Melancholy and Metaphor
Ana officially went back to school today. She was SO excited and happy. Emily, on the other hand, was bummed because it was the first day back after a very long spring break. It was a really interesting contrast between the two of them which made me realize just how much Ana has changed from her illness. Here is a kid who appreciated every single ritual involved with getting ready for school, from packing her backpack the night before, to painstakingly choosing her outfit, to enjoying breakfast (something we used to have to yell at her to eat). She even got in the back seat and let Emily ride in the front.
It was astounding, and wonderful and for some reason, I couldn’t stand it because it was a painful reminder of how much she’s been through. I dropped them off, got in my car and cried all the way home. I sat in the driveway and cried even more. I want to take it all away – these past eight months – and erase the pain she’s been through. I want to restore the innocence she’s lost. My kid. Cancer survivor.
I think there is a lot of stuff shifting in my brain right now, not the least of which is some post-traumatic stress and depression. I’m also intensely worried. Going back to school means letting her out of my site. Somehow I convinced myself that if she’s just in the other room, I can keep an eye on her and that will ensure she doesn’t get sick again. Before her transplant I used to take her temperature three or four times a day, as if giving her Tylenol for that persistent nightly fever was somehow keeping her safe. The worry will be with me forever. It’s cancer’s legacy.
I remember when Ana was 2 and I left her at daycare for the first time. She shrieked and cried and I literally heard her yelling ALL the way down the hall as I walked away from the classroom. Leaving her while she shrieked for me was one of the hardest things I had to do as a parent (well, at that point in my life). It felt like that today. She floated back into her classroom and was folded into the group. Except this time she didn’t want any part of my hovering.
I had a hard time working today. I watched videos of the girls and cried. I wondered how Ana was doing on her first day back. I thought of Ana’s donor, and what I could write to his family. I rode my bike, because I remembered that I’d been spared a surgery that would’ve kept me out of the saddle for months.
This weekend I reread a novella called “The Death of Ivan Ilych” which Ana found when she’d gone digging in a bunch of old books I’d saved from college. Written by Leo Tolstoy, the book chronicles the death of a 45-year-old man who has lead a mediocre life. His illness is nonspecific, but seems to be triggered by an injury to his side which he sustained while hanging curtains in his new house. It might be an infection of his kidney and it causes him extreme pain up until his death. The most profound quote in this piece makes me wonder about my own life.
“Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.”
Can I lead a life less ordinary now that I know each day is a gift? Or can I appreciate the gift of ordinary moments? Can I do both?
I think I understand how people can get caught up in trauma and have a hard time breaking free from it; like hoarders surrounded by junk that they can’t throw out. I understand how they pull this stuff in around them and let it suffocate them, because to excavate it means facing the thing they are most afraid of; loss, death, failure. Cancer is as big a tragedy as any can be, and to live my life the way I did before it cast its dark shadow on my child, would be a huge mistake. But I don’t know how to take control of this feeling because there are bills to pay and clothes to wash and taxes to do (actually, mine are done).
I wish I could pause my life for the next few months and get my bearing again; formulate a plan. But I’ll take the moments when I can get them – like my one hour bike ride this afternoon. I think it’s true what they say about time – it heals all. So, I won’t rush things. I’ll keep crying when I need to cry, but I will also try to remember that the incredible pain of the last few months will fade and, if I honor the gift that Ana has been given, everything will hopefully be okay.