Jacob’s “after”

He alludes to before and after too. 

This is new. 

I probably should be relieved. Jacob talks about cancer with emotion. That should be “e” word (expected) right? 

Until recently the word cancer carried zero emotions.

“That was when I had cancer,” Jacob would say to a teacher in class when referring to a past event. With the same absolute fact nature as a child saying he was at “grandmas.”

“Is it a cancer day?” Jacob will ask me nonchalantly when I mention I’m picking him up early. “No, it’s the orthodontist,” I reply while brushing my teeth with the same lack of emotion. 

He speaks of cancer as you would speak about going to the grocery store.

I once told him I found that odd. 

He was confused why that was odd. I even told him that “I see a feelings doctor due to your cancer.” This stunned him. “Why?” Truly baffled. When I tried to explain… fruitless, he seems stuck on the basic premise of the disagreement, “why would I even be upset about cancer?”

At first, I questioned his lack of emotion and then I just lapsed in my gratitude for it. How lucky am I? He ran back into life as I did. No looking back. Straight ahead, making up for the lost time. He was a “normal” kid. 

But that has changed.

 He is angry and sad. 

For the first time referred to before and after. 

He speaks differently than I do about before and after. 

Unlike mine,  it is not a story of his pain. It is not a story of the trauma, of isolation.  No needles, no hospital references, make up his narrative of life  “before” or “after,”  it is only about others.

“After cancer people were different.“

Jacob feels like the world left him behind. He went into the hospital and everything changed when he came out. 

I ask what was before was like? “I knew what to do, had friends, and was popular, and cool.”

And after cancer? I ask.

“After, everyone’s changed. They don’t like the same things. The kids are different. I don’t know most of them. I suck at sports. I’m fat.

He told me that cancer “stole his dreams.”

He told me he is lonely at school and it’s exhausting pretending to try to be happy. He can’t connect with the boys in his class because he does not know how to play the games. He missed Kindergarten and first grade, he feels lost. 

And of course I’m mad at myself.  I should have noticed that he didn’t get invited too much. No playdate invites, no birthday parties galore. He wanted to come home after school. He also didn’t ask for playdates. And this is NYC! These kids are so overscheduled so I didn’t think much of it. I’m sure everyone is busy. 

And the bit of social interaction I did see…was always stellar. No issues making friends. None. He will walk up to any kid and by the end of the night has a crew of 10 hanging on his every word on any vacation. This kid is cool.

So I’m a bit in shock. He is the fattest in his class and he is the worst athlete. No one wants Jacob on their team. And at lunch people move seats. I saw it with my own eyes too. No one was mean to Jacob. The kids were beyond kind to Jacob. But Jacob stands out. I get their annoyance as he can’t play close to their level. They know they will lose with Jacob on their team, but no one was not kind. 

What did stand out? Jacob’s freaking GRIT and BRAVERYI could have NEVER done what he did. I would have not even gotten on the field. He knew how they felt and he knew he would be bad at the game. But he got on the field. He ran.  He waved. He high-fived. He pretended after each kick that he missed came out of nowhere. Slapping his head. The face of amazement.

 I see him pretending. 

He even laughed when he saw others laugh, but I knew couldn’t have physically hear the joke. There was no way with his hearing that he could hear that conversation.

I was in awe of Jacob. How he keeps going. How I held back tears and wanted every excuse to get him off that field. I had a moment too. He got injured, he came out, I said “let’s go”- but no he wanted to stay. 

I am so weak. 

Jacob you are so strong. 

I am in awe of you. 

And I write this to remind myself how LUCKY I am. How normal this is. This is not life or death, this is a soccer game. This is a story of a boy finding his way. Sure its a bit tougher than the usual child having social issues as this boy lost time, but there is an after.

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