Walking on

As I was leaving the hosp[ital this morning after my treatment, I stood at the lift doors when they opened, and a man started to exit. When he realised it wasn’t the ground floor, he stepped back, confused, and I entered, brightly asking, “going down?”

It was hard to judge his age. I tend to do it taking myself as a reference point, but even given my recent travails, I’m more sprightly than many and certainly look a good deal younger than all but a few of the same age. Considering that, I’d estimate he was around my age or a couple of years older.

He was thin and bent, clutching at the handrail in the lift for support. He had wispy grey hair and a thin grey beard. He turned to study me as the lift doors closed. “You sound jolly for a man leaving hospital,” he said.

There was no judgement in the comment, nor even curiosity, really. In part, I think it was a reflection on his own condition compared to mine – he had a walker – but he took some reassurance from it also, I think, as if to say, good onya mate.

I don’t know if I was jolly – or if I could ever be described as jolly – but I was feeling pretty bright. I hadn’t realised until he said it, but I saw myself as he must have, seemingly healthy and full of vigour, a friendly tone to my voice, striding into the lift after him. “I’m jolly because I’m leaving the hospital,” I told him.

I got on at the second floor, and it took no time to get to the ground floor. We exchanged a couple of extra pleasantries and wished each other a good day. I was fairly certain that my day would be better than his, and perhaps the weeks and months ahead also. Not for the first time, I blessed my good fortune. There’s nothing like visiting a hospital to appreciate how many desperately sick people there are.

It was cool, but the sun was out. On impulse, I turned left instead of right as I left the building and walked down to the French restaurant near the corner. I ordered a flat-white to go, and the tall, slender French girl served me, smiling and friendly as she has been each time I’ve visited. I left and started towards the station.

I have headphones on while travelling on the train and to and from the station. With noise reduction switched on, I feel like I’m in my own little world, which is welcome in the cold mornings. I occasionally listen to music, but mostly it’s an audiobook I listen to pass the time. That was the case today.

It’s a well-worn route by now – this is my seventh week of treatment. Next week is my eighth and final week. I’ll be very grateful for the end of it, but the best part is when I’m heading home. Mostly I listen to my book and whatever thoughts in my head pass through without lingering long. For some reason, it was different today.

I thought of the man in the lift. I saw him as an individual and hoped his story would end well. Often, coming and going from the hospital, I’ll see patients in their robes, attached sometimes to a wheeled contraption, outside taking in the fresh air and activity or, alternately, having a cigarette. I always feel fortunate that that’s not me. Thinking of the man today, I felt grateful for what I have.

I don’t know how or why, but I then recalled, very vaguely, a woman I went out with many years ago. She had cottoned on me after getting all the details of my birth and doing my chart – she dabbled in that stuff. Her analysis proved that our stars were almost literally entwined. She proclaimed us a great match, which was the primary reason she had latched onto me. It was in the stars. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

Then, as I passed by a street, a nagging memory came to life. I’d gone out with a cute lawyer for a while and should have made much more of the relationship than I did. Walking to and fro all these weeks, I felt sure she had lived around here, and suddenly. It was the street I was passing where she lived.

I remembered her again. She was intelligent and attractive. A good type. I knew I should make a go of it, but I was coming off a recent disappointment, and my heart wasn’t in it. She’d have been good.

I walked on. That’s life. You walk on.

What lies ahead

So much has changed in recent years, in the world and in my life. By necessity we’ve been made to adapt. I don’t remember more uncertain times than those we live in now, with Covid, climate change, and political turmoil becoming the standard we must bear up against. In so many ways, the outlook is bleak. The carefree days of my youth seem far away. But then my youth is past too, and besides all the global currents swirling about us, there is the personal. In my case, it’s cancer, though it goes beyond that.

Life is forever changed and I don’t know when or if it will settle into a new way or if it will remain forever changing. The best we can do is to shape our life to find pleasure and comfort where it still remains.

This morning I woke without having to rush out the door to the cold and dark. I had my coffee, then I read in bed. This is a small thing but gives me pleasure. It feels civilised and even normal. It’s good for me.

I feel myself very much in a state of transition because of my health. As I get better, the demands on me will become less and I will be able to do more. My outlook has shifted, though it remains unclear which way satisfaction lies. My claims are small for now.

I want to live like this, I know. I want to wake leisurely and approach the day slowly. I imagine a life where I read more, not just for pleasure, but for elucidation. There’s so much I don’t know and I want to expand into the space that reading opens to me. With reading comes thought. They are intertwined. I want to read and I want to think.

There are other things and they are similarly small, and familiar. It’s been years since I travelled properly. I must get back to it. It is another way of being opened up, and another way of thinking.

I’m sure writing will play a part. For the last couple of months I’ve been hard at it after doing nothing when I was ill. It serves an important purpose for me. It’s a way of exploring my mind and of bringing the things held inside me to the surface. It’s easy to argue that it’s another way of opening up. Though it’s hard work, and sometimes torturous, it gives me pleasure.

I don’t want to be alone doing this. I feel ready and able to open myself to that also, and there appear possibilities. What makes it difficult is that I’m not one to compromise. I don’t need companionship. I’m independent and self-sufficient without even trying – perhaps, too much so. It must be a meeting of minds and hearts, as well as bodies. It must be true and real. I want, as one long ago girlfriend described it, someone to steal horses with.

I can be assure of that when I get a dog again. I missing having a partner in crime.

Work, career, money – that’s more difficult. I may want something different, but I’m not in the position where I can change careers so easily. I have to figure this one out. So much of it is banal to me, but I need to make a living – and it’s more important now than ever before.

On the way back from the hospital yesterday I passed by a terrace house for sale in Greville street. I stoped to check it out. It appeared lovely – just my sort of home. I had a moment of sadness knowing I was on track for this until everything turned bad. Now it appears far out of reach – it is far out of reach.

I walked away refusing to accept that. I couldn’t stomach the melancholy reality of that defeat. I must find a way, I thought. And that’s true in many ways. I’ve been corralled by circumstance towards a certain path, but I refuse to take it. I must find a way of changing that, and I’m clever enough to do that.

There’s a lesson in that my illness has made me see more clearly. What makes me different? If you prefer, what are my strengths?

This was one of the party games we played the other night. Describe yourself in three words. Initially, we started with one. Mine was ‘formidable’. After some thought my three words were intelligent, independent and resilient.

Others may see it differently, and it’s hard to narrow it down to three words when each of us is an admixture of attributes all blended together.

These seem the essence of me, however. I might say I’m kind and generous or Im thoughtful and sensitive, that I’m strong or I’m proud, imaginative and creative, articulate and inquisitive, and so on. I think it boils down to this, though: I will keep going, and keep going my own way. And I’m smart.

These are the attributes I have to exploit. I can’t just accept them – I have to use them.

There’s not much I can do about the world about me except lend my weight and my voice when it’s called upon. To find a way forward for myself is a matter of finding pleasure where I can and designing a life around it. To make that possible, I must position myself as a thought leader. I’ve done things all my life, but now it’s time to guide others to do things.

All of this is conjecture still. There’s a lot to play out, and much dependent on my recovery. I’m approaching the last quarter of my life, however. If not now, then when?

The fall and rise

There was a moment the other week when I left the offsite meeting in the city that I was mighty tempted to find a good wine bar and sit there amongst my peers and indulge in something that, once so familiar, had become foreign to me. I imagined sitting at the bar and chatting to the bartender, as I have so often.

Most particularly, I imagined myself in conversation with an attractive stranger there for the same reason as I. I was ready, I thought, to re-enter the fray. The thought gave me delight. I remembered the feeling so well. There was pleasure in it and mystery, and half of it was that the outcome was unknown. I’d always been good at that. It was not always easy and sometimes challenging, but I was independent, confident and articulate, and this was life. Most of all, I craved the sense of vigour going down that path and the spice of flirtation, not knowing where it would lead.

I didn’t. I caught the train home. The day will come, however, when I will brave recent setbacks and put myself out there again.

I mention it now because it felt new. Like the first signs of regrowth. By the next day, I was feeling much more cynical, dismayed by the banality of the meeting I attended and feeling a general sense of alienation.

The day after that, though, a Saturday, it all changed again. For the first time in over a year, I went to the footy. I went to the MCG with a friend who barracked for the opposing side. We sat in the MCC members in the pale sunshine, a wicked chill in the air. I hardly expected my team to win, but they did, coming from behind in stirring fashion as the crowd roared.

I had forgotten that feeling. To be part of a crowd is to feel part of a living organism. It heaves and sighs. It roars and groans. Listen to it with your eyes closed, and you can follow the match by the rise and fall of human noise and the shouted comments from the crowd. I had been there hundreds of times before and felt a thrill to be back. I was alive to it.

We had a beer at halftime and another in the Percy Beames bar after the game. It was a happy, rambunctious crowd. About me, the crowd wore their team colours, mostly scarves, most in the red and black of my team, and a few in the red and white of the other.

I felt a part of a community again. For much of the past year, I have been alone, and more so once Rigby had gone. I was unwell and generally incapable, battling on looking towards a time when I would be well enough to be a part of society again.

Cancer is isolating, as much mentally as physically. There’s a sense of incapacity that is psychological. The disease, and the treatment for it, has left you weak and scarred. You have lost something and know it. It looms so immensely in your mind that everything else seems secondary. You have to get through it, have to survive.

There’s the perpetual regimen of specialists and treatment and medication – and pain, too. It’s a totally foreign way of living that you resign yourself to. Your friends are good, but you feel they look at you differently, and you feel in yourself something different. Cancer is scary to everyone, to those who have it and to those who don’t.

The trick is to get through it. Not everyone does, but I expect I will. That time is getting closer, and hence I raise my eyes to look further ahead and imagine a life beyond this.

I felt that on Saturday. I wasn’t alone. Here, in the crowd, a crowd of people who felt and thought as I did, there was a sense of brotherhood. I spoke to a couple in passing, enthused by our joint victory. I handed another his beer and talked to a girl waiting for her friends. In that living, heaving, boisterous crowd, I remembered what it was like to be part of a community.

Clearing the boundaries

I woke up early this morning to get to the hospital for my hyperbaric treatment. I wasn’t conscious of being in any particular mood.

I drove to the hospital through middling traffic and walked into the hospital 5 minutes early. I had a RAT, which was clear, and then had to change out of all my clothes – including undies and removing my watch – to put on a pair of hospital scrubs. Ten minutes later, they slid me into the hyperbaric tube.

They reckon when it’s fully pressurised, the pressure is like being 14 metres underwater, which is about twice as much as when you fly. You’re all familiar with your ears popping when flying; that’s absolutely necessary in the hyperbaric chamber to equalise pressure and ease any pain or risk of damage.

Normally you might do that by swallowing or holding your nostrils closed and blowing. Because of my surgery and the loss of feeling, I couldn’t do the second, so all I could do was keep swallowing as the oxygen pumped in and the pressure increased. It took a while for it to work. Along the way, they had to slow or even back off on the pressure because my left ear was troubling me.

The treatment after that was uneventful, even boring. I just lay there for over an hour. I couldn’t even read a book. When the attendants released the pressure again, I felt a crackling and gurgling in my left ear. The doctor on duty inspected it and reported it was bruised from the pressure. Long story short, I can’t continue treatment until they do a minor procedure to allow for the pressure to equalise more efficiently between the inner and outer ear – similar to the grommet in my right ear, just more temporary.

I left, frustrated and weary thinking I had to have yet more surgery.

I drove to my old stamping ground, Hampton. I went to a cafe I used to frequent and, waiting to be seated, had a couple of old ladies barge in and take the table meant for me. They were a couple of Brighton types and very rude. I was shown to another table. I waited ten minutes to be served and then walked out.

I went to another cafe, relatively new and much less busy. I was served by a sweet-natured teenage girl who got my order wrong. It was no big deal, and I made nothing of it, but as I left 20 minutes later, I realised I was in a cranky mood.

I get gruff when I’m cranky, which wasn’t helped by the fact that my speech had gone off sooner than usual – maybe due to the treatment. I stalked back to the car, feeling a cold agitation and a sense of impatience for something I couldn’t define.

Today, I think, is one of the few occasions that I feel sorry for myself. It’s okay; I’ll allow it this time. I was conscious of all I had lost, which I felt ever keener knowing there was no one I could talk to about it. I’ve never really complained, but I was unlucky to lose my close family prematurely. Losing my mum, particularly, was very hard, and her death set in train a series of calamitous events that left me with no family to comfort me in hard times.

I felt the loss of Rigby too, my boon companion. I think of him a lot and am still vacuuming up remnants of his fur! It feels pretty sad. The other day, returning home, I made a wish that I would open the door and he would be there. I felt quite good about it, much like when you feel your numbers might come up in lotto this week. He wasn’t there, though. Nor have I won lotto.

I miss him. I wonder how I would have coped last year with the cancer breaking if he hadn’t been there for me. I have vivid memories of that torrid time that recur to me regularly, yet in all of them, I return home to the eager affection of Rigby. I’ll probably get another dog soon and will be grateful for it, but it won’t bring back Rigby.

I’m a bit sad currently about friendship in general. No recriminations. Everything has a lifespan. Not great timing is all.

I feel I have lost a lot and possibly suffered more than my fair share of obstacles. I’ve always been conscious of not wanting to make that an excuse. You’ve got to deal with what comes your way, no ifs, buts or maybes. I’ve done that, but I’m aware of the cost.

I feel, in a way, that so many years have been lost, and remind myself there’s still time to find the comfort I need and yearn for. But, after tarrying for so long, I’m impatient to get that started, not knowing how.

There’s a feeling now different from before, which I’m unsure if it’s just a part of getting old or, more likely, it’s a part of coming close to death. There were always things I did and wanted to do, and they seemed a part of the continuum. If not this year, then next, or five years from now. There was no perceived limit or boundary. You know it exists, but distantly, and life feels boundless.

Now I feel the truth that more is behind me than ahead, and the times when I may have done the things I truly wanted were wasted. That’s an extreme perception that the urgent sense of loss exacerbates. The truth is, I did other things instead. While great fun and valuable in many ways, the things I did were transient. They were a moment that passed. I missed the opportunity to build something lasting.

It’s a classic tale. As they say, it’s later than you think.

Now, I can see the boundaries ahead. I can hear the clock ticking. Nothing feels boundless anymore. I try to recapture that sense, and it’s a key reason I strive to enhance my physical health – if I can feel and look younger, then maybe I can get some of that sense again. The sense of limitless possibilities. Maybe that can be, but then maybe it’s a delusional attempt to reclaim time lost to me.

Having got to this point, having survived cancer and experienced a form of enlightenment, I’m impatient to get back to the main game, knowing my opportunities to perform and score are dwindling. I feel it urgently: I have to make it count.

So, that’s the definition I was looking for, perhaps. It will remain true, but tomorrow is a different day and may bring a different view.

The wonder of it

I’ve been out and returned since I wrote the earlier post and found myself thinking about it as I visited the supermarket and library. The nature of a blog like this is that it’s personal, particularly in my version of it. I’m not so interested in recording the quotidian activities of my life, though I feel obliged to note down some of it. I’m interested in the psychological journey – how I see and experience things and the evolving perspective along the way. The logical extension of that is a degree of self-absorption, if not navel gazing. It aligns with my nature also.

All of that is heightened when you endure a life-threatening condition. Though it’s terrifying, it’s also fascinating. To bear witness to the breakdown of your body and functions and then toil as they slowly, haltingly, patchily repair is a thing of wonder.

It’s astonishing to comprehend when so many simple functions fail. You live at a baseline and above it often, but abruptly, you plunge beneath it. How can you not see things differently when your experience is so radically altered? The elementary experience – and expectation – of living is turned upside down when your speech and hearing fail, when your muscles become frail and your consciousness fragile, and your ability even to taste fades, and eating is a trial. With it goes a sense of self.

It is a challenge, obviously, but it’s much more than that. You become your own biological experiment. A part of you steps back, probably by necessity. It’s like peering into a microscope and being exposed to a myriad of mysterious worlds you never imagined. But it’s you!

It’s my physical self that has suffered this damage. I’m sharp as I ever was and my psyche is healthy. It’s my body that has been attacked, and hence my focus on it. I had something malicious grow inside me. It’s gone, though it can return. To reclaim what was taken is a victory. Every sign of healing is a bit of territory I take back from this foe. To become robust again, to feel my swagger return, is defiance of a fate otherwise decreed.

There are many bigger and stronger than me, true even when I was perfectly healthy. There are certainly many, and maybe most, who are more attractive than what I’ve become. I may take that as a mark of achievement one day, but for now, the only way I know I’m winning is in my physical progress. It becomes an obsession.

Winter is coming, I know. No matter how much I regain, the mounting years will slowly erode. I’ll defy that too, but it’s more readily accepted. One thing that has changed is that I’m much more aware of my mortality and the mortality of others. I know, most likely, the day will come, and I know how I don’t want to die. I’ve seen enough of that.

It’s the sense of detachment that gives me the perspective of transience. Everything passes, as it has for thousands of years. What seems vital and urgent to us now will one day be a thousand years past. I’ve had an awareness of that previously – it’s why I chose to write, to leave a mark – but it feels more real. Less theoretical, more practical.

How it happens

Speaking of overreactions, I think some of the commentary over what happened yesterday at the Oscar’s ceremony verges on the absurd. Admittedly, it was a shocking event – in terms of being totally unexpected – but it is hardly uncommon. What made this different is that two famous people were involved, and it happened on live TV.

Should the police have become involved? It falls within their ambit, but that would have been a mistake. Should Smith be banned because of this? Once more, I think not.

I read someone claiming that the sight of casual violence being normalised like that would have repercussions. To be honest, that horse bolted long ago. Both casual and formalised violence is on our TV screens every night. It’s part of the problem that violence, in general, has been co-opted for entertainment, and the more graphic, the better. Feel free to complain about that, but it started long ago. It doesn’t excuse what happened yesterday, but it puts it in perspective.

I may be a special case, but my first reaction on seeing the footage was a surprised amusement. I’m the cool type, and it’s rare that anything will get me het up. It was basically a bitch-slap, much like you’ll see outside a nightclub any Saturday night. Smith portrayed Ali once, and had he struck Rock with a closed fist, that would have been a different matter.

Smith has since apologised, which is appropriate. I’m surprised more people aren’t taking Chris Rock to task because of his insensitive joke.

I suspect that my view of this is primarily informed by my generation. I don’t know what it’s like for kids and young people these days, but I know there is a cultural thrust that wasn’t present when I was their age. I’m aware of it and largely sympathetic as someone older, but it’s not ingrained in me. I’m liberal by inclination. I weary of some of the didactic, tedious commentary, but I’m in broad agreement with much of it. Even so, it’s important to me that I think for myself without reference to a structured position. It’s my habit to reflect and reason things through, using my knowledge and experience. As for what I feel, I firmly believe there should be no filters on your heart.

Laying in bed last night, I was reminded of the times I’d been in a confrontation. There’s not been many since leaving school, and mostly nothing more than some fierce verballing and a bit of push and shove. It may be shocking to the casual reader here, but I never shied from these confrontations and felt quite invigorated by them. I felt like cleaning out the pipes, but times were different.

Back in the day, it was important how you did this. It shocks and shames me these days to hear of some of the violent episodes perpetrated in the pubs and streets. It was a matter of honour that you wouldn’t hit someone when they weren’t looking; indeed, you’d never king-hit someone from behind. And you’d definitely never glass anyone. It probably sounds stupid, but half the time, the confrontation would be ended with a wink and a yeah, alright. It wasn’t that serious.

Two minor altercations came to mind. In one, we were in a pub in South Melbourne, Cheeseboy and me and a girl. We were playing pool. A group came in and started making comments. I was happy to shrug it off, but Cheeseboy took offence. There ensued a verbal confrontation that threatened to become more.

In a very Australian way, I looked on with barely a word. I was supportive of Cheeseboy, but he had it under control and didn’t need me jumping in. In between, we continued to play pool. I was ready to back him up if it came to that, and the others knew it in my body language. In the end, it never went beyond the verbal. I may have said something towards the end. They went away.

I’m walking down Toorak road on a balmy Saturday night in the other incident. Beside me is a mate’s wife, who is about 60% deaf. My mate and other friends are following about 30 metres behind. We’re talking when suddenly there’s the sound of men yelling. They’re yelling at us, at my friend particularly, making all sorts of improper and inappropriate comments.

They’re in a minibus, stopped at the lights and leaning out of the window at us. My friend can’t make out what they’re saying and thinks it’s probably something fun. When I stalk off to confront them, she starts to follow until I tell her to stay behind. The men, louts in their early twenties and probably half-pissed are delighted at my approach. Watcha going to do, big fella? I hadn’t thought about that, but I was open to pulling them through the window and teaching them some manners.

The thing is, I didn’t think about any of this. It was automatic – much as it seems to have been with Will Smith yesterday. My body took over. I went to them, full of disdain and cold anger. I had no fear. No part of me had begun to question what I was doing. It felt right.

In the end, the lights changed, and the minibus moved off with the hoots of the men inside it. I turned and went back to my friend.

Nothing came of it, but something might have. Was it wrong? Part of me thinks you can’t let such behaviour go without acting – but then, I know a large part of that may well be my masculine ego. I think mostly I was shocked that people could be so disgusting towards an innocent and very kind woman who happened to be a good friend. My intrinsic reaction was rage. I couldn’t let it go unpunished. But this is me afterwards, trying to explain it. At the time, my body took over.

Perhaps it is wiser to turn the other cheek. It would have been wiser for Will Smith to do that. But sometimes, it just doesn’t sit right.

No excuses, no explanations, and that’s the point – right or wrong, sometimes things just happen, and you can’t know unless you’re there. That doesn’t excuse it. It’s just reality as we know it.

Becoming civilised

This is a Facebook post from last Thursday:

I got my first proper haircut today since July. It feels like a milestone moment.

When I started treatment my hair went grey and either fell out or stopped growing. I aged 15 years overnight and was not a pretty sight. But then it started growing again a little after Christmas and coming out a darker colour and I had hopes of becoming presentable at least one day. As I said to the hairdresser, I’m not ready to pick up again (that’s months away, ladies), but I have hopes of being a candidate again. I feel almost civilised.

I don’t know if people understand – I need to speak about these things, and the whole journey, in fact. It feels like a dream sometimes I can’t quite grasp. Did this really happen to ME? It feels surreal to have come so close to death and to feel the crippling effects of it still. The whole thing has been a marvellous, unfolding mystery, with not a day passing that something more is revealed to me. It’s a curious, life-changing time of revelation – how can I keep that inside me? And yet, how do I tell of it if I can’t understand it myself?

Day at a time, a week, a month, that’s how it goes, until – later this year – I feel somewhere back to normal and I might have a sense of what all this means for me. Today, my hair cut, my vanity is appeased at least, and I can look forward to a time when I can engage properly with the world I’ve felt so separate to.

Where to? How?

Last night I lay in bed with my head hurting and my breathing laboured, unable to sleep. Eventually I got up. I took a pill with a glass of water. As I stood by the sink my eyes went to the digital device on the kitchen bench, on which rotated some of my favourite snaps. The picture was of Rigby, and I stood there looking at it until it changed to something else.

For about 10 minutes I sat in the recliner in the living room, just resting. It’s where I sit to read sometimes or have a cup of tea. Mostly, before, Rigby would sprawl on the floor in front of me. I looked at the place as if he was there still. Sometimes, he would come and rest his head in the space beside my leg, looking up at me. My hand went to him.

I was in a bad way. I’m utterly worn out, physically and emotionally. I’ve got little life outside of home because I’m not up to it. I’m back working and doing my best, but I’ve lost all faith in the people there, and rouse little interest in the work I’m doing. And, Rigby is gone.

I wouldn’t feel that so keenly if my life was happier. I always had him, at least, and now I don’t even have him.

It’s funny how you still expect him, if only momentarily. I get out of bed and I look to him, knowing that he will follow – but he’s not there. Struggling as I was to sleep last night, I might have reached out and found some comfort knowing he was there. I miss his companionship obviously, and his love for me, and the love he created in me.

This is not about him though. I miss him terribly, but he’s a symptom of my current state, not the cause of it.

I need to find something to believe in. It’s hard. Physically, I’m not right. Work has failed me and the life I had before seems far distant. And Rigby, who could always make bad things better, is gone.

I’m doing things because I don’t know what else to do. And because I need to. I don’t want to fail. But what comes next? When? And why?

I need to find a way out of this mess but have to do it alone.

It’s mid-morning. I’m still in bed. I feel better than last night, but not great. I woke from an ugly sleep at about 9. I feel exhausted. I wish I knew more. For once, I feel incapable of navigating a way forward. What is right? What is wrong? I don’t think I can go on like this unless I have a sudden upturn in my health. But even then – what does it mean? There remain many unanswered questions.

Off road

For the last few months, an old photo has been coming up regularly in my feed. This is it, me, about 30 years ago, on a hunting trip up towards Broken Hill:

I’m young, fit, healthy, there’s even a hint of swagger in my posture. I had attitude, and more or less that’s who I’ve been throughout the years. Not as young maybe and, lately, not as healthy either – but they seemed incidental. Age is a state of mind. As for my health, that was very scary, but there came a time – perhaps too quickly – when I thought I’d make it out okay.

But now, it seems much less clear-cut. This picture comes up and I don’t know if it’s a taunt or a tease. My mind remains sharp, but my body is a broken thing for now, and my spirit is ailing.

I woke up this morning to the sun shining and could find nothing bright or interesting in it. I seem locked into this very unsatisfactory existence at the moment and don’t know how to make my way out of it. It dawned on me that life as we know it is generally one continuous flow. The seasons change, the years pass, the news on our screens updates, we shop, we eat, we socialise, we travel, we live. There are peaks to this and troughs, but it’s all of a piece, a seamless journey through time and experience, with nary a thought of it.

Except in my case, I got shunted off that road and into a solitary byway. Theoretically, I’ll join up with the mainstream again somewhere down the way, but I can’t seem to find myself there – or imagine such a time and place. Do I want to subscribe to that again?

I get flashes of it. I pretend. I’m back working part-time, though it’s not really working. Yesterday a friend visited and we had a day that in times before I’d have considered very nice – lunch, then an afternoon putting prints up around the house, and later a drink sitting in the sunshine, when another friend arrived.

This would have been an ideal day to me once upon a time. I enjoyed it as much as I could, but from early on felt handicapped by my physical state.

I tire easily. I have no strength or stamina. I feel like a lie down half the time. My hearing is shot and I have pain and messy inconvenience with my head. There’s a permanent stain of blood at the corner of my nostril my vanity has given up worrying about.

I enjoyed the concept of yesterday, but my head hurt and I was so weary I felt ineffective. This is always the case now, with overwhelming fatigue a bonus (I’ve cut down on painkillers hoping to control it).

Despite yesterday, I feel so alone. This is where I really miss Rigby. I thought so often yesterday, I wish Rigby was here, imagining him with my friends. I wake up and he’s gone still, just when I need him most.

He was a great and necessary comfort to me in the hard days post-surgery and through treatment. He’d always be around, and even if he just needed my attention, he was a distraction. When he felt me fraying he’d come close and put his chin on my leg peering up at me, or cross his paw over my arm. He was there to snuggle with and talk to. Even the routines were so familiar as to be warming.

I miss his eyes on me and his affection and his distinct personality, and I miss the affection I would give him.

I need him most now, but the fact that he’s gone only makes the need more keen.

Somehow, I have to break free of this barren existence I’m stuck in. Someone said that recovering from cancer was like suffering PTSD, and maybe that’s what I’m experiencing.

I feel pressured into the work I’m doing, uncertain if it’s a commitment I can keep given the ebbs and flow of my health. In the meantime, I’m just not ever feeling any better, and life is hard. As for most of this time, I feel outside of life and the general pattern of being. I watch from the sidelines as everyone else zooms by with their seamless life.

I hoped to do this when I was healthier, but I don’t know if I can afford to wait. I’m thinking about visiting and staying with friends in Mullumbimby or Noosa. I think I need a change of scenery. I feel stuck in place and haunted by memories I could do without. I need something to jump-start an idea of a new future. A refresh and reset. Not sure how effective it will be with me still feeling shithouse, but can I afford to wait?

I trust that the day will come when I feel okay, though I’m less confident of that now. Whatever, it can’t come soon enough.

Que sera

First thing Tuesday morning I went into the hospital to get the PET scan that would tell if any cancer remained in my system.

I had one of these before, not long after being diagnosed. Though I was in much pain I was still able-bodied at that point. I caught the train in and did as directed as they prepared for and then executed the scans. It was a time of great suspense, and perhaps fear. The results of the tests would reveal how far the cancer had progressed and how far it had spread. On that the prognosis would hang. It was literally a matter of life and death.

On that occasion the blessed outcome was life – probably. I don’t know if these tests hang by such a critical thread, but the worst-case scenario would reveal untreatable cancer. That’s unlikely. Most likely – according to the blithe doctors – is that I’ll be given a clean bill of health.

I may get the results today, and it’s a biggie, I know, but I find myself not nearly as interested in the outcome as everyone else. I hope it’s good news, but if it isn’t I’ll just get on with it.

This is indicative of how I feel generally at the moment – unmotivated, disinterested, and wondering what the point of everything is. There has been a touch of this since around Christmas, but losing Rigby really nailed it.

Obviously, I’m grief-stricken, but there’s also the objective reality that my enjoyment of life is less with him gone – maybe 20-30% less. I’ve outlined most of the reasons why, but the one thing that I haven’t referred to is that all the love and affection I felt and would give to him has shrivelled up now that he’s gone. I needed that, and now I feel totally alone.

I remember in December when I was away writing about how I needed mental and intellectual stimulation, and how I’d missed it. It felt like the missing ingredient, and I was determined to reclaim it.

That was true, but a month or so later, I’m not interested. The same essays I read then with fascination now seem too dry and academic in the face of human loss and grief. Likewise, I’m uninterested in writing.

What this highlights to me is how we need a balance of emotional and intellectual stimuli. Add in spiritual, if you like. We’re all different, and so the ratios will vary from person to person. As I’ve found out, get the ratios wrong and life becomes a misery.

I felt quite positive when I wrote that in December. At that point, I had no idea that Rigby was unwell and ignorantly presumed that the emotional sustenance he gave me would continue. It was only a few days later that I discovered I was wrong.

As it stands, the scab will harden and ultimately the wound will heal, though the memory will remain. I’ll learn to live without what he gave me, though that seems an unsatisfactory solution. I’ll probably find myself returning to the dry words of scholarship and finding momentary distraction. I’ll get by, but really, it seems to me, if I mean someday to live meaningfully that I need to rebalance somehow.

For now, I would benefit just by having someone around. There’s nothing I need to say particularly, but it would be nice to have the option. It might seem strange, but Rigby filled that function, too. He was constant companion and the curious recipient of my occasional commentary. He seemed to understand. The grief I feel is compounded by the fact he’s not here to comfort or to listen. I’m closed in, and very sad.