I manage a smile the first time I see him and it feels like the biggest lie I have ever told, so I hold my breath cos I’m thinking any minute now he’s going to call me on it. I hold my breath because I’m scared of a 57 pound boy hooked up to a machine because he’s been watching me and maybe I’ve got him pegged all wrong, like maybe he’s bionic or some shit. So I look away like just I made eye contact with a gang member who’s got a rap sheet the length of a lecture on dumb mistakes politicians have made. I look away like he’s going to give me my life back the moment I’ve got something to trade. I damn near pull out my pack and say, “Cigarette?”
But my fear subsides in the moment I realize Louis is all show and tell. He’s got everything from a shotgun shell to a crows foot and he can put them all in context. Like, “See, this is from a shooting range”, and “See, this is from a weird girl”. I watch his hands curl around a cuff-link and a tie-tack and realize that every nick-nack is a treasure and every treasure has a story, and every time I think I can’t handle more he hits me with another story. He says, “See, this is from my father” “See, this is from my brother” “See, this is from that weird girl” “See, this is from my mother”. Took me about two days to figure out that weird girl is his sister, it took him about two hours today after she left for him to figure out he missed her. And they visit every day, and stay well past visiting hours because for them that term doesn’t apply. But when they do leave, Louis and I are left alone. And he says, “The worst part about being sick is that you get all the free ice cream you ask for.” And he says, “The worst part about that is realizing there is nothing more they can do for you.” He says, “Ice cream can’t make everything okay.”
And there is no easy way of asking, and I know what he’s going to say but maybe he just needs to say it, so I ask him anyway. “Are you scared?” Louis doesn’t even lower his voice when he says, “Fuck yeah.” I listen to a 9 year old boy say the word fuck like he was a 30 year old man with a nose-bleed being lowered into a shark tank, he’s got a right to it. And if it takes this kid a curse word to help him get through it, then I want to teach him to swear like the devil’s sitting there taking notes with a pen and a pad. But before I can forget that Louis is 9 years old he says, “Please don’t tell my dad.”
He asks me if I believe in angels. And before I realize I don’t have the heart to tell him, I tell him, “Not lately.” and I just lay there waiting for him to hate me. But he doesn’t know how to, so he never does. Louis loves like a man who lived in a time before God gave religion to men and left it to them to figure out what hate was. He never greets me with silence, only smiles and a patience I’ve never seen in someone who knows they’re dying. And I’m trying so hard not to remind him I’ll be out of here in a couple days, smoking cigarettes and taking my life for granted. And he’ll still be planted in this bed like a flower that refuses to grow. I’ve been with him for 5 days and all I really know is that Louis loves to pull feathers out of his pillow, and watch them float to the ground. Almost as if he’s the philosopher inside of the scientist ready to say, “It’s gravity that’s been getting us down.”
The truth is: there’s not enough miracles to go around, kid. And there’s too many people petitioning God for the winning lotto ticket. And for every answered prayer, there’s a cricket with arthritis. And the only reason we can’t find answers is because the search party didn’t invite us, and Louis, right now the crickets have arthritis. So there is no music, no symphony of nature swelling to crescendos, as if ripping halos into melodies that can keep a rhythm with the way our hearts beat. So we must meet silence with the same level of noise that the parents of dying 9 year old boys make when they take liberties in talking with heaven. We must shout until we shatter in our own vibrations, then let our lives echo and grow, echo and grow, grow distant. Grow distant enough to know that as far as our efforts go, we don’t always get a reply.
But I swear to whatever God I can find in the time I have left, I’m going to remember you kid. I’m going to tell your story as often as every story you told me. And every time I tell it I’ll say, “See, there’s bravery in this world. There’s 6.5 billion people curled up like fists protesting death, but every breath we breathe has to be given back. A 9 year old boy taught me that.” So hold your breath, the same way you’d hold a pen when writing Thank You letters on your skin to every tree that gave you that breath to hold. And then let it go, as if you understand something about getting old and having to give back. Let it go like a laugh attack in the middle of really good sex, the black eye will be worth it. Because what is your night worth without a story to tell? And why wield a word like worth if you’ve got nothing to sell?
People drop pennies down a wishing well, so the cost of a desire is equal to that of a thought. But if you’ve got expectations, expect others have bought your exact same dream for the price of a ‘hard work, hang in, hold on’ mentality. Like, I accept any challenge so challenge me. Like, I brought a knife to this gun fight, but the other night I mugged a mountain so bring that shit, I’ve had practise. Louis and I cracked this world wide open and found that the prize inside is we never lied to ourselves. Never told ourselves that we’d be easy or undemanding. So we sing in our own vibration, and dare angels to eavesdrop and stop midflight to pluck feathers from their wings and write demands that God’s hands take the time to catch you. So, even if God doesn’t, it wasn’t because we didn’t try.
I don’t often believe in angels, but on the day I left Louis pulled a feather from his pillow and said, “This is for you.” I half expected him to say, “See, this is the first one I grew.”