This is the final installment of a three-part short story which spans my 11th and 12th anniversaries of surviving bone cancer. You can read the first two parts here (in order):
The Journey of Ewing Sarcoma
Ewing Sarcoma and a Purpose Driven Life: Part I
Ewing would need an assistant to help him fulfill his purpose. He considered contacting local high schools for cheap labor, but who was he kidding—nobody was as brilliant or fun as Pong. Some of their oxy and sewage-charged evenings were epic. If he returned his brain to that precise chemical imbalance then maybe he would remember the forest trails that led back to Pong.
Ewing had a foreboding feeling about Pong. He couldn’t build the proper bartering wealth to attain his drug concoction soon enough. Full of shame and conviction, he engaged in one more sexual act with a forest creature in exchange for drugs.
Ewing recalled the formula Pong had developed for the perfect high, and re-calculated based on his increased weight (hey, it’s hard to keep the fat off). He mixed his two drugs and waited, though not for long. He saw the path so vividly in his mind, as if it were implanted! Ewing jumped up and hopped through the forest toward Pong faster than he ever had before.
When his vision ended he stopped hopping and was certain the longitude and latitude were precise. He called to his friend, “Pooooooong!” until he couldn’t breathe, and then yelled again, over and over. No response. Ewing feared the worst as his heart ached with regret. He should have taken his small friend with him when he stupidly thought he was dying. Ewing sobbed himself to sleep.
Sometimes Ben lost his way. He ate unclean food and allowed unclean thoughts to penetrate his mind. Worst, he sometimes lost sight of where he came from.
On his 11th cancer-free anniversary Ben had recalled the perception of his tumor that he drew before beginning cancer treatment, when he was 16. He had used that picture to motivate him to anger. Ben must have gotten soft in his late twenties because he grew to see that picture as a symbol, a reminder of where he came from. So that he would never again lose his way, Ben got a permanent tattoo of Ewing. I’ll bring Ewing back to life, Ben said jokingly.
Ben laughed out loud at his next thought—tattoos are addictive and it is time for a new one. He couldn’t wait to tell his mom about his new tattoo idea. Maybe he would tell her on his 12th anniversary of surviving Ewing’s sarcoma, on September 14, 2013, at 3:40 p.m. Ben looked at the timestamp of this blog story…er, I mean his watch. Damn time flies!
He picked up the phone. “Hey mom…”
Once again, a crying mouse awakened Ewing. He rubbed his big eyes and then had to blink hard. He was staring at Pong! But Pong was sort of grayish, and also wearing a red ninjutsu robe.
Ewing rifled off sentences without breaks. “Pong I looked for you I’m so sorry I left you I shouldn’t have left you I’m sorry my friend Pong oh dear Pong I’m so glad I found you please forgive me!”
Pong spoke softly. “Dear Ewing Sarcoma, I forgive you, though you need not even apologize. You were wonderful to me and I felt you needed space to find you own path.
“I was able to survive for a long time. I outsmarted my predators and talked my way out of being eaten. Sometimes I had to negotiate my survival by committing sexual acts. Oh, that horror and shame, but I longed to live. What can I say—I’m a hopeful motherfu…”
“What do you mean ‘able to survive for a long time,’” Ewing interrupted.
“Ewing: I am deceased, consumed by a rat snake. Of everything I survived and all the potential ways to go, can you believe it was a rat snake? That still pisses me off. But Ewing, my best friend forever, I met my father in limbo. As I suspected, my father is Master Splinter. I do not hate him any longer. With my superior intellectual capacities and his 749 years of crystallized, albeit diminishing, knowledge, we concocted a new drug that lets me straddle life and death.”
“I don’t understand,” Ewing said with tears streaming down his face.
“Ewing, I will always be with you, but only you can see me.”
Ewing’s simple mind still couldn’t understand, but AlternatePong was here, talking with him, and nothing else mattered! Ewing told AlternatePong about his new purpose in life and how he needed help. AlternatePong was thrilled to assist.
Ewing and AlternatePong worked on their mutual life purpose—helping sick children feel comfort, empowerment and joy. They worked on a precise schedule because AlternatePong had to take his quasi life-sustaining drug every six hours, with just a four-minute window before and after. “That’s more intense than the pill schedule for someone with HIV,” Ewing said.
For four hours three times a day, they worked together under their favorite oak tree. They brainstormed, contacted stakeholders, and drafted communications and marketing plans. Ewing and AlternatePong loved children and how they saw the world. Ewing’s journey to find his life’s purpose was long and hard, but every second of their work was rewarding.
Ben finished talking to his mom, who congratulated him on 12 years of freedom from cancer. “If you get another tattoo then I’ll be forced to get one, too,” she also said.
“I’ll help you choose your design.” He could always call her bluff.
Ben poured a glass of wine and walked to his community pool. It was 75 degrees and beautiful. A little boy was playing in the pool, splashing and laughing wildly. He swam to Ben and introduced himself as Timmy. Ben’s eyes drifted to the bump on Timmy’s chest, under his skin. Ben would recognize that port, which delivers chemotherapy, any day. “What is that picture on you?” Timmy asked.
Ben thought hard about how to answer. He looked toward his ribcage at Ewing. “This guy? This is Ewing. Do you want to hear more about Ewing?”
Ben rushed into his home and printed the design of Ewing that his tattoo artist had used, placed tape on the back of the paper, and then brought it to Timmy. “Timmy, meet your new friend, Ewing. Though he doesn’t have super powers like you do, he can be your sidekick if you let him.”
Ben pressed Ewing onto the front of Timmy’s little bookbag. “Ewing will listen to you when you’re sad, motivate you to be strong, and fight illness with you. Ewing can be your secret protector!”
Timmy loved Ewing. “Can just anyone have Ewing?”
“No, Timmy. Only kids who have to deal with illness can get a Ewing. He knows what you’re going through and how isolating cancer can be. But he also knows that you have a special perspective and a unique story to tell, someday, when you’re ready. You already have a ‘cool’ factor, and now you have a Ewing!”
The next day Ben printed dozens of stickers of Ewing and gave them to Timmy. “Now you can take him everywhere.”
Ben returned to his home and poured another glass of wine, thinking back on his 13 years with Ewing, 12 as a survivor. You gave me motivation, hope and perspective. Now you helped Timmy. So I guess you gave me purpose, too. On this Day of Atonement I am sorry I ever threw you in the garbage can. It turns out I always needed you, Ewing.
Ewing woke up hearing Ben’s thoughts. He was so overcome with joy that he hadn’t noticed AlternatePong and Master Splinter next to him, or that his blue spots looked somewhat transparent. “Where are we?”
AlternatePong answered. “Were you able to comprehend that crazy ass Freud when you read his work?”
“Of course not. He was crazy.”
“Well, he was one crazy ass but…”
“Just tell him,” Master Splinter interrupted.
AlternatePong complied. “Ewing: we are all different layers of Ben’s preconscious and unconscious mind. That includes you.”
Ewing began sobbing violently. “What does that mean? Tell me, please!!”
“Ewing, we aren’t real. We are a part of Ben, sometimes guiding him towards right and sometimes just observing.”
Ewing wiped his eyes for the final time. He understood. The purpose he sought had always been correlated with Ben’s desires, morals and purpose. He, both Pongs and even Master Splinter were a part of Ben. And then just like that, Ewing knowingly closed his eyes for the final time, never feeling more at peace.
Ben sat down next to Ethan, a quiet 16-year-old boy who he volunteered to spend time with, in Ethan’s transplant room, offering a box of pizza.
“Is it pepperoni?” Ethan asked.
“It wouldn’t be pizza if it were anything else,” Ben said. “Oh wait, are you allowed to have this?”
“Ha-ha, so funny. You better have gotten me more than one slice for that comment.”
Ben arrived at the hospital just in time to watch the analysts’ predictions before the Redskins game. “Well, who ya got?”
“Never bet against RG3,” Ethan said.
“That’s my man,” Ben said to his young friend.
Next to Ethan stood his IV pole which held bags of liquid that dripped, dripped, dripped into him. And on each of those bags was a sticker of Ewing that some little kid was handing out a while back. Ethan used the stickers to cover the IV bags’ biohazard symbols. Oh, Timmy! Ben thought.
Before kickoff Ben looked at Ethan and smiled, and then looked up at Ewing. Ben chuckled. He could have sworn Ewing smiled back.
Postscript: If you wish to share then I would be more than grateful to hear your feedback on this three-part short story. After years of blogging I am still honored to have interested readers. Thank you.
Disclaimer: The character Ewing Sarcoma and its likeness are the property of Benjamin Rubenstein. All rights reserved.