Note: This story has been repeated in various forms on this blog, those of you who have heard/read the story before bear with me.
When I was ten years old my dad managed a comic book shop for a friend. Of all the jobs he has held in my life that was my favorite. One of the regulars was a young man named Anthony. He was a comic book junkie who was never afraid to laugh and be silly. There were many sword battles held within the store, the weapon was foam swords covered in silver cloth. There was no such thing as an overly dramatic death so long as it made me laugh or smile. It took me a while but eventually I noticed several odd things about my dear friend. For one thing, he always wore a baseball cap, in and out of doors, sun or rain. For several weeks I thought it was nothing more than simple habit.I can’t remember exactly when I noticed the fact that his hair,(what you could see from under his cap) was brittle and thinner than it should be. I knew something was up. Rather than ask Anthony and bring up a subject he obviously wished to avoid I asked dad. I don’t envy my dad that day. In the space of fifteen minutes I learned things that I still wish weren’t true. I learned that children can get sick with things much worse than a cold, fever. Or even pneumonia. It wasn’t the first time I had heard the word cancer but it was the first time it felt solid, real, and scary. My friend had fought it since he was a little boy and the battle was almost over. It didn’t happen the next day, the next week, or even the next month. In fact I think it took a year and a half. Every time I saw him after that conversation with dad I smiled, laughed and joked and every day I felt my heart crack just a little bit. I was also on a mission. I held a grudge against that cap, for me it had become a symbol of his illness. I resolved to show Anthony that his sickness didn’t mean a darn thing to anybody who cared about him. To that end I began trying to steal his cap. It became a game of keep away. Anthony wold let me get just within reach before he’d laugh and move away. I never did capture his hat but I think I made my point anyway. Then he came in on a Friday evening and I knew he was done. What could I do? I smiled, I joked, and I hugged him. Right before he left I hugged him as though I were trying to compress a whole lifetime of hugs into less than five minutes. He went home, fell into a coma and died two weeks later when he was taken off life support.
I didn’t cry the day of his funeral. I didn’t actually go to the service I might have cried if I had gone but dad wouldn’t let me. It took ne until my freshman year in college for the perfect memorial to dawn on me. Every year since then I’ve cut my hair and donated it to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients….no one should have to wear a baseball cap because of chemotherapy.
Postscript: It wasn’t until after Anthony died that I learned the story behind his cap. The cap had the faces of the Seven Dwarves stitched into and is not one you’d catch most guys in their twenties wearing. Apparently that was the hat his parents had given him when he first started chemo at the age of ten. It was buried with him and is now very likely dust but I think it was a very fitting ending.