A cafe in Paris

I remember sitting in my hospital bed, looking out the window. The nurse had just been in with the results of the scans and the conclusions drawn based on them. She’d seen the look on my face and asked if I wanted something to calm me down before the surgery the next day. I was baffled. Baffled that that would be her concern. Baffled that she would think it was the surgery I was worried about.

I’d thought that when you give a 21 yr old the verdict that she’d never bear or have biological children of her own… that they’d offer to send in a a therapist or someone to talk to who knew and understood what that really meant. Even hand out a damn flyer, you know?

To them, I guess, it wasn’t so out of the ordinary. I even remember a few days after the surgery while I was still confined to the bed, they compared me to a girl in the next room who had just undergone the same surgery, telling me with a look down their noses that “SHE wasn’t in pain and was dealing with it just fine”

That’s probably when it really hit for the first time. The feeling of inadequacy and humiliation. Reduced to half a woman and now not a good patient either.

I spent 16 days in total in that bed in a place that felt a world away from my friends and family – and even when they did come to visit I couldn’t deal with it and just closed off. Most of the time I just lay there alone, feeling trapped and alienated from anything and everything – most especially myself.

Until the 8th day. Then I got a new “room mate”. A woman about my mom’s age. She’d had surgery on her leg and was bedridden too. Her family visited a lot and were very nice. She and I talked, not about what was wrong with us, …but about everything else.

One day when we were bored, we somehow ended up imagining that we were in Paris, having lunch in one of those small cafes. I was mobile at that point and would often go to fetch things for her from the cafeteria or snack carts down the hall. I guess that’s what started it – me bringing in a tray and serving up coffee for her. When the nurse came in later to check on us we were both bawling with laughter and spent the rest of the day living out that little fantasy, even speaking with poor French accents.

Afterwards, we of course blamed the drugs and being couped up in bed for so long. But for us both, it had been a welcome escape where we had been reminded of all the things we could still do, instead of those we couldn’t.

I left a few days before her and saying goodbye was actually kind of hard. The week we’d spent together had been so intimate that it felt like much longer. She even gave me her phone number and I gave her mine, both of us promising to call to keep in touch. Neither one of us did.

Perhaps, the reminder of that time was too painful for us both to want to dig it up again. Perhaps, we were just so relieved to be out of that place and get on with life that we forgot. Or maybe we just didn’t know what to say… chained to a bed, completely dependent on nursing staff and overhearing everything that’s said, even when you try not to listen in… it makes talking easier, I guess. Being up and about again… it was too easy to run away. So we did.

I haven’t thought about her or that cafe in years, and don’t know what brought it to mind now. But truth be told, she should be remembered. It – she – was the one bright spot in the wash of numbness and pain of which my life consisted at that time. I really hope she is well and happy. I hope she recovered fully, and I guess, in a way… I hope she remembers, too.

Whether she does or not, I – at least – will always have Paris… *smiles quietly*


This entry was originally written in November 2009. For more info, see Not by choice
A cafe in Paris

Storytelling and its healing power

“Once upon a time…”

That is how this entry ought to start, because what I want to share is a story. A story of being lost and finding the way back home. But too, it is a story about telling stories and why I do, and in that sense I suppose the classical fairytale opening had better wait for next time.

For as long as there has been language, storytelling has been our closest companion. It has kept the ancients alive and the gods close, predicted the future, kept hearts full of hope, enemies inferior and long hours a little shorter. It has born love into legends, birthed more heroes and villains than have ever walked the Earth, and it continues its gentle persistant attempt even today in this digitalised age to teach us that yesterday will come again tomorrow, if we do nothing to heed the lessons of today.

The greastest mercy of storytelling though perhaps is its benevolence in accepting whatever audience is willing to listen. How often have the ears of a teddy bear given solace to one who needed to be heard? And how often have you seen a young child playing alone, yet rigorously chatting away with dolls or animals, convinced of the participation of its audience? Even to the point of giving both pet and inanimate object a voice of their own to respond to the tales shared. Have we not heard of isolated souls driven to mutter stories to themselves in the dark… on a bench in the park or in a house that no longer is as full of life, as it once was?

As bloggers we become merely one more extention of this ageless custom of telling stories to perceived audiences. More or less cohesive ramblings and observations foster questions we rhetorically answer on behalf of those we hope to be listening. The audience we tell ourselves is there. The audience we miss and need so much, we – like the child at play or the lonely old man – are willing and capable of making it up.

Yes, even when no one else will or can listen, we create an audience to validate the need to keep telling all these stories that mean so much to us. Stories that give sound to our heart of hearts and inner voice over the din of life and whatever challenges we face. And so, we become our own flawed heroes, our own redeemed villains.

The past couple of months have given rise to these thoughts in me. Death and severe illness of loved ones, disruptions of a kind that leaves normalcy in ruins and priorities in shambles. In this, I have thought of stories. Of preserving and passing on the wisdom of one generation to the next before it is too late. Of the narcissistic need at times to take center stage and leave an impression on those whose love I so desperately need. Of reiterating and asserting my own presence when life threatens to drown me and wash away any sign I was ever here. Of the wish to connect, to be heard, to touch and be touched… and of existing even in the smallest memory in someone else’s head in the hope that it may just keep me – and my stories – immortal.

The reasons and logic behind all these drives are simple enough to comprehend, and I realised that above and beyond them,… like a single red thread… lies the innate subconscious understanding that without stories, we may just go insane. We need them as much as they need us. They heal us of the injustices done to us, when we can recount our victories and triumphs. They redeem us, when we can tell of survival in the wake of loss and destruction. They release us from the confinement of loneliness. Stories heal the paralysis of fear, sin and shame by calling out the beasts into the light and showing us a way to salvation.

In this I came face to face with my own feeble self. I saw the predictability of my own mentality. The repeating circles of challenge, resignation, resistance, struggle and conquest. I saw the part storytelling takes in that process, and realised I am not all that different from neither the child talking to her dolls, or the old man muttering to himself on a park bench.

Whatever stories I tell, whether they are real or made up, they embody the best and the worst of me – and as long as I can say those things out loud, the weak in me can find solace in the tenacity of the strong. My frailty can find strength in the surge of something greater and more powerful than what holds me back. My blindness can gain sight through the eyes of others, and my muteness can speak the secrets that shame hides both from me and from the world around me.

In telling stories I heal and find my way back home.

“… and I lived happily everafter.”

The end.

Storytelling and its healing power

Writing challenge: Starting over

There comes a time when the next step of growth is separation. A time when ties must be severed so that new bonds can be made, and distance is an act of coming home, rather than one of moving away.

In the past I have associated ‘starting over’ with a sense of failure. As if what has gone before did not work, and as such I had to scrap what I was doing to try again. I have used words like ‘uprooted’ and felt literally like a plant torn from the soils that nourished it, adrift, out of my element and with nothing to hold onto or sustain me.

This time around, though, it doesn’t feel like that at all. This time ‘starting over’ bears with it a sense of completion. Of being done with one phase and moving on to the next, like a caterpillar. Or like a flower at its peak, sending out a fragment of itself, containing all the hopes and dreams for continuance, so that life may find a way beyond death.

It is a process imbue with belief. Transition. One promise fulfilled and another one born. A chance to do more. Be more. Extend beyond the initial reach. The best carries over. The sum of all that has been gathered and achieved lives on in new form.

‘Starting over’ then isn’t failure. It is simply the next logical step.

Writing challenge: Starting over