I was nineteen years old and I worked for the Blue Hen Café and Catering on West Second Street. I was a line cook, and I could make a mean grinder. I was the best employee there because I showed up on time to work every day, and I was the only person, along with the owner, who stayed from the time the restaurant opened until it closed. I loved this job. It was my second job in my adult life, but it was the best one in the world.
One morning my girlfriend of only a few months, Trish, had to take her son to a doctor’s appointment. I was working an ordinary shift. The odor of caramelized onion mixed with the smell of bell peppers still hung in the air. Lunch rush had just finished, and the plain-clothes workers were cleaning the kitchen. Rob, the skinny, tall owner who had what appeared to be pajama pants (they were supposed to be chef pants) and a white coat came and informed us that we had a mandatory meeting after work. This was important; everyone knew the restaurant was declining in sales. The Blue Hen was on the verge of closing its doors.
The phone rang. One fellow line cook answered the phone. “Steve, it’s for you.” I asked who it was, and she replied that it was my girlfriend. Trish never called the store to talk to me; in fact, she usually just texted my phone. I was informed that they found something on Ricky’s scan, and it was not good. I told her I would be there immediately. I recall the sobbing over the phone along with the word “hurry”. I immediately found Rob and asked just how important the meeting was. He stated it was important, and then I explained that my girlfriend’s son may have brain cancer, and he told me I needed to be at Children’s with her.
I couldn’t believe the news that was coming. I made it to Children’s Medical Center in a small room where Trish was crying. I remember the mumbling noises of the doctors trying to explain the situation, and I recall waiting inside the room while Jacob waited outside along with his grandmother. I was numb. Everything was blurred and jumbled into one big event.
But there is one day I will never forget. The neurosurgeon was explaining the procedure to remove the newly discovered brain tumor. Ricky was calm as could be; it was almost as if he could not fully understand the magnitude of the situation. Ricky was only five years old. Nobody expected this. He looked like any average boy: blondish brown hair that made him look like Curious George, the average height of any 5 year old child, and long eyelashes. He was the sweetest boy, and he was always thoughtful of others. He looked healthy. Ricky was wheeled in a green hospital gown on a hospital bed to the back room. The wait dragged on and on. I went to sleep in the surgery waiting area, or at least I tried to. With the pent-up emotions in the atmosphere, who could possibly sleep well?
I remember standing in his room after the surgery. Ricky did not look the same. He had a bloodied white head band around his head, his eyes were crossed, and he had various monitors hooked up to his arm and finger. He had a clear tube down his throat leading to a ventilator. He was put in a diaper. Ricky could not blink. He looked like a zombie. He looked dead. Every so often one monitor would go off to alert the nurses that his heart rate was low with its high pitch beeping. Or perhaps he would have a low oxygen rate, so another alarm would sound. Many restless nights gave way to this beeping noise.
Many restless, tireless days were spent over this single event. Nobody can prepare you for this. I only knew Trish for a few months, and I knew Ricky even less. A lot of other men would have walked away, but I fell in love with her boy. Now he is our boy. I did not consider running to be an option. When I was growing up, my hero was my father. He was superman. I saw his massive strength and wisdom growing up. There was nothing he couldn’t do. He did not go through the events Ricky experienced. Today, Ricky is nine years old, and he is the height of a six year old. Ricky has brown, thin hair, and he is still off balance when he walks. He is still thoughtful of others. Ricky is a survivor and a hero.