by Gabby Senger
White walls. White tiled floors. White gown. The smells of chemicals. The constant sound of beeping machines. Indicating whether the patient was dead or alive. Some days Caleb would count the number of beeps he heard. Often he lost count. Getting lost in his thoughts, apparently thinking of me. Im nothing special, but that’s what he dreamt of while trying to keep count of those menacing beeps. Those menacing beeps which dictate his future. Well, the lack of future.
Caleb was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 6 years old. He was wearing a plain blue polo shirt, cargo shorts with little puppy embellishments, and his favorite scooby doo sneakers, which he attempted to wear as much as possible. That morning he begged and begged his mother to let him wear them to the appointment. “Caleb, baby, those don’t match” she said in a loving but annoyed tone. “But mommy, my shorts have doggies on them, and scooby doo is a dog, so they do match”. “Well, i guess you’re right” she says while laughing, reminded how grateful she is for her smart, healthy little boy. How ironic that thought was.
After the appointment Caleb’s mother wasn’t the same. It’s almost as a piece of her was left in the hospital, and she’ll never be able to get it back. In a way she was dying with her son. Caleb knew too. So did his father. His father shut Caleb’s cancer out while his mother was focused on it at all times. Ultimately it destroyed their family. But that’s a story for a different time.
Because of this cancer Caleb switched schools quite often. Moving to better hospital, moving from bullies, moving to find Caleb’s mother a stable job. They moved three times within six months. All of this was extremely hard on Caleb emotionally, but it seemed as if all his parents cared about was his physical well being. They were too blind to see what they were doing to their son. By the time Caleb was 13, he was extremely shy and socially awkward. This caused a big problem with schooling. He begged and begged his parents to homeschool or online school but they would always make an excuse. “We don’t have the money for that”, “you need experience with people”, i could go on and on. He had no friends at his any of the schools he gone to except one. The to last school he ever went to.
He was a nervous wreck on his first day. He spent thirty minutes in the shower giving himself a pep talk. He looked at himself in the mirror with a face of disgust. All he could see was his bald head. Not his amazing blue gray eyes or that smile of his. His smile could convince me to do anything.
Caleb has always been extremely smart. He was born smart. He had a passion for learning. He took all advanced honors classes and a numerous amount of AP classes. I was so lucky to meet him. We had honors english together for third period period our junior year. I remember his first day. Mr.Piper introduced him in front of the class and i could tell that Caleb was embarrassed by his flushed cheeks. He was extremely tall and skinny. Mr.Piper assigned him the seat right next to me. I was determined to be friends with him, it looked like he needed one. I spent the next week trying to start a conversation with him. All my attempts failed. He somehow always escaped from it. Acting as if he didn’t hear me of just say a cold yeah. That went on for a long month, but i didn’t mind. I knew that it affected him one way or another. Whenever i saw him in the hallway i would smile and say hi. But then one day he wasn’t there. I just assumed that he was sick or tired and stayed home. But then a few days passed. Then a week. I got worried. I was mad at myself for being worried. This kid has never talked to me or attempted to be my friend, why should i be worried about him. But i cared about him and couldn’t figure out why.
Two weeks later Caleb returned. He looked different, paler than before. He looked sick. I remember the first real conversation we had. He asked in a quiet shy voice, “Uh do you think you could help me get caught up on my work?”. I was so surprised i didn’t know what to say. “Of course” i said and smiled. That week we stayed after school in the library almost every day. It was mainly us just working separately. He didn’t need my help. Now i think back on it and realize he just wanted my presence for comfort. On the third day of “helping”, i got the courage to ask him why he was gone. He has a tumor by one of his lungs, he was getting chemo.
We were waiting outside for his dad, i already drove, i just waited with him. I offered to take him home but he denied my offer saying his dad will be here any second and that i should just go. I denied that. After 20 minutes i offered again and he finally accepted. On the way to his house we sat in silence for a while. Then out of nowhere he said thank you. I asked why. “For helping me”. “I didn’t help you” i said confused. “You did. Can we be friends?”. I laughed a little and he blushed and looked down. “I’m not laughing at you Caleb, i’m laughing because i’ve been trying to be friends with you for while” and laughed again. He laughed too and said oh. The rest of the car ride we just jammed to the radio.
We started hanging out outside of school and i got to know the real Caleb. Caleb was a nature fanatic. He was specifically interested in trees. He told me about one of his old houses they had an apple tree in the back yard and he would climb it and eat apples until his stomach would hurt. He said it’s one of the happiest memories he has. We went to parks, hiked, and when he was sick we would watch movies and i’d make him soup. I was at his house all the time. We became best friends. Caleb was the nicest and most kindhearted person i have ever met and ever will met. He would never hurt anyone or anything. He couldn’t even kill a bug! If he stepped on an ant on accident he would feel guilty the rest of the day. I think it was because he was sick that he didn’t want to kill because he didn’t want to die. I didn’t want him to die either. I was falling in love with him.
A few months passed and Caleb was getting better. The chemo was working and his hair even started to grow back. Starch black hair started sprouting out of his head. He was the happiest i’ve ever seen him, and that made me happy. We were watching a movie one day, one of the Austin Powers movies, and we started to cuddle and he said “Will you go out with me?” I raised my head off his shoulder and smiled so big i thought my face was going to fall off. “Yes Caleb” i said and we cuddled more.
Our first date we went out to eat at my favorite restaurant, saw a movie, and then went on a park at night. Caleb planned it of course. We swung in the dark telling each other stories then we walked around and the most ironic thing happened, we found an apple tree. “Oh my gosh! Caleb and apple tree!” i said while running over to it. He chased after me and hugged me. He reached up and got us both apples and we sat under the tree eating apples and threw our apple cores as far as we could. Before we left he kissed me under that apple tree.
It was about 3 am when we left the park. Neither of us were tired so i snuck in and we watched a movie in his room. I can’t remember what movie but we weren’t watching it. I know what you’re thinking, no we weren’t having sex, just talking. I loved listening to Caleb’s stories, he told the best. He talked about all the houses and places he’s lived in, his old childhood friends, the pets he’s had and wanted, his first kiss, everything he told me i enjoied. I imagined all the things he described in my head, sometimes i would even close my eyes. Not for long though, i loved to stare into Caleb’s icey eyes. His eyes were so cold but he was so warm.
The next year contained the best moments of my life.
My birthday was coming up and Caleb kept telling me he had a huge surprise but he would give me any hints. I would sit there and pout trying to get a hint out of him be he would never give in. “You look cute when you pout” he would say while smiling then hug me.
After the longest two weeks of my life i finally got that big surprise. Caleb made me dinner and we made desert together and had a romantic night on Caleb’s back porch. He got me a movie i wanted and a picture of us in a beautiful frame. Right as it was getting dark he said “Come on, i have another surprise.” We got in my car and he drove. I had no idea where we were off to but i sat there and guessed as he was driving. “Are we going star watching?” “No.” he replied. “Uh are we going skydiving?” He laughed “No, now stop guessing!”. “Fine” i said as he looked over and smiled at me then grabbed my hand. He pulled over into a parking lot and said “Okay now i’m gunna blindfold you. No peeking!”. “Caleb, oh my god.” i said then laughed. He blindfolded me and off we were. I tried to peek a few times but Caleb caught me. “I said no peeking, you butt!”. I just laughed and fixed the blindfold that.
After what seemed like hours we finally got there. He went over and opened my door and lead me out of the car. I could tell we were walking on grass or dirt, something softer than pavement. Caleb stopped me and then told me i could take my blindfold off. When i took it off we were under that apple tree from our first date and Caleb was down on one knee infront of me with the most beautiful simple ring i’ve ever seen. I automatically started to cry. “I know we’re just 18 but i know i love you and i want to spend the rest of my life with you. Whether that be a year or sixty, I love you!”. “Yes, yes yes yes” i said while still crying. He stood up at wiped my tears away and once again, kissed me under that apple tree and we made love.
A month later Caleb got sick again. He went to get a check up, i went with him. I was a wreck but i held it together, for him. We went into the place he knew so well. His second home. A nurse led us into a room. We both sat on the examining table, i was glued to his side. His doctor came in and scheduled a MRI and we left. Simple enough.
I went with Caleb for his MRI. I sat in the waiting room with his mom trying to small talk. Waiting for the dreadful news. Caleb and his doctor came out. I knew it was bad as soon as i saw his doctor’s face. Caleb had a tumor growing on his brain. They weren’t sure if it was cancer but the needed to get a piece of it out to test it. If it was cancer they would remove it and he would have three months of chemo in the hospital. If it wasn’t cancer they would remove it and he would spend a few days recovering then be able to go home. I don’t believe in god but at that moment i prayed. To god, to someone, something, anything that could help.
A week later we were in that waiting room again. This time waiting to see if the tumor was cancerous. I prayed that it wasn’t. After the procedure was over the doctor came out and gave us the news. “I’m afraid it is cancerous. I’m so sorry.” I’ll never forget those words, the way the doctor said it, i knew he had never been in love. He said he was sorry but he didn’t truly understand what he was sorry for.
Now i was praying that Caleb could get through the chemo. Just get through and the cancer to go. To find someone else who deserves to die. Not my Caleb. I was a wreck, i was at the hospital everyday beside him. I started getting extremely nauseous and deep down inside i knew why. But i decided to take a test before i told Caleb. I left a note beside Caleb just incase he woke up, i told him i was going to the little grocery store on the first floor of the hospital and i shouldn’t be long. I got in the elevator and went down to the store. Hopefully they had what i needed. And sure enough they did. I bought two pregnancy tests, just to be sure.
The lady at the checkout looked at me with disgust. Like i was a disgrace to the human race. She didn’t truly understand either. I immediately felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Not a lot of people find true love, and i can die knowing i have.
I got back in the elevator, the tests in my hoodies pocket. As soon as i got in Caleb’s room i checked on him. He hadn’t budged. Still asleep, snoring a little. I took the note and threw it in the trashcan. I went into the bathroom and took both tests. They both came back positive. We were pregnant.
I was excited, but more scared. I couldn’t imagine raising a child without Caleb. He has to live now, not just for me but for our unborn child. I didn’t know how to tell Caleb but i wanted to tell him when he was feeling better so i waited a few days. Around eight o’clock on a friday i told him. We were cuddled up in the hospital bed watching a movie. He was doing pretty good, he kept his lunch and dinner down which was a great accomplishment. I asked him how he was feeling and he said okay. “Caleb, i have to tell you something. Please don’t freak out.” I knew Caleb would freak out. I said that mainly to myself. “I’m pregnant” i said. “I know” he said. I was so confused and shocked. “Wait what?” i asked while laughing a little. “I saw the pregnancy tests in the trash can. I had a feeling we were though. I’m so excited to be a dad!” he said then kissed me on my forehead. I loved him so much.
The next six months were hard on Caleb but harder on me. I couldn’t stand to watch him suffer. He was in and out of the hospital getting chemo. The cancer left then came back then left and came back again. Caleb wanted to live long enough to see our child. I wanted Caleb to live forever. I continued to pray to an unknown entity, for a healthy baby and for Caleb to get healthy and live.
I was getting fatter and fatter by the day. Caleb loved to rub and kiss my baby bump. He wanted a girl and i wanted a boy. We agreed that if we had a bot i could name him and if we had a girl he could name her. I liked the name Michael Caleb Jones or Carter Caleb Jones. He liked the name Rose Lillian Jones or Lillian Rose Jones.
A few months passed and Caleb was well enough to hold my hand while i was in labor. We had a beautiful baby girl, Lillian Rose Jones. We were so thankful for Lillian. Caleb was the best father ever. He changed her diapers, fed her, played with her, cuddled her, he loved her. She was a daddy’s girl definitely. They have the same eyes and smile, she got my brown hair. She was the most beautiful baby girl ever.
Six months later Caleb passed peacefully though. At home with Lillian and I right beside him. He told me he was going to die the happiest man alive. He was no longer scared of dying. He meet his two true loves, Lillian and i.
And that’s how your father and i met, fell in love, and how he died, Lillian.
Jeffersonville High School, 2019