And just like that, in an instant, all the hard work of an entire year was gone. Poof. I was back in my fetal ball, hugging my knees. One email and I was shattered.
I read the message and naturally my first thought was for them: the couple battling the relapse, quelling the terror, trying to remain optimistic over the din of beeping machines and television soundtracks bleeding through too-thin walls. The pair hearing but not understanding the doctor's words. The pair whose love has to carry them through another minefield of tests and needles and pills and tears and fears. My heart sank for them. And then I began to bawl. I was shaking and heaving. Snot ran down my face. I was wrecked.
Where did THAT come from?
Memory is a funny thing. It happens in your noggin, but also in your body. In an instant the tangy sweet scent of disinfectant filled my nose. I heard the squeak of gurney wheels along worn but well-scrubbed linoleum floors. My chest tightened with the memory of frantic trips to the Emergency Room and the way that once you have reached the hospital time stands still, slowly being smothered in dust motes. My head hurt from all that unasked for, unwanted knowledge: medication side effects, which button silences the machine, the names of all the nurses on every shift, the look on his face when he's simply had enough. I was trembling with the terror, and my stomach knotted up over the helplessness; the chant of "what do I do? what do I do?" that never seemed to win me an answer. In the moment it took to read a paragraph, I was transported back to the day part of my beloved's body turned against itself--one boring old regular day that started off like any other until, all of a sudden, it wasn't and things would be forever different.
Get off the floor. Grab something, hold onto someone, crawl if you must. Just get yourself upright again.
I felt all the sensations again. My feet were walking the floors of the ICU at 2 a.m. seeking help and comfort; I am so scared, so so scared. I was crying in the shower. Crying on the trails. Crying in the car. Crying anywhere and everywhere except in front of the one doing all the really hard work. I was reading everything and anything, trying to understand what was happening and what I was supposed to be doing to stop it. I was smiling until my face hurt and lying constantly, "it'll be okay, you're going to be okay."
Hold it together, Petal. Gather up all those bits and pieces, even as it all falls apart.
Yet again, I saw him disappear before my eyes. My big boy's arms became so skinny and they ended with a set of old man's hands. How could Michael's hands be so wrinkled and so pale? When he lost his eyelashes to the chemo, his brown eyes seemed just enormous. And sometimes they looked so sad. And sometimes they looked so scared. His whip-smart mind forgot things. His sure hands dropped things. And in the end--oh god, in that moment at the very end--after the struggle and the panic he was so still and so white and so wholly gone, so quick I almost didn't see it happen. And I was tired. Even now, I am tired. Every electron in every atom in every part of this battered old body is moving at half speed.
Weary. So goddamned weary.
A whole year of healing dissipated like morning fog, revealing the same old landscape. How the hell did I end up standing all alone in this same effing empty field? When did I fall back down onto these bruised knees?
GET UP. Pick yourself up, Girl. You are Wonder Woman and Super Girl wrapped into one. You are an Amazon. You are the woman of steel.
But we are nothing if not a resilient species. After a day, maybe two, the other stuff came back, too. I've already stumbled along this path once. Stand up. Get on your feet. Move. Run. Dance. Laugh. I may still be exploring, but I generally know my way out. This time I know the faint trails that lead back to the road, back to other people and other things. I know them with my eyes closed. I have run these paths every day for over a year. So, go. And put in some extra miles while you're there, Anastasia, to build some endurance for the next time. Because I'm sure there will be a next time. Another email, a song, a smell, finding his glasses or wallet or shirt or some other artifact in the back of a drawer, something will come along and punch you in the chest all over again.
Pick it up. Pick it all up. And start again.
And for heaven's sake, go blow your nose.