Every marking period in Language Arts, we are required to do an Independent Reading Mini-Project. One of the options was to do an alternate ending for a book you read, so I chose The Fault in Our Stars. Before you read this please know that I’m not trying to correct what I thought was an amazing book. All I changed was the perspective of the novel from Hazel’s to Gus’s. I thought it would be interesting.
Just as one more note before you read. The ending is intentional, but you may not get it if you didn’t read the book.
I motioned down at the shadows of a tree’s curling branches playing across the concrete ground.
“Yeah,” Hazel Grace said.
She and I were on a trip to Amsterdam, standing in front of a cafe. .I looked up at her, noticing the way the sunlight filtered through her hair and made it glow golden. Beautiful.
Hazel Grace was the love of my life, and I was hers. Not trying to sound full of it- but I know it’s true. Everything about her was perfect to me: her face, her laugh, and especially her mind. I love love loved her. I don’t know exactly what she sees in me but… there’s something! What she didn’t know was that our love was a bit star-crossed…
The universe seems to have it out for Hazel and I. It pushed us together, then pulled us apart. Together, apart. Together, apart. Just like those branches I was looking at, in fact. The wind pushed them up against each other, but then yanked them right back again…
“What a good metaphor…”
I didn’t even realize I’d spoken aloud until Hazel Grace responded, “Is it now?”
“The negative image of things blown together and then apart,” I explained. I strategically left out the relation to us, though.
You see, Hazel doesn’t exactly know that our relationship was about to be in the “apart” stage. The universe had, in fact, given us another hurdle to jump over to complete the obstacle course of our relationship. The universe had given me a recurrence.
I know, I’m terrible. I fooled Hazel Grace into thinking that the man she was falling in love with was healthy. In reality, she got a cancer-ridden boy with a single leg. But as soon as she finds out that my disease is back, it’s over. She’d see that our relationship can never be normal. She’d see me as the mess I am and realize that I will unavoidably break her heart. And then she’d want to leave. So no, I hadn’t told her. Like I said, I’m terrible.
But I still couldn’t bring myself to tell her. She deserved to know, but i just couldn’t do it. To distract myself from the guilt, I looked back at the tree branches. They were puppets, and the wind was their puppeteer. And what a master he was! The branches spun and twirled to the unheard beat of nature’s music. I stared, mesmerised. But the longer I looked, the more my metaphor began to catch up to me. In front of my eyes, the branches turned from wood to flesh. They were Hazel Grace and me, and the wind was the universe, pushing and pulling and controlling us. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I could look at this all day, but we should go to the hotel.”
“Do we have time?” Hazel asked.
I struggled to smile. “If only.”
“What wrong?” she asked me, and the panic was tangible in her voice.
I couldn’t speak. All I did was motion towards the hotel.
I walked quickly and ahead of Hazel Grace, not wanting to meet her eyes. Even without looking at her, I could feel her anxiety. I knew if she saw my face, I would break down. I could only hope that I didn’t loose it while I confessed.
When we reached the room, I sat down in an dusty paisley chair. How old was it? 60 years? 70? All I knew was that it was older than I’d ever be. Oh, wow… that was depressing. But I had to keep it together. For Hazel Grace’s sake.
As she entered the room behind me, I drew out a cigarette and popped it between my lips. Just as sure as I wasn’t going to light it, I decided, I wasn’t going to let this cancer control me. Still, I could only hope that Hazel Grace wouldn’t react badly. Sighing, I leaned back and began to speak.
“Just before you went into the ICU, I started to feel this ache in my hip,” I started.
“No,” Hazel said.
I nodded. “So I went for a PET scan,” I explained, then paused. I was really about to do this. I couldn’t believe I could be about to lose Hazel Grace. But I had to do this. I clenched my jaw, trying not to cry. I would not become a sadness in Hazel’s life.
I tried for smile. “I lit up like a Christmas tree, Hazel Grace. The lining of my chest, my left hip, my liver, everywhere.”
Everywhere. Everywhere meant bad things. Everywhere meant death. But still, Hazel Grace got up, dragging herself across the carpet and resting her head on my knee.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, and I realized that no matter what, she would stay with me, because that’s what love is.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” I apologized. “Your mom must know. The way she looked at me. My mom must have told her or something. I should’ve told you. It was stupid. Selfish.”
But she didn’t seem angry. Only sad, and of course that made upset too.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “It’s just so freaking unfair.”
I knew that. But… “The world is not a wish granting factory.”
And in that moment, even if for just a second, I lost control. A sob, sharp and full of pain, escaped from my mouth. I was going to die, And when that happened, so much else wouldn’t. I would never again drink champagne. I would never not smoke. I wouldn’t get to enjoy any of the numerous little things that life had to give me. But most important, I would lose the love of my life. And I would not, could not, let that happen, I pulled her close,
“I’ll fight it. I’ll fight it for you. Don’t you worry about me, Hazel Grace. I’ll find a way to hang around and annoy you for a long time.”
She was crying. Her body trembled against mine as I held her tight, tight, tight.
“I’m sorry. You’ll be okay. It’ll be okay. I promise.” I told her, and smiled, hoping it was true.
I kissed her on the forehead, then held her still closer. Then, all at once, I remembered a conversation I’d had long ago, back when I’d first met Hazel. She’d told me about hamartias, or fatal flaws. Back then, she had thought mine was smoking, until I informed her that my cigarettes were only metaphors. But now, I realized, I had a real fatal flaw: my cancer.
“I guess I had a hamartia after all.”
A few days later, we were home from Amsterdam. For a while, things were okay. I mean, I didn’t feel perfect, but I could still hang out with friends (mainly Hazel), and be at home. But my condition started to deteriorate. I knew the end was near- I was on constant meds, in a wheelchair, and so tired. I could do so little on my own, and it was frustrating as heck. But before I went, I needed to, I could do one last thing. I needed to give Hazel Grace a eulogy.
First, a bit of background. You see, the reason we were in Amsterdam was for a continuation of Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. It had ended abruptly- in the middle of a sentence, in fact. But Hazel and I, we wanted answers. So emails were sent and arrangements were made, and we were set to go visit Peter Van Houten, the author of the novel, in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, things hadn’t gone exactly as planned. Van Houten had turned out to be quite the alcoholic jerk. But he was still an amazing writer, and I needed his help.
After what felt like forever, I was able to draft a letter to Peter Van Houten. I prayed he would help me, despite his personality, because this was important. It was vital that Hazel Grace knew just how vital she was to me. So, here’s what I wrote him:
I’m a good person but a crappy writer. You’re a crappy person but a good writer. We’d make a good team. I don’t want to ask you any favors, but if you have time – and from what I saw, you have plenty – I was wondering if you could write a eulogy for Hazel. I’ve got notes and everything, but if you could just make it into a coherent whole or whatever? Or even just tell me what I should say differently.
Here’s the thing about Hazel: Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease.
I want to leave a mark.
But Van Houten: The marks humans leave are too often scars. You build a hideous minimall or start a coup or try to become a rock star and you think, “They’ll remember me now,” but (a) they don’t remember you, and (b) all you leave behind are more scars. Your coup becomes a dictatorship. Your minimall becomes a lesion.
(Okay, maybe I’m not such a crappy writer. But I can’t pull my ideas together, Van Houten. My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.)
We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic pee, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths. I can’t stop peeing on fire hydrants. I know it’s silly and useless – epically useless in my current state – but I am an animal like any other.
Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.
People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad, Van Houten. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.
The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invented anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.
After my PET scan lit up, I snuck into the ICU and saw her while she was unconscious. I just walked in behind a nurse with a badge and I got to sit next to her for like ten minutes before I got caught. I really thought she was going to die, too. It was brutal: the incessant mechanized haranguing of intensive care. She had this dark cancer water dripping out of her chest. Eyes closed. Intubated. But her hand was still her hand, still warm and the nails painted this almost black dark blue and I just held her hand and tried to imagine the world without us and for about one second I was a good enough person to hope she died so she would never know that I was going, too. But then I wanted more time so we could fall in love. I got my wish, I suppose. I left my scar.
A nurse guy came in and told me I had to leave, that visitors weren’t allowed, and I asked if she was doing okay, and the guy said, “She’s still taking on water.” A desert blessing, an ocean curse.
What else? She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.
So that’s what I sent him. It had been a week, and he had yet to respond. But what had I expected? He’s Peter Van Houten- if he replied at all, it would not be quickly. If only I had time for that. I was sure that when Van Houten responded with Hazel’s edited eulogy, she’d already be behind a lectern, reading my own. So all I could do was hope that the letter would reach her, one day.
At some point, around the 2 month mark home from Amsterdam, I had a realization. I would never attend my funeral. Every other person I knew, all my friends, my family, Hazel… They would all get to go. But not me. And I realized that I wanted to see what they would say, know what they thought. And so I arranged a prefuneral. Granted, only two people would attend: Hazel Grace and my blind friend, Isaac. But they were all I needed.
So I called Hazel, at around 5 o’clock, and Isaac shortly after. I invited them to met me at the Literal Heart of Jesus at 8 o’clock. Oh, and I asked them each to prepare a eulogy. I’m sure they both thought I was crazy, but I would explain everything once we got to the Literal Heart of Jesus.
By the way, that place isn’t exactly what it sounds: it’s actually the church basement where Hazel and Isaac meet for Support Group. It is, however, located in a cross-shaped church, and the basement just so happens to be in the exact center of that cross, where Jesus’ heart would be. And thus, the nickname. But it was special to me not for religious reasons, but because that is where I first met Hazel Grace. I guess I wanted her to say good-bye in the place where we had first waved hello.
I made my way to the church at around 7:30. When I found the doors locked, I used a few slightly immoral tricks to get in, but they were worth it. After all, how often do you get to attend your own funeral in the Literal Heart of Jesus?
Isaac arrived first. We chatted a bit, waiting for Hazel, but it was pretty empty talk. As soon as I explained that he was here attending my prefuneral, he walked behind a little wooden lectern, preparing to speak. Just then, Hazel arrived. Perfect.
“Hazel Grace,” I said, “you look ravishing.” And she did, even in the pajama pants, flip-flops, and t-shirt she was wearing.
“I know, right?” she said, and I could tell she thought I was being sarcastic. Then she noticed Isaac. “Are you going to sit down?” she asked him.
“No, I’m about to eulogize. You’re late,” Isaac explained,
“You’re… I’m… what?”
I motioned for her to sit. “I want to attend my funeral,” I told her. “By the way, will you speak at my funeral?”
I know that was probably an important question to ask before inviting her to a prefuneral, but I had been pretty certain that she would say yes.
“Um, of course, yeah.”
As I predicted. She knelt down to hug me, but although her intentions were good, that hurt tremendously. I winced, and she let go.
“I’m hopeful I’ll get to attend my funeral as a ghost,” I told them, “but just to be sure, I thought I’d- well, not to put you on the spot, but I just this afternoon thought I could arrange a prefuneral, and I figured since I’m in reasonably good spirits, there’s no time like the present.”
“How’d you even get in here?” Hazel grace questioned.
“Would you believe they leave the doors open all night?” I asked.
“Um, no,” she said. Hazel Grace wasn’t stupid.
“As well as you shouldn’t,” I told her. “Anyway, I know it’s a bit self-aggrandizing.”
“Hey!” Isaac exclaimed. “You’re stealing my eulogy! My first bit is about how you are a self-aggrandizing jerk.”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “At your leisure.”
Isaac cleared his throat. “Augustus Waters is a self-aggrandizing jerk. But we forgive him. We forgive him not because he had a heart as figuratively good as his literal one sucked, or because he knew more about how to hold a cigarette than any nonsmoker in history, or because he got eighteen years when he should’ve gotten more.”
“Seventeen,” I corrected him. I was seventeen, and never would be eighteen.
“I’m assuming you have more time, you interrupting jerk,” Isaac told me, then continued.
“I’m telling you Augustus Waters talked so much about him that he’d interrupt you at his own funeral. And he was pretentious: Oh my goodness,, that kid never took a pee without pondering the abundant metaphorical resonances of human waste production. and he was vain: I do not believe I have ever met a more physically attractive person who was more acutely aware of his own physical attractiveness. But I will say this: When the scientists from the future show up at my house with robot eyes and tell me to try them on, I will tell them to screw off because I do not want to see a world without him. And then, having made my rhetorical point, I will put on my robot eyes on , because I mean, with robot eyes you can probably see some pretty interesting things. Augustus, my friend, Godspeed.”
Hazel was full out crying, and I was welling up. I pursed my lips, trying to keep from crying, then flashed my buddy thumbs up.
“I would cut the bit about seeing interesting things though,” I told him.
“Wow, Augustus, editing your own eulogy.” Isaac said, but through shaking sobs. “Hazel, can i get a hand here?” Hazel helped Isaac away from the podium, and then she began.
“My name is Hazel. Augustus Waters was the great star-crossed love of of my life. Ours was an epic love story, and I won’t be able to get more than a sentence into it without disappearing into a puddle of tears. Gus knew. Gus knows. I will not tell you our love story, because like all real love stories, it will die with us. As it should. I’d hoped that he’d be eulogizing me, because there is no one I’d rather have. I can’t talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this. There is an infinite between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many days of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You have me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
The next day, I went to the hospital. I knew I was about to die, to cease to exist, to end. The panic came first, and then the regrets. I would miss so much, loose so much. I would never make my mark. But I would make my mark on Hazel Grace, and the more I thought about it, that would be enough. Everyone wishes to be extraordinary. Including me. But maybe being extraordinary isn’t what makes life worthwhile. If you are special to even one person, that is enough. Hazel Grace loved me, and we both loved our little