The next phase was to get closer to the person Davis loved the most: his girlfriend.
Henna was skinny almost to the point of unhealthy. I’m quite certain she had an eating disorder, though she never talked about it to me. Just by looking at her size, weight, and general appearance, there had to be something going on there. All that aside, she was pretty, regardless of her poor health. I was quite taken with her.
I simply couldn’t understand how such a beautiful girl was interested in Davis. But as time passed, I realized that Henna appreciated his personality more than anything else. Davis’ strength was his charm, wit, and happy-go-lucky way of interacting with his friends and the world around him. Henna’s dark persona clicked with Davis’ upbeat and positive nature.
Henna also suffered from depression. This was one of the first things we talked about on instant messaging. She prattled on about her therapist and how alone she felt in a world of people. How poetic, I thought. I started asking more about her symptoms and how she felt. When the time was right, I began to drop hints that suggested I, too, might be suffering from depression.
Eventually, my hints became so intense and significant, she suggested I meet with a therapist or at least talk with Davis about it. I agreed to talk with Davis. So next lunch period when things were quiet, I quietly informed Davis I was struggling with feelings
of depression. He wasn’t phased in the least. I laid it on thick, but he was still unaffected. I wasn’t totally shocked, but I was left with no real plan.
A few weeks later, we had finally finished reading Tuesdays with Morrie in English class. That’s when it clicked. Cancer. If I really wanted to get Davis’ attention, I would need to do something drastic, something more than confessing to depression. No, I would have to be sick enough to make Davis depressed. That’s the impact I wanted from my lie: to win back his friendship.
So one day I shaved my head. When it was time for lunch, I ate nothing, claiming that I was on new medication for depression. Then I told him I had a brain tumor and was undergoing chemotherapy after school. I said my prognosis wasn’t good. This story should have been the tipping point, but it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
Days went by. I kept my head shaved, acted morose, and faked being tired during the day. What finally exposed me was gym class. Although I kept up a facade of being dangerously ill most of the school day, when gym class came around, I had mysteriously recovered, not enough to run a six-minute mile but enough to participate in class with everyone else.
One day he casually walked up to me after class and asked, “You don’t have a brain tumor, do you?” I shook my head no. He was pissed but not enough to break off contact with me. He wanted an explanation, of course. I acted like I really believed I had cancer. He didn’t buy it, but he also didn’t realize what I was really up to.
In the beginning, I really thought I could pull off the whole cancer thing. I hadn’t put much thought into it (which is exactly why I thought I could pull it off), but there didn’t seem to be much to it. I had made an impulsive decision. I didn’t realize the long-term implications of faking cancer, nor did I realize it would alter aspects of my daily life moving forward. Ultimately, it destroyed the trust between me and Davis when he discovered I was as healthy as any other student in the school.
Chapter Excerpt from Wales High School: First Diagnosis (J. Peters, 2020)