I got an xray the other day.
hold your breath.
arms here. i’m going to scoot you forward.
okay, hold your breath. relax.
And the efficient young twerp began reviewing my “films” before I’d left the room. so in what I’m sure was a violation of protocol, i see my xrays before the doctor or radiologist. And I do not want to see my xrays. or my CT scans, pet scans, bone scans and not even my MRIs.
I will hear them tell me yes, more tumor, no, less tumor. That’s enough. i do not need more than a thousand words.
and images have a way of sticking in your head and making you feel like they are the only relevant view of your life.
I’ve seen what those pictures do to young emergency room doctors; making them very earnest and apologetic.
I don’t know why I always feel like I need to console them. They just seem almost disappointed in medicine, their life’s work or in god maybe.
Besides, i don’t feel they are capturing my best side.
but these xrays i see. in both lungs there are colonies. little blooms of cities at night from the sky. some big cities.
i get dressed and go into the bathroom and sit with my head in my hands.
what does a girl who has xrays that look like that do?
how does she live?
i put my hand on my chest below my sternum. i don’t feel any of what is there. 1 inch away.
What does it feel like to know you are going to die? Isn’t that right? is that what we are wondering?
well, i don’t know. i can only tell you what it feels like to be in this body. and i will tell you that i don’t really know know what is happening. not really. and this has always been a complaint of mine. Life keeps steamrolling along and it never gives you the chance to take a minute and figure out what just happened. we are always rushing on still confused. and between the fevers and the drugs i am not always my most lucid. these are big puzzles and i am not running on all cylinders.
that being said, i think i am testing permission. The permission everyone says is mine but no one can help me understand how to activate. Permission to be ornery. to release myself from the confines of interpersonal disciplines and be indulgent. it is much more difficult and much more like work than you might imagine. irritatingly, it turns out there is not an autonomic switch of those given a terminal diagnosis.
being sick does not turn you into someone else. you can say to yourself “if i were terminal i would finally take this life in hand and live the true thing”. but i am not finding that to be the physics of my circumstance. i am still myself. oddly, somewhat disappointingly just myself.
at the same time i am being firmly expected to let go the constructions i normally wear out into the day: i am here because i can help. i can be nice. i am good. i am young. i am strong. i am lucid and aware. i will give a bit more than i let you give so that i might never feel beholden. i never need anything. i don’t lose my temper. i don’t react. i can always run away, drive off, walk off into the hills. i can always start over.
these are the outerwear of my identity. the operating system that no longer works so well. and i am letting go, i guess. my body makes the rules here. i don’t have a choice. if if i am too sick to get up to feed myself, i have to ask for help. so i am trying to explore this other way to live. see if i can pretend i am flying and not in a free fall.
if these are my last months i have this idea that i must give myself permission to move differently. tell the truth in a more vulnerable way. ask for more and try not to hide my humanness. the needs i have. the utter failings. i will tell you it is tricky to seek something i have been hiding from myself for a hundred years. i am trying to forgive myself my longings. the longings i haven’t had to admit.
and when i am up nights coughing. throwing up. when the utter fragility of this life is so lurid. i try to imagine my hands opening up. watching things float off. i cannot ride my bicycle. i cannot climb this hill. and i try to feel peaceful about them. ah well. it’s okay to change, i say. it’s okay to become something else. and like i am talking my horse through sharing the trail with a rattlesnake: “easy, easy”.
and yes, i think, my young life, this youngish life, i will lose it. this body will stop moving. will become waxen. and the people i love will have no choice but to put it in the ground. sometimes i look into the mirror and tell her that i am sorry. that she will be lost. but i don’t know this body as well as i know the others. i know deborah’s face better than my own. i know who i have loved. i know their precious faces and bodies. i know more what it would be to lose them (anguish) than the idea of losing a thing whose absence i will not be around to appreciate.
but my life? there are picture albums of a time already past. i ran track in 7th grade. i was an awkward teen. i fell in love in my 20’s. my 30’s. my 40’s. i remember so little of it. isn’t our past lost to us all? so here i am still. living an uncomfortable narrative. maybe what i will truly lose is the moment after next. at some point. there will only be this moment and no next. and in the ways we depend on things we don’t realize we depend on, for me the world of possibility is already on hiatus.
i am driving a body that i suddenly realized is ephemeral. and i can’t quite sort out who is me and who is she. or whether the distinction is important. i imagine her end as quiet and dark. but mine? i do not want quiet and dark. because i am a body. alive. and life only wants itself. i am curtained by the knowledge and desire of a body that wants to live but is filling with tumor. a body that has lost its way. and where she goes, i go.
i spend a lot of time thinking about what stones might know. the family of beings that never know death. i think about the vibrations of quantum physics and what implications that might have for an afterlife. i will tell you that i want to find myself suddenly fluent in the vibrational tongue of all matter. wormholes and the sensation of densities. big light and open air. the interpersonal relationship between the stem of a phlox and the wind that bends it.
i want to suddenly remember everything that the living body has forced me to forget. when deborah runs her hand over moss on a stone she looks like she is remembering something. something that niggles at people brimming with wonder and curiosity. we are seeing it but not seeing it clearly enough. we are dimensionally blind. we are confounded by the glare of a fixed perspective.
and my dearest hope for my death is to suddenly remember. a great breath in and holy holy holy…out. i want rest for this tormented body. a moment of ease, yes, and then the relief of remembering.
i am being given a 4 and a half year stroll around the wilderness of the idea. i wouldn’t know how to fall in a hole and suffocate the same way now. the panic is done. thankfully. that was acute. that was bitter suffering. now i am watching and waiting. trying to find the places of connection and joy.
and i think it is okay to die. it is what we are here to do. but it is hard to know how to act when you see it coming. there is no magical transformation, just love and the pedestrian march of days.
and it is okay to live. and it is okay to stand and let the wave of grief crash over us. it won’t kill us. that is what the death of my first girlfriend gave me. i learned to grieve. to have faith in the process. it is terrifying. and it changed me utterly. but it did not kill me. it is okay to become something else. it is okay to let the people we love become something else.