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A funny thing happened after Wallace made up his terminal cancer diagnosis

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A funny thing happened after Wallace made up his terminal cancer diagnosis and posted it online. People cared. Or at least, they seemed to. “Stay up, fam!” they tweeted. “Everyone show love to the big homie @Wallace_NIB.” Style bloggers like to say fashionable things at the moment they are fashionable, and at the moment, the young sneaker writer’s battle was a cause célèbre. That only a few of them had ever heard of Wallace (or his blog, New In Box) was beside the point.

Their words may have been empty, but the boxes that followed the words certainly weren’t. A couple of weeks after the first Instagram about his illness – ‘obscure and metastasising’, read the caption; ‘nearly indetectable; a year, 18 months at most’ – Wallace was inundated with shipments. The influentsia had turned the story into a hashtag, and when #LetsLaceWallace started showing up on timelines and feeds throughout fashion’s high-traffic
corner of social media, the PR girls caught wind.

PR girls transact on appearance, and like to send things in the mail. That only a few of them had ever heard of Wallace (or his blog, New In Box) was neither remarkable nor concerning. Certainly not as remarkable or concerning as Wallace’s spectacularly public battle with cancer. Before very long, gifts piled up at the door of a 25 year-old sneaker blogger who was ‘dying’ of ‘cancer’.

“Why do they put so much goddamned packaging on these?” Wallace was trying to open the heavily-taped seams of a large box. He meticulously slid the blade of his box-cutter through the clear plastic so as not to slice the contents within. It was a Tuesday afternoon. The loft apartment – sparsely furnished, sunny, and floored with the sort of unpolished hardwood that a realtor might optimistically refer to as “rustic” – smelled like cardboard and vape fumes.

He tried to open the box, only to discover another strip of tape beneath the one he’d already cut. He frowned.“What’d you say? I didn’t hear you.” From the other side of the loft, Chris exited his bedroom and wandered towards him, stepping unathletically over the hoverboard that someone had sent his roommate last week.
“Tape, dude! They tape the fuck out of everything!” A wave of mischief swept the mild annoyance off Wallace’s face. He grinned slyly. “Don’t they know I’m sick?” he demanded, sarcastically exaggerating his indignance. “It’s not right to make a dying man spend his last days grappling with packing supplies, is it?!”

He slashed roughly at the adhesive and eventually gained access to the box. With a happy grunt, he pulled out several smaller rectangular boxes from inside. Sneakers. New in box.
Wallace dragged deeply on his G-pen, tilted back his head, and slowly belched forth a cloud of celebratory vape smoke. “Onitsukaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” he rasped. The Asics girls must have put in a word.
“Pretty cool,” said Chris. He turned a trainer over in his hands, then glanced at the original box, which stood about waist-high behind his roommate. There were easily 10 sneaker boxes inside it. “Maybe you should donate a few of these.” he volunteered hopefully.

Wallace turned to him, aghast. “What?!” He clutched at his chest theatrically. “Give them away?! Never!”
“Very funny.”
“You asked.”
“I dunno man, I feel like you should try to bank up as much good karma as you can,” Chris continued. “Someone’s gonna figure it out when, y’know – you don’t die.”
His friend shrugged. “Maybe I’ll make a miraculous recovery,” Wallace hypothesised aloud. “Everyone would be so happy.”
“Maybe. I guess?”
“It’ll be fine,” Wallace said, his voice a lilt of confidence. “I’ll be fine.” He fished out his phone and tossed it to Chris. “Can you take a picture?”

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Chris sighed. Wallace needed a lot of ‘sick kid happily wearing free gear’ photos. They were lethal. Bed-ridden and peaky, holding a new box full of gifts… that shit played. The numbers didn’t lie. Before, his Instagrams barely broke one hundred, no matter how many hashtags he appended. He never had real fire.

Now, though, the fire arrived nearly on command. Lace up a pair, lay on a bed looking tired but hopeful, and 10 thousand likes would come rolling in. Easy. New In Box’s Instagram had become a leading sneaker account overnight, and cancer was the real MVP.

Wallace donned the Onitsuka Tigers and fixed the cuff on his jeans. Ready to shoot. Chris rolled his eyes and leaned over to snap photos.
“I feel like a goddamned accomplice,” he groused.
“Shut up.”
“I’m serious, Wallace! What’s the endgame here? Eventually you’ll have to say something.”
“It’s not a big deal. People beat cancer all the time.”
“From a hospital bed. Surrounded by oncologists. You’re not even seeing a physician.”
“That’s because it’s terminal,” Wallace joked. “Medicine can no longer assist me!”
Chris straightened up and handed the phone back. He clicked his teeth in frustration, but said nothing.

“Lighten up. What’s next?” Wallace turned back to the box full of boxes.
“I’m leaving, man. Some of us who aren’t ‘dying’ can’t afford to spend the day stacking sneakers.”
“Boo! Come on, I’ll give you three pairs if you hang for the rest of the afternoon.”
“Can’t, I gotta bounce.” Chris shook his head and made for the door of the apartment. As he swung the door open, his phone buzzed. @Wallace_NIB has mentioned you… “Goddammit Wallace,” he shouted across the loft. “I told you to stop crediting me on these photos! I don’t want to be involved. I’m serious.”

His roommate mounted the hoverboard, hit his pen, and rolled away in a cloud of vape smoke. “Onitsukaaaaaaaaaa, bitch.” Then the door slammed, and Wallace was alone. He shrugged and glanced down at his phone. Over a thousand likes already. He wheeled the hoverboard around and took another drag from the pen. His eyes wandered to the window, where the afternoon sun was slipping towards the skyline.
“People beat cancer all the time,” he muttered, exhaling. Then he crumpled to the floor.

By the time Chris returned to the apartment, it had been dark for hours. He saw the hoverboard first. Unburdened of its rider, it had bumped up against Wallace’s towering wall of sneakers. New in box, from floor to ceiling. Some of the cardboard panels had been inscribed with marker. #LetsLaceWallace, they said. The board’s LED lights flickered aimlessly in the darkened loft. In their feeble glow, he could just barely make out the shape of a body over by the window, sprawled unnaturally on the hardwood.

It really was a funny thing that happened when Wallace told the internet he was terminally ill. Tweets of support choked his timeline. His doorstep suffocated beneath all the packages. He had expected all that.
That’s why he cooked up the whole ‘dying of cancer’ gambit in the first place. He just never considered that he actually might be. Obscure and metastasizing. Nearly indetectable. A year, 18 months at most. He wasn’t even seeing a physician.
The boxes piled up at the loft, until eventually the carriers began returning them to the places from where they’d come.

This piece first appeared in issue 35 – available now.

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