Thursday, September 10
Jackie Stone loved her father. She loved him a lot.
She kept a photo of her dad, Jared, taped to the inside of her locker at school. It was a recent selfie of the two of them on a ski lift. Wisps of Jackie’s blond hair poked out from beneath her hat but did nothing to obscure the smile stretching from one side of her face to the other. Whenever the day got rough, which for Jackie was more often than not, she would sneak a peek at that photo. It had become a kind of visual security blanket.
On the days Jackie’s father wasn’t in Salem, where he served in the Oregon state legislature, she would find him barricaded in his study. Jackie suspected he was just as likely playing games on his Wii as he was working. The joy her dad took in beating Tiger Woods at his own game, even on a virtual golf course, made her love him even more. Either way, she knew better than to interrupt her father when that door was closed.
But Thursdays were different.
It was her father’s day to run errands for the household—the grocery store, the post office, the dry cleaner’s—and then head to the gym. On returning home, he’d drop his bag of sweaty workout clothes just inside the front door, take the stairs two at a time, and squeeze in next to Jackie on the top step. They would talk for a bit, eat a family dinner with Jackie’s mother and sister, and then snuggle on the couch and channel surf the TV. She and her dad called it “father-daughter date night,” and it was Jackie’s favorite time of the week.
Even at fifteen, curling into the warmth and safety of her father’s shoulder gave Jackie a feeling of peace and comfort that she found nowhere else in the world. She knew he felt the same.
But the wait for her father to come home on this Thursday was interminable.
He was late.
Jared Stone liked his brain. He liked it a lot.
Sure, there were times—the monotony of the evening commute, the late innings of a lopsided baseball game, the comforting repetition of the weekly church service—when it would seem to shut down, switch to some kind of autopilot. But for the most part, Jared’s brain was hard at work.
It helped him navigate the halls of the state capitol, where he was serving his fourth two-year term representing the good people of Portland. It told him how to read the inscrutable faces of his wife, Deirdre, and his two teenage daughters, Jackie and Megan; to know when they needed him or when he should give them a wide berth. It knew which foods tasted good, which women were attractive, and which colleagues had a problem with body odor. And it seemed, generally speaking, to know right from wrong. Jared’s brain, you could say, was his best friend. Which is what made it so hard to hear that his brain had a high-grade glioblastoma multiforme—or would have made it hard had Jared known what a high-grade glioblastoma multiforme was.
“A glio what?” he asked.
The doctor, a gray-haired woman with a square jaw and white sandals like Jared’s aunt Eva used to wear, looked at him for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Jared. It’s a brain tumor.”
He let the words roll around his brain: I’m sorry, Jared. It’s a brain tumor. Was she sorry that it was a tumor, or sorry that she hadn’t made herself clear when she used the term “high-grade glioblastoma multiforme”? Was the part of his brain that he was using at that very moment the part with the tumor?
“And?” he asked.
“And it’s not good news,” the doctor answered.
“Not good news?” Jared heard the words but was having trouble following the conversation. He knew he needed to focus, knew it was more important now than ever that he focus, but he just couldn’t seem to do it. It was this intermittent lack of focus, these spells of confusion and memory loss, along with the persistent pain in his right temple, that had brought him to the neurologist in the first place.
“No,” the doctor said. She waited for Jared to catch up.
“Not good news,” he said, now understanding.
“Inoperable,” Jared repeated, this time understanding immediately.
“The only course of therapy I can prescribe is palliative.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor. I don’t know that word.” Though he didn’t know if that had always been true, or if he had once known the word and had forgotten it.
“It means we can try to alleviate your suffering, but we can’t do anything about the growth. It’s going to stay.”
“The growth is going to stay?”