Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

It’s been a long time since my last post. I was doing pretty good with this whole blogging thing and then I had a second kid, and started a masters’ degree. Then my dad got sick, and stayed really sick and then he died. And that pretty much sucked and made me want to do nothing but eat a lot of chocolate, cry and watch comfort TV.

I tried to write a post about my dad in November, right after Thanksgiving. I got like 800 words in to it and realized I hadn’t even started to get to the heart of it. It would take me more words than I expected anyone to read to even try to get my feelings out, so I stopped. I still have it saved, but I know I’ll never write it. I figured it was too soon, so I stopped.

I finished my masters’ and the “free time” that afforded me ended up being consumed by all the grading I’d been putting off while trying to get my own homework done, so really, I couldn’t even contemplate the time to blog until summer hit.

And then summer hit….yup, it hit me right upside my head. My best friend of 20 some years got a job 10 hours away and while I’m super excited that the million or so dollars she owes in student loans may one day be paid off thanks to gainful employment, I can’t lie and say it didn’t leave me wallowing in more than my fair share of self-pity. On top of that, my first week of vacation ended with the death of my step-mom. Saying it’s been a rough year, is putting it mildly.

It’s been the worst year of my life.

The one bright spot of my summer is that I’ve gotten to read, a lot. Since I don’t have a new baby or any homework to do, I actually have free time and I’ve been using it to get back to my first real love: books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still wallowing in self-pity, but at least reading is giving me a bit of a break where I can find people whose lives suck way worse than mine.

So, I thought since I have this new found free time and a whole lot of pain to work through, I needed to stat writing again. Since I’ve been reading so much, the best place to start seemed to be with books, something that evoke a great deal of emotion from me, but aren’t likely to throw me into some huge writing pity party.

My original plan for my first foray back into the blogosphere was going to be to write about Seductive Poison, the account of Jonestown survivor Debbie Layton. It was a fascinating read and definitely worthy of post, but then the library called yesterday and told me that a book which had been on reserve for me was finally available. It was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I love young adult novels, probably in part because I spend my working days surrounded by young adults, many of whom I think are pretty amazing people. This particular book had been recommended to me by one of my students who wrote a pretty fantastic review of it for the school paper. She and I like to geek out to many of the same bits of entertainment (I think she nearly wet herself when she saw the “Van Gogh” painting of the exploding Tardis on my classroom cabinet), so I put it on my mental “to read” list.

I started reading it today and found that I couldn’t stop. Before I started reading the book I knew the main characters were teens with cancer. I also knew the author lives in my hometown. I didn’t realize how close he must live to me, but as the story unfolded, I recognized the same streets, mall and museum I have traveled to countless times in my life. Not only is the street my neighborhood is on mentioned, but one of the scenes actually takes place less than two minutes from my house. That was, admittedly, kind of cool. I really liked that Green used real places (and more specifically, places I know).

What I wasn’t quite ready for was how hard the story would hit me. The main character, Hazel, has cancer which has spread to her lungs and she spends every day hooked up to oxygen. Taking the stairs to the church basement is a triumph simply because she has to convince her lungs they are ok. I thankfully, have lungs which function pretty darn well, however, my step-mom, lived with excruciating lung problems for over a decade. Everywhere we went, her portable oxygen went with us. Just like Hazel, she had a name for her tank. The cannula Hazel momentarily shares with a young child at the mall, was the same one my children marveled at and asked about when Grammy wore them. I can hardly picture her without the hose looped over her ears or imagine my parents’ house without the hooks screwed into the walls to hold the hose so she could travel around the house.

My step-mom didn’t have cancer, but like Hazel, she was living with a death sentence. There was medication and it definitely helped her live longer, but it also weakened and hurt her and reading Hazel’s thoughts, I was reminded quite clearly of her life and her struggles.

Still, I found myself unable to stop reading. When Gus finally talked about his ex-girlfriend who had the “asshole tumor,” it got harder to read. Unlike Caroline, my dad’s cancer didn’t start with that tumor. It started in his kidneys. However, in the end, despite two surgeries that left him with only 60% of one kidney and no adrenal glands, he too “lit up like a Christmas tree” on the PET scan and it was a tumor in his brain that caused him to be flown down to the hospital near me for aggressive treatment. I knew exactly what Gus was talking about when he described Caroline, because that was my dad. He was altered. He was hateful. He was a “real bitch.” But it wasn’t him, it was the tumor. Or at least I think it was. Like Gus, there are days when I’m not sure. I understood Gus. I felt for him. I was him, because I loved my father.

I didn’t lose it until I read about the Last Good Day. While I won’t spoil it for those who have not read the book yet, the characters talk about the last good day a cancer patient has. Of course, no one knows it’s the last good day, not at the time. But it’s the day where everything is good. There isn’t much pain, there is a calmness, a happiness, a chance to be together and for things to just be good again. I had that day with my dad, three days before he died. While he wasn’t able to leave the hospital, we talked. He knew me. He thanked me for all I had done for him and told me how much he loved me. Although we didn’t have long, we had that moment of happiness and clarity, where I thought things would get better. After all the hateful things the cancer had done to him, it was a day I saw my dad again and it gave me hope.

I started crying right there in the middle of my son’s Tae Kwan Do class. No one saw me, but when my son came up to me a few moments later, he took one look in my eyes and hugged me tight. Then he gave me a bunch of kisses before asking if he could get a drink. He’s too young to understand the power a book can really have. While he can now read on his own, his books usually have like 300 words and revolve around a super hero saving someone.

While The Fault in Our Stars probably was not the best book for me to read so soon after my step-mom’s passing, I am glad I read it. I am infinitely glad John Green wrote it and I highly recommend it. It is not light-hearted. Everything does not work out. Characters die. But “the world is not a wish-granting factory,” and John Green makes that clear in the book. It is heartbreaking at times, but it is real and honest. I’m sad because I read it, but I am glad that I did.

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