Nerdy but gifted Ryan Miyashi has just started what promises to be a stellar academic career at Cal State Berkeley. Just as important, he’s finally settled into a comfortable, loving relationship with his first boyfriend, Tanner Cruz. Ryan can’t quite believe he’s landed such a stud—high school football star, captain of the wrestling team—and puts up with Tanner’s erratic, if somewhat goofy personality. Tanner’s the real deal.
Be careful what you wish for.
My handsome, tall, strong, Greek-god of a boyfriend could be such a knucklehead. He had an ego as big as Mount Rushmore, but I found out the hard way that bipolar disorder played a big role in his inflated view of himself. After a relatively minor medical setback, the pendulum swung firmly into the major depressive end of the spectrum.
He shut me out.
I was heartbroken when he wouldn’t return my calls or messages, and I blamed myself. Despite my promise not to, I told his dad Tanner had suffered a seizure when we were out together. He was adamant that no one know. Only Lou—Tanner’s dad—had always been so kind and so nice. When I was pressed, I cracked like an egg.
It was understandable why Tanner would want to keep the seizure a secret. He was nearly eighteen and figured he could take care of himself. After all, he was a champion athlete, fiercely independent, and a childhood cancer survivor. When his doctor found out his seizures had recurred, Tanner lost his driver’s license, but far worse for him, he wasn’t allowed to play football.
When days of the silent treatment turned into weeks, my heartbreak turned to anger. Finally, Lou came up to me at school one day and told me what was going on, and why. He said that he’d more or less figured out what was going on, and that my confession just confirmed what he already knew.
So it shouldn’t have surprised Tanner that when he suddenly appeared one day and acted like nothing happened, I’d go just a tiny bit berserk. After the fight of the century, I cried and we made up and I made him promise not to keep anything secret from me. It didn’t matter how bad it was—I could take it.
I hadn’t counted on osteosarcoma.
“Your dinner’s getting cold, sweetie,” Mom said.
“I’m almost done,” I said, without looking up from my computer screen. “Just a couple more minutes.”
Mom sighed and went downstairs. Within seconds I’d forgotten she had ever been there and re-immersed myself into my research on cancer in general and stage-three osteosarcoma in particular. In the two days since Tanner had told me about his cancer, I’d done what I’d always done when I was stressed—I buried myself in work. I couldn’t sleep, so, why not? I was running on adrenaline and energy drinks. There was no problem that couldn’t be solved with enough brain power. I was the boy genius—I had that power to spare. If I just worked hard enough, I could fix this.
I heard heavier footsteps this time.
“Ryan, son,” Dad said, “You have to eat.”
“Yeah. Uh-huh,” I said absently. Before I realized, a pair of firm but gentle hands were placed on my shoulders and I was turned ninety degrees, chair and all, and was looking up into my concerned father’s face.
“When did you last sleep?” Dad asked.
“Oh, um, last night.” That was true, mostly. I’d collapsed on my bed, fully clothed, about two-thirty that morning. About five a.m. I’d awoken with a start, slipped down the hall to pee, gone downstairs to grab a banana and a six-pack of energy drinks, and headed right back to the computer.
“Give it a rest, Ryan,” Dad said. “You’re still not too big for me to carry you downstairs.”
“But Tanner... ”
“You’re not going to do Tanner any good if you’re in the hospital with exhaustion.”
Dad took my hands and I stood up. Through bleary eyes, I looked at my father’s care-worn face. It made me think of Lou, and that was my breaking point. I fell forward into his arms and we held each other tight as I was wracked with sobs.
“Let it out,” he murmured in my ear, and I could tell from the catch in his voice that he was close to crying himself. He guided me to the corner of the bed. When we sat down, I leaned my head against his chest and continued sobbing.
Eventually my tears were all spent and the two of us sat silent and unmoving for a few minutes.
“Why don’t you take a nice relaxing shower,” Dad said, “and put on your pajamas. Then you can come downstairs. Your mother still has your dinner waiting for you, and I can tell you what I’ve heard from Lou.” He handed me some tissues from my nightstand.
“Okay,” I said, wiping my eyes and blowing my nose. Dad gave me a gentle pat on the back and went downstairs.
I hadn’t been back to see Tanner since Sunday night because the pain medication he was taking for his broken leg made him sleep most of the time. This was the same broken leg that had alerted the doctors to the recurrence of the cancer. I was hopeful Dad would tell me Tanner was feeling up to having visitors.
When you hear that someone else has cancer, suddenly all your other troubles seem like minor bumps in the road. Tanner had made up his mind that he wasn’t going to let the fact that he wouldn’t be able to play football his senior year get him down. Basketball was a possibility. Wrestling was iffy, but not unthinkable.
Tanner had seemed satisfied when he could still work out with weights and run with me. He’d even entered a local amateur bodybuilding contest that I thought he should have walked away with, but the judges obviously left their white canes at home.