Tuesday 5 June 2012
They keep telling me to enjoy my holiday. Relax, they say. But I'm holding onto a rope. Every few inches, there's a knot. The rope drags me behind the ship and the waters are rough and cold. I grit my teeth and hang on. I've been hanging on so long it's all I know. The waters are deep and frightening. Whatever happens, whatever else I do, I can't let go of the rope or it's over. I'd float away like so much flotsam. I'd never see the ship again. I've managed to pull my chest clear. Inch by agonising inch I've dragged my hands one over the other, knot by knot. But it only takes a moment, a lapse, if I stop concentrating on the rope, I'll plunge back down, the knots slipping through my icy, numb fingers until I'm up to my neck again. Or below the water completely. They talk to me from the ship, but still it's hard to hear and I focus on each knot, clinging on. And the nights. At night I dream. At night there are the corridors. Endless gleaming, sterile corridors that I have to walk. My head pounding beneath the flickering strip lights, but I have to keep shuffling along. Someone's waiting for me at the end. I'm sure they are, they called. It hurts and I grit my teeth. I swear a little. No-one is there. It's just me and the endless shining, white corridors. I'm always alone. (So very alone) Every time I think I'm at the end there's another corner, another endless corridor. I start awake, bathed in sweat, dripping, the bed drenched. I reach for the tissues and mop myself, my hair, my chest, my back, my knees, my face. I try to sleep again, and I'm straight back to the corridors. And the sweat. And the corridors. And the sweat......Until dawn comes and I hear the cuckoo that lives in the tree above our tent. In the French sun I sit and watch my life. It goes on, a seamless joy of baby giggles and water splashes, of jiggling rides on Daddy's shoulders and grazed knees - Daddy picks them up, Daddy cuddles it better. Tired, or hungry, Daddy is there. And I watch, the gap in the scene is me. I've been gone so long, life moves on. I sit because I can't climb and dive and plunge. I sit because it still hurts. I sit and I watch my life. Sometimes, they remember me, a small, shivering bundle of chlorine and droplets hurls onto me. I wince, but inside, fearful they won't come again. I shiver from their cold skin but only when they've gone. I watch them run back, all knocking knees and chattering teeth and delight and I weep, silently so no-one sees, wondering if it will ever be me again who soothes the tears and picks them up, whirling them round in joyous circles, rubbing away the shivers, cuddling them to sleep. "Mummy has to sleep" Do they ever remember the days I didn't? "Mummy has to have her medicine" Do they think I love it and need it more than them? I eat the moules mariniere, but the soundtrack in my head says "you nearly died" I chat with other holidaymakers, but I want to tell them I just nearly died. Elvis sings, unexpectedly and mawkishly about "little Tommy", together they'll find a brand new Mommy, and tears spring to my eyes at the bar. I try to read the novel I brought with me. The mother dies in the first chapter and I hurl it away, the pages fluttering loose on the wind. I can't breathe. I look up and people on their civilised tent verandas are watching me, a question in their eyes. I look down at the ground and go inside. I nearly died, I nearly died, the rhythm of my wheelchair crunching over stones. I've nearly died before, so many times and there will be so many more. So far, I've held on to the rope. There's a stone in my chest. It makes it hard to breathe. It's made of tears I can't cry. I want to sob until I sleep. I want to cry and cry until salty and damp, there are no more tears left. Instead, I swallow past the stone. Every now and then I wrench in a painful breath. It sounds of pain and ripped dreams, of ragged edged fear and exhaustion. The strangers look puzzled, they ask if I'm ca va? Do I need anything? I smile, swallowing the stone back down. I shake my head because words can't get past the stone. I focus on breathing in a way that doesn't frighten them, but every now and then another sob breath comes. I cough or look away until the stone is back in place. It will fade. I will slowly drag my whole body from the icy water, knot after knot. If I'm really lucky, I may get to lay on the deck for a while. The corridors will get shorter. One night there will be a window with a garden outside. People will start to walk with me. The sweats of horror and chemical-onslaught will pass. I'll forget I nearly died as slowly, scene by scene, I get busy living again. I'll be mummy again. The stone will shrink. As I swallow it down, one day I will realise it's gone, that I'm breathing, in and out, automatically, that breathing is smooth and natural and calm. Eventually, I will see that flesh has covered these bones again, that you don't need to wince any more when I shuffle past in leggings or shorts. I'll be "fine" again. But every time, I'm a little less "fine". It's a little harder. The rope is a little longer. The waters a little rougher. The corridors a little longer and brighter and lonelier. (So lonely) Daddy a little more Daddy, Mummy a little less Mummy. The fear and sweat a little colder. The stone a little bigger. Death a little closer.