Toward the end of the evening, Dominick ceremoniously brought out his glorious special dessert, which he makes every year for the party, a mound of croquembouche: pastry cream–stuffed profiteroles piled high into a cone-like mound and linked with crunchy strands of caramel. My mother was the only other person I knew who ever made them (every Halloween, while most kids got Snickers and jelly beans from the neighbors, my mom made croquembouche, and that’s what she passed out to the small ghosts and princesses and aliens who knocked on her apartment door). As Dominick approached with the tray, my mom took one of the doughy balls very carefully with her left hand—her right hand and most of her right side were basically still useless at this point—and bit into it. I remember the look on her face as the taste resonated, and I watched her lick a dab of the custard that had settled on her upper lip. Our eyes met and, although she didn’t utter a word, I knew what she was saying to me: This is why I refused to die.