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His tears are uncontrollable. He cries because he's sad. Because he never thought it would actually happen. Because it has been five years—half of his life—of weirdness and suffering and wondering. And because on some level he feels a sense of relief, which only makes him feel worse.
Alex goes to school the next day, but the next week is a blur. His buddies are a great support, as is his family. Over the summer he and his father will move back to New Jersey, and Alex will start over again. New school, new friends, new life. No mother.
Alex is seven. The Phillies are on the field at Veterans Stadium. Alex sits in the stands talking to his father and a family friend. He's rattling off stats and percentages. Two guys sitting behind him start to ask questions. Alex talks baseball on and off for the next few innings. The guys look at Robert, impressed: "You taught him well."
Robert goes palms up: "I don't know anything about baseball."
The games are new for them. They've started going to five or six a year. Not only the Phillies but also the Yankees, Mets and the Trenton Thunder. The games are a counterbalance to their other father-and-son excursions: visits to the medical facility three times a week.
Alex doesn't like those. He misses his mother, wants to see her. But he finds more and more that the woman he encounters in the rolling bed with the safety rails, her tongue turned white from drinking Ensure, is not her. She loses the use of her left arm, then her entire left side, and then her ability to speak and finally, her sight. Even before that Alex finds that they have little to talk about. They're going in opposite directions, her world crashing inward, hardly escaping the gravitational pull of her physical being. He is on the verge of exploding, bursting beyond the limited confines of his life into the digital forever.
Alex is five. The family is at Walt Disney World for Christmas. They walk through the lobby of the Grand Floridian, past the life-sized Gingerbread House and little girls in princess dresses who are off to character meals. Mary stumbles. All three of them turn to see what made her trip, but there's nothing there. At lunch, a glass slides out of her hand.
Back home she heads for the doctor, who suspects MS. Tests are scheduled, but the next day she has a seizure, right there in the house with Robert and Alex watching. A CAT scan and an MRI lead to a diagnosis more daunting than the first: glioblastoma multiforme, grade 4. A form of brain cancer, in its most advanced stage.
The experts give her 18 months. Mary vows to beat it. She's strong and healthy, the kind of person who won't sit near a smoker or go into a room that has recently been carpeted for fear of the fumes. In the coming months she will undergo three craniotomies—in which surgeons remove a section of skull to get at the tumor—plus chemo and radiation.
Mary was 40 when Alex was born. He was the late realization of an almost abandoned dream, and ever since he has been her life. They've spent every day together. She's seen to his every need, dedicated herself to him. But now she is gone more and more, each hospital stay seeming to last longer than the one before. She wills herself to Alex's end-of-kindergarten ceremony, which she attends in a wheelchair and a hat. He's the reason she fights on.