on his chest and let her self relax and sink into his embrace.
“He does…” Jimmy said. “Yeah that’s fine... No, one o’clock is perfect… Thank you.” He returned the receiver to its rest.
He felt her shoulders shaking and she cried just above a whisper “What are we gonna do?”
He drew his wife even closer to him. “I’m gonna fight this Granger,” he said into her hair. He felt the heat of her tears soak into his t-shirt and she drew into him, letting herself come undone.
We’re going to fight….” The last words fell away as his voice broke.
That afternoon they sat quietly as Dr. Walters reviewed the test results, and over the telephone, introduced them to an oncologist and pathologist from Johns Hopkins Hospital out of Baltimore, MD. They discussed traditional treatments and also told them about a clinical trial that Jimmy’s case appeared to be a perfect match for.
Three days later they packed the truck and drove north to Baltimore. They took the Blue Ridge parkway and stopped at road side boiled peanut stands and strawberry patches and the most ridiculous excuse for a corn maze, but no one minded.
Jimmy began treatment that Monday morning. 18 months later, after Chemo that made him sicker than he’d ever been in his life, radiation that swore made him know exactly what it felt like to be a microwavable dinner, two bone marrow transplants; one from Clint that his body rejected and the second from J.J. that was successful, and months of an experimental drug. He went into his first remission. They packed up their things from the apartment that Johns Hopkins had arranged and went home.
That spring, Lori found out she was pregnant and they opened the baseball field naming it J. Moore Park. However, Jimmy relapsed a month before the opening game. He managed to throw out the first pitch from a wheel chair because this round of treatment had left him too weak to stand.
His second remission came six months later and lasted over two years.
Their daughter Rose was born on Christmas Eve and just after her second birthday the cancer reappeared.
On its third pass it proved to be stronger, faster and even bolder than before. Flexing it’s resistance to every form of treatment. This brought them back to Baltimore for another experimental treatment.
Eleven months later Jimmy returned home to East Tennessee a shadow of the man he’d been. And as they stood in the kitchen after J.J. and Rose were asleep, he held her close just as he’d done in the kitchen what seamed like an eternity before, and said, “If it comes back, I don’t think I have anything left”.
She nodded and sent up a prayer that that day would never come.
Note to Reader: So this story is completely different, and at the same time, exactly the same as any other I've written. What I mean by this is that it's different in the since that I've never ever included anyone else on the creative process. It's exactly the same because the story has grown and evolved in ways I never imagined.
I wrote the first section of this story eight years ago as a sophomore in college as part of a completely different story. For about 6 of those eight years these characters lay forgotten in a writing journal until about 4 months ago.
As I have found with other writers, their stories are living and breathing works of art that grow and evolve far beyond their meager beginnings. Just like throwing a stone into a river, even in the smallest of ways, the stone forever changes that river’s course, what happens to you in your real life while you are writing a story can and so often does change the course. It is thrilling for me to put down a story I've written short or long, and pick it back up , weeks, months, or even years later, and still feel the original emotion that I had while writing it.
So I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you for being stones in the river of this story. I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing.
I’d also like to dedicate this story to our dear friends Amanda and Ryan. Ryan was diagnosed with ALL less than two years after they got married. If you are so inclined, please send up a prayer for them both. Amanda is brave and strong, and with her love and support, Ryan is fighting!
Till next time,