Sorry Charles, but I just have to borrow your line.
It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. What was happening in my life was nothing short of a revolution. I did get the distinct feeling that I was being rounded up by some unseen hand and lined up to be guillotined. After all I was just 38, just had my baby and within six months of that life changing event came a life shattering news. I was diagnosed with cancer.
When I look back at that time through the lens of memory, I never thought that it could be me on the other side of the fence. I had just read The Fault in Our Stars and wondered how someone so young could write about something so intense in such a light vein. How could he juxtapose death and teen romance on the same page and treat them with such a light hand and yet leave the reader with an immense sadness? I didn’t realize till the moment I was diagnosed that he and I were of the same age. It is odd that it takes a moment of revelation for you to begin your long line of comparisons of what someone else your age had achieved and what you yourself could have but didn’t. It’s only when you see the doctor erasing a few years off your lifeline that you start considering all the “could have beens” and the “could have dones”. Contrary to the usual feeling that runs among the general public, the “bucket lists” do not make their appearance on the scene till much later, till you have made your peace with the fact, till you are well beyond the “why me” stage.
And so it came to be that by the time I was 38, I had seen my fair share of fun and bad, lost some dear ones and some not so dear, struggled with most of my relationships, sailed through my career, postponed having children and then, ironically, when I did have Samiksha, she would only see me as the wet nurse, as a breast that nourished her for six months. Now, as I lie in bed, mostly in the hospital, I wonder if I will ever be anything more that the word “Mother” to her. I guess not. She had already moved on, welcomed by my childless co-sister. She had embraced the bottle teat much more easily than she had adjusted her tiny mouth to my nipple. She was fine, she did not need me. My husband hung around morosely every time we had to go to the hospital for the chemo sessions. The transformation from a happy-go-lucky nutcase to a not-so-happy emotional and physical wreck was too much of a reality check for him. I do not blame him. It is always tougher for you to watch a loved one in pain. I had, many years ago, seen my dad succumb. They say time heals, but they lie. It doesn’t. Sorry if I burst your bubble there.
After a few intensely painful and emotionally crippling chemo sessions, I told my rather relieved husband that he needed to go and eke out a living and that I would get my mother to accompany me. She did. Another disastrous move girl! It brought back painful memories of how she did these hospital visits 30 years ago with my father. I showed her the door too. Someone a little less intimate to me perhaps? So my brother started accompanying me. Young as he was, his constant presence on the social media avenues made sure that he was only half present at all times. For me, it was great. I got the chance to make peace with my maker.
I admit it. There have been days and nights that I have sobbed, hurled accuses at my maker saying that he had chosen the wrong time. But you know what, the funny thing about death is that there is never a right time. There is always some unfinished business that makes you want to cling on for a little longer. Either you just got your dream job, just got married or had a child (like I did), had too many responsibilities, well the list is pretty much endless. So when you are first told that you have X amount of time left, you think of all the unfinished businesses you have left. I am not sure how it goes with the sudden death cases, but I had plenty of time to think.
Then began this steady stream of consciousness type of dialogue with myself, the healthy Abha talking to the dying Abha. I cursed myself for all the wrong moves in life, all the broken relationships, for having slept around a bit too much, for not being faithful to the poor husband, for running away from every tight situation...stop. Stop. Enough sadness here already!
Then the “bucket list” stage began. I am skipping the “make peace with it” stage, for that was a bit too personal for me to pen. Whenever I had time between the treatment slots and its after effects, I started making lists. Unfortunately, the logical me stepped in too early, so this is what most of my lists looked like.
Scuba diving -- ridiculous. Think doable girl! Bungee jumping -- yeah right! You can’t even look down from the first floor balcony! Ride a Harley Davidson -- Learn to cycle first! Buy an Armani dress -- all the money is going for your treatment you selfish pig!
Well, that’s how most of my lists went. I have run through every single writable surface with my lists in the past few weeks and I have still not made any headway. I have outgrown those….
Learn car driving
…. Kind of lists.
So, after about a 1000 sheets of wasted paper and God knows how many pens/pencils, I gave up the idea of making the bucket lists and start living them instead. I toyed with the idea of developing a parallel universe in my mind, one that I could escape to and do what I wanted. But why live with something artificial when you can have the real thing. So this time, I made a mental list. Of the people who may or may not miss me and the amount they would save if the treatment were to stop.
All night long, my husband snoring next to me, my daughter’s bed long empty now, my mother sleeping vigilantly outside, I plotted and planned.
I got up early, made my cup of coffee, packed a couple of sandwiches, left a note saying that I would be in touch and that they should start living their lives again, packed some cash, a pair of jeans, some shorts and t-shirts and I was off. No pictures or trinkets with interwoven memories made their way into my bag.
I had no idea where I would go. For the first time in my life, I, Abha did not have a plan. You have no idea how liberating that felt. Was I being selfish for walking out or was I letting them free, was a thought that cropped up momentarily. Quite obvious I think. They would be relieved in the long run. They would go back to their lives, spend that money on something more interesting than sessions that make you puke and loose hair in clumps.
Oh wait! There was one place I could go to. Yes, it was doable. I made a few calls and it was taken care of. I bought a cycle, a bag full of books that I have always wanted to either read or reread. As I cycle, I threw away my phone and my watch. It is odd, how a few small, mundane yet extremely essential things in your life can turn out to be of no consequence when the time comes. All the mistakes I had made no longer mattered. Now it was all just about me. I cycled on, a long lost tune whistling on my lips, hugging that bad of books a little closer.
I felt at the top of the world. I no longer had to look back and think of the unfinished businesses I had let death create in my life. I had beaten death and just begun a new path. I no longer had visions of me watching my own dead body. I just had me all to myself and I would enjoy that now, for the time being. Tomorrow was another day.