I never ate the crust of my pizza. I threw away the drippy ends of ice cream cones. Just as I hated to take the final sip of my Oreo milkshake, I dreaded saying goodbye at the end of summer camp and resisted attending my own graduation from lower school. If I left a meal unfinished or a goodbye unsaid, I could somehow avoid an ending. By escaping endings, I could influence the course of events; I could control my future and write my story without concluding with “The End.”
I remember the exact moment when this belief changed. It was dinnertime. Usually my two sisters and I rolled into the kitchen haphazardly, between homework assignments, motivated only by our weekly intense discussion of the previous night’s Survivor episode. But tonight was different.
“Please come to the table now,” my mom said in an unfamiliar tone. She went on to explain that my dad had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma: cancer of the plasma cells in his blood. I looked to her right and my eyes met his. A lone tear slid down his face, frozen with remorse. As she continued, trying to downplay the danger, I squeezed my sister’s hand under the table. I was a pen running out of ink: one minute I was filled with the pleasures of everyday life, and the next I was struggling to produce even a word. The more mom assured us it was going to be okay, the more I realized that it wasn’t—not in the same way, ever again. The plate of spaghetti, prepared just the way I liked it, sat in front of me untouched.
Friends and family often commented on how my dad and I were the “same person.” We share an earnest appreciation for Art History, a love for the synergy of lacrosse and soccer, and a fanatical devotion to the script of School of Rock, which we have memorized word for word. We have the same lips that disappear when we smile, the same cheerful outlook on life, and the same capacity to learn from our mistakes.
When my dad’s shoulder began hurting and enormous pain seized his entire body, I no longer felt so similar to him. When I wanted to play with our dog in Central Park, an activity he would never refuse, he was napping in the living room. When I approached him for help with homework, looking at the text made him dizzy and nauseated. Once he was diagnosed and began chemotherapy, he became weaker and could no longer live at home. Doctors saw a danger in exposing him to the germs in our apartment; the messiness of our daily life could be lethal. Once the treatment ended and he was discharged, I left the hospital and prayed it would be the last time. Shutting the door to his cold, stark room, I unhooked the elastic bands of the surgical mask. I let out an exhausted sigh of relief: this chapter was one I was satisfied to finish.
Today the crusts on my pizza have lost their mystical significance for me. I certainly don't think they have any bearing on my future. But those crusts still stand out in memory as a marker of how my dad’s illness changed me. Instead of trying to control the future and to write my own endings, I now spend my life immersed in the present. I have learned to truly focus on the moment rather than worrying about what lies ahead. I appreciate every fresh experience as a gift, from watching Shark Week Marathons to biking along the Henry Hudson Parkway. Every minute I get to spend with my dad is perfect, and I enjoy each slice to the last bite.