Anne Bailey was an established writer. Yet she sat motionless in the rocking chair which was tucked in the corner of the hospital room. The notebook in her lap was filled with endless pages that seemed to swallow her whole; devouring her one page at a time. What would she write? What would she say? How could she write? This is Jasper, after all. My son Jasper, and he’s dying.
Anne was oblivious to the fact that as she sat in the chair, she rocked to the beeping sounds of the heart monitor. That rhythm was one of comfort, representing life in the little eight year-old body of Jasper Brennan.
Anne will never forget that day only three months earlier. Jasper was at school and told his teacher he felt dizzy and that his head hurt. Ms. Johnson, noticing that he was walking a little off-balance, called Anne to come and pick him up. Anne too, noticed his imbalance. She decided to call Dr. Peterson, who had been the family’s doctor since moving to Peaks Cove six years earlier. Peaks Cove is a little island off the coast of Portland, Maine and only two doctors reside there; Dr. Rosemary Elliot, the OB/GYN and Dr. Philip Peterson the family practitioner.
Initially Dr. Peterson suspected a simple inner ear infection. However, upon further examination, the symptoms didn’t manifest an ear infection at all. Anne could see the worry in Dr. Peterson’s brow. He referred her to Dr. Lunford at Maine Medical Center. Anne felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise as Dr. Peterson made the necessary calls and arranged for the pair to be seen at once. He advised her to pack an overnight bag and to take the next ferry into Portland.
Dr. Lunford was very cordial, though not overly friendly. Anne suspected most specialists were like that. Their work was important to them. She could sense Dr. Lunford’s dedication, and that pleased her. Jasper underwent a CAT Scan, and it seemed like an eternity before they were all back in the little blue exam room.
“There is a growth,” Dr. Lunford explained.
“A growth?” Anne struggled to understand.
“I want you to take Jasper to Dartmouth-Hitchcock,” Dr. Lunford continued. “You need to go today.”
“That’s almost a three-hour drive,” Anne muttered, disbelieving her ears.
“If you leave now, you’ll miss rush-hour traffic.” With that he handed her a card with the name of some world-class doctor scrawled on it. “I’ve already called. They are expecting you.”
Anne took the card from Dr. Lunford’s hand. What is happening? What does this mean? They are expecting us? She looked over at Jasper. He was a small-framed, slightly scrawny child. He was little. He was young. Too young. Too young to be sick, Anne told herself.
Nonetheless doing as directed, stopping only once for gas, Anne drove straight into New Hampshire in search of this world-renowned specialist, Dr. Reena Sharma. Anne remembers the exact moment it happened. As she heard the words escape Dr. Sharma’s lips, she couldn’t help but fixate her gaze at the clock hanging on the wall behind her. 8:58 pm. “I am so very sorry, but your son has a brain tumor…”
The room began to spin. The air grew thick and hot around her. Her throat closed up, and Anne could have sworn her heart even stopped beating, if only for a moment. The combination of fear, shock and pain was too much to bear.
Dr. Sharma handed Anne a box of tissues, and gave her a moment to take it all in, though in reality it isn’t any sort of news that anyone can “take in”. It’s something that’s just sort of handed to you whether you want it or not. And rejecting it will not make it go away. Dr. Sharma said that Jasper had a terminal brain stem tumor. He was given a life expectancy of three weeks to three months. Approximately 100 children each year die from this and it is 100 percent fatal. There is no treatment. Neither radiation nor chemotherapy will save him. Instead, Dr. Sharma informed her, they should focus on quality of life, and on providing the best care and comfort for little Jasper.
Turning her thoughts back to the notebook resting in her hands, Anne wished the three months wasn’t near a close. She wished that somehow she could stop the ticking of time. Anne needed to make the impending funeral arrangements for her little guy. She also intended to jot down some thoughts for his obituary. But she could not bring herself to write. Writing it down somehow made it more real, like sealing the deal to a contract. As Anne looked down at the paper, tears began to spill. Anne wished Rory were here. He’d know what to say, how to comfort her. She missed her husband Rory Brennan. Anne decided to write the things she remembered about Rory. It would made her feel better.
Anne would have loved to been able to attend college at Chapel Hill, Berkley or Columbia. But relying on her family’s menial income, Anne was simply grateful to attend Ball State back home in Indiana. Ball State did, after all, have one of the best undergraduate journalism programs out there.
Anne wanted to write articles, essays and short stories for magazines and journals; perhaps even a book one day. She wanted to write about the biggest and the best news not only locally or nationally, but also world-wide. She wanted to write about amazing people. She wanted to write about the things tucked away in her imagination and locked up in her heart. She wanted to be known for her works and for her words.
Her first break came near the end of graduation. One of her professors had announced that he had been selected to spend some time in New Zealand, covering what would be the largest 12-hour mountain bike event in the world, the Day-Night Thriller. He would be allowed to bring along one other “staff-writer”, and therefore would be selecting one of his senior students.
Anne didn’t know anything about mountain biking or New Zealand. And this definitely wasn’t her dream of writing for “The New Yorker”. Nevertheless, Anne knew that this opportunity would be paramount in opening doors for her as an un-known in the literary world. Anne researched anything and everything about the sport, the event, and the country. She submitted her essay and waited with baited breath. She only had to wait 48 hours before the professor announced her as the winner.
“Yours wasn’t the best essay on the sport, you know,” Professor Wright told Anne afterwards.
“I know,” Anne answered a bit sheepishly.
“You know little about mountain biking,” he continued. “That is evident in your lack of depth.”
“But you have heart. Your words hold a sense of passion; a sense of honesty. I like that.” Then Professor Wright chuckled. “Even made me want to go and dust off my bike.”
Anne spent the week after graduation in New Zealand, writing for “Cycle World” about the race, the athletes and their stories. Covering that event gave her the credentials she needed to begin free-lance writing for other various outdoor sports magazines. It landed her an invitation to cover The Grand Tree, which is a series of 26 trail-running races. “Trail Runner” made her quite the offer to cover the New England racing circuit. And it was that race that earned her the gig of writing for “Canadian Biker”, covering a huge motorcycle race in Alberta, Canada.
Anne had decided that this trip to Canada would be her last coverage of sporting events. She knew she had started to make a name for herself in the short year since graduation. However, it was only in the world of sports. Anne wanted more, and she knew that meant not being stigmatized in just one field.
Anne made the flight into Alberta just fine and after spending the afternoon checking into her cabin and freshening up, she grabbed her messenger bag and headed off to the main lodge where an open house for the racers was being held. She planned to spend the evening interviewing a few of them, following up on those projected to be winners.
As Anne made her way through the room, introducing herself to the varying motorists, she noticed a lone man near the back of the lodge. He was standing in front of a huge picture window. He was in his own world, distant from the crowd, looking out into the national forest. Where are his thoughts taking him? Tomorrow’s race? A family he left behind? Anne made her way across the room in search of the answers to those questions.
“Anne Bailey with ‘Canadian Biker’,” Anne said, making introductions.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” The man asked, not breaking his gaze from the window.
“I’m sorry?” questioned Anne, noticing his sexy Irish accent.
“Mother Nature,” he answered. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
“Oh yes. Yes, she is,” replied Anne.
With that, the man chuckled and turned to face her. She could not help but notice his wavy dark hair, strong jaw line and ice-blue eyes. They seemed to penetrate her as he spoke.
“Rory Brennan,” he said while offering up his hand. Their handshake was the beginning of a conversation that lasted almost into the wee hours of the morning.
Anne remembered feeling guilty for keeping him up so late the night before a race. She felt even guiltier for only having spoken to one participant. But she found his love for the sport fascinating. Rory had explained to her how this race was his favorite each year. It is what he called True Road Racing, where they close off the road to the public instead of racing on a track. He described the feeling of the wind through his hair and taking the fresh air into his lungs. He described the scenery as a masterpiece of art. He told her there was nothing more real, more natural, nor more exhilarating than riding in the open air and through the beautiful mountains of Jasper National Park. The view seemed to go on forever, he told her. It was a road he would love to ride forever; the endless road in Jasper.
Anne knew that was the very moment she fell in love with Rory Brennan. What she didn’t know is that he would go on to win that race the next day, and that she had more than enough material to satisfy “Canadian Biker” for a feature story of one of the best riders in the world.
Anne and Rory began their relationship in a bit of a whirlwind, as he continued to travel the world riding, and she writing. But eventually winter came and the racing season ended. Anne began to look for opportunities where she could stay in one place to write. They were married almost a year later and he moved from his home in Ireland to the states. She only kept the name of Bailey for her career. Their first year of marriage was one that Anne could only describe as a fairytale. They were in love and they were happy. He made her laugh, and she loved his outlook on life. Anne snagged several free-lance opportunities for nationally acclaimed magazines and journals.
Soon, Anne became pregnant. They were excited. Life seemed so perfect. She thought about the day her little guy was born. Dark hair and beautiful blue eyes, just like his father. Anne remembered the tears that welled up in Rory’s eyes as he first looked at his baby. It was a sight that Anne would never forget. She found the purest joy in the love of a father. Rory wanted to name him Jasper after his grandfather, as well as the place where they first met. Anne agreed that the name was apropos.
Anne’s thoughts were brought back into reality, as she noticed the shifting in Jasper’s breathing. It began to sound a bit more shallow. He could no longer eat or talk, or barely keep his eyes open. Anne did not want to face this tragedy alone, and yet it was not the first tragedy she had been dealt.
Anne’s thoughts returned to that of Rory Brennan and the motorcycle accident that would claim his life instantly. It was during a race in the hills of South Western Michigan. No one really knows what happened. Perhaps Rory swerved to miss a squirrel or something. Nevertheless, he lost control of the bike, rolling several times, and then dragged for several yards before finally landing in a ditch. In an instant, Rory was gone. Now Anne was about to encounter the second hardest thing in her life. And in many ways, she contemplated, this trial seemed harder.
Anne decided that the unexpected death of her husband, though more shocking, seemed almost easier than the long impending death of her little boy. Anne’s writing began to easily transition from Rory to Jasper.
A mother should never have to bury a child. And it’s the feeling of helplessness that makes it so much worse. You know this horrible thing is going to happen, but there is nothing that can be done to stop it. You’re the mother, and you can’t do anything. You just have to sit by and watch.
Anne began to take comfort in venting on paper. The pen took over and began to spell out her thoughts. Anne continued in this pattern over the next few days. It helped her pass away the time, as she was afraid to go to sleep each night. Once her feelings were unleashed on paper, she could not stop writing.
I can’t work. I can’t leave the room. I can’t sleep. I fear that if I leave him he will go and I will have missed saying good-bye. I will have missed the last moment to touch his sweet little face, or run my fingers through his soft brown locks, or look into his innocent blue eyes, or kiss him farewell.
Anne had discussed with Jasper on several occasions that he was sick and that he would leave this earth and return to live with God and the angels soon. She knew that Jasper was old enough to know what death was. “I’m going home to daddy too,” Jasper reminded her one afternoon. That realization brought Anne to tears. And yet, she suddenly began to feel comfort in Rory’s death; knowing that he was already on the other side to greet their baby with open arms and take care of him.
Since the day Anne first found out about the brain tumor, she made lists. Lists of things to do. Lists of things she wanted to tell him. Lists of his favorite foods. There was nothing she could do to stop this monster from taking over her baby’s body, but she could make lists.
Her favorite list was the list of things Jasper wanted to do. After returning home from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the race against time began. She attempted to cross at least one thing off his list per day, as she wanted to do most of it before he wouldn’t be able to walk or talk anymore; before he would need watch-care.
As they accomplished the activities, Anne documented their time with her camera and of course her pen. His scrapbook nearly tripled from the time he was a newborn. They went to a baseball game, collected shells on the beach, learned to Hula Hoop, attended concerts in the park, tried skateboarding, and even flew to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. They tried new restaurants and had a campout, even though it was in the middle of the living room floor.
It was through completing this list that Anne truly began to see the heart of her little boy. He was sick. He did not feel well. But he never wanted to stop. “Keep going,” he insisted at the zoo when Anne tried to stop and let him rest. He accomplished everything on his list with a smile on his face. In this way he was just like his father.
Anne continued to write and had easily begin to fill those pages that once seemed untouchable.
It is the knowledge that my son lived a happy life that makes my bosom swell. It is the knowledge that he knows how much I love him that eases my aching heart. It is the knowledge that I will be with him and his father again one day that will get me through the next hour, the next day, and the rest of my life. Jasper loved life, even in the face of death. It will be this knowledge that will allow Jasper to live on in my heart forever. For Jasper’s love of people and his love for life is his endless road.
2008. Emma C Miller. Any reproduction of this story may not be made without express written consent of the author.