There is not one piece of cloth between us, the night our only blanket. The tentacles of my locks curl in waves on the steady rise and fall of his chest. His fingers spin a web over each cheek, following the hollow of my neck until he reaches the lump in my throat. My eyes are raining.
‘What’s wrong?’. Anything louder than a whisper feels too heavy
It’s not fair
Nothing ever is
I am not getting better
I am not well enough for my double degree next year
I can’t be normal yet
So be it
A sob crackles and escapes without permission, splitting the silence in half.
No, he says. No. You will not feel sorry for yourself. Its not fair and its awful and terrible and horrible, and maybe things will never be ok. But you will not feel sorry for yourself. Not now, not after all this.
I quietly call each howl back, kiss him on the cheek, and thank him for being right.
Nightmares are a pattern of eye movements, a projection of your subconscious under the cover of the night. Everyone thinks a nightmare is having a dream about something scary happening. A crazed axeman, a bloody, sharpened death imminent. A plunge off a building, the cracked dirt an Eskimos kiss away. A loved one wilting in their own, mangled tragedy.
People think that a nightmare is when the planets crash and their debris lands on top of you. But they are wrong. A nightmare is when tragedy stains the air, and there is nothing you can do. A nightmare is when you cannot run quick enough, when you don’t grow your wings in time, when you scream until you bleed, and never make a sound.
It’s no different to being sick really. A life on the sidelines, trying to run from yourself, and knowing that no matter how loudly you pierce the night, no matter how many sticks you sharpen, there is nothing you can do, and your flesh and cells will always catch up with you.
Except, there is one little difference between a nightmare and being sick.
You wake up from a nightmare.
I have a confession; Calendars make me cry. Each page kissed with a pretty picture, marching soldiers of numbers and days, not one out of place. Scribbles of blue, red and black, stars and circles. They are supposed to help you plan, to organise, to remember. But not all of us can slot our lives into their respective shapes. Not all of us want to remember.
It was the start of the new year, paper hats and guns of plastic still littering the loungeroom floor. A new year, a new day, a new calendar. I carefully lift the old, curling paper off its hook. 12 months never looked so old. I flick the edges with a morbid curiosity. And I begin to remember and weep
The blue ink is for all things Microshield and 30 year old magazines. Water dispensers and shrilling phones. Blue is for the next appointment, the next clicking tongue, the next sob from Mummy. Each and every appointment is marked in scratches of the sky. Paediatrician. Physiotherapist. Pathologist. Surgeon. Scan. More scans.
Take a deep breath. This won’t sting. Here’s your gown. Let’s see if we can get this IV to hurry along. Try and take 10 more steps. See you again in a few days.
For every flick of blue, there is another which you cannot see, invisible ink. The excursion, the shopping trip, the sleepover, the dinner with friends, the walk around the lake, the 18th, the football game, yet another class. Each of these wiped in the blink of an eye by the most tragic of erasers, infection, haemorrhaging and yellow staining my teeth.
The red marks, the crosses. A reminder to tell. To walk into his room and say This is where things went wrong. The hope that somehow, the numbers and moons will make a pattern. The hope that tragedy is predictable, and can be stopped. For each cross and underline, there is a red alert, a message that things are not ok. Phonecalls, texts and emails. I am so sorry but I can’t come tonight…
They tell me they understand, to take my time. There is always next time, they tell me. There is always next time, I tell myself. But there are only so many next times, until one day the next times run out, and so does patience. People can only be disappointed for so long
The black arrows are the bandaids and bridges, the attempts to make up for lost time, to race after the speeding line of smoke. The rescheduled exams, the extensions, the extensions on the extensions. The promise to do better, because you know you can’t promise to be better. A patchwork quilt of trailing behind, knowing that no matter how fast you run, you will never catch up.
The arrows are for the stinging whispers. Everyone else did their exam, you never do yours on time…. The attempt to race to class before the mucus races to your hollows. Knowing that you never make it in time. The most lonely of timetables, one year stretched into two. We think it would be easier for you…The arrows. When easy is still too hard.
The green circles and exclamation marks for the milestones your finger tips finally graze. A driving lesson. A holiday free of hovering brows of worry. A graduation. The gleam of my smile stretches cheekbone to cheekbone. They feign excitement, congratulations, pride. I appreciate the effort, I really do. Well done, they say. But it’s their unspoken words which ring the loudest. We already did this a year go.
Being sick is not unlike a nightmare. We spend each moment racing to catch up, eyes gazing from the side of the track, while we watch the rest of the world race.
But being sick is also the prettiest of dreams.
The rest of the world races, shouts and grabs. They are first in line, the first to receive their stained piece of paper, the first to leave and the first to begin.
And all the while, we sit back and learn to watch.
We cannot run like you. But we can lay in the grass and feel the butterfly rest on our cheeks. You hurry and grizzle as the rain soaks your hair. We lay and watch the droplets race down the glass, a competition of reflection. You hit the snooze button and pull the pillow over your head. We lay under the sheets, yet to sleep, and watch the sunshine kiss the world good morning. You race to brunch, a giggling gaggle of what happened last night. We sit on the dewy green, watching the twinkle of the city lights, and plan our bucket list.
Being sick is a nightmare. But learning to slow down, to take each moment as it comes, to giggle at the spilled milk and kiss the morning, to scratch out the appointments and fill it with flowers?
That’s a dream
You just need to open your eyes.