Byron Caldwell has been my best friend for about 20 years. He was my best man at my wedding and most people who met us always thought of us as brothers instead of friends. We always thought that was an insult since one of us was good looking and the other wasn’t.
When we had both been single we lived a carefree life and were partners in scuba diving, white water rafting, skiing, two man volleyball, and especially softball. Once we got married, for whatever reasons each those activities dwindled until the only thing we did together was play softball. He ended up having a family and I didn’t and for some reason that became awkward. His oldest son was named William Christopher Caldwell. When he was born he had a problem where the skull was not fully formed around the brain. They had to do brain surgery and he carried a nasty scar from ear to ear to remind us how close he came to not surviving his 1st year. Then they settled into an idyllic lifestyle. He had a beautiful wife; two great children and he had just started a new job as an ASP programmer after reinventing his career.
On the 1st day of his new job, William was diagnosed with Leukemia and it would change everything.
Byron needed support; his family was in Kansas and to far away to help. I jumped in and did what I could to help out. I was lucky enough that I was a platelet match for William and I became one of his primary providers of platelets during his fight. When William started chemo he quickly lost his hair and his head prominently showed the scar from his brain surgery. After three years I’d forgotten that he had brain surgery when he was several months old. It was a daily reminder that he had been struggling to stay on this earth since the day he was born. He wasn’t going to go easy.
William and I made up for lost time and eventually developed a bond that continues to have a hold on me 18 months after he left us. It wasn’t easy, he was a very shy boy and I had to work hard to get him to accept me. I’ve got 9 nieces and nephews and love them all but this was different. Watching a 3-year-old slide down his hospital bed for entertainment, while tubes flowed from him was amazing. My ego reveled in the fact it was my platelets and plasma flowing through him. Every time I saw him I marveled at his spirit. I never felt sad after leaving him, I felt invigorated because he was handling it. When sitting by a hospital bed it is easy to fantasy about the future. Even though his father wasn’t a Dodger fan I felt sure I’d be able to turn William into one. Later I envisioned watching him graduate or play baseball and thinking, I had something to do with it. The caregivers all fell in love with him, just like they do with all their patients.
When he went into in remission, other then his baldhead, scar, and the permanent IV connection he seemed like any other 4-year-old boy. Riding his tricycle up and down the street, giggling with delight at the same things that any 4-year thought was funny. His favorite was watching the "Monsters" video. As long as he was laughing I was going to watch it over and over with him. This short story doesn’t do justice to the heroic battle that William fought for 12 months. It is impossible to convey how a 4-year-old child can remain optimistic when so much is being done to him that he doesn’t understand. Not just William but all the children on the ward.
After 10 months we thought he’d won a big battle. He was in remission and if he could stay in remission for 20 more days he’d get the opportunity for a bone marrow transplant. The donor was all lined up ready to go to the hospital and give up the samples of bone marrow that would give William his best chance of survival. Before those 20 days were up the white blood cells had come back and that was it. The rest was just the final convulsions of a disease that had taken another but this time it was close to home. To close.
When it became apparent that William would not survive, the Make A Wish Foundation granted his wish for a snow day and took him to the snow in a limo Hummer for one final play day. We gathered at his grandparent’s house and then a convoy of friends and family followed the Hummer to Big Bear. It didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. He was too sick to play himself; the tumors had started pressing on the brain and created headaches and blindness. My saddest and proudest day came that day when Byron was holding him and he needed to put him down and all the aunts were there to take him, but he asked for me. I held onto him for what seemed forever but it was only for about 20 minutes. I had to cradle him like an egg as his body hurt all over. It was the 1st time I had held him like that. His parents held him but not me. I can’t even begin to tell you the feelings that were happening inside of me. My mind fantasized that I could pull a Spock and place my hand on his head and just take away all his pain and disease if I wanted it hard enough. In the end, all I could do was hold him, helpless, in the knowledge that reality always trumped fantasy.
Later as he watched his family and friends play in the snow, I gathered him up and carefully took him up a small trail, and then we got on the sled and went down for his final ride. Even then, when he knew what was happening he smiled at his family and friends having fun, knowing he would never see a good number of them ever again. He told me once that he had to go to a place where his mommy and daddy couldn’t go. Sadly he was right. Neither love, hope, science, nor prayer could help him.
Byron moved back home from where he left 32 years ago to become a marine. He will now raise his family in Kansas and they were lucky enough to be graced with a new boy, Adam Caldwell who was born on Jan 1st, 2006. Julia now has a baby brother who she can teach about the older brother who taught her so much.