Jasmine graduated two years later with a bachelors and associates degree in English Writing and Liberal Arts. I attended the ceremony with her family I met a year earlier. The Sullivan’s were nice people, they welcomed me into their home as one of their own. Her father asked what my intentions were for Jasmine and I told him to help her become the best person she could be.
He smiled and nodded approvingly.
Jasmine was the Valedictorian and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. She said she wanted to be a journalist for the Associated Press, and I told her she’d accomplish it easily. I, on the other hand, still wrote poetry only when it struck me and published in various magazines.
One time the editor from Deadman’s Tales called and asked me if I could write a collection of poems by next month for an anthology and I told him I could. That month I wrote five poems: A Deadly Present, Death of a Friend (Stan), Mentor’s Last Lesson (Stella), Twisted Mind, and A Deadman’s Kiss. Each poem only consisted of one stanza containing four or five lines. That was fine for the editor, he said it was less space and less money.
I didn’t see Jasmine much after her graduation, she was doing internships with various news organizations like CNN, CBS, ABC, among others. She would call occasionally to tell me how her life was going and that the times we had together were enjoyable. I took that as her way of letting me down easy, as saying her life had become too full for us to continue our relationship.
One night, two months later, while I was sleeping, a surge of creativity hit me like a Mack truck running over a toddler and I hopped out of bed and wrote the most divine poem I’d ever written in my life. It was the culmination of all my trials and tribulations over the years, being locked in the closet, my mentor dying in the car crash, my best friend being shot in an alley, the love Jasmine and I made, and the emptiness I felt in my heart despite it all.
I called it The Deadman’s Gift.
I ran into Jasmine again years later after I’d done an interview, the editors from Deadman’s Tales called me and asked if I could guest star on their podcast and that they’d pay me for my time. I said yes. I went to Times Square and saw Jasmine in a Starbucks on West Fifty-Third Street and went in to say hi. When she saw me, she shot up and ran over and we hugged.
“Oh my god, Rudy! How are you?” She asked.
I told her I was well and asked her the same, she told me her father just got promoted to management and that her mother had finally retired after twenty years as a pharmacy manager and is starting her own bakery. She also told me that she had a full-time position with Associated Press and couldn’t be happier.
I smiled and hugged her again.
She asked if we could catch up again at a place called A Night in Paradise, a new restaurant that just opened that’s been getting good reviews.
I said yes.
A Night in Paradise was classy yet authentic, a Vietnamese restaurant that had wooden tables and benches—with cushions—and bright, sparkling chandeliers. Jasmine and I were lucky enough to get our own table in the corner. We sat down and ordered, she had miso soup and I had a vegetable soup and we called it a meal. Jasmine asked me if I’d been taking care of myself because I looked awful, and I did look awful.
I’d been suffering depression for the last two and a half years but managed to keep a smile and upbeat attitude when Jasmine was around. After she graduated, it had come full force and I hadn’t been able to pull myself out of it. I had bad dreams about Stan and Stella dying in my arms, my hands caked with their blood and their last words being ‘you killed me, your poetry killed me!’ I’d wake up in a scorching sweat that quickly grew cold and my hands trembled, and tears flowed down my cheeks. My heart would ache, and I’d spend the rest of the night holding my knees and crying into them until the sun came up.
I told her I was doing the best I could, taking it one day at a time.
She asked me if I still published poetry and I told her I hadn’t been in a poetic mood lately. She asked me what was the matter and I told her I didn’t want to talk about it. Jasmine gave me that look she always gave when she wanted to know something, it was a look that drew your attention and held it there until her will was done, a look you couldn’t turn away from if you tried. It had curiosity, fierceness, motherly passion, and force.
Yes, something about that look she gave was forceful.
After thirty seconds of this look, I relented and told her about my depression and how I was having a horrible go of dealing with it. She asked had I gone to the doctor and I told her how useless that would be, that I didn’t trust myself with prescription pills and that I didn’t have a doctor. She said she was taking the day off from work tomorrow and taking me to a doctor whether I liked it or not. I tried to tell her I had no medical records and didn’t have any type of insurance, but she waved it away and promptly ended the discussion—if one could call it that.
That night, when I got home, I felt light-headed. I didn’t drink any alcohol—that was certain—yet, I felt drunkenness come over me. My legs wobbled, my vision blurred, the sound of my heartbeat pounded between my ears and a hollow, raspy, whisper permeated throughout my apartment. I tried to make it to my chair but fell after taking the first step.
The sound got louder and louder, the whisper became more pronounced. My legs numbed and my heart pounded like a caged savage, it became hard to breathe and I started wheezing. I crawled pitifully to my computer desk chair and pulled myself up, my heart practically punching my insides like a heavyweight boxer. I felt like I was being strangled or hung, gasping and reaching for air—my hands grabbing frantically at the nothingness that filled my apartment.
My eyes rolled to the back of my head as I fought for consciousness, life, and survival. The will to live and the force of self-preservation along with adrenaline kept me conscious for another minute before my body gave in and I faded out completely, the last sound I heard was my cell-phone ringing.
It was Jasmine. I was certain of that.
I woke up on the floor the next morning with the sun’s rays in my face. My eyes closed to the light and I moved out the way before opening them again. I felt something sticky at the back of my head and put a hand there to touch it. I brought it in front of me and saw it was blood.
I looked on the floor and saw a big puddle of it. I didn’t remember what happened the night before, it was only the day I decided to end this pitiful existence I remembered what happened. I got up and went to the bathroom to see if I had a first-aid kit. An exercise in futility, of course, I didn’t have a first-aid kit. I looked in the mirror and saw I had deep red, almost burgundy, spots from the neck down. They looked like blood clots but worse, they were spreading. My body weakened and my legs nearly gave out from under me. When I glanced down to make sure they were still there, I saw that red spots nearly covered the surface of both legs. I’m dying, I thought.
I took one more shallow breath before I fainted again.
I woke up in a hospital bed, the room was white and the tiles on the floor were gray. I saw Jasmine sleeping in the visitor’s chair by the door, her head rested on her right hand. I looked at my arms and the dark red spots were gone as if they’d never been there. Whether they were a hallucination I would never know. I pulled off the covers and looked at my legs and it was the same.
They were gone.
I touched the back of my head and felt nothing but gauze bandaging. The nurse came in and asked how I felt, and I told her I felt fine. She shook her head and told me I was anything but and asked if I wanted to know the test results. I looked at her questioningly and asked how I got here in the first place, she said Jasmine found me sprawled out on my bathroom floor and called the ambulance. The nurse also said Jasmine discovered a puddle of blood not too far from the door which indicated I had fainted more than once.
I nodded and asked what the results were.
She said I had a stroke and that was what caused me to faint, however, she said I also had stage four lung cancer, that it was progressing faster than most cancers she’d seen and that I only had about three—maybe four—months to live.
I told her I needed time to think and to come back.
She left the room.
I thought as to how I got the disease and it came to me immediately, like lightning when it strikes an antenna. It must have happened while I was floating around for five years, working restaurants and selling drugs, doing construction work with no mask, living near power plants and other places off the freeways that emitted fossil fuels, air pollutants, and other chemicals.
That was probably how I came across lung cancer which didn’t surprise me, to be honest. I also thought as to what caused those spots on my body and where they went, suddenly.
It was then Jasmine woke up, looked at me, then got up and walked toward me. She said she called me and when I didn’t answer the first time, she assumed I was sleeping and when I didn’t answer the second time, she knew something was wrong and rushed over. When I didn’t answer the door, she rushed up to see if the landlord was there and he happened to be coming down the stairs while she was on the way up.
She asked him would he open the door because she thought something was wrong and he agreed and opened it for her, and that was when they saw the blood and me sprawled out on the bathroom floor.
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