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Isaac makes out with his girlfriend, Monica, and they whisper the promise "always" in each other's ear. Gus pulls out a cigarette as they watch and wait; Hazel explodes at him, convinced it is his hamartia, or fatal flaw, until Gus explains it is a metaphor for putting a cancer-causing thing that can kill him in his mouth but choosing not to light it. She tells her mother she will be going over to Gus's house that evening.
Analysis The first-person point of view limits what the reader can know initially about how other characters see Hazel, but the story is just beginning. Constrained by the cancer flooding her lungs with fluid and weakening her ability to interact with people, Hazel retreats into her books and herself.
She feels guilty even as she knows there is nothing she did to cause the cancer. What she wants more is to lessen the pain she thinks she is causing her family rather than make an impact on the people around her. In contrast, Gus is convinced life must have meaning. On one hand, the difference in their outlooks is based on their current situations; Gus has been cancer-free for almost a year whereas Hazel's body is in the thick of its fight against her cancer.
She is depressed and wondering how much longer she has to live. Hazel's main concern is in the pain she is putting her family through, but Gus's main concern is how others perceive him as exemplified by his placement of an unlit cigarette between his lips as a visual metaphor of his defiant stand against the disease that took his leg. Hazel is attracted to him in part because he is decidedly not depressed and is quite an interesting and engaging boy who is also quite good-looking in her eyes.
They soon discover they both place great importance in words. Gus uses lots of metaphors and names things because naming something places the power in his hands. Hazel's concern is with the use of words and the impact they have on people. I wondered if that felt good. Didn't seem like it would, but I decided to forgive Isaac on the grounds that he was going blind.
The senses must feast while there is yet hunger and whatever. I'm trying to observe young love in its many- splendored awkwardness. He flipped it open and put a cigarette between his lips.
Oh, my God, you just ruined the whole thing. The cigarette dangled unlit from the unsmiling corner of his mouth. Oh, my God. Let me just assure you that not being able to breathe? Totally disappointing. It tightened his jaw. He had a hell of a jawline, unfortunately. I stepped toward the curb, leaving Augustus Waters behind me, and then I heard a car start down the street.
It was Mom. She'd been waiting for me to, like, make friends or whatever. I felt this weird mix of disappointment and anger welling up inside of me. I don't even know what the feeling was, really, just that there was a lot of it, and I wanted to smack Augustus Waters and also replace my lungs with lungs that didn't suck at being lungs. I was standing with my Chuck Taylors on the very edge of the curb, the oxygen tank ball-and-chaining in the cart by my side, and right as my mom pulled up, I felt a hand grab mine.
I yanked my hand free but turned back to him. It's a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing. Mom was just idling. The big, goofy, real smile. Tapped the window. It rolled down. Whether stopping or starting, everything happened with a tremendous JOLT. I flew against the seat belt of his Toyota SUV each time he braked, and my neck snapped backward each time he hit the gas.
I might have been nervous— what with sitting in the car of a strange boy on the way to his house, keenly aware that my crap lungs complicate efforts to fend off unwanted advances —but his driving was so astonishingly poor that I could think of nothing else. We'd gone perhaps a mile in jagged silence before Augustus said, "I failed the driving test three times. My doctors say most amputees can drive with no problem, but.
Not me. Anyway, I go in for my fourth driving test, and it goes about like this is going. Augustus slammed on the brakes, tossing me into the triangular embrace of the seat belt. I swear to God I am trying to be gentle.
Right, so anyway, at the end of the test, I totally thought I'd failed again, but the instructor was like, Your driving is unpleasant, but it isn't technically unsafe. The light turned green. I braced myself. Augustus slammed the gas. I knew osteosarcoma was highly curable, but still. There are a number of ways to establish someone's approximate survival expectations without actually asking.
I used the classic: A year behind, though: I'm a sophomore. No one likes a corpse, after all. But in the end I told the truth. I told Augustus the broad outline of my miracle: I didn't tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. You're a woman. Now die. It was, we were told, incurable.
I had a surgery called radical neck dissection, which is about as pleasant as it sounds. Then radiation.
Then they tried some chemo for my lung tumors. The tumors shrank, then grew. By then, I was fourteen. My lungs started to fill up with water. I was looking pretty dead— my hands and feet ballooned; my skin cracked; my lips were perpetually blue. They've got this drug that makes you not feel so completely terrified about the fact that you can't breathe, and I had a lot of it flowing into me through a PICC line, and more than a dozen other drugs besides. But even so, there's a certain unpleasantness to drowning, particularly when it occurs over the course of several months.
I finally ended up in the ICU with pneumonia, and my mom knelt by the side of my bed and said, "Are you ready, sweetie? And I remember wanting not to be awake. Everyone figured I was finished, but my Cancer Doctor Maria managed to get some of the fluid out of my lungs, and shortly thereafter the antibiotics they'd given me for the pneumonia kicked in.
I woke up and soon got into one of those experimental trials that are famous in the Republic of Cancervania for Not Working. The drug was Phalanxifor, this molecule designed to attach itself to cancer cells and slow their growth. It didn't work in about 70 percent of people. But it worked in me. The tumors shrank. And they stayed shrunk. Huzzah, Phalanxifor! In the past eighteen months, my mets have hardly grown, leaving me with lungs that suck at being lungs but could, conceivably, struggle along indefinitely with the assistance of drizzled oxygen and daily Phalanxifor.
Admittedly, my Cancer Miracle had only resulted in a bit of downloadd time. I did not yet know the size of the bit. But when telling Augustus Waters, I painted the rosiest possible picture, embellishing the miraculousness of the miracle. So I'm taking classes at MCC," which was our community college. I shoved his upper arm playfully. I could feel the muscle right beneath the skin, all tense and amazing. We made a wheels-screeching turn into a subdivision with eight-foot-high stucco walls.
His house was the first one on the left. A two- story colonial. We jerked to a halt in his driveway. I followed him inside. A wooden plaque in the entryway was engraved in cursive with the words Home Is Where the Heart Is, and the entire house turned out to be festooned in such observations. True Love Is Born from Hard Times promised a needlepointed pillow in their antique-furnished living room.
Augustus saw me reading. They were making enchiladas in the kitchen a piece of stained glass by the sink read in bubbly letters Family Is Forever. His mom was putting chicken into tortillas, which his dad then rolled up and placed in a glass pan. They didn't seem too surprised by my arrival, which made sense: The fact that Augustus made me feel special did not necessarily indicate that I was special.
Maybe he brought home a different girl every night to show her movies and feel her up. He was tall— almost as tall as Gus— and skinny in a way that parentally aged people usually aren't.
Strong, too. In the darkest days, the Lord puts the best people into your life. I like the freaking Encouragements. I really do. I just can't admit it because I'm a teenager. She was small and brunette and vaguely mousy. Also I don't, urn, eat meat? We'll vegetarianize some," she said. Gus opened his mouth to respond but then stopped himself. His mom filled the silence. Living room. I followed him down carpeted stairs to a huge basement bedroom. A shelf at my eye level reached all the way around the room, and it was stuffed solid with basketball memorabilia: There were also lots of signed balls and sneakers.
He bent at the waist and snatched up V for Vendetta. All at once, I couldn't figure out why I was methodically tossing a spherical object through a toroidal object. It seemed like the stupidest thing I could possibly be doing. Anyway, for the longest time, I just kept sinking free throws. I hit eighty in a row, my all-time best, but as I kept going, I felt more and more like a two-year-old.
And then for some reason I started to think about hurdlers. Are you okay? I wasn't trying to be suggestive or anything; I just got kind of tired when I had to stand a lot. I'd stood in the living room and then there had been the stairs, and then more standing, which was quite a lot of standing for me, and I didn't want to faint or anything.
I was a bit of a Victorian Lady, fainting-wise. I don't know why. I started thinking about them running their hurdle races, and jumping over these totally arbitrary objects that had been set in their path. And I wondered if hurdlers ever thought, you know, This would go faster if we just got rid of the hurdles. I had a weekend between when they scheduled the amputation and when it happened. My own little glimpse of what Isaac is going through.
I liked Augustus Waters. I really, really, really liked him. I liked the way his story ended with someone else. I liked his voice.
I liked that he took existentially fraughtfree throws. And I liked that he had two names. I've always liked people with two names, because you get to make up your mind what you call them: Gus or Augustus? Me, I was always just Hazel, univalent Hazel.
I have nephews, from my half sisters. But they're older. They live in Chicago. They are both married to very fancy lawyer dudes. Or banker dudes. I can't remember. You have siblings? I was diagnosed when—" "No, not your cancer story. Your story.
Interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes, etcetera. I know so many people like that. It's disheartening.
Like, cancer is in the growth business, right? The taking-people-over business. But surely you haven't let it succeed prematurely. I struggled with how to pitch myself to Augustus Waters, which enthusiasms to embrace, and in the silence that followed it occurred to me that I wasn't very interesting.
Think of something you like. The first thing that comes to mind. From, like, hideous romance to pretentious fiction to poetry. I don't write. This tells me so much. You read a lot of capital-G great books, don't you? My favorite book, by a wide margin, was An Imperial Affliction, but I didn't like to tell people about it.
Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.
It wasn't even that the book was so good or anything; it was just that the author, Peter Van Houten, seemed to understand me in weird and impossible ways. An Imperial Affliction was my book, in the way my body was my body and my thoughts were my thoughts. Even so, I told Augustus. Augustus spun around to a stack of books beneath his bedside table. He grabbed a paperback and a pen. As he scribbled an inscription onto the title page, he said, "All I ask in exchange is that you read this brilliant and haunting novelization of my favorite video game.
I laughed and took it. Our hands kind of got muddled together in the book handoff, and then he was holding my hand. He stood, and pulled me up with him, and did not let go of my hand until we reached the stairs. We watched the movie with several inches of couch between us. I did the totally middle-schooly thing wherein I put my hand on the couch about halfway between us to let him know that it was okay to hold it, but he didn't try.
An hour into the movie, Augustus's parents came in and served us the enchiladas, which we ate on the couch, and they were pretty delicious. The movie was about this heroic guy in a mask who died heroically for Natalie Portman, who's pretty badass and very hot and does not have anything approaching my puffy steroid face. As the credits rolled, he said, "Pretty great, huh? It was kind of a boy movie.
I don't know why boys expect us to like boy movies. We don't expect them to like girl movies. Class in the morning," I said. I sat on the couch for a while as Augustus searched for his keys. His mom sat down next to me and said, "I just love this one, don't you?
This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate. He played me a couple songs he liked by a band called The Hectic Glow, and they were good songs, but because I didn't know them already, they weren't as good to me as they were to him.
I kept glancing over at his leg, or the place where his leg had been, trying to imagine what the fake leg looked like.
I didn't want to care about it, but I did a little. He probably cared about my oxygen. Illness repulses. I'd learned that a long time ago, and I suspected Augustus had, too. As I pulled up outside of my house, Augustus clicked the radio off. The air thickened. He was probably thinking about kissing me, and I was definitely thinking about kissing him. Wondering if I wanted to. I'd kissed boys, but it had been a while. I put the car in park and looked over at him.
He really was beautiful.
I know boys aren't supposed to be, but he was. Waters," I said. I felt shy looking at him. I could not match the intensity of his waterblue eyes.
There was an endearing nervousness in his voice. I smiled.
But I'm willing to wait all night and much of tomorrow. I grabbed the book from the center console. Spoiler alert: The price of dawn is blood. It wasn't An Imperial Affliction, but the protagonist, Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, was vaguely likable despite killing, by my count, no fewer than individuals in pages. So I got up late the next morning, a Thursday. Mom's policy was never to wake me up, because one of the job requirements of Professional Sick Person is sleeping a lot, so I was kind of confused at first when I jolted awake with her hands on my shoulders.
Mom hooked me up to a portable tank and then reminded me I had class. I mean the book. I shrugged.
I brought some paperwork. Anyway, time to face the day, young lady. Also, today is My mom was really super into celebration maximization.
That was an idea. I texted Kaitlyn, took a shower, got dressed, and then Mom drove me to school. My class was American Literature, a lecture about Frederick Douglass in a mostly empty auditorium, and it was incredibly difficult to stay awake. Forty minutes into the ninety-minute class, Kaitlyn texted back. A wesomesauce. Happy Half Birthday. Castleton at 3: Kaitlyn had the kind of packed social life that needs to be scheduled down to the minute.
I responded: Sounds good. Ill be at the food court. Mom drove me directly from school to the bookstore attached to the mall, where I downloadd both Midnight Dawns and Requiem for Mayhem, the first two sequels to The Price of Dawn, and then I walked over to the huge food court and bought a Diet Coke.
It was 3: I watched these kids playing in the pirate-ship indoor playground while I read. There was this tunnel that these two kids kept crawling through over and over and they never seemed to get tired, which made me think of Augustus Waters and the existentially fraught free throws. Mom was also in the food court, alone, sitting in a corner where she thought I couldn't see her, eating a cheesesteak sandwich and reading through some papers.
Medical stuff, probably. The paperwork was endless. She saw me the moment I raised my hand, flashed her very white and newly straightened teeth at me, and headed over.
She wore a knee-length charcoal coat that fit perfectly and sunglasses that dominated her face. She pushed them up onto the top of her head as she leaned down to hug me. Kaitlyn just happened to be an extremely sophisticated twenty-five-year-old British socialite stuck inside a sixteen-year-old body in Indianapolis.
Everyone accepted it. How are you? Is that diet? She sipped through the straw. Some of the boys have become downright edible. Like who? She proceeded to name five guys we'd attended elementary and middle school with, but I couldn't picture any of them. He's such a boy. But enough about me. What is new in the Hazelverse? But I didn't really have much to brag about, so I just shrugged. I've gotten kinda into it.
It's a series. Shall we shop? As we were shopping, Kaitlyn kept picking out all these open-toed flats for me and saying, "These would look cute on you," which reminded me that Kaitlyn never wore open-toed shoes on account of how she hated her feet because she felt her second toes were too long, as if the second toe was a window into the soul or something.
So when I pointed out a pair of sandals that would suit her skin tone, she was like, "Yeah, but. Oh," she said. Then she grabbed a pair of strappy hooker shoes and said, "Is it even possible to walk in these? I mean, I would just die— " and then stopped short, looking at me as if to say I'm sorry, as if it were a crime to mention death to the dying. I ended up just picking out some flip-flops so that I could have something to download, and then I sat down on one of the benches opposite a bank of shoes and watched Kaitlyn snake her way through the aisles, shopping with the kind of intensity and focus that one usually associates with professional chess.
I kind of wanted to take out Midnight Dawns and read for a while, but I knew that'd be rude, so I just watched Kaitlyn. Occasionally she'd circle back to me clutching some closed-toe prey and say, "This?
I didn't go home, though. I'd told Mom to pick me up at six, and while I figured she was either in the mall or in the parking lot, I still wanted the next two hours to myself. I liked my mom, but her perpetual nearness sometimes made me feel weirdly nervous. And I liked Kaitlyn, too. I really did. But three years removed from proper full-time schoolic exposure to my peers, I felt a certain unbridgeable distance between us. I think my school friends wanted to help me through my cancer, but they eventually found out that they couldn't.
For one thing, there was no through. So I excused myself on the grounds of pain and fatigue, as I often had over the years when seeing Kaitlyn or any of my other friends. In truth, it always hurt. It always hurt not to breathe like a normal person, incessantly reminding your lungs to be lungs, forcing yourself to accept as unsolvable the clawing scraping inside-out ache of underoxygenation. So I wasn't lying, exactly. I was just choosing among truths. I found a bench surrounded by an Irish Gifts store, the Fountain Pen Emporium, and a baseball-cap outlet— a corner of the mall even Kaitlyn would never shop, and started reading Midnight Dawns.
It featured a sentence-to-corpse ratio of nearly 1: I liked Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, even though he didn't have much in the way of a technical personality, but mostly I liked that his adventures kept happening. There were always more bad guys to kill and more good guys to save. New wars started even before the old ones were won. I hadn't read a real series like that since I was a kid, and it was exciting to live again in an infinite fiction.
Twenty pages from the end of Midnight Dawns, things started to look pretty bleak for Mayhem when he was shot seventeen times while attempting to rescue a blond, American hostage from the Enemy.
But as a reader, I did not despair. The war effort would go on without him. There could— and would— be sequels starring his cohorts: I was just about to the end when this little girl with barretted braids appeared in front of me and said, "What's in your nose? These tubes give me oxygen and help me breathe. Let's try. I focused on my breathing as Jackie handed the tubes back to me. I gave them a quick swipe with my T-shirt, laced the tubes behind my ears, and put the nubbins back in place.
I returned to the book, where Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem was regretting that he had but one life to give for his country, but I kept thinking about that little kid, and how much I liked her. The other thing about Kaitlyn, I guess, was that it could never again feel natural to talk to her. Any attempts to feign normal social interactions were just depressing because it was so glaringly obvious that everyone I spoke to for the rest of my life would feel awkward and self-conscious around me, except maybe kids like Jackie who just didn't know any better.
Anyway, I really did like being alone. I liked being alone with poor Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, who— oh, come on, he's not going to survive these seventeen bullet wounds, is he? He lives.
CHAPTER FOUR I went to bed a little early that night, changing into boy boxers and a T-shirt before crawling under the covers of my bed, which was queen size and pillow topped and one of my favorite places in the world. And then I started reading An Imperial Affliction for the millionth time.
AIA is about this girl named Anna who narrates the story and her one-eyed mom, who is a professional gardener obsessed with tulips, and they have a normal lower-middle- class life in a little central California town until Anna gets this rare blood cancer. But it's not a cancer book, because cancer books suck.
Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? Also, Anna is honest about all of it in a way no one else really is: Throughout the book, she refers to herself as the side effect, which is just totally correct.
Cancer kids are essentially side effects of the relentless mutation that made the diversity of life on earth possible. So as the story goes on, she gets sicker, the treatments and disease racing to kill her, and her mom falls in love with this Dutch tulip trader Anna calls the Dutch Tulip Man.
The Dutch Tulip Man has lots of money and very eccentric ideas about how to treat cancer, but Anna thinks this guy might be a con man and possibly not even Dutch, and then just as the possibly Dutch guy and her mom are about to get married and Anna is about to start this crazy new treatment regimen involving wheatgrass and low doses of arsenic, the book ends right in the middle of a I know it's a very literary decision and everything and probably part of the reason I love the book so much, but there is something to recommend a story that ends.
And if it can't end, then it should at least continue into perpetuity like the adventures of Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem's platoon. I understood the story ended because Anna died or got too sick to write and this midsentence thing was supposed to reflect how life really ends and whatever, but there were characters other than Anna in the story, and it seemed unfair that I would never find out what happened to them.
I'd written, care of his publisher, a dozen letters to Peter Van Houten, each asking for some answers about what happens after the end of the story: But he'd never responded to any of my letters.
AIA was the only book Peter Van Houten had written, and all anyone seemed to know about him was that after the book came out he moved from the United States to the Netherlands and became kind of reclusive.
I imagined that he was working on a sequel set in the Netherlands— maybe Anna's mom and the Dutch Tulip Man end up moving there and trying to start a new life. But it had been ten years since An Imperial Affliction came out, and Van Houten hadn't published so much as a blog post. I couldn't wait forever. As I reread that night, I kept getting distracted imagining Augustus Waters reading the same words.
I wondered if he'd like it, or if he'd dismiss it as pretentious. Then I remembered my promise to call him after reading The Price of Dawn, so I found his number on its title page and texted him. Price of Dawn review: Too many bodies. Not enough adjectives. Hows AIA? He replied a minute later: So I called. It's six hundred fifty-one pages long and I've had twenty-four hours.
I'm already on Requiem for Mayhem. So, okay, is the tulip guy a crook? I'm getting a bad vibe from him. When can I see you? Flirting was new to me, but I liked it. This old woman gave a lecture wherein she managed to talk for ninety minutes about Sylvia Plath without ever once quoting a single word of Sylvia Plath. When I got out of class, Mom was idling at the curb in front of the building.
After a second, I said, "Wanna go to a movie? Anything you've been wanting to see? We drove over to the Castleton theater and watched a 3-D movie about talking gerbils. It was kind of funny, actually. When I got out of the movie, I had four text messages from Augustus. Tell me my copy is missing the last twenty pages or something. Hazel Grace, tell me I have not reached the end of this book. Call me when you can. Hope all's okay. So when I got home I went out into the backyard and sat down on this rusting latticed patio chair and called him.
It was a cloudy day, typical Indiana: Our little backyard was dominated by my childhood swing set, which was looking pretty waterlogged and pathetic. Augustus picked up on the third ring.
Like the death cries of some injured animal. Gus turned his attention to Isaac. Does Support Group Hazel make this better or worse? If you could drive in a straight line, it would only take like five minutes to get from my house to Augustus's house, but you can't drive in a straight line because Holliday Park is between us. Even though it was a geographic inconvenience, I really liked Holliday Park. When I was a little kid, I would wade in the White River with my dad and there was always this great moment when he would throw me up in the air, just toss me away from him, and I would reach out my arms as I flew and he would reach out his arms, and then we would both see that our arms were not going to touch and no one was going to catch me, and it would kind of scare the shit out of both of us in the best possible way, and then I would legs-flailingly hit the water and then come up for air uninjured and the current would bring me back to him as I said again, Daddy, again.
I pulled into the driveway right next to an old black Toyota sedan I figured was Isaac's car. Carting the tank behind me, I walked up to the door. I knocked. Gus's dad answered. The sound. Can I carry your, uh, tank? Thanks, though, Mr. I was kind of scared to go down there. Listening to people howl in misery is not among my favorite pastimes. But I went. Hazel, a gentle reminder: Isaac is in the midst of a psychotic episode.
The screen was split between Isaac's point of view on the left, and Augustus's on the right. They were soldiers fighting in a bombed-out modern city.
I recognized the place from The Price of Dawn. As I approached, I saw nothing unusual: Only when I got parallel to them did I see Isaac's face. Tears streamed down his reddened cheeks in a continual flow, his face a taut mask of pain. He stared at the screen, not even glancing at me, and howled, all the while pounding away at his controller. Not even the slightest hint that he was aware of my existence. Just the tears flowing down his face onto his black T-shirt.
Augustus glanced away from the screen ever so briefly. I was wearing this just-past-the-knees dress I'd had forever. Too in love with Monica, I suppose," which resulted in a catastrophic sob. He just wants to cry and play Counterinsurgence 2: The Price of Dawn.
If you agree, head over to that power station, and I'll cover you. If you have any sage words of feminine advice. Augustus nodded at the screen. Moments later, tracer bullets started whizzing over their heads. Augustus sighed. You're the one who suggested we hole up in the freaking power station. They crouched behind a wall across the street and picked off the enemy one by one. His shoulders rounded over his controller, slamming buttons, his forearms taut, veins visible. Isaac leaned toward the screen, the controller dancing in his thin-fingered hands.
The waves of terrorists continued, and they mowed down every one, their shooting astonishingly precise, as it had to be, lest they fire into the school. Isaac dropped his controller in disappointment. His dismembered body exploded like a geyser and the screen went red. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a cigarette, and shoved it between his teeth. Maybe that's the minute that downloads them an hour, which is the hour that downloads them a year.
No one's gonna download them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that's not nothing. Isaac was wailing again. Augustus snapped his head back to him. He leaned over Augustus to look at me and through tightly strung vocal cords said, "She didn't want to do it after. He nodded, the tears not like tears so much as a quiet metronome— steady, endless. He wiped his sopping face with a sleeve.
Behind his glasses, Isaac's eyes seemed so big that everything else on his face kind of disappeared and it was just these disembodied floating eyes staring at me— one real, one glass.
Neither can you, but she doesn't haveto handle it. And you do. It was like I was already gone, you know? How can you just break the promise? Isaac shot me a look. But you keep the promise anyway. That's what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway. Don't you believe in true love? I didn't have an answer. But I thought that if true love did exist, that was a pretty good definition of it. And she promised. She promised me always. I pushed myself up, thinking he wanted a hug or something, but then he just spun around, like he couldn't remember why he'd stood up in the first place, and then Augustus and I both saw this rage settle into his face.
Pardon the double entendre, my friend, but there's something a little worrisome in your eyes. Isaac chased after the chair and kicked it again. Kick the shit out of that chair! Augustus looked over at me, cigarette still in his mouth, and half smiled. Isaac was still throttling the wall with the pillow.
He's never interviewed. He doesn't seem to be online. I've written him a bunch of letters asking what happens to everyone, but he never responds. Instead, he was squinting at Isaac. He walked over to Isaac and grabbed him by the shoulders. Try something that breaks. Isaac stomped on the trophy. The poor, mangled bodies of plastic basketballers littered the carpeted ground: Isaac kept attacking the trophies, jumping on them with both feet, screaming, breathless, sweaty, until finally he collapsed on top of the jagged trophic remnants.
Augustus stepped toward him and looked down. I had called him on the Night of the Broken Trophies, so per tradition it was his turn to call. But he didn't. Now, it wasn't as if I held my phone in my sweaty hand all day, staring at it while wearing my Special Yellow Dress, patiently waiting for my gentleman caller to live up to his sobriquet.
I went about my life: I met Kaitlyn and her cute but frankly not Augustinian boyfriend for coffee one afternoon; I ingested my recommended daily allowance of Phalanxifor; I attended classes three mornings that week at MCC; and every night, I sat down to dinner with my mom and dad. Sunday night, we had pizza with green peppers and broccoli. We were seated around our little circular table in the kitchen when my phone started singing, but I wasn't allowed to check it because we have a strict no-phones-during-dinner rule.
They met in the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea, and so whenever anything happened there, even something terrible, it was like all of a sudden they were not large sedentary creatures, but the young and idealistic and self-sufficient and rugged people they had once been, and their rapture was such that they didn't even glance over at me as I ate faster than I'd ever eaten, transmitting items from my plate into my mouth with a speed and ferocity that left me quite out of breath, which of course made me worry that my lungs were again swimming in a rising pool of fluid.
I banished the thought as best I could. I had a PET scan scheduled in a couple weeks. If something was wrong, I'd find out soon enough. Nothing to be gained by worrying between now and then. And yet still I worried. I liked being a person. I wanted to keep at it. Worry is yet another side effect of dying. Finally I finished and said, "Can I be excused? I grabbed my phone from my purse on the kitchen counter and checked my recent calls.
Augustus Waters. I went out the back door into the twilight. I could see the swing set, and I thought about walking out there and swinging while I talked to him, but it seemed pretty far away given that eating tired me. Instead, I lay down in the grass on the patio's edge, looked up at Orion, the only constellation I could recognize, and called him. That boy. Reading it, I just kept feeling like, like.
Don't apologize. I totally get it, like, I get that she died or whatever. It portrays death truthfully. You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence. But I do— God, I do really want to know what happens to everyone else. That's what I asked him in my letters.
But he, yeah, he never answers. You said he is a recluse? Waters,'" he answered. Vliegenthart this sixth of April, from the United States of America, insofar as geography can be said to exist in our triumphantly digitized contemporaneity.
I found her. I emailed her. She gave him the email. He responded via her email account. Keep reading. Vliegenthart into a series of Is and Os to travel through the insipid web which has lately ensnared our species, so I apologize for any errors or omissions that may result.
But I am particularly indebted to you, sir, both for your kind words about An Imperial Affliction and for taking the time to tell me that the book, and here I quote you directly, "meant a great deal" to you. What do you mean by meant? Given the final futility of our struggle, is the fleeting jolt of meaning that art gives us valuable? Or is the only value in passing the time as comfortably as possible? What should a story seek to emulate, Augustus? A ringing alarm? A call to arms? A morphine drip?
Of course, like all interrogation of the universe, this line of inquiry inevitably reduces us to asking what it means to be human and whether— to borrow a phrase from the angst-encumbered sixteen-year-olds you no doubt revile— there is a point to it all. But to answer your question: No, I have not written anything else, nor will I.
I do not feel that continuing to share my thoughts with readers would benefit either them or me. Thank you again for your generous email. I spent the next two hours writing an email to Peter Van Houten. It seemed to get worse each time I rewrote it, but I couldn't stop myself. Dear Mr. My friend Augustus Waters, who read An Imperial Affliction at my recommendation, just received an email from you at this address. I hope you will not mind that Augustus shared that email with me.
Van Houten, I understand from your email to Augustus that you are not planning to publish any more books. In a way, I am disappointed, but I'm also relieved: I never have to worry whether your next book will live up to the magnificent perfection of the original. Or at least you got me right.
Your book has a way of telling me what I'm feeling before I even feel it, and I've reread it dozens of times. I wonder, though, if you would mind answering a couple questions I have about what happens after the end of the novel.
I understand the book ends because Anna dies or becomes too ill to continue writing it, but I would really like to know what happens to Anna's mom— whether she married the Dutch Tulip Man, whether she ever has another child, and whether she stays at W.
Temple, etc. Also, is the Dutch Tulip Man a fraud or does he really love them? What happens to Anna's friends— particularly Claire and Jake? Do they stay together? And lastly— I realize that this is the kind of deep and thoughtful question you always hoped your readers would ask— what becomes of Sisyphus the Hamster?
These questions have haunted me for years— and I don't know how long I have left to get answers to them. I know these are not important literary questions and that your book is full of important literary questions, but I would just really like to know.
And of course, if you ever do decide to write anything else, even if you don't want to publish it, I'd love to read it. Frankly, I'd read your grocery lists. Yours with great admiration, Hazel Grace Lancaster age 16 After I sent it, I called Augustus back, and we stayed up late talking about An Imperial Affliction, and I read him the Emily Dickinson poem that Van Houten had used for the title, and he said I had a good voice for reading and didn't pause too long for the line breaks, and then he told me that the sixth Price of Dawn book, The Blood Approves, begins with a quote from a poem.
It took him a minute to find the book, but finally he read the quote to me. I believe Max Mayhem would refer to that as 'sissy shit. God, Mayhem grits his teeth a lot in these books. He's definitely going to getTMJ, if he survives all this combat. My kissing— all prediagnosis— had been uncomfortable and slobbery, and on some level it always felt like kids playing at being grown.
But of course it had been a while. And then after a second, "Caroline is no longer suffering from personhood. I'd known plenty of dead people, of course. But I'd never dated one.